The Purpose of Self-Defense Training


A friend of mine sent me this post and asked for my opinion on it. Several of my other friends have also shared this post so I thought rather than replying privately, I would make a blog post for all to see.


a display of knife defense from the gracie goldsboro curriculumFirst of all, let me be clear about something: I agree with everything that this post says. Absolutely every part of it is correct. HOWEVER, it is arguing a completely separate point from what Rickson, Royce, and many others, including myself, are arguing. Could Keenan Cornelius defend himself if he were attacked on the street? Of course! If he survived the initial sucker punch then there is absolutely no doubt that he would easily dispatch any untrained opponent. Any top level black belt competitor would defeat any untrained opponent, assuming that the baseball bat swing to their head missed. Could a blue belt world champion defend himself against an untrained attacker? Almost certainly. No one is arguing this point, including Rickson. The same could be said for an NCAA champion wrestler or an Olympic boxer. All of these individuals would demolish an untrained attacker, if they didn’t get their spleen punctured by the under hand knife stab that starts the attack.


Keenan Cornelius winning a jiu jitsu tournamentThe self defense argument is not pointed at the top level competitors that dedicate their entire lives to preparing for competition and competing. These men are professional athletes. They train hard three times a day every single day. They dedicate hours every week to physical conditioning. They are young, strong, explosive, aggressive, and competitive. They are also only 3% (or less) of all the people training jiu-jitsu. 50% of the people that sign up to compete at the world championships will lose their first match. 75% will not win more than one match. The percentages continue to climb exponentially from there. But less than 5% of the population training in jiu-jitsu will enter those tournaments. This is simple math: if less than 5% of the jiu-jitsu population will even enter the worlds and 50% of them will lose their first match, then less than 3% of all people training jiu-jitsu have what it takes to even win a single match at the world championships. Like Trumpet Dan said, the strong will survive and the weaker ones will not.


a dangerous alley - have your prepared for the day you may be attacked?This is completely anti to the basis of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu is designed to allow an individual the chance to defend himself against an attack from a bigger, stronger, and more aggressive attacker. When the defender is the bigger, stronger, and more aggressive participant, the entire equation falls apart immediately. The top level competitors that Trumpet Dan is using as examples train more in a single day than the average student trains in a week. I have a blue belt that only does private classes. He’s a 53 year old doctor. His weight and physical conditioning have improved dramatically since he started with me, but he is still over weight and he is not in great physical shape. He trained with me two to three times each week, all private classes, for a year and a half to earn his blue belt. He represents the average jiu-jitsu student. The average student is training two to three days per week for one to two hours each day. People like him are the ones that need the self defense program. The 53 year old doctor, the housewife, the teenage girl, or the computer programmer are infinitely more likely to be attacked than the top level competitor. Criminals are lazy by nature. They are going to choose a target who will be the easiest prey possible for them and who will likely have the most money. 20 year old jiu-jitsu competitors are obviously not easy prey and invariably have no money.


Helio Gracie showing his famous arm barIf you train for six hours a day, every day, and if you are one of those strong enough to survive this type of training regimen, then you will most likely be able to improvise an escape from a bear hug, as Trumpet Dan pointed out. But if you are the average student, you may not be able to improvise that way. Competitors spend hours upon hours drilling and studying the most efficient way possible to defeat the lapel guard. But wouldn’t the average student’s time be more well spent drilling and studying the most efficient way possible to escape a bear hug or to block a sucker punch? Should the average two day per week student be modeling himself after the top young competitors? My answer is an obvious “no.”


gracie goldsboro students practicing self-defense techniquesAlive training is the heart and soul of jiu-jitsu. Am I saying that average students shouldn’t roll or practice any type of sportive techniques? Absolutely not! If they don’t roll then they will not have the experience of applying those techniques against a resisting opponent. Everyone accepts this fact. However, for some reason, people think that the self defense techniques cannot be or aren’t practiced in an alive manner. This is simply not true. Many of the self defense techniques are extremely dangerous. They must be practiced with control and awareness to avoid injuries, exactly the same as ground grappling techniques, but they must still be trained in the most alive manner possible. At my school, we do a drill that we jokingly call “the circle of death”. In this drill, one person stands in the middle and is surrounded by the rest of the class in a loosely formed circle. The rest of the class then attacks him with random street attacks. Punches, kicks, bear hugs, headlocks, and even weapons for the more advanced students. The intensity of the drill is gauged by the experience of the student. I promise you this: when there is a purple belt or higher in the middle, he better block the punch I throw at him because I’m throwing it as hard as I can and I’m trying to hit him. By the end of two or three minutes in the middle, the student will be more tired and be breathing harder than after a ten minute round of hard rolling. The drill is infinitely closer to simulating a real street fight than rolling. I always preface this drill by saying that every attack has a “correct” defense, but you have to defend no matter what. If you don’t know the correct defense or if you blank on what to do, you still have to do something. If you are rolling and end up in an unfamiliar situation, you have to figure out what to do based on the knowledge and awareness that you do have. Self Defense is the same thing.


Stephen Kesting showing martial arts techinques on cementAnother common argument that I hear people make is that they don’t get into street fights. Fantastic! No one is advocating that you should go out and get into fights with people. As a former police officer, I can guarantee you that the overwhelming majority of victims, of any crime, had no intention of being part of a crime! They had no idea their home would be broken into. They didn’t drive home from work expecting to get beaten up and robbed. Let me present a scenario: You are on your way home from work. You decide to go by Walmart and pick up a couple of things before you head home for the evening. You pull into a parking space and all of the sudden someone is laying on their car horn right behind you. The car speeds off. You get out of your car and start to walk to the store wondering what that was all about. Suddenly that same car is back and pulls up right in front of you. The driver jumps out of the car and starts cursing at you and gets right in your face. You took his parking space, he says. You have no way of knowing that he just caught his wife in bed with his best friend. You also don’t know that he’s already had about five beers. He’s a big guy. 6’4 and 250 pounds. You’ve still got your tie on that you wore to work. The man towers over top of you and he’s hell bent on taking out all of his frustrations on you. You didn’t ask to be in this situation but suddenly here you are. Do you know how to behave? Are you aware of your surroundings? Do you have muscle memory of exactly how you should be standing? Have you practiced the skills to verbally deescalate the situation? Are you 100% confident that you have the ability survive if this confrontation becomes physical?


predator cat stalkingThe purpose of self defense training is not to make the predator into a more efficient predator. That is the purpose of competition training. The purpose of self defense training is to make the prey less vulnerable to the predator. An average student may train for many years and may have learned how to play deep half guard. He may know how to execute a brabo choke very well. He may have a great lasso guard. But he may also have no idea what to do if a 6’4, 250 pound biker gets in his face in the parking lot of Walmart. Saying that a top level competitor could defend himself should go without saying. But very few people are top level competitors. The other 97% of students need to practice their self defense.

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