Combative vs. Competitive Jujitsu

Grounded vs standing

As competition (sport) jujitsu has increasingly overshadowed the art’s self-defense roots, there has been discussion within the Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) community about getting back to self defense. It is a testament to the flexibility and adaptability of the fundamental concept of “ju” () that there even is such a discussion; and that there is room for so many different expressions of the art – even within BJJ.

There are, however, key differences between using jujitsu for defensive or tactical applications – handling violent assailants under uncontrolled circumstances (i.e. “the street”) – and when using it in controlled, technically regulated matches. These start with the ways in which we fundamentally think about the tactics and technical choices we make.

For example:

Q: What percentage of total practice is conducted standing up?

A: If the answer is that standing practice is anything less than 50% of the total aggregate, you are not approaching jujitsu with a tactical – or practical – mindset.

And yes, practicing this way is altering how the body is wired for combative action, to equate fighting with willingly going to,  and remaining on the ground, as the default.

You fight the way you train.

Q: When practicing throws, how often do you go to the ground with or before your opponent, rather than staying on your feet?

A: Staying on your feet should be a prime motivation in throwing. You stay standing, they go down.

I know, I know, especially with skilled opponents this might not happen much, but you should be practicing with the view that you stay up, the opponent goes down, and then you choose your next move: create space and disengage, top control immediately from the throw, or standing pass to top control.

Wait – we’re talking jujitsu, not Judo, right?

Yes. Because both are Basically Just Jujitsu…

Q: Do you believe that pins “do not count in real fighting,” or that they are inconsequential to a self defense or combative encounter?

A:  This is not only a competition mindset, it’s rules-specific. Some grappling arts allow pins as winning or scoring techniques.

Pins very much do matter in actual combatives. If I got pinned in a match for ten or twenty minutes, with little or no freedom of movement, and then somehow in the end squeaked out a lucky submission, I’d consider that a loss, or at best a draw.

Someone dominating my movement in a situation where they can strike me at will, access a weapon, or use the environment against me (pounding my head onto the concrete), or have their friends come and help, will not be solved by my waiting for them to get tired or for me to get lucky.

Q: Are submissions a better indicator of combative effectiveness? Are submission-only tournaments more “realistic?”

A: Another rules-specific competition mindset.* (see note) In fact, it is entirely feasible, and in many cases more practical and more tactically sound, to practice a combative approach to jujitsu with no submissions at all.

Many limb-submissions may matter little in actual combatives – where opponents may have levels of motivation and pain tolerance far surpassing normal due to drugs or derangement.

Others limit our ability to escape or respond to sudden changes because the limbs and focus are tied up with the opponent.

Sometimes this will be situation-specific (I know of a fight ended with a foot lock -from standing – for instance, and I have personally done so with arm locks, but only because the offender gave up mentally and/or physically), and a fast strangle that does not tie up with an attacker can be golden in an real situation.

But by and large if you are hunting for arm bars or clothing strangles while on your back, or taking the back, getting hooks in, and going for a rear naked choke, you are playing jujitsu versus fighting with jujitsu.

Not all that fun to watch from a competitive standpoint. Submission-only jujitsu showcases one thing well – skill at submissions, which is important for the art and sport of jujitsu, but less so for a comprehensive approach to combatives.


japanesewoodcutsmall (1)

Positional Dominance 

An important concept in competitive grappling, the idea of Positional Dominance, has been adopted into the tactical lexicon by some instructors. Unfortunately this glosses important differences between what are advisable positions in a tactical or defensive situation and what works under academy or competitive conditions.

To differentiate I prefer the term Position of Advantage…I’ll call it P of A.

P of A, as I see it,  includes commonly accepted Dominant Positions, yet excludes others. Not all dominant positions are positions of advantage, and not all positions of advantage are dominant positions. In some cases the crossover is direct. In others, more tactically advisable positions are not the same as those predicated on a “finish” in competition. In these latter cases, P of A may not be equated with Positional Dominance.

Position of Advantage is found in retaining initiative and mobility, that is, the ability to maneuver free of the opponent.

Positional advantage therefore is often transient and rapidly changing, and rather than tying up and vying for superiority based on a submission – P of A may simply be frustrating an adversary’s efforts by refusing to engage in a standard way, which he is unable to control.

Take for example, the clinch in boxing. Clinching is known as a tool to limit the damage a superior boxer can do, and limit their ability to move and strike freely. It is regulated in boxing and fighters are separated when it happens.

Similarly, in grappling, continuously refusing to grip and preventing an opponent from coming to grips, or, in ground fighting continuously disengaging and backing away to make the other fighter stand up, or holding a position and “doing nothing,”  is regulated.

Similarly, it is not customary to train boxing specializing in clinching to avoid ….boxing. Or in grappling to avoid actually coming to grips and thus…grappling. It’s considered “stalling,” and worse. This “negative ” approach would likely considered unsportsman-like in a boxing gym, judo dojo or jujitsu academy.  It is regulated by the rules and frowned up because it prevents skilled people from actually using their skills.

Turn that on it’s head, and think of it from a defensive perspective. Things that make you go hmmmm…..


Notes –

*There is a notion that rules somehow don’t matter, or are inconsequential, when it comes to pass that there are no rules, and that someone that cannot be beaten under a set of rules is therefore not able to be defeated under others, or when there are no rules.

Think about that for a minute.

Modern jujitsu’s history provides the best example of this not being the case with the torturous demands over rules in challenge matches in the early days – when it was then simply an offshoot of Kodokan Judo. Robert Drysdale addressed this in a recent article that I blogged about here.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s