Play Sport, Be Street

Ryron Sitting on mat

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



About KeepItPlayful

I keep it playful for a living.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to Play Sport, Be Street

  1. This is a great post Ryron. I have been training Jiu Jitsu for many years and achieved a Brown Belt, but hardly practiced the basic Self-Defense techniques, like Gracie Combatives. Although I love sport techniques, and will continue to practice everything, my attention is now more towards Self-Defense Jiu Jitsu for my students and kids, through Gracie University, thanks to you and Rener. You guys are doing a great job. Thank You

  2. napierbjj says:

    Awesome post Ryron. When I was a beginner I used to hate being yelled at to move or get off my back during sparring.

  3. Adi 3000 says:

    Thanks Ryron, I’m pretty introspective and yet this has really pushed me to a better place. I’ve been watching the Gracie Insider videos for years and I imagine, like a lot of people, when I first heard many of these things (reason for stopping involvement in UFC, jiu-jitsu winning even if a Gracie lost, not prioritising competition, etc.) I thought they were excuses or ways for people to justify not ‘winning’. Only now am I really starting to understand that it’s just that we are so conditioned to believe in the importance of ‘winning’ and that there is always a ‘winner’. As I start to embrace keeping it playful, I can see that it’s an attitude that’s better for life as well as jiu-jitsu.
    Loving Gracie University, hope to come out to Torrance to train some time.

  4. Roger says:

    First and foremost I have the utmost respect for your steadfast belief of jiu jitsu as a vehicle of self-defense and survival throughout all the years.
    The sport/street contrast has always been a grey area of contention for me. I agree, the “sport” aspects are fun, but I personally have little desire for competition – on the mat I can tap out but on the street this is rarely a viable solution.
    As an indication of my confusion and relative immaturity in the art (blue belt), I don’t quite even know how to phrase my question. I want my body to react and my mind to think in ways that are “street” effective, however, this is difficult given the structure and focus inherent in every jiu jitsu class (no punching, techniques which rely on a strong gi, etc.).
    I can only hope that as I grow with the art that my mind will be able to distinguish more clearly techniques which are for the street and those which are not. More importantly, however, I hope I can switch my mindset “on” and “off”, as you and Rener describe in a video; into the street mindset of “its time to go” to the mindset you describe on the mat, of “keeping it playful”.
    I think all I can concretely say is thank you. Your videos regarding the importance and philosophy of self-defense orientated jiu jitsu and of course this blog help shed a little light on the grey.
    -your anonymous jiu jitsu brother

    • Every time you train be very aware of where your opponents hands and feet are. This does not mean you have to control just watch them. In time you will have the switch. All the best!

  5. Steve says:

    Beautiful, Sensei. Well said. Wish I had been as wise as you in my 30’s.

    Proud to be keeping your Grandfather’s vision alive in my little corner of the world.

  6. Darío says:

    I’ve been training the Gracie Combatives Lessons for more than a year. I am one of the smallest guys where I train, so during the first months my training consisted on not being finished because I wasn’t strong enough to submit my partners.
    Today, I’m still a little white belt, but now is much harder to finish me: I roll calmed down, I wait for the better moment to move, I keep safe positions, etc. Even though I am not very good submitting, I don’t care; I really feel happy because now I can handle the situation when rolling with my blue belt training partner (who is much bigger and heavier than me).
    Submissions will come… some day… the present is self-defending.

  7. Thank you Ryron.
    Thank you for your performance at Metamoris.
    Thank you for keeping jiu jitsu true.

  8. TroyR says:

    I don’t think it could b said and explained better. Thank you for helping to educate the world that there is a difference between sport and self defense Jiu-Jitsu. I think it is important to understand that being great at sport Jiu-Jitsu doesn’t mean you will be great at defending yourself on the street.

  9. roninbudo says:

    Prof. Ryron,

    First and foremost thank you for putting this blog up. I look forward to reading the posts. I have been studying Gracie Jiu Jitsu for about 4 years. I’m a blue belt with 3 stripes. Congrats on your match against Andre Galvao at Metamoris. Just want to say that I am a fan of you and Rener’s videos and breakdowns. All those pieces of instruction have helped me out in my jiu jitsu journey. Again, I look forward to reading more from you.

  10. Tomás Seidl says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful work you’re doing spreading Jiu-Jitsu on it’s essence. I already was a big fan and now so much more. Just one suggestion, and I believe I speak for many. WE WANT GI PATCHES!

