BJJ Poll: What Percent of Time Does Your School Devote to Learning Self-Defense Techniques?

This week’s poll came to us from Jason (if anyone’s suggested it in the past and it slipped my mind, I apologize). This is a very interesting poll idea and gets to the heart of many debates in our jiu-jitsu community. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a constantly evolving set of techniques and as time goes on, there are more techniques and things to focus on when we train jiu-jitsu but the same number of hours in a day. So some things will likely be set aside along the way.

Many have argued that self defense – the fundamental reason for Brazilian jiu-jitsu – has been abandoned in the average BJJ school in favor of techniques and moves that are only worthwhile in a BJJ tournament. Perhaps the most vocal in this belief is the crew at the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California, lead by Helio Gracie’s eldest son Rorion Gracie.

Please don’t over-think this and say, “all the techniques I learn are self defense techniques because you never know, that crazy flying coconut-plata submission I just saw on YouTube could work in a street fight!” When I say “basic self-defense techniques”, you know which ones I’m speaking about.

As always, leave your comments on this below after voting!

13 Replies to “BJJ Poll: What Percent of Time Does Your School Devote to Learning Self-Defense Techniques?”

  1. Caleb – I am a blue belt at the Gracie Academy in Torrance. As Rener has mentioned in a previous podcast, when a student walks through the doors at their academy their expectation is that he/she is wanting self defense instruction. I have been training there since 2007 and it is what drew me to the academy. And, it is what keeps me going back. I love to watch and keep up with sport jiu jitsu. However, my focus as I closely approach 40 and watch my children grow older will remain self defense. I want to ensure that my kids also have the ability to protect themselves physically, verbally, mentally, and emotionally as they grow older. I believe that the academy’s focus does just that.


  2. I train at a Gracie-Barra school headed by a pair of brother black belts, and they are very firmly in the camp that BJJ is self-defense first and sport second. But being a Gracie-Barra school, they follow the line set down by the central academy, which does away with a lot self-defense.

    They still find ways to get into the classes, but not nearly to the degree they would like and are trying to develop a program that is all self-defense, but for now they take an odd week or month here and there and shift the focus over to defending strikes from positions or controlling someone who is being violent.

  3. I don’t think they do anything I would call ‘self defence’ where I am currently (Gracie Barra Birmingham, Braulio Estima‘s school), but on the other hand, I haven’t been to all the many classes, so perhaps it pops up in the Foundation sessions.

    The place I trained at before then, Roger Gracie Bucks, had specific bits devoted to self defence, based on the Gracie Barra Fundamentals curriculum. I also occasionally encountered it at the main Roger Gracie Academy in London.

    My personal preference would be a school that doesn’t bother with it at all, or if it does, done in a separate class I can avoid. I don’t enjoy doing compliant self defence drills that for me don’t serve any particular purpose. The great thing about BJJ is the aliveness, so that whenever you learn a technique, you know you can test it immediately in sparring, working out the kinks, exploring variations etc. That doesn’t happen with bear hug escapes and the like.

    But to each their own: like I said in the last poll, I’m not big on self defence, particularly as I’m still dubious about the ‘sport’/’self defence’ split anyway (lots more babbling on that here).

  4. Im with Slidey, but my reason is that i have over 10 years jap jj experience and have no desire to return as i much prefer the sport aspects of bjj

  5. I think both aspects are what make BJJ great.

    It was started as a self-defense art but the sporting aspect keeps us sharp and focused on techniques that work and are practical, and it keeps us from becoming Aikido.

    But we are not so focused on the sport aspect that we loose sections of our art the way Olympic Judo lost a lot of ne-waza as the focus in many schools shifted purely to the techniques favored under Olympic scoring rules.

    BJJ so far has walked the line between them pretty effectively so far.

  6. Ryron Gracie has super strong emphasis on self defense. He teaches almost all the self defense classes at Gracie Torrance. Of course other instructors would reinforce the sportive techniques with self defense disclaimers such as “This technique is great on the mat sparring but it wouldn’t be practical in a real street fight”

    Few of my friends come from Gracie Barra and I learned that they have a great beginner program with strong emphasize on self defense but from blue belt on, it’s mostly sport techniques.

    Regardless, I think a lot of the no-gi stuff could work well in self defense situations.

  7. I’m with Slidey and Meerkatsu on this one. Other than maybe learning a bit of how to try to defend against a weapon if I were forced into the situation, I’m content with the so-called “sport” focus. My coach does take time to show how to defend/avoid punches and kicks and mitigate damage, but more from an MMA perspective than a self-defense perspective. I feel like the aliveness of BJJ, both gi and no-gi is extremely applicable for unarmed combat, regardless of whether or not it focuses on self-defense. Self-defense training all too often for me evokes images of unrealistic, slow motion drills, unlikely situations and shadow boxing.

  8. BJJ is life. I let it breath, I’m not worried about self-defense. I enjoy Jiu-Jitsu for Jiu-Jitsu alone. When we see very young children taking BJJ classes I’m sure they are not super pre occupied about the self-defense aspects as much as adults are. The kids are learning and having so much fun.. That is the essence I want to grasp and not let go of while I’m rolling on the mat having fun during the best part of day, Jiu-Jitsu Class.

