Is BJJ Good For Self Defense?
The short answer is Yes!
The longer answer is Yes, but . . .
If we look at the history of Jujutsu (as it was called in 1800’s Japan) this term was a catch-all phrase that included many different Ryu (or schools), which each had their own emphasis. Some emphasised atemi (striking), some emphasised throwing techniques, and others submission or restraining locks on the ground.
What all schools related to a warrior’s education had in common however was that unarmed combat was likely a last resort.
Samurai wore layered armour designed to withstand attacks from a range of different weapons (piercing as well as slashing attacks), and would even wear intimidating face masks to gain a psychological edge over their opponent.
Samurai were proficient in a wide range of warfare tactics, warfare locations, and use of weapons. They are known for carrying, in addition to spear or bow and arrow and sword, many smaller knives so if they lost primary weapons and ended up grappling another armoured opponent they had something to quickly pierce their armour at short range.
Within this context jujutsu was a last resort and applied in the context of feudal warfare.
This began to change when the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, studied multiple forms of Jujustu and created his own Ryu, the Kodokan.
Kodokan Judo focused primarily on vertical grappling techniques and also ground techniques. Although Judo still acknowledged the reality of striking, headbutting, and weapons now the context had changed from the battlefield to one-on-one match fighting within the dojo.
As the Kodokan grew Judo became the premier grappling system in Japan and was even included in the national school curriculum. Representatives of Kodokan Judo were sent abroad to spread and establish Judo, ultimately helping usher Judo into the Olympic Games.
One such representative was Mitsuyo Maeda, also known as Count Combat (Conde Koma in Spanish and Portugese). By the age of 26 Maeda was a 4th Dan in Judo under one of the four ‘heavenly kings’ of the Kodokan, Tsunejiro Tomita. Both men were not physically imposing in size and Maeda was assigned to Tomita in order to demonstrate to him that size was not important.
Maeda travelled in North America and trained with wrestlers, giving many demonstrations, and then travelled through South America generating money in prize fights of various descriptions. Maeda was victorious in over 2,000 matches and on arrival in Brazil taught the Gracie family.
One of Maeda’s great contributions was his understanding of phases of combat, which is the concept that in a no or minimal rules match fight different fighters would have different ranges that they would be either strong or weak in.
If one understood which range your opponent was weak in, and you were strong within that range, your chance of victory was dramatically improved.
The Gracies took the phase of combat theory and developed it to great effect in Vale Tudo (anything goes) match fights in Brazil before coming to America and founding the UFC, which was a huge revolution in the world of martial arts.
If you didn’t know the effectiveness of ground fighting, and using ground fighting to secure one’s own dominant phase of combat, before the UFC there certainly was no denying it afterwards.
The huge benefit of ground fighting is expressed by an analogy that John Danaher uses of throwing javelin. Throwing javelin is a hugely dynamic activity that involves the generation of power. Check out the guy who INFLUENCED Danaher! Dean Lister!
Now, if we imagine that same javelin thrower on the floor how much dynamic power do we think they could generate? The answer is, nowhere near as much as they could while standing!
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This is the great leveler of ground fighting. If someone knows what they are doing on the ground they have a huge capacity to nullify someone else’s attacks and to impose their own attacks, especially if there is a skills gap.
But, the key question here is whether or not match fighting and self protection are the same thing, and the answer to this is No.
Again, context is very important.
The first core concept of self protection, which differs from a match fight, is that different attackers have different motives, different locations, and different methods.
Rory Miller in his great book ‘Meditations on Violence’ describes a typical form of violence that men find themselves in, which he terms “the monkey dance”.
The Monkey Dance is an evolutionarily wired and predictable set of behaviours that primates engage in when social hierarchy is not established, or being challenged.
The trigger for the monkey dance is a perceived threat to hierarchy or the perceived opportunity to gain status through violence.
There will very likely be body language displays when someone is behaving like this, such as splaying the arms out wide to make themselves look larger, pacing back and forth, closing down of distance, and threatening monosyllabic dialogue. “Yeah! What? WHAT?” is a typically well thought out bit of verbiage from someone doing the monkey dance.
Understanding what is happening here gives us an opportunity to make a choice. We understand what the posturing person wants (prestige) and we understand they are initially attacking through obviously aggressive words, which will likely be followed by violence.
This is different from an opportunistic mugger, who will be actively looking for an individual of value who is not paying attention to their surroundings. Once a mugger has seen someone like this they will often follow them and can ambush them through either deceptive or aggressive dialogue.
Staying aware is itself a great way not to be targeted.
There are many other examples of different self protection scenarios but they core concept is that context is key, and this is something outlined in Dean Lister’s Alpha Male Self Defense, which can be found here!