There currently exists a false dichotomy in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu between “New School” and “Old School” or “Self Defense” vs. “Sport”.
Let’s examine the Self Defense proposition. Self Defense should be the primary objective of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instruction.
There is no Old School and New School. There is just Jiu-Jitsu.
This argument is like if we asked a very classically trained Japanese judoka. Classic judo primarily consists of Standard Sleeve & Lapel grip. This judoka might say that the Judo that is used by the Eastern Bloc countries is not “real” judo or not “technical” judo. After all, the Eastern Bloc play from double-triceps. That this judo requires strength or is optimized for the type of Sport Judo that exists in the Olympics. That is has gotten away from its roots.
Yet this ugly non-classic Judo can often defeat the beautiful classic judo.
Why would you consider non-classic Judo to not be Judo – if it works?
The Deification of Helio Gracie and the Establishment of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
Helio Gracie is often credited with creating a style of Jiu-Jitsu that does require as much strength, size, and physical attributes. The story goes that some Japanese guy brought Judo / Jiu Jitsu to Brazil, the Gracies then started testing it against different styles (in both MMA and grapplign matches). During this period of testing, Helio came along and modified Jiu Jitsu so that he, a smaller individual, could do it effectively.
After this testing period throughout the 60’s, Gracie Jiu Jitsu exploded in the 90’s with the UFC. Royce Gracie submitted everyone and heralded in the biggest improvement in martial arts in human history.
Just like the period of fighting, analyzing, and learning, in the 60’s changed JiuJitsu from its Japanese form into Gracie form, the period from the 90’s onward, which saw the biggest explosion in competitions and participants, changed Jiu-Jitsu. We can’t be mad about this. If you accept that the Japanese system was improved through a very small period of testing and improvement by the Gracies in the 60’s, you have to accept that even bigger improvements were made from the 90’s onward once it became global.
Secondly, Efficiency & Effectiveness are determined by the objectives that the person is trying to achieve. A 1-minute street fight is completely different than a 5 minute MMA fight which is different than a No Time Limit grappling match. Over time, the style and art will develop around what is successful under those constraints.
Watch how many “upsets” occur in Copa Podio when the match lengths are reduced by 40% and the rest time between matches is drastically reduced.
The problem with a “self-defense” focus is that while it purports to make the art more effective by eliminating constraints, it actually ends up doing the opposite. It eliminates all constraints and all victory conditions. It allows one to randomly decide whether one has won or one has lost. If you don’t submit your opponent, well you won because you didn’t get injured.
If you do submit your opponent, you might have won unless you “might” have gotten punched. In which case, you lost. The ridiculousness of this position is exemplified in a street fight video that was put online. Two guys get into a fight on a basketball court and the one trained grappler puts his opponent in a 5050 position and threatens to injure him if the fight were to continue. onlookers and the opponent put an end to the altercation. Both guys get up and seem fine despite the scuffle. Isn’t that as perfect of a self-defense situation as could be? instead, the “self-defense’ gurus spend the time focusing on how ineffective the 5050 would be if the opponent had thrown strikes or had known grappling etc. Except that the opponent did have the ability to strike and grapple but was unable to – even with a “sport” position such as the 5050.
The point is – optimizing for self-defense is crazy because there are no set parameters in those type of situations. Therefore, only adaptability should be emphasized.
There could be an argument made that self-defense means simply not getting injured during the fight. This is a logical goal. But what is the point of submissions in such case? How does one a run practice where the goal is simply to not get injured. For example, if I just don’t get submitted everytime I train, should i receive my next belt – after all I am achieving the goal successfully. What about if a person actively avoids offense. For example, the infamous Brandon Schaub vs Roberto Abreu Metamoris match. In this “submission only” match, Schaub actively disengaged from his opponent which resulted in nothing actually occurring in the 20 minutes that viewers were subjected to the match. From a pure self-defense standpoint, Schaub was successful – actually both were. But was that actually “Jiu Jitsu”? If self-defense was the main goal of Jiu Jitsu, shouldn’t we be sayig “wow that was a fantastic display of Jiu Jitsu?” But the response to the match was universally negative?!
It seems to be a mixed message to practice offensive grappling techniques while emphasizing pure self defense. in a self-defense Jiu Jitsu class, do we just practice disengaging and walking away from our opponent? If one accepts that “well there are situations where one might be forced to do offense in order to have self-defense” then the question becomes “then shouldn’t we do the offense that work the best – including takedowns and striking? why are we limited to a small subset of grappling techniques only?”
