Sport jiu-jitsu vs. Self Defense jiu-jitsu.

There are certain debates in the jiu-jitsu world that are timeless and not likely to be resolved any time soon. Right at the top of the list is the Sport jiu-jitsu vs. Self Defense jiu-jitsu.

Why BJJ Students Must Learn Self Defense

The primary question is “Does training positions for sports jiu-jitsu rules prepare a jiu-jitsu student for real life self defense situations?”

Arguments on one side say that if one does not train specific self defense techniques, their sport jiu-jitsu is useless for the street. Furthermore, it might even be dangerous in that it gives the student a false sense of confidence in their abilities. If you have only learned and practiced sport jiu-jitsu positions, then you will be completely unprepared for the realities of a fist fight.

The other side rejects this argument and counters by pointing out that it is difficult to conceive of a physically fit blue belt or purple belt being unable to control an untrained opponent in the event of a physical confrontation. That they would hardly choose to pull guard and attempt a berimbolo in the street and would go to the basic top control and rear naked choke to subdue a violent attacker.

If we look to Master Carlos Gracie Jr. for his philosophy on the debate, he shares his opinions in an interview titled “There Is Only One Jiu Jitsu”

“Today there is a lot of talk on the internet, and lots of debates trying to underline that there are two types of jiu jitsu, the self defence and the sport. This is a fantasy, it’s an illusion trying to separate it, jiu jitsu is just one thing.

In my eyes, everything is sport jiu jitsu and everything is self defence jiu jitsu. The sparring is the second stage in your progress. You have learnt basic positions now you are learning how to put in practice your self defence notions against someone who also knowns jiu jitsu. This is the only way you will evolve.”

Perhaps the most accurate answer lays somewhere in between the 2 opposing opinions.

There ARE specific self defense techniques that are important for all students of jiu-jitsu to learn, especially early in the GB Fundamentals program. Most people who decide to enroll in jiu-jitsu classes cite self defense as their number one reason for doing so. Jiu-jitsu students must become competent in the basic self defense techniques for common situations like standing headlock, clinch to takedown etc. Most often, once jiu-jitsu students have a solid understanding of these basic self defense techniques, they start to focus on and enjoy more sports jiu-jitsu techniques in the Advanced classes.

Although there is less emphasis on self defense in this type of training, the skills that students develop by sparring with sports positions develop are transferable to street situations.

Consider that the sports of boxing, wrestling and judo retain their effectiveness as fighting arts due to the high intensity, live sparring that are part of the regular training. They maintain that it is this experience against a fully resisting opponent that is what really counts in ones training, as opposed to the “kata” like ritualized repetition of self defense moves that are learned in many of the traditional martial arts. Without the experience of attempting to apply the techniques you are learning against a live, resisting opponent, you are less likely to achieve a high degree of skill in actuality making them work for real.

It is useful to look at our jiu-jitsu training as requiring 2 important aspects:
A) Learning of specific self defense techniques for common street situations.
B) Sport jiu-jitsu rolling and sparring build the attributes of timing, strength, pressure, base and movement to be capable of controlling a fully resisting opponent.

What aspect of jiu-jitsu appeals most to you? Self-defense or sport bjj?

See also on Gracie Barra : Master Carlos Gracie Jr.’s Philosophy on Jiu-jitsu Self Defense

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam
Instagram: @markmullen.bjj