All martial arts have a solid element of self-defense, at least on paper. But when confronted by reality, most fall short of their promises. Brazilian jiu-jitsu claims to be the best martial art for street fights, but is this claim true?
BJJ works in a street fight against a single opponent. Jiu-jitsu skills give a significant advantage against untrained opponents. Even a smaller person can defeat a much larger and stronger attacker using technique and leverage on the ground.
There is much evidence that BJJ works well in the street. Still, it is not universally good for every situation, and not all BJJ is equally effective. Let’s see when and why BJJ works, when it doesn’t, and how to use it yourself.
Whereas many martial arts claim efficiency in a street fight, BJJ practitioners always seek to prove their art works in practice. MMA has proven that grappling is an essential part of fighting, and BJJ is one of the best grappling martial arts on the planet, which makes it effective in street fights as well.
BJJ was created to allow a smaller and physically weaker person to overcome a much stronger and bigger opponent. To do that, BJJ focuses on taking the fight to the ground and using technique, superior positioning, and leverage to control and submit the opponent.
This wouldn’t work so well in real life if BJJ weren’t trained like it is, with a considerable focus on live sparring, called rolling. Most martial arts fall short because they focus too much on forms and set technique training like kata. Still, BJJ is all about practicality.
Most training is done through live sparring or conditional exercises against a partner. This makes practitioners comfortable in difficult positions and against a fully resisting opponent beyond what an untrained person or even a martial artist from another art could ever be.
The techniques of BJJ have two significant advantages for real-life situations. First, the goal is always to secure a submission, which will always end the fight either with the opponent yielding or with him broken or choked out. Either way, there is a finisher mentality in BJJ.
The other strength of BJJ for self-defense is that it allows you to subdue the opponent without severely hurting him. Obtaining a dominant position may incapacitate an assailant without actually hurting him until the arrival of law enforcement or other forms of help.
Since its inception, BJJ has always aimed to prove itself as a truly effective martial art. The Gracie family created BJJ, and their famous Gracie Challenge has stood since the beginning of the martial art.
In essence, the Gracie Challenge was an open invitation to any martial artists to fight in Vale Tudo (anything goes fight). Over the years, members of the clan defeated many different stylists and became legendary for their no-rules fight effectiveness.
Then the first UFC event was organized in part with the help of the Gracies, and the win of Royce at the first events, along with the subsequent dominance in MMA by other grapplers, forever cemented the place of BJJ as one of the foundations of MMA. And as far as combat sports go, no other is closer to a real street fight than MMA.
But as realistic as MMA is, it is still a sport with rules in place, and most of all, it’s always a 1 vs. 1 contest. And one-on-one is where BJJ shines the brightest. Even no-rules fights are single-combat affairs, but real altercations often include more people. BJJ’s biggest pitfall for street fights is if there are multiple opponents.
BJJ only teaches ground fighting; if there is more than one attacker, the ground is the last place you want to be. Keeping your distance and striking until you can escape is usually the best solution in these situations.
Another problem with using BJJ in a street fight is the lack of striking. Most real fights go to the ground, but nowadays, more people than ever are training in combat sports like MMA, Muay Thai, and wrestling. Unlike in the 20th century, when most people were oblivious to the dangers of BJJ and grappling, this is no longer the case.
Many guys know how dangerous it is to go to the ground. Takedowns are not a strong suit of BJJ, and a striker or MMA practitioner may be able to stay on his feet and outstrike the BJJ guy on his feet.
Traditional BJJ vs. Sports BJJ for Street Fights
All we’ve talked about is the traditional aspect of BJJ. But alongside its rise in popularity in MMA, jiu-jitsu also experienced rapid growth as a separate sport after creating the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation in 1994.
The sport has become widely popular, with academies and competitions worldwide. The sports scene has greatly aided BJJ development but has also reduced its effectiveness in a real fight.
Unlike traditional BJJ, which assumes the opponent lacks grappling skills, sports BJJ pits similarly trained athletes against each other in the same weight class.
The lack of striking has allowed the introduction of many techniques in BJJ. Like the worm guard, spider guard, butterfly guard, or just sitting on your butt, welcoming the opponent to come on top of you.
They may help you win a gold medal, but they can also help you get serious injuries in a street fight. When strikes are in the equation, a lot of the standard distance of a BJJ roll becomes very dangerous.
Gi vs. No-Gi for Street Fights
Then there is the debate of gi and no-gi effectiveness in real-life situations. The gi provides countless opportunities for control, position change, and submissions and is a big part of BJJ’s effectiveness for smaller people.
In real life, you can grab a jacket like a gi, but a t-shirt cannot. So it all depends on the opponent’s clothing, but in general, no-gi BJJ is more reliable for self-defense than the gi version.
Many BJJ academies offer training in sports BJJ and jiu-jitsu for self-defense, and combining both will yield the best results overall. Still, it’s important to know there is a distinction between the two.
How To Use BJJ In A Street Fight
As we’ve discussed, only some techniques and concepts from BJJ work in a street fight. First, if more than one opponent is present, going to the ground is a terrible decision. The most critical skills to employ are often not submissions but rather securing or escaping positions. In most cases, not fighting at all is the best option, but should the need arise, BJJ will help you immensely if used properly.
By far, the most common position in a street fight is the clinch. Knowing how to close the striking distance safely, get a better clinch position, and finally take the opponent to the ground is critical if you want to use actual BJJ techniques. From the side clinch, you can choose to do a takedown or to disengage and escape the situation.
Escape From Mount
Escaping mount is the most important defensive skill you can learn because there are few positions worse than being mounted in a fight. Escaping mount can be done in a few ways, like bridging, hip bumping, and shrimping, but having at least two reliable and well-trained mount escape techniques is a must. Once you separate yourself, a technical standup is a natural next step.
Securing the back is the safest and most dominant position you can have. Learning how to take the back and immobilize the opponent is very important. From there, he has no offensive options, and you can choose to stall and wait for help or the police, or you can apply a choke and finish the encounter decisively.
Every submission found in BJJ will work in a street fight, but some are much easier to obtain and hold than others. The rear naked choke, guillotine, heel hook, arm triangle, and kimura are excellent options for self-defense. BJJ has submissions from every possible position, so learning just a few but learning them well will be enough to strangle or incapacitate most people.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is effective in street fighting and has a proven track record to support the claim. BJJ uses technique and leverage to overcome an opponent on the ground by controlling and submitting him, giving even much smaller people a fighting chance.
But BJJ is also not ideal in this regard. It is ineffective against multiple opponents or people who know how to strike and prevent takedown attempts. Regardless of any shortcomings, if you are forced to fight, BJJ will help you defend yourself every time.