  11. Craig Nghiem says:

    Love the quote and am going to use it, “Play sport, be street.”

  12. gjj4life says:

    i get tapped out all day long, heck if I keep doing what I’m doing then ill be a beast by the time I make it to black belt.

  13. Carlos says:

    Man, you are a “SUPER RYRON”…Your technique is so High Level that almost 100% of sport jiu jitsu black belts didn´t understanded what you did…Just in the begining of the fight you,like a Gracie Jiu Jitsu Master, gived your lappel and Galvão taked!!!In that time I thinked: Will be Galvão able to Survive for 20 minutes?Then i saw something impressive: one of the best(for sure)champion of sport jiu jitsu, uses athleticism, strenght and speed to don´t be in worst-case scenarios, because they don´t know how to defend himselves against other Blackbelts…This is like to be a blackbelt and know just half of the techniques. And worst, you learn in sport jiu jitsu how to be one good atacker and not to be safe in a street fight. Mindset is everything. It´s easy to see that Gracie Jiu jitsu is better than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And yes, is different.Thank you Ryron, your playful fight against Galvão showed us how confident you are in the technique, and just tested yourselve like your GrandFather and father has done with Kimura and Gracie Garage.Be healthy everyone!!!(sorry the poor English)

    • Thank you my friend .Also so you know, Gracie and Brazilian jiu jitsu is the same thing. Some just practice different than others. I am happy that you have learned and that you see what the greater lesson is. peace to you.

  14. That is amazing! But what if my gym is focused in Sport Jui-Jitsu? I’m mean, I’ve started few days ago and know just a couple of moves. They will teach me how to sport, but what should be my approach to ask for them for self-defense moves?

  15. Vini says:

    Bro… this blog just gets better! SICK! o/


  16. Jma says:

    I agree so many ppl tend to focus purely on sport and do not bother to practice or even learn distance management preparing themselves for an actual fight.

    That’s why I love the Gracie combatives system. Keep putting out more lessons for the university! Thanks to you and Rener for your time and knowledge. Keep it playful!

  17. Ed says:

    Hi ryron,

    Im a white belt here who’s been training for 2 months now and though I am completely new to brazilian jiu jitsu and its ideals and philosophy (aside from poring every single 1st/2nd generation gracie interview I can find..and gracie academy of course :P) I must say that your approach (which i suppose is helio gracies also) when rolling is the one I identify with the most and your style is the one I hope to emulate one day.

    Just the other day I was over hearing my instructor rant about how your match/performance with Andre Galvao was completely “unacceptable!” and that Andre should have been deemed the victor and I was shocked! I would have thought that of all people he would have been the one who’d appreciate those moments where you capitalized on that small window of time to put andre back on his heels. Oh well, to each his own I guess.

    Anyways, I just thought I’d leave a comment to say that I have the utmost respect for you, your philosophy, and skill set. And to make you proud, I plan on enrolling at a well respected academy in nyc for the next three months and I plan on dedicating each one of those months to learning techniques for the following (escaping the side mount [my worst], escaping the mount, and escaping the half-guard) 🙂

    With your blessing I shall hopefully become a superior-inferior! lol

    Much respect,


  18. christeillas says:

    Hi Ryron, I admired your technique against Andre on Metamoris. As Im a skinny guy thats my choice against bigger and stronger opponents. I hope one day we have the opportunity to see you around here in Argentina!!

    Ate mais!!!

  19. Rome says:


    I’m so happy to have found this blog! I’ve been promoting it within my circles and telling my peers about your insightful approach not only in BJJ, but in life. I also am a white belt with three months in, I’ve competed once and nearly took third in a sudden death – submission only tournament. While I appreciate the art in competitive training, I’m beginning to notice my gym is also very sport-mma driven. So what I’ve started is to form my own ‘system’, making your philosophy of “keep it playful” as my main goal. It’s against the grain here, but that,mindset has yielded immediate results not only on the mat, but off the mat. Loved your match with Andre!!!! Keep your head up, stay positive and keep it playful my friend!!!!!!
    P.S. I’m sending a paid returned envelope today to an address you posted here. I need patches to keep it real!!!! 🙂

    • I look forward to hearing more about your growth, and thanks for the amazing feedback. Set the example and watch the other students at your school quit because they expect too much form themselves and take it too seriously.

