Training With a Self-Defense Mindset

One of the main elements of a complete Jiu-jitsu system is the stand-up self-defense curriculum.  This is an element that is often overlooked, or ignored in many academies, but ironically, is the reason that most average people start training Jiu-jitsu in the first place.  Many people start their Jiu-jitsu journey because, in addition to its many other benefits, they want to learn how to protect themselves.  Rarely do they start training because they want to learn how to score an advantage point in a competition with the latest inverted worm-guard variation.  Don't get me wrong....Jiu-jitsu is infinite, and I believe that you should try to learn as much about all of it as you can.  But, you have to make sure that your personal reasons for training line up with what you are actually spending your time working on.  You can still keep up with the latest guard variations and stylistic trends and techniques that are limited in scope to a more sport  specific purpose.  These techniques can be fun and challenging to train,  and they have their place.  But, if your primary goal is to learn to defend yourself, you should be devoting the majority of your time to the fundamentals techniques and those that have the most application to a real life self-defense situation, BOTH standing up AND on the ground. 

In our academy, there is a heavy focus on "self-defense" techniques, particularly in our Jiu-jitsu Fundamentals program.  There is a good reason for this.  Considering that, statistically, most people that start Jiu-jitsu won't last more than a year or two, this ensures that, in the unfortunate event that they end up down the road at some point needing to physically defend themselves, they will hopefully have developed a sufficient level of skill in this area to effectively survive and overcome an aggressive attacker.  For those who stay in Jiu-jitsu long term, they can of course work on more advanced techniques and concepts, but they will have already developed a solid base of fundamental self-defense techniques, and the mindset to implement them effectively.

We often tend to separate the ideas of the stand-up self-defense techniques with the ground techniques.  Jiu-jitsu is perhaps best know for its ground grappling techniques, and indeed does places a strong emphasis on these positions, for good reason. Putting someone on the ground provides a much more stable platform to control their movement and utilize body weight for added control and leverage.  And of course, if you are going to be competent in fighting on the ground, you must be able to apply techniques efficiently from both the top & bottom positions.  It is generally true that most fights will end up at some point in a grounded positions.  But, it is also the case that almost every fight starts from the feet.  So, the stand up self defense techniques and the ground techniques should work together and flow from one to another seemlessly.  In reality, the ground and standing technique are the same thing.  All of Jiu-jitsu is self-defense!

If you are training for self-defense, there are a couple of important considerations that will determine your strategy and approach to training:

1. How the fight starts, and
2. Who is your opponent?

How the Fight Starts-
As previously mentioned, in almost every case, any type of street fight or self-defense situation starts on the feet.  However, there are a few different dynamics to how this can take place. 

"Fair Fight"
Probably the most rare, is the "fair fight"scenario.  That is, where both participants mutually agree to combat.  They both enter into the event with full knowledge that a physical confrontation is going to take place and have agreed, either through verbal interaction, or body language, to fight with each other.  Even in this rare instance however, one must always consider the possibility that 3rd party bystanders could unexpectedly become involved.  From a self-defense stand point, this situation is very easy to avoid in most cases by simply walking away or otherwise removing yourself from the situation.

"Escalated Verbal Conflict"
This is a very common situation where the two combatants first engage in some type of verbal altercation, which ultimately leads to a violent physical encounter.  The situation may have started as some type of a simple argument and then one or both participants escalate it to a physical encounter.  There is very often a lot of posturing, pushing or shoving prior to the fight.  These situations can best be dealt with through maintaining proper distance management, posture, and verbal de-escalation techniques. 

"Surprise Attack"
This is a true self-defense scenario where one (or more) person(s) are the aggressor, and there is a clear target for their violent act.  The classic scenario of walking down a dark alley and being suddenly accosted by a stranger would be an example.  Obviously, this type of attack is difficult to anticipate, however it can best be avoided by practicing good common sense, and situational awareness.

While there may be other forms of physical violence that could be categorized differently (such as domestic violence situations in intimate relationships), for the purposes of this article, we will focus on these primary three. 

Who is Your Attacker-
The next consideration is actually who your likely attacker would be.  Chances are, you are going to be dealing with someone that is bigger, physically stronger, more aggressive, and possibly more athletic than you.  At least, this is the "worst case scenario" that you should be training for.  There are no "weight classes" in a street fight.  The good news is, the longer you practice Jiu-jitsu, the better your ability to deal with this type of size and strength disparities will be.  The problem is, the people you are training with also train Jiu-jitsu.  After a few years of training, Jiu-jitsu practitioners move and react differently from the average person.  It is important as a practitioner of Jiu-jitsu, to understand how to escape from armbars and triangle chokes, to defend sweeps and guard passes, etc.  However, this is not what you are most likely to encounter in a street fight.  The number of trained Jiu-jitsu fighters in the general population is very small.  It is very unlikely that you would end up in a street fight/self-defense situation against a black belt, or for that matter even a blue belt in Jiu-jitsu.  Your most likely opponent will be largely unskilled, but probably very aggressive.  It is important to keep that in mind and train in a way that accounts for this. 

Of course, any fight is dynamic....anything can happen.  But, it is important to consider not just what is possible, but what is PROBABLE.  What is the most likely scenario?  Understanding that your potential attacker will probably not be a technically skilled opponent, and that they will not move or react like someone who has had any significant amount of Jiu-jitsu training, it is imperative to train in a way that mimics what you are likely to face in a real world situation.  It is possible to study actual street fights to see the dynamics of how these fights start and what are the most likely types of attacks.  This is what the stand-up self defense curriculum is comprised of.  It focuses on The MOST LIKELY scenarios, based on actually studying real-life encounters.  Techniques such as sucker punches, headlocks, tackles, and collar grabs are very common in these types of encounters.  This is why there is so much focus on these types of techniques in the stand-up self defense curriculum.  Of course, it is also important to make sure that your training partners can replicate, or simulate, the types of energy and reactions that an untrained person is likely to have.  Being prepared to deal with aggressive, untrained persons, practicing defenses again the most likely attacks, along with always practicing good situational awareness, verbal de-escalation techniques, maintaining appropriate distance-management, and always maintaining awareness of striking techniques are critical aspects of training Jiu-jitsu with a self-defense mindset.

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