The problem that the self-defense crowd has is that it actually goes against what we see in the real world. In fact, constraints make us stronger by forcing us to adapt our techniques and physical abilities to work under a variety of situations.
Actual Jiu-Jitsu Skill works across all the spectra.
The strength of Jiu-Jitsu came from testing it in No-Holds-Barred, Mixed Martial Arts, and Submission Grappling (both gi and no-gi) matches. Having to create and modify techniques for each of these styles is what made Jiu-jitsu so strong. It is a shame that people want to eliminate the stressors from Jiu Jitsu – and focus on the one style that is perhaps the least observable – Self Defense. This only weakens the art overall.
How You Train > What You Train or “A Choke is a Choke”
A closed guard cross choke, done in the most efficient way, is permitted in Sport Jiu-Jitsu
Why I Don’t Focus on Self Defense
I find it laughable to think that an untrained attacker would somehow have the upper hand against a trained martial artist – whether its Muay Thai, Jiu-Jitsu, etc. A Blue Belt in Jiu-Jitsu doesnt’ have to explicitly be taught and demonstrate a bear hug escape in order to know how to escape a bear hug. they are used to people trying to hold them down. Likewise, strategic differences that occur at top levels of competition don’t indicate a lack of skills in a particular skill set at lower levels. In other words, to a guy on the street, the Miyao Bros, primarily known for their “New School” guards, can be considered takedown specialists.
Secondly, the problem with Self Defense teaching in general is that it focuses entirely too much on the opponent. Ask anyone who has coached for a long time, and he will tell you that athletes always perform better when they focus on what they are going to do, rather than what their opponent is. When you limit the Jiu-Jitsu training to specific self-defense scenarios rather than on the development of overall grappling ability, you run into the same problem.
A New Argument
You can’t train Sport Jiu-Jitsu forever.
This is a new argument that I heard recently. Someone asked me that if I thought
I come from a Basics School.
What does this actually mean?
Fundamentals are fundamentals. When I speak about fundamentals, I mean the component pieces that make up more advanced techniques as well as universal positions. For example, escaping from the bottom of side mount is fundamental because no matter if you got passed in a fancy “sport” way or got beaten down in an mma fight, you will end up on the bottom of side mount. The other area of fundamentals are the component pieces that make up larger more advanced techniques. A obvious and easily acceptable example of this would be a penetration step for wrestling takedowns. A less-acceptable (to the “self-defense” crowd) example of a fundamental technique would be a granby or inversion onto the shoulders. An inability to perform a penetration step would severely limit one’s takedown capabilities just as the inability to invert will impair one’s guard retention capabilities.
Because of this, I’m not actually sure what it means when someone says they come from a Basics school. Are they saying that their school emphasizes fundamental components as well as fundamental positions? I would say this is good. Or are they saying they refuse to build their Jiu Jitsu systems past the “fundamentals”? Which I would say might or might not be good depending on the results.
I’m not a Competitor.
I recently had a person say they did not need to learn more advanced techniques because they were not competing and they would rather focus on Fundamentals.
The first thing to realize is that there is no such thing as advanced techniques without fundamentals. They eventually blend together as one moves higher and higher in belt – as long as the individual is still trying to be successful. In this regard, this statement that advanced techniques only have to be learned by competitors is ridiculous.
A better more reasonable statement would be to say that these advanced techniques should be learned by anyone who could face these advanced techniques.
The definition of what is “advanced’ and what is “not” is constantly changing. For example, in the mid 2000s, the same “self-defense” advocates that cry out now against Berimbolo or the Lapel-focused guards, were rallying against X-Guard and the Single Leg X (OMG you’ll be getting punched so much from there – it would never work in mma – etc). Yet now these positions, especially Single Leg X, are quite common and often taught in these “self-defense” schools. After all, if you do a straight footlock, and your opponent comes on top, you’re in the single-leg X. Even the most ardent Self-dffense BJJ student doesn’t just give up there.
Furthermore, it comes down to one’s own grappling ability. If all it takes for your game to be stifled, is a person turns upside down onto their shoulders or wraps your lapel around their ankle, what does it say about your own Jiu-Jitsu? After all, these modern solutions came about in response to certain techniques. The ability to understand body positioning and mechanics is not impaired just because someone inverts. It is simply a different body position that the student needs to figure out.