  20. hawkhardy says:

    Great Blog Bro! The match between you and Andre was spectacular! Your use of the hi-low guard showed me some things I was missing on it. The safe hands also showed me some links that I can really use if an opp. goes around to set up an armlock. I never felt Andre could tap you unless he got real lucky, which is always possible. I was very impressed with his sidemount, but when he quickly jumped from mount to crossbody after you had rolled him I knew you had got into his head.
    I was surprised he was so worried about you being in his guard. I was further surprised at his complete avoidance in the last 5 minutes. Your Dad, Royce, Rickson, Relson, Royler and others of your family turned the Martial Arts World on its ear in the 90s, but you, with your performance at Metamoris, have turned the Jiu-Jitsu World on its ear now. Like back in the 90s, the Wrestlers and Strikers moaned & groaned as are many sport practitioners now. But, like those excuse makers in the 90s, the excuse makers of today know deep in their heart what you did was exactly what they said you couldn’t do and exactly what you said you would do. I wouldn’t give a thing for the medals I won when I was in competition. They were a goal I strived for that I accomplished, but they have never meant as much to me as the lessons learned, and used in the street, from your Dad, Royce, you, and Rener. Since GC, Stripe 1 & 2 have been released, I’ve picked up little things in the techniques that have made my Jiu-Jitsu better, but the things I have picked up as to mindset have been astronomical. Thanks to you & Rener & your Dad’s & Royce’s help with the Gracie Diet, I really feel I can train the rest of my life, ever how much I have left! Thanks Bro for not only talking the talk, but walking the walk!

  21. stphnruane says:

    Hey Ryron,

    Really enjoying reading your blogs. I’m finding that the ‘keep it playful’ mantra is sinking deeper and deeper into my psyche. On the mat and off. I thankyou for this and look forward to reading and seeing more!


  22. Derrick says:

    No need to defend yourself about the Metamoris criticism any further. You did amazing and could’ve very likely won if it was a real fight. You clearly had MUCH more in the gas tank at the end of the 20 minutes. Let the haters, hate. You did exactly what you should’ve. Since when is Jujitsu about exposing yourself to please an audience. You reacted to what you were given and if your opponent didn’t like it, he could’ve changed HIS strategy.
    Thank you so much for the information you share. A simple shift in mental game has allowed me to excel more than ever. You are a part of the reason for that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  23. Great blog Ryron, keep the thoughts rolling. We all learn so much from your musings. I know you have gotten your defense up to such a ridiculus level that you truly are looking for the tap as to learn even more. I would think the one person that could do that better than most and thus teach you even more would be Rickson. Is this a possibility, or are you 2 both to busy for this to really be a viable choice in your search for knowledge?

    ~Chad Maulolo

  24. Shawn says:

    Ryron, I see how well we can apply the philosophy into our master cycle classes and free rolling, it has started to change everything, thank you. Now in my fifties I can see a much longer career on the mat. How can we apply it in our combatives teaching which involves no free rolling and is more “fight oriented” so to speak?

    • Its ok for combatives students to play street and be street. When doing combatives Reflex Development the students should allow themselves to be very playful doing such things like losing back control and ending up in a headlock. This will help build comfort with what to do when things go south.
      Keep up the great work my man!

  25. Lee says:

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but isn’t the sport aspect of Jiu Jitsu called judo? therefore, anyone saying they are involved with sport jiu jitsu has already declared a huge oxymoron. Watch the jiu jitsu in the Gracies in Action to see how realistic your jiu jitsu is..or isn’t.

  26. Steven Ford says:

    I live in South Africa and one day I may start practicing marital arts, and if I do, it will definitely be GJJ…but for now I will just stick to the Gracie Insider 🙂

    Well done on your battle with Galvao! Bottom-line is you both played the same rules and you both played well. I was very impressed though how a “teacher” pretty much held-fort against a world class “competitor”. Furthermore, I’m sure you would have won if time permitted i.e. street fight conditions. So I take my hat off to you…先生.

  27. abel flores says:

    Thank you so much for opening my mind. Before the Metamoris match I picked Galvao to win, so imagine my surprise when I saw real Jiujitsu being demonstrated by you. Some people maybe able to score fifty thousand points, but if they didn’t get the sub, then they didn’t get the sub!!!

    • Thanks a million. He both do real jiu jitsu I am just a little more survival focused. He is also about survival and you see that by how little he attacked. Great experience..

  28. Great topic, I’m 2 years down the road on my Jiu Jitsu journey and this has opened my eyes to the way some things are taught where I train.

