martial arts

Submission and Violence: Parting ways

When I was first exposed to Jujitsu (Gracie Jujitsu as it was known in the early 90’s) I was blown away, just like every other martial artist. I was fascinated by the jujitsu practitioners ability to avoid being hit while getting the opponent to “Say Uncle”. The manner in which they were able to contort themselves into positions of dominance was unlike anything else we had seen in the arts. But as a kid growing up with mental, physical and social disadvantages, I was not unfamiliar with being placed on my back on a weekly basis.

Me and Royce.jpg

If you ask anyone with any general knowledge of mixed martial arts, they will all tell you the same thing, you must have some knowledge of BJJ or wrestling. The common knowledge is that you can’t expect to win any fight without that specific ground fighting chink in your armor, and you can’t bypass it. And they may be right. And they may be very wrong! But why are they wrong? What is the problem? Why couldn’t BJJ, the fastest growing fighting method in decades win so convincingly? Why isn’t it the “one size fits all” answer to self-defense?

Violence, that’s why?

Violence is offensive! There is a linebacker like pressure driven by perpetual malice and a foreknowledge of the violent act. Since my childhood days of blacktop assaults on the playground to being kicked in the head during and assault as an adult, I have never seen a violent attacker use the tools of BJJ or submission fighting. Violence isn’t going to pull you into it’s guard! Violence isn’t going to attempt side control! Violence isn’t going for a heel hook! And while sitting on someones chest punching them in the face may be the the victims mental picture of victory, it is not the intention of violence.


Every fighting/self-defense/martial art system is created to beat it’s own system. Every boxer learns how to beat another boxer, every wrestler learns how to beat a wrestler, every Jeet Kune Do, every Wing Chun, every Judo person and you get the point. The speculation is that if you are untrained in any of those arts then you will be beaten immediately. This is also not true. The new thing for instructors to say is that they have modified their BJJ for the “street”. This is done by adding an “illegal”move into the submission game, such as biting or adding strikes into the BJJ curriculum. But again there is a very real problem with this approach; violence.

Mass attack, weapons, size disparity and environmental factors are all characteristics displayed within the framework of violence. Therefore, you can’t attack someone with a submission based art, have them insert a bite or a strike and say you have solved the riddle. If violence isn’t going to use a submission frame work to attack you, then how are you solving that problem? You will have the highest chance of beating violence with a submission based system if; an inferior person has turned to a life of crime and is now attempting to rob you, rape you, kidnap your child, take your vehicle and do so while being alone, and with no weapons.

The first time I found myself fighting from my back, the other two kids kept kicking me saying, “get up…get up”. Another time, a skinny fellow had just hit me from behind and had acquired a rather large blunt weapon which he used rather feverishly on my torso. Yet when I fought a fine gentleman from the Carlson Gracie camp in Chicago, during a sanctioned sport/cage match, I felt comfortable as he took me down and fell nicely into my guard. He stayed in my guard while we both exchanged punches until the end of the round. Then the next round he took me down and the same happened. And so it went for the entire fight. And yet another time, I remember being literally circled by a group of men and immediately prayed that it didn’t go to the ground.


Many say that submission methods are effective in reality based situations, were the variables are not fixed. And yes, there are cases where this is true; say at a Fraternity party, back yard BBQ disagreement or in a upscale bar fight. However, these types of fights are nothing more than altercations and deserve almost zero credit for being an appropriate reference for training reality based self-protection. Two old friends wrestling in a back yard over a girl is not violence. Some 23 year old drunk idiot attempting to fight a seasoned bouncer at closing time is not violence.

I was once coaching a group of twenty something lads who had come up watching the UFC and the sort, but who had also seen the rougher side of the tracks. When it came time for the ground portion of the seminar, I laid on my back and told one of the guys who was standing about 3 feet away, “OK lets go, come get me!”. As he got close to me he began to hesitate and make indecisive moves. Seeing his frustration I asked, “whats wrong?”. He said, “what do you want me to do? Are we doing submission? Are we wrestling? Or can I just hit you?”. “Yes!” I said loudly, capturing everyone’s attention, “the answer to his question is what should determine the context of your training!”. I followed up with, “why are you here? “Is it because you hope to be the next mma champ?” “Is it just for fitness and activity?” “Or are you here to learn how to save your life from the realities of violence?”


Here is a visualization exercise. Imagine you are on vacation. You pull into a gas station and begin to pump your gas. Your wife and child get out and begin to walk in. As your telling them to grab you a large…BAM, you just got hit. You fall to your side between the pump and your car. The person who hit you is now standing over you hitting you and kicking you. The hose from the pump is laying on you leaking gas. As you begin to defend yourself by covering, you glance over to see your wife and child panicking. You then see another assailant begin to chase them and you can vaguely see an object sticking out of his back pocket…..STOP. Now ask yourself how to you want to train? Does your training tell you to attempt and arm bar or a choke? Is there room for a sweep? How long will that take? Does your training tell you to grab the gas hose and spray the assailant with gas? Does your training tell you to cover, draw your blade, pull his head down as you drive your blade under his chin?

You arrive home early to surprise your wife. You hear her screaming. You panic and run full speed into the house to find a man twice your size choking the life out of your wife while he is rapping her. You run at him and….STOP. Do you go for a heel hook? What does your training tell you to do.


For years people have gotten rather upset with me for bringing out these types of exercises because they bring up emotions and make us look at things that are better left unsaid or in the realm of ignorant bliss. Or, I am immediately challenge by a whole stable of gorilla jits practitioners. But if you are doing martial arts/self-defense for the sake of one day using it to possibly save your life, you should take a good long look at what your training is tell you.

It is the principles that separate the two. For one type dominance is determined by position (or transitional dominance), yet for others, dominance is determined by impact. One may may see a position as primary for a submission, where another may see accessibility of weapons as the principle that is primary and would seek to avoid any position that would restrict access to weaponry. One principle may hold up wonderfully against one opponent but work against you if there is a possibility for multiple attackers. The golden ticket is found in the relationship. One is an opponent and the other an attacker. Both are adversarial in nature but the different relationship brings different principles to priority.

Brazilian Jujitsu and submission style fighting is brilliant and continues to be one of the best ways of conditioning, mental toughness and it allows you to train and never suffer from the damage done through impact training. I am not saying that it isn’t useful. As a matter of fact it is the most useful and productive way to win just about any match. And, on the other side, I have meet entire training groups who wrongly think they are just going to access their blade and cut the BJJ black belt while being choked out. The rigid rod of reality hits them just as hard. But we must always understand, self-protection/self-defense is an arena where context determines content. Train as you live and live as your train.