Everyone starts BJJ for various and different reasons. Fitness, camaraderie, and just getting better at something are all good reasons. As a martial art though, the basis of learning jiu jitsu can be rooted in learning self-defense. This is one reason that I got into BJJ and certainly a reason for others.

However, a lot of gyms may not differentiate between the two schools of BJJ: sport versus self-defense. It is an important difference and newcomers may not know that. They may start training and thinking they are gaining lots of quality self-defense knowledge but they are actually training for sport jiu jitsu.

Similarly, the inverse may also be true. People searching for a good competition school end up focusing on self-defense. This, however, is a rarer occurrence nowadays as BJJ as a sport has grown rapidly and is arguably much bigger today than it ever was before.

So what’s the big deal?

ven though some sport BJJ practitioners are aware of this dichotomy, the devil is in the details. Yes, they may not try and berimbolo a guy in the street. And yes they understand fundamentally that they aren’t training jiu jitsu with a guy trying to punch their face. But, if they find themselves in a street fight situation, more likely than not, they will perform how they have practiced.

For example, I was once rolling with a new white belt. He was a stocky guy about my height but much heavier. I went to set up a triangle from the bottom and as I locked it in, the guy picks me up and slams me. Now, I didn’t blame him since he didn’t know the rules being a new white belt. I wasn’t even mad as I was just a bit shook up. In fact, I should almost be grateful as it taught me a lesson.

Training in a predominantly sport BJJ gym, I was conditioned to think that throwing up a triangle from the bottom is “safe”. You can’t slam an opponent in competition. It’s against the rules. And you see this all the time in competitions. A guy is caught in a triangle and he just carries the other guy, walking around almost in a stalemate position.

But it’s obvious that in a street fight, this is extremely dangerous. As a reader, you are probably saying “Duh. I would never let someone pick me up like that”. The problem is, in a fight or flight situation, you will probably do as you were conditioned to.

If someone is mounting you, likely you will try to tuck your elbows. If someone is in your guard, you will likely give them space to strike. If you have someone in a triangle, you will probably not think of preventing him from picking you up. If you have not trained to deal with the exact situation you are presented with, you will resort to what you’ve trained to do and that’s sweeping, passing, and scoring points.

That’s not to saying that someone with BJJ training will not be able to control someone on the ground much better than the average person in a street fight. I’m just saying there will be situations in which sport jiu jitsu does not carry over and may actually be a detriment to the practitioner in a street fight.

Gi versus No Gi

Another variable to consider in this is the gi. Obviously, the gi is much different than street clothing. Yes, there may be some similarities in that a guy on the street can wear a jacket and blue jeans but this generally does not have to be the case.

If you’ve trained in both gi and no gi, you know they are vastly different. There are just so many grips and techniques that are a part of the gi game. It opens up so many moves and is an integral part of the sport.

However, a lot of it doesn’t translate to the street. You will not be able to grab someone’s lapel to control their posture. You won’t be able to control their wrists nearly as well as with their sleeves. And if you’ve trained exclusively in the gi, you will be wondering where these points of control are in a street fight.

Peep that inverted guard though:

Do you guys agree? Disagree? Comment in the comment section below.

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Sport BJJ and Street Fights

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