Realism and Training

Posted: August 5, 2009 in All Eli's BJJ Posts, Most Recent Posts

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes!”
-Walt Whitman

I am very saddened as I post this video as an example for the introduction of this topic. I hate to see slamming in BJJ tournaments – I think it is ignorant and deplorable. Anyway, here is the video, and my thoughts on it and other tournament BJJ stuff follows:

The saddest thing about this video in particular is that it is Ryron Gracie, who along with Rener Gracie has perhaps the best teaching ability and purest expressions of Jiu Jitsu in the world right now, in my opinion. I have written already about how great their teaching style and methodology is, and about how wonderful I think their Gracie Combatives DVD series are, not to mention their obvious lineage. I could not (and still cannot completely) believe this video. I also cannot believe that the Gracie Tournament allows slamming. Shit, they don’t even allow that in Judo tournaments!

The only explanation of why this is allowed in any tournament is because of the element of realism it provides. “You can get slammed in a real fight if you aren’t savvy enough with your guard.” Is this really supposed to be a valid point? Guess what: you get hit in a fight, too. And kicked, and even scratched and bitten if the person you are fighting is so inclined.

So, if you want to allow whatever in your tournament, then allow it, but don’t allow kicks in a boxing match and call it boxing. The point of BJJ tournaments is to test BJJ skill against BJJ skill. It is not pure self-defense. It is a sport with rules and restrictions. Just like boxing has rules, and just like wrestling, Judo, kickboxing, Karate, and even MMA has measures put in place for safety and scoring.

This is what leads to the dichotomy of competition argument:
Too many rules = unrealistic, therefore less rules = more realistic, right?
Yes and no.

Your personal responsibility as a martial artist is to develop the ability to contextualize what and how you are training. You must be able to understand the difference between sparring and fighting, or rolling and fighting, or drilling and fighting. And it is the onus of your instructors to be able to cultivate that understanding in you. A poor instructor, especially one that does not have a firm distinction in these areas him/her self, will be unable to help you here. They would have you believe that the drill is the fight. I can not think of a single case where the drill will be done exactly like the fight – although BJJ comes the closest to this of any.

A good example may be found in either forms, like katas, or in trapping like in Wing Tsun or JKD. The sequence is all wrong for a fight most of the time. I hit like this and then kick like that and then block here and yada yada. These sequences are typically put together because they flow well one after another, or because the typical reaction (maybe physiologically or instinctively) dictates that the average person will be most susceptible to the next movement, or a combination of these two concepts. Drills are the best way to train, but they need to have the proper mentality backing them or they obfuscate the point.

You drill the moves over and over to get them on a muscle-memory level. You are learning martial arts to do what works in a fight situation – not what is instinctive to do. Your instincts are wrong, so you have to reprogram them with more efficient ones. Hence the drilling. And given that most fights (street fights) last around 10-30 seconds, do you train for 10-30 seconds at a time? No. We drill for hours at a time; the drill allows you to do that.

But all that drilling gets monotonous. We want to test these skills out. We want to see if we have been training the right stuff the right way. Don’t ask us to accept it on faith. We want to see how we perform under pressure. We can either go out and get into a bar fight and take the chance at getting stabbed or shot, or we can compete in controlled environments and regulated competitions. And, in these competitions, we must adhere to the rules.

The most important thing, I think, out of this whole discussion (between me and myself as it were), is that we don’t get to overburdened by the rules. We have to keep in mind what we are training. For instance, in the BJJ tournament we are training our grappling ability in a tense situation, very similar to what it would be in a fight theoretically. In a boxing match, we hone our striking skills with our hands. In MMA, we try to put together the whole package, with limited rules. But, ultimately if you train martial arts, you are training for fighting – philosophy and metaphors aside.

In summation, we are the ones who must keep in mind what can happen in different environments and we must prepare accordingly. It is ridiculous to have a contest of grappling that allows one type of strikes, or to have a striking contest that allows all strikes, but no left side kicks. Getting caught up in the rules to any extreme, degrades the art. I say, let’s have just enough rules to keep people from getting seriously hurt, while allowing us to practice as realistically as possible. BJJ does that for me. MMA training does that for me. I never feel the need to slam someone to pass their guard – although I do keep in mind that option exists if someone puts me in their guard in a real fight. We are highly intelligent and evolved creature (mostly), and our training should reflect that.

Now, I am hopping off of my soapbox and going to train. Have a great day.

  1. OODA says:

    I dunno, bro. This kind of debate has been around for a while in the handgun competition world…”real world” vs. “sport.” Lots of techniques people pull in IDPA sport competitions would get you killed in the world the debate goes, so don’t get into bad habits.

    I see your point about this video, but the rules allowed it and it may serve as a good example of why some “sport” training should be discouraged. I know I have read that Eddie Bravo teaches his students that you must let go if miss the leg hook (with your arm) when you have the closed guard/triangle, etc., in that situation. Can you imagine if he had pulled this on the street…D-E-A-D. So, maybe the particular tourney sponsors feel strongly enough about that issue that they want to leave that rule in that allows slams? I dunno.

    I guess you can view it as an “all or nothing” situation, but as you mentioned there are compromises at all levels of competition. Knowledge of the rules is an element of any sport.

    For my uneducated .02, I personally like the no slam rule, but I’d like to see basic JJ training that made the no slam rule irrelevant in the first place. I like the Eddie Bravo “rule.” 😉 (And yes, I have made the mistake and been slammed sparring.)

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