In order for us to be successful, we need to have a clear understanding of what our objectives are, in the context of BJJ this means we have to understand the overall goal, the points, and the rules. These three things will be the topic of this post. I would like to say that this post is general, what i mean is that i am not going into the details of these subjects but instead I’m looking at how they work together to paint an overall picture of BJJ and how they are connected.
The overall goal of traditional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is to survive a self defense encounter with an unskilled,aggressive attacker without getting seriously injured. In addition, we need to be able to react appropriately to all situations regardless of the severity. Helio Gracie said on many occasion that if his opponent can not defeat him then he is the winner, this gives us a very deep insight into the ideas behind BJJ in terms of self defense. The goal is survival, if survival is achieved then you are victorious. The way this goal is accomplished is by applying several key strategies…1. control the distance 2. establish a clinch 3. take the opponent to the ground 4. establish a dominant position 5. finish. These 5 steps may not seem like they are in line with the idea of survival but upon further inspection we can see that they are. Controlling the distance is the first step, this is key to survival, if we can control the distance than we can dictate the kinds of attacks that can be used against us. If we are matched against an opponent and begin to back away from them then we can limit their ability to strike as well as give ourselves more time to react if they do try to strike since they must first close the distance in order to reach us. If the opponent does not follow us when we back away then we would just continue backing away until we can safely exit the situation. Controlling the distance allows us to either engage safely or to escape the situation entirely. Establishing a clinch is the next step in surviving an altercation, if we are not able to be too far away from our opponent (if he pursues us when we retreat) then we can establish a clinch as he lunges in and take away the distance he needs to strike us effectively. The clinch will give us the ability to take the fight to the ground if that is necessary or simply maintain a safe position until help arrives. Dominating the clinch is also key to keeping the fight standing if this is our objective. Taking the opponent to the ground is the third part of the strategy and is an extension of the first two strategies, controlling the distance and establishing a clinch. The takedown puts us into a safe distance (close) and allows us to maintain our clinch while limiting our opponents mobility. People are designed to move on their feet, putting them on the ground will minimize the movement as well as slow the situation down so that we can better implement our technique.
In general, by putting opponents on the ground we can maximize control and minimize the scramble or situations where we do not have control. Establishing a dominate position allows us to minimize offensive output from our opponent and maximize our own output. A dominant position will give us 2 opportunities, first we could simply maintain the position until help arrives or we have a good chance to move to the final stage of the strategy, the finish. The finish is the last part of the strategy and can take several forms, it could be punches, joint locks or chokes. The different options to finish allow us to react appropriately to all situations. People normally get into trouble when they either under react or over react, BJJ gives you the ability to react appropriately at all stages of a conflict. If we apply this set of strategies effectively then we will give ourselves a very good opportunity to survive any confrontation, since not all confrontations are the same we need several different options. If we are able to walk away then we can, if we are pursued we can survive until help arrives, and if we need to neutralize a real threat then we can execute the finish. Very few marital arts can really offer this level of survival and appropriate action, the world is not black and white, all situations are not life and death, and there is more to survival then fight or flight.
