Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as self defense

Right now there is a battle going on for the heart of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu From Ventura to Rio de Janeiro, from Japan to Ojai, opinions are being thrown at each other with spit and vinegar.  As in most cases of philosophical disagreement there are two camps, entrenched in their belief, pointing fingers at the other and desperate to prove their point, rather than trying to hear and understand the other.  But the vast majority of people are not purists.  They will decide which side they are on, but hold their opinion with less strength, and with a bit more acceptance of shades of grey.

I would like to say right from the start that I am not a purist.  But I do have a preference.  I also believe firmly that the two philosophies are not mutually exclusive.

The issue I am talking about is Jiu Jitsu as sport vs jiu jitsu as self defense.  My belief is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should first and foremost be addressed as a martial art.  That at the very heart and soul of BJJ’s history and technical fundamentals is the idea that any student of Jiu Jitsu should know how to defend oneself in a violent encounter.  I believe that not only is this the most important aspect of the art, but that the rules and scoring of tournament jiu jitsu is meant to reflect these self defense skills.

When Brazilian Jiu Jitsu first gained its foothold into modern pop culture it did so with the focus firmly on the idea that the art could serve as protection against not only street thugs, but even against trained martial artists.  The proof of BJJ’s superiority was its ability in no rules challenge matches to avoid damage, and overcome their opponent.  The truth is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu advocates even specifically critiqued other martial arts as becoming irrelevant because of their lack of realistic training, and the sportification of the art in question.  In other words, if it doesn’t work when applied in the ultimate test, a bigger, stronger opponent trying to hurt you in real life then it doesn’t work and how do you know if you never put it on the line?

The litigious nature of modern American life, demanded that challenge matches became a thing of the past.  And with the growing popularity of the art, people wanted avenues with which to test their progress.  This resulted in the creation of more and more tournaments.  By their very nature these organized sporting events had rules to increase safety, and to measure performance.  With sport comes the desire to win.  This desire to win will always seek to make the most out of the rules.  Manipulating the rules to insure victory, rather than to grow more and more proficient in self defense.

Many years on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become what it criticized other arts for becoming.  A sport that does not allow its adherents to confront the very real and scary challenge of defending yourself against a bigger stronger opponent who will not follow any rules, compromises its self defense technique.  That it has been watered down with competition techniques that would result in serious injury in a real life situation.

At Ojai Valley MMA we believe that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is first and foremost a martial art, and as such its designed to enable us to defend ourselves.  With that in mind I try as much as I am able to point out how and why the techniques are used in a self defense situation.  But also, loving the sport, and encouraging people to compete, I teach competition techniques as well.  But I always differentiate between the two.  There is nothing at all wrong with enjoying competition, and learning the newest techniques designed for it.  I find berimbolos and worm guards to be fun and beautiful, and I encourage my students to experiment and enjoy them.  But do not ever forget that they are not self defense moves.

We do not have to draw a line and accuse those on the other sign from us of destroying the art.  What we should do is embrace both, just be very clear which is which.  BJJ is a beautiful sport, and its a very effective self defense system, and there is plenty of overlap.  But for me, I would feel dishonest, and unsuccessful if my students didn’t know how to most effectively keep themselves from getting hurt, while moving to subdue someone that means them harm.

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