  9. i am the one who suggested this question, and i am not shocked that 70% of schools teach it 10% of the time or less. i just dont understand how someone can go to a school and not learn all of the art, the art that helio made. brazilian jiu jitsu is a self defense art first, and a competition sport second. i dont understand how someone can become a black belt in bjj, and not know the self defense techiques.

    do you guys think when you get into a street fight your gonna do the rubberband guard, heck no your face will prolly get caved about stick, gun, and knife self defense.
    im kinda rambling on now, so all i have to say is give the self defense a try, its not like the goofy kung fu self defense, its real tested techniques.

    we are losing the essense of bjj in america, all most people care about is the cool flying armbars and flashy things like that. i dare any of you to pick up helios bjj book and read what he originally wanted his art to be.

  10. Jason – BJJ is not Helio’s art. He was taught by his older brothers. Carlos was the first to learn Jiu-Jitsu from Maeda. Helio was a link that was part of a global chain. He is no more or less important then Carlos, Carlson or Rolls.

    Everyone who wants to train and learn BJJ today has his/her own reasons to do so. My opinion on the matter is clear. I am BJJ. I’m nothing fancy or special, I’m not Chuck Norris and I’m not at all worried about a street fight. I train BJJ day in and day out for one reason only, Jiu-Jitsu. The beautiful art. What people want to do with it is their business. I just enjoy it for what it is. As it allows me to get to know myself better, everyday.

  11. phil

    carlos taught the japeanese style of ju jutsu, helio was too week, and small to learn that, so helio developed bjj. instead of using strength to move his opponent he used leaverage, and his opponents weight against him.

  12. Jason – Carlos and all his brothers were instrumental in the develpoment of BJJ in the early part of the 20th century. Check out podcast #190 Where Renzo sheds light on the this topic. On a side note, my fathers good friend whom is a Brazilian man in his late 80’s from Rio de Janerio.. in various conversations I had with him, he let me know of Carlos Gracie’s influence during the golden years of BJJ/Valetudo in Rio and of Helio’s. Carlos was the number 1 until the early mid 90’s where Helio took his place.

  13. IMHO, if a BJJ school purports to teach self-defense concepts, then it had better do so. Unfortunately, with the advent & popularity of MMA, BJJ academies within the past 10 years have attempted to cash in on the popularity of the sport by emphasizing sport BJJ over self-defense in their curriculum. It’s really no different than ATA Tae Kwon Do schools professing to teach viable self-defense, when in reality, they teach (or at least used to before the implementation of Krav Maga into their curriculum) one and two-step techniques which gave students a false sense of security in their art. Another downside to this whole debacle is that people are learning primarily sport techniques, which may or may not be completely useful in situations where self-preservation becomes necessary. Now, I am not saying that every sportive technique is useless; some can translate to street defense. However, it’s the philosophy and training mindset of “sport” MMA schools that flatters to deceive when the issue of self-defense comes up. And this is of concern when it comes down to whether or not what you’re learning is actually dependable once you leave your training facility and go back into the big bad world.

    What do I mean by the training philosophy espoused by instructors when teaching martial arts? First, you have to look at the instructor’s ideals of self-defense and discuss with them their interpretation of it. What does self-defense entail? In what way(s) do they instill confident psychology in their students that BJJ is undoubtedly a form of self-defense that they can trust and/or rely on? How much time does the instructor spend teaching self-defense vs. sport bjj? What type of self-preservation training does the instructor implement, i.e., unarmed defense vs. blunt objects, edged weapons, firearms, etc. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list but it does goad you into thinking about what you’re looking for with regard to self-defense/preservation training. In some instances, you may not even want to train purely BJJ; you may be better served training in reality-based combatives where students are exposed to various elements and environments.

    Again, it boils down to what your personal goals are in training. As some have mentioned, they train merely for the love of the art, for health purposes, or with BJJ sport training in mind. In no way am I bashing either of those approaches as I believe they are integral parts of any martial art. However, I would respectfully disagree with the point that relying upon “aliveness” alone would benefit someone in a self-defense situation. I would agree that aliveness significantly improves reaction time, technique and awareness; however, it only gets you so far. That’s where training actual self-defense techniques comes in…it’s fairly rudimentary if you think about it.

    I’ll use my personal experience as a final example and quell the rambling. Before joining Gracie Barra, I trained at a small, unaffiliated BJJ school where the professor originally emphasized self-defense. In fact, you couldn’t graduate to the next belt level until you could demonstrate proficient use of BJJ in a variety of self-defense situations and proficient use of proper technique. Interestingly, advancing in the art didn’t rest solely upon how many tournaments you entered or how many medals you won for your school, yada yada yada. Recently, the philosophy of training predominantly focused on sport BJJ, while the self-defense significantly dwindled to maybe, if we were lucky, once a week. I attribute that to the fact he was trying to generate more business by playing into the sport bjj/MMA movement, which is understandable from a business perspective. After moving, I began researching local schools and GB demonstrated an emphasis on self-defense, and the main reason why I train in BJJ. Every class starts off with self-defense. Our professor continuously states that training in BJJ is useless if you only train sport, but can’t use it proficiently in a self-defense situation. He even teaches us to use de-escalation techniques to avoid encounters, but sometimes, those do not work. So, your acuity and training come into play when that fails to squash the situation. To me, that’s a perfect reason why we train the way that we do. Going back to my earlier ATA analogy, it’s a case of false security in your art where if you aren’t properly taught how to de-escalate the situation or if need be, defend yourself, what then?

    Something to think about…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *