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Jiu Jitsu For Self Defense

I took my first Jiu Jitsu class in my early 20’s, and it was a humbling experience. I am 6 ft 5 and, at the time, weighed an unhealthy 315lbs. I was a smoker and did not regularly exercise. I barely made it through warm-ups, failed to grasp any of the concepts being taught, and got tapped out by seemingly everyone in class. That one class did not break my enormous ego though; I had a false sense of my ability, primarily from lying to myself and being able to intimidate my way out of conflict and praying I could “land the punch” if I ever actually needed to defend myself. It was not until a few years later that I started training on a regular basis and got humbled. I trained with a group of friends, all of whom were more skilled and better at grappling (wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu) than my novice self. They weren’t mean but went much harder than people had with me up to that point. I then realized I was a fish out of water when it came to grappling, and my attempts to keep the fight standing were no match for experienced grapplers. Fast forward to 2019, and I sit here with over a decade of grappling regularly. I've been much more consistent over the past 5 or so years and would like to think infinitely more aware of my abilities in a physical confrontation.

So, my thoughts on Jiu Jitsu for self-defense- is it the best in that regard? Absolutely. Will it ensure that you won’t get beat up? No. I have seen folks with 3 or 4 years grappling experience walk around with a false confidence when it comes to confrontation. They seem to feel they have a super power, and in a sense they do, however they may soon come to the realization that a young, aggressive, athletic person can be more than they can handle. Let’s not forget that most fights start standing, and let’s not forget that there are people with little to no training out there who know how to fight simply based on experience, being aggressive and athletic. Toughness may improve with grappling, but it is no guarantee and the ability to avoid the parts of class or classes that sharpen toughness is relatively easily in Jiu Jitsu from my experience. If folks don’t want to do takedowns, they simply avoid the classes where they know takedowns are being taught. If they don’t want to put the gloves on for live sparring, they simply miss that class. I am in no way on a soap box here, as I myself am guilty of this.

I have witnessed people who don’t train with any sort of regularity trounce experienced grapplers with no more than a cat in the bucket mentality when it comes to being taken down and a heavy right hand. It can be blamed on a variety of things, and mentality is a big one. Knowing when to match your opponent’s level of aggression is key, knowing when to be evasive, knowing when to utilize strength and speed, are all variables that regularly need to be trained that can be absent in bjj. Remember, I am talking about your average person who trains bjj 2 or 3 times a week, not a martial arts master who has an overall understanding, with the ability to remain calm and explode with precision, strength, and force when needed, a la Anderson Silva.

I have been to classes where we put on the gloves to keep our grappling honest in a self-defense scenario and have seen higher belts unable to get out from under a more aggressive and athletic white belt without getting repeatedly hit in the face, let alone someone who has a year or two of high school wrestling. This is not to say Jiu Jitsu does not work; it absolutely does. I am simply saying don’t fool yourself because you train, don’t fool yourself because you have been told jiu jitsu is the best for self-defense, as all these things may be true in the grander context of other martial arts. What jiu jitsu is not, is a super power that makes you impervious to getting beat up by strong, fast and athletic people who may happen to train less, if at all.

So, what is my answer? Learn some striking fundamentals, learn to be aggressive and overcome fear, learn to keep going if you get hit and make it to the classes you don’t like. Put the gloves on and be ok with utilizing strikes with your grappling somewhat often. This still is not a clear-cut answer, but it certainly goes a long way in keeping your jiu jitsu honest in regards to self-defense scenarios.

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