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Does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Still Work for Self-Defense?

Does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Still Work for Self-Defense?


Does Brazilian Jiu Jitsu still work for self-defense?  This is a question that is often asked among the bjj community.  People tend to believe that the day of bjj as a martial art and self-defense are long gone, but is this true?  Well, this question tends to be very debatable and very subjective.  In short, no they are not, but this is a complex question that requires an even more complex answer.  To get into this topic we have to go over the history of bjj, discover the roots and learn more.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu had a quick rise to popularity after the first few UFC events.  The original UFC events were tournaments that had no holds barred matches with people, there were no gloves, no weight classes, and no rules.  Royce Gracie was an unknown person and was small; he managed to win the tournament in a dominating fashion several times.  He was able to defeat wrestlers, boxers, karate black belts, Judokas, and many other martial artists.

This is what gave bjj the credibility and established it as the best martial art in the world.  After people watched this small guys beat everybody with ease, everyone wanted to learn this new art.  If we look at a timeline of martial arts, BJJ is relatively new; it has not been around for too long.  People that watched Royce all wanted to learn and this event lead to the infamous Gracie Challenges.

The Gracie Challenge Matches

The Gracie Challenge matches can be seen on YouTube and we will share them below.  For those that don’t know, the Gracie Challenge matches occurred because many martial artists did not believe in the effectiveness of bjj so they went to the Gracie Academies around the world and challenged the Gracies to a fight.  Black belts from karate, tae kwon doe, kung fu, kenpo, and many other martial arts did not want to believe that one martial art could be better than the rest. 

Naturally, they wanted to test themselves, these fights became known to us as the Gracie Challenge matches.  The outcome was always the same; the Jiu Jitsu practitioner would win in a dominating fashion.  They would destroy these martial artists and many of these men realized they had wasted years of their lives practicing inefficient and unpractical martial arts.  These matches deemed bjj as the best martial art for self-defense, but is it still?  Take a look at these Gracie Challenges below.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Today

Today Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has changed anyone who is denying this is probably crazy.  If you trained in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, you would know that the techniques have changed, the demeanor has changed, and so much of bjj has changed, but is it a bad thing?  Well, let’s think about why bjj has changed, the main reason is the fact that it has exploded with popularity.  In the 1990’s, it was one of the most difficult martial arts to train, you had the Gracie’s and the Machado’s, yes there were some other schools and lineages, but these were the most sought after.  Today you can go to almost any city in America and find several bjj academies; the world is saturated with bjj.

Not only are there more academies but as the world progresses and becomes more technologically advanced, so does bjj.  You can learn bjj from online academies, YouTube, and many more sources.  You don’t ever have to step foot in a bjj academy to learn the basics.   With all of this growth, more and more people are starting to compete, and with the growth in competition, we see new techniques and styles emerging.  This is the main argument for why bjj is no longer effective as a martial art, people believe it is becoming a sport where people train to win rulesets and not to defend themselves.

This is true under many circumstances, but this does not prove that bjj is no longer effective as a form of self-defense.  On the contrary, it may prove that people are better at bjj then ever.  Yes there are certain techniques that are not “street applicable” but that should not matter.  Any high level blue belt and up competitor knows enough technique to adequately defend themselves against an opponent, they could easily defend themselves in a one on one self-defense altercation.

Yes the berimbolo is fancy and would not work on the street but if somebody understand the complexity of a berimbolo and is capable of doing this against a highly resistant opponent in a competition, they are surely able to defeat an untrained attacker in a fight.  Fundamentals are what we would use in a self-defense situation, dealing with an untrained person is extremely simple because they have no concept of the guard, of sweeps, of submissions, and they have no preconceived notion of how to grapple. 

The only thing that someone needs to know to defeat someone in a self-defense altercation is a simple guard pass, a shrimp, some half guard sweeps, some closed guard attacks, takedowns, and good control.  These are all things that almost anybody who trains bjj will learn in their white belt stage.  Ask almost any blue belt at any academy in the world to show you one takedown, one sweep from half, one sweep from closed, and how to maintain side, mount and back and we are positive 99% would be able to do that. 

Now a different question could be “do people put emphasis on training self-defense bjj?”  This is a definite no.  Everyday less and less schools are learning the original Gracie Combative curriculum, they are not working with punches and kicks but they are still teaching the basics, just maybe in a different way.   Jiu Jitsu is still an excellent martial art to train for self-defense. 

This is because it is one of, if not the only martial art that you can spar as hard as you want and practice your techniques against a realistic and resistant opponent.  When you get your training partner in an arm bar they are trying to get out, when you try to take them down, they resist, and when you try to submit or sweep them, they don’t just let you.  This realism is what has segregated bjj from all other martial arts for so many years.  Since there are no punches and kicks, you can train hard and realistically.  If you want to learn some bjj self-defense with one of Jiu Jitsu most seasoned competitors, check out this video below with ADCC open weight champion, Dean Lister below where he demonstrates how to escape a rear naked choke.


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