  29. fluctuat nec mergitur says:

    “Vacuum is all potent because all containing. In vacuum alone motion becomes possible. One who could make of himself a vacuum into which others might freely enter would become master of all situations. The whole can always dominate the part.”

    (Kakuzo Okakura: The Book of Tea)

  30. Dylan Nguyen says:

    When I first begin looking into jiu-jitsu, I had come from a background with various striking martial arts so I was very accustomed to competitions. So when I started I was only thinking of sport jiu-jitsu as the only way of learning the art. I’m still just a white belt with much to learn, but after watching countless videos from Helio all the way through to you and Rener I realized there was another way, and jiu-jitsu became more than just a sport. It’s a way of life and journey that I hope to be able to continue ’til my very last day like your grandfather. So thank you for all you and your grandfather have done. Thank you for keeping the art so beautiful and giving it more meaning than points on a screen. And I hope to attend a seminar of yours soon, maybe in my small state of Oklahoma!

    – Dylan

  31. David says:

    Can someone tell me where I can buy a keepitplayful patch?

  32. Great article Ryron! I started Jiu Jitsu at age 38, and I really struggled. Then I found Saulo Ribiero’s JJ University where he devotes an entire chapter to survival philosophy and techniques. He refers specifically to Grandmaster Helio several times in that chapter. I made those techniques my only focus for the first 12 months of my training. Now, 18 months later, age 40, I have just received my blue belt. I love JJ, and I enjoy every training session immensely because I have two priorities each time I hit the mat:

    1: Survive first.
    2: Keep it playful!

    Thanks for a great blog!

  33. kngbnb says:

    Ever since I’ve been rolling with the “keepitplayful” mindset, and roll with others from sport focused schools, they always tell me, “wow, this is cool. I’ve never rolled like this before! I like it; more technique and I feel like I’m actually doing Jiu-Jitsu!”
    And although I still get tapped out by many, I know that I’m more aware of coming submissions, and little by little I’m able to survive without giving away submissions. I hope in a few years, I can start focusing on my submissions more, since I don’t always go for the “finish”!!! Always looking up to all you guys!!!

  34. GM says:

    So tonight I was on the mats and rolling around as I have for the last decade: slow, persistant, methodical and exploratative. Then comes on to the mats this newer fellow who had as his mission to do his best and get ‘er done! I didn’t immediately recognize what I was rolling with, but after 15 seconds, I realized I’d dropped off the deep end. Me, 40, versus 24-new-at-bjj-and-going-to-show-how-it’s-done. My inner Ryron piped up and yelled in my ear, “keep it playful; keep it real man!” and immediately I melted and let it roll. Granted, I got picked up and dumped lots on my back and head, but it was five minutes of me letting it ride to see where we went and to keep it safe and real. In the end, five minutes wasn’t enough and we were both ready to keep it going, but it was five minutes in which I improved my timing and sensitivity to what was really going on. Thanks Ryron.

    • Steve says:

      Awesome dude!!!! I deal with the same crap every night, (and I’m 45, lol!). But, I’m to the point already after just 2 months of Ryron’s Philosophy, that I ALWAYS end up catching these guys. I’ve been training 12 years, but probably my biggest jump in my game has come from Ryron over the last 2 months nearly.

      I love how Ryron puts it, “they tap themselves!” So, so true!

      Keep it Playful!

    • Great work! people are only going to get more frustrated. wait and see. 🙂

  35. Alfie says:

    Officially dedicating one day a week to defence. Listening and reading about your philosiphy has opened my eyes to another part of the game. Thank you

  36. Rob Reynolds says:


    It is great to read your mindset on survival and Jiu Jitsu for self-defense. I have always trained for self defense rather than sport, but you take it to an entire new level. I have embraced the KeepItPlayful mindset and profess it to my students. Most of them also embrace it, but I have a few who are just so goal oriented to win, they end up losing… As an example, two of my students were sparring the other day. One is very playful, the other not so much. His ego is extremely huge, and takes any defeat as a devastating blow to his manhood. What advice can you give to reach this student and turn the light bulb on to keeping it playful? Maybe I am not explaining it right, so any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for all you and your family do for the art of Jiu Jitsu and hope to see you on the mat in February. 🙂


    • He has to read this and learn that when he loses and lets someone defeat him he is actually investing in his future and it will make him better than the rest. Glad to hear that you are sharing the mindset. all the best bro!

  37. Adam says:

    Ryron. What is up bro? I am curious as to what your top 3 most influential reads are. If I have not already studied them, I am eager to do so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s