It is my position, that by purposely eliminating and ignoring modern developments in Jiu-Jitsu, that the basics or self-defense schools are actually hurting their students. They impair their students ability to adapt to grappling as a whole by discounting everything outside of their own sphere of influence as something bad. A better response would be to introduce all of Jiu Jitsu. We’ve spent over XX years fighting, competing, and adapting Jiu Jitsu for it to become the most effective grappling art in the world – why would would discount the last YY years and say only the developments in the first 10 years were important?!?
I want to clarify that I’m not against limiting a beginner’s scope in order to help their learning. After all, too much information would impair learning. What I am saying is that eventually you’ll get to a point when you need to move beyond the fundamentals – even if it is just to know how to fight against what is modern.
Perhaps one of my own experiences will highlight the difference. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Psychology. The majority of undergraduate work consisted of synthesizing and critiquing research. Part of this included understanding history, in order to place the modern day research into context. Exams always included long essays and when it was multiple choice – it was worse that the essay, with logical conundrums as answers such as “some of answers could be true. none of the answers are true. all of the answers are true.” After graduating, I considered going to get my Masters and had to take the Psychology GRE. When I gathered the study materials, I realized I didn’t know shit. It was primarily memorization of the history of psychology – what theory is this, who taught what, this theory vs. theory. The empahsis was not on synthesizing and evaluating material, but rather making sure that what had come before was preserved – but is that really why a student wants to learn psychology? And is that really what an instructor wants to pass onto their student? Or is it better to give the student the ability and skills that are adaptable anywhere with a high degree of success?
Obviously, that is a rhetorical question but one that bears serious thought. Is
An argument for wrestling
Modern day Mixed Martial Arts competition has seen the effectiveness of wrestlers highlighted. This has lead many commentators and analysts to remark that wrestling, more than any other martial arts, represents the best base from which to come into MMA competition. I’d like to pose another possibility.
Is wrestling actually the best art? Or does wrestling actually have the best athlete development system?
Let’s think about this…
Wrestling training is available across the country.
There are way more kids participating in wrestling than any other “combat sport” in the United States.
Everyone competes in wrestling. There are no “casual” or “non-competitor” wrestlers.
Wrestling eliminates athletes who do reach certain competitive benchmarks by particular ages. The equivalent of saying If you’re not a Blue Belt World or Pan medalist before age 19 you have to stop. If you’re not a Brown Belt Pan or World medalist before age 21, you have to stop.” (it’s actually more extreme than those examples since you have individuals winning the Olympics before age 21 – one would need to be a Division 1 level wrestler before leaving High School. Compare that to the level of the Average Jiu Jitsu competitor as they leave High School.
So we know that under these “extreme” circumstances, the athletes that are successful will be able to adapt very successfully in Mixed martial Arts.
To a much lesser extent, we see that the most successful MMA athletes that come from Jiu-Jitsu also had significant Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition experience. At the time of this writing, we would highlight the two UFC Champions – Fabricio Werdum and Rafael Dos Anjos. Werdum was ADCC and Black Belt World Champion. Rafael Dos Anjos was Brown Belt World Champion and had competitive matches against some of the best pure grapplers in the World including Rodolfo Vieira and Rubens Charles AKA Cobrinha before making the switch over to MMA. We would also point to Demian Maia, who was ADCC Champion and Black Belt Champion in some of the tougher events excluding the World Championship. There is a significant absence of “self-defense” grapplers at the upper echelon of MMA competition despite the supposed emphasis on being able to defend strikes and utilizing a more energy-efficient and leverage-based system.
Coaches should be critiqued as much as the athletes.
I was recently engaged in a facebook debate. The debate was started from a clickbait article where the author recounted a story where a Jiu-jitsu instructor said that the majority of people would never reach Buchecha’s level. I can’t really remember the conclusion that the author reached from this fact. It was something along the lines of people should therefore do BJJ for fun or that competition doesn’t matter or something ridiculous llike that. This was then branched out into a discussion about how teachers should be evaluated.
Why is Jiu-Jitsu the only sport where a non-winning coach can be considered a great coach? You never see this in other sports.
The person claimed that this was because Jiu-Jitsu can not be confined to competition.
The question that is often asked is, “why is Jiu-Jitsu so focused on competition?”
The real question should be “why can a lifestyle-focused or moral-focused coach NOT produce a high-calibre student?”