Learning from the Defense
On this post, I am going to approach a few questions that some of my students often ask me every time I mention that it is essential for us to learn from the defense. Here are a few of these questions:
– What does it mean to learn from the defense?
– Why in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu we emphasize the defense so much?
– What is the difference between Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s self-defense and the sport Jiu-Jitsu?
To start, it is important to understand how Gracie Jiu-Jitsu came about, and there are no better words to explain it other than Grandmaster Helio Gracie’s own words: “My Jiu-Jitsu was created as a means of self-defense, so the weak can beat the strong…” (Book: Gracie Submission Essentials – page 20).
I could delve deeper into the history of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu; however I will leave it up to you to further research about it. The essential here is to understand the roots and foundation of the sport we all love today.
First, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is a self-defense art, or martial science, as I often refer to it. It was created to teach individuals how to protect themselves, regardless of athleticism, physical abilities, or previous experience; therefore anybody could practice and benefit from it. Then, later on, inspired by the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu self-defense system, the sport and competitive aspects of Gracie Jiu Jitsu came about.
Today, considering the rules of the main Jiu-Jitsu federations and competitive organizations worldwide, we can see that these have been set to quantify the athlete’s performance during the fight and award victory to the athlete who succeeds to achieve dominant positions and ultimately drive the opponent to submit or tap-out. This brings us to the point when the match gets exciting to the crowds, that moment of the tap-out and the moment the referee raises someone’s arm. But rewinding a bit we can analyze that there was a process there leading to that moment: “A process of self-defense, a process to protect and not to lose any position.” This is the self-defense aspect of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, that I believe cannot and should not be separated from the sport Jiu Jitsu, be in Gi, No-Gi Grappling or NHB/MMA competitions.
The sport aspect of Jiu Jitsu we see becoming widely practiced today is rich, diverse and sophisticated because of the many different people using their creativity and different attributes to interpret the core Gracie Jiu Jitsu self-defense curriculum according to the ethics and rules of the event.
Rules and ethics however do not exist in a street self-defense situation. The unpredictable attacker will not think about what he is doing and will not hesitate to do whatever it takes to defeat and hurt his victims. The extreme of such situations requires the individuals to exercise caution. It also requires awareness, preparedness and precision in order to act in a manner that will allow one to stay safe and survive such ordeal.
If an athlete prioritizes that he must defend himself at all times, as if a threat is imminently upon him, he will leave less room for mistakes that could cost him the position and eventually the entire match. Once the athlete understands that no matter what the rules of the event are, he must protect himself, he will know what he is protecting himself against. He will know what the attacks are and what options himself and his opponent have every single second of the fight.
This knowledge grants the practitioner the possibility to be one step ahead of his opponent and it is exactly here the point I strive to share with and to cultivate in my students: “To learn from the defense enables the student to protect himself at all times while also giving him the knowledge of how to attack”. However the same does not happen the other way around…
When you learn to defend you must learn what you are defending against. It is usually from some sort of attack, so you learn the attack at the same time, but when you learn the attack only you usually do not need to learn the defense against that attack. It becomes one strait forward offensive line, which is great and works if there are no complications during the match. However if you strategize and prepare for any deficits your opponent may bring you, you will turn your focus on how not to lose and on how to protect such position.
This defensive/offensive mind set will help you preserve the advantageous position you may have achieved and in turn it will enable you to move forward in the match certain that you covered all bases and will not lose the position or compromise the offensive strategy.
Here is a classic example to illustrate it (and I am sure we’ve all been there!): An athlete is on the top mount position ready to execute a cross-collar choke and his opponent on the bottom is actively trying to escape his mount by holding the athlete’s 2 wrists and proceeding to do an “Upa escape.” Does the athlete carry on with the choke, or does the athlete take a step back and stop choking? These are calculations that need to be precisely and quickly done. If the athlete simply thinks about the choke as his ultimate goal and goes for it, disregarding the fact that his opponent is defending and trying to escape his mount, he will lose the mount position and he may or may not be able to finish the choke. This “maybe” factor is a recipe to lose. However if the athlete respects the fact his opponent is actively defending, he will first protect his mount position by stopping to choke and he will post one of his hands on the ground. By doing that the athlete is able to keep his dominant position and will have the opportunity to come back to the choke again or utilize one of the opponent’s defending hands to switch from the choke to an armbar. There is no “maybe he will finish the submission” here.
The defense process grants the athlete the possibility to be dominant in the fight. The only “maybe” is the attack option: Maybe be it will be the choke or maybe it will be the armbar. Regardless, it keeps the athlete in a safe and strong position and this makes several submission techniques available that the athlete can effortlessly capitalize on because he previously cared to take a brief moment to post and secure his position. The athlete cared to defend himself, even though he was already in a very dominant position.
In a nut shell, I prefer not to create a differentiation between Gracie Jiu Jitsu self-defense and the sport. As I tried to describe here, I believe there is an essential process of self-defense that should not be forsaken regardless the circumstances or characteristics of the fight. I also believe that Gracie Jiu Jitsu prepares the individuals to successfully deal with it, be it on the streets, on the mats, in a cage or ring. For this reason, just like I was taught, I make every effort to give my students the opportunity to learn from the defensive aspect of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, teaching them its core Self-Defense curriculum and helping them to utilize it in all aspects of the fight according to their individual needs and interests.
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