We all remember the first time we stepped onto a mat – the first technique we ever learned. Most of us were hooked from the start and simply could not get enough of it. Every new technique solved a situation that seemed to be unsolvable. Your hunger for more knowledge grew and, before long, your knowledge and experience allowed you to impose your will on your training partners. Eventually, you found yourself winning more than losing and might have gone months without being submitted. But, what does this have to do with fighting?
Most people are clueless when it comes to real fighting – and really don’t want to do it. We know that someone does not want to fight when they scream and shout while standing behind a friend that is supposedly holding them back. The uncertainty of the outcome is the reason for their hesitance. It’s the same reason that I don’t want to free dive or fence. But, it’s especially profound when it comes to a street fight because the outcome can have devastating consequences.
Concern for personal safety is the main reason jiu-jitsu academies around the world are staying in business. In the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Royce Gracie stepped into a cage with martial artists from all other disciplines and taught us that only Gracie jiu-jitsu allows the smaller person to defend against a larger opponent and – with sufficient time – defeat them….exactly in that order; self defense and then offense.
People practice martial arts for many reasons. Commonly, martial arts students either focus on competitive sport or self-defense applications. Although there are two different paths, I believe that most students have the same initial concern, “What would I do if someone attacked me?” Thanks to the efforts of Grandmaster Helio Gracie in Brazil, Royce Gracie, today’s MMA fighters, every Gracie family member and jiu-jitsu representative along the way, jiu-jitsu has become the preferred martial art for use is a real fight. It is different from other martial arts because it addresses the worst-case scenario – what to do when you find yourself underneath a much larger opponent. Since that is exactly what most people fear, you will be in business for a long time if you teach how to deal with this self-defense situation. Sport jiu-jitsu has a different focus. It’s fun, exciting, and satisfying to play and to watch, as are all popular sports. Like every sport, money, sponsors, point systems, titles, rules, judges, time and penalties are essential elements of the game. And, as in most sports, physical attributes can play a huge part in performance. Which path is the one for you?
Imagine walking into a jiu-jitsu school, you know nothing and then your instructor teaches you a position of control or a submission. For a student that knows nothing about fighting this is eye opening. You have just learned how to hold someone down and “catch” that person in an armlock – you’ve just begun to understand the art of fighting. After a few months, you have learned so many techniques and combinations you are able to defeat your teammates. Then, one day you’re attacked on the street and find yourself pinned under a large assailant. You twist and turn while trying to put together what you have learned at the jiu-jitsu school where someone promised to teach you what Royce Gracie used in UFC 4 against Dan Severn. But, it doesn’t work. You can do nothing except get hurt…and that’s exactly what you were hoping that your jiu-jitsu training would prevent. How could this happen?
It’s likely that you joined a jiu-jitsu school searching for self-defense, but didn’t know the difference between street and sport focus. Since you had no knowledge of what techniques and principles were most important for you to survive a street fight, you didn’t realize that what you were learning had littlevalue for that situation. Chances are that you were being told to stay off your back at all costs to avoid points being scored against you and if you happen to end up in a dangerous position to quickly move to a dominant position.
The ability to keep someone from scoring points against you is an art in itself. The training involved to get to a level where you are always winning is extremely intense. Successful competitors train very hard. If you choose the path of the professional athlete, then get ready for a serious test.
I have one piece of advice for those that choose to embark on the journey of competition. Although your goal is to avoid landing in inferior positions, don’t think that it is not going to happen. Usually, you will be able to escape with a little technique and some explosiveness. But, what do you do when that little bit of explosiveness is not available either because you have used it up too soon or you are in an event with extended time limits like Metamoris, or better yet, with no time limits? This is the key difference in focus between a sport program and one that prioritizes self-defense. Street-focused jiu-jitsu schools will teach you to stay patient, aware, and safe rather than risking exhaustion from trying to escape or “improve” your position.
I encourage all competitors to sustain the intense training and the “give nothing-take everything” mindset, but also invest in plan B because if your opponent is able to take everything and give nothing, then you are in trouble. Learn the survival techniques and principles that are at the core of jiu-jitsu because you might find yourself in a situation where surviving is all you could ever ask for.
For those of you who seek to learn jiu-jitsu as an art of self-defense and as a tool for dealing with life’s challenges, you will quickly master the techniques and the principles that are critical to survival. Then, you will begin to keepitplayful on the mat and test jiu-jitsu vs jiu-jitsu, unlocking hundreds of new techniques that are not ‘street’ but are very challenging and fun. You may even consider competing once you have successfully learned to defend yourself. Trust me when I tell you, starting with amazing survival skills and then learning to dominate and destroy is much easier than the other way around.
Note from Ryron: Having Helio Gracie as my Grandfather I had no choice but to be a self-defense school. He was so much smaller than all of his opponents that it was the key to his success. I learned from him to allow myself to be placed in inferior positions to see how my partners will attempt to submit me with the ultimate goal of improving my understanding of self-defense. So if the day ever comes where I find myself in a position that is inferior, whether it be in a street fight, sportive competition like Metamoris or an MMA fight, I will be totally comfortable. Being comfortable and having a clear mind will allow me to move to attack mode when the opportunity presents itself.
For those jiu-jitsu schools that have the sportive focus, do me a huge favor, keep it real and acknowledge that there is a difference. We will agree that you are faster stronger more explosive and more decorated. But, we are just more comfortable in worst case scenarios.
One Team, One Love