The point system in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is designed to help practitioners develop the skills they need in order to accomplish the over all goal that we discussed above. Sadly, many people who train BJJ do not take the time to learn the basic point system and in doing so do not develop the ability to execute the strategies that are critical for their own success. The point system that i am referring to is the basic IBJJF system, I say basic because i am only talking about the main scoring structure: 2 points for takedowns, 3 points for passing the guard, 2 points for knee on belly, 2 points for a sweep, 4 points for the mount, and 4 points for the back. This basic structure has been around longer than any other point system and in my opinion represents BJJ as the creators intended. One thing we have to consider is that martial arts and sport are two different things, however, they are deeply connected. Martial arts focuses on real combat and sport is an activity that has combat applications. If we understand these two definitions than we realize that we can never actual compete in martial arts, only sport. I say we can not compete in martial arts because we generally can not convince people to agree to get into a fight were anything is legal. So we are only left with sport and sport is not real combat, it is a sort of abridged version of combat where people all agree to a certain set of rules to insure some level of safety. Even though there are many different versions of sport competition (boxing, wrestling, bjj, mma), they are limited in a way that real life combat is not. MMA is the least limited but there are still rules, actually MMA is more limited today than it was in the past. Once we understand that we are competing in a sport and not a martial art then we can usually see the importance of learning how to score points, points are not the only way to win but they play a major role in BJJ competition. I always approached competition as a fight simulation, i wanted to learn how to apply my fight strategy in a controlled environment and the rules helped to reward me for doing that. When i would compete i would simply try to start at step 1 and work my way through the proceeding steps until i won or the time was up. This idea helped me at all stages of my training, it helped me to constantly improve in all areas so that i could better execute the strategy and it also helped to give me a better understanding of BJJ in general, which in turn helped again with my execution. If we can work our way through the steps of the the over all goal then we can slowly put more pressure on our opponents as we gain more and more points, this will give our opponents a few options. The first option is to accept defeat and lose on points, the second option is to take some chances in order to gain points to even the score or to get a submission. The more chances the opponents take the more opportunities we have to take advantage and score more points, improve our position, or set up a submission. In this way the over all goal is connected with the point system and actually helps guide us through the 5 steps of the over all goal.
The rules of the game will always dictate how it is played, this applies to BJJ as much as it does to any other game. When i say rules, i am talking about what is legal and what is illegal. The rules give us a set of guidelines that we must follow when we create our personal style, usually people will decide upon one of two paths, either to specialize or to generalize. Most sports have both types of players and BJJ is no different, there are people that are known as “guard players” or “passers” and then there are people that are dangerous from everywhere. People can achieve high levels of success in either path but i believe the highest levels can only be achieved by people who can fully implement the five steps of the over all goal of BJJ. I have spoken before about being both general and specific, this is fully in line with those previous comments. Usually people start off as specialist and then become generalist over time, this is natural. Each belt we have in BJJ helps us to develop certain aspects of the game and at black belt we should be able to do everything to some degree, the maturity that happens after achieving the black belt has to do with refinement of those previously learned skills. What we need to understand about rules is this, arguing about them does not change them and trying to use the rules to win instead our skills will always catch up with us. The first part of that is important to keep you from wasting your time, the rules are the rules and you need to accept them, if you do not like them then you don’t have to play the game but don’t play the game and then complain about the rules. We have many different sets of rules in BJJ and each one has pluses and minuses, we can argue about which one is the ‘best” but this usually has to do with some kind of personal preference. In the end we need to accept the rules and learn to operate within them as effectively as we can. The second part of that is important because we need to remember that there are no short cuts to success, if you try to use the rules to win instead of your skills you may have some success but this kind of strategy will always catch up with you as well as limit you to one particular set of rules.
In closing i would like to say this, BJJ is both a martial art and a sport, we need both of these aspects in order to succeed. We need to understand the over all goal of BJJ, once we understand this then we can move on to competition, the point system will reward us for applying the 5 steps of the over all goal of BJJ in competition and the rules are there for our safety so that we can practice and develop without getting seriously injured. Once we understand this connection it puts everything in perspective and helps us to learn all that BJJ has to offer. It is also important that we step outside the rules and ideas of BJJ, understanding why certain techniques are illegal as well as how to use and defend against them is important for serious practitioners. I would also recommend that serious competitors spend time competing in all the different rule sets, just as gi and no-gi help to develop a better understanding of BJJ concepts, i think each rule set helps us to understand different aspects of the overall goal of BJJ. A submission only match with no time limit is very different from an IBJJF match, but i think both will give practitioners valuable experience and insight into BJJ. A submission only match will teach you all about survival and finishing, but an IBJJF match will give you a strong understanding of the positional hierarchy in BJJ.
I would also like to add that is not a complete discussion on these topics, it is only a small look at how they are related. There are much more in depth discussions that can be had about BJJ as a martial art and its effectiveness in a real fight. We can also talk at length about how the rules and point system have had certain negative influences on how people train BJJ and how they apply it in a competition setting. Nothing is perfect, but i think BJJ provides much more positive outcomes then it does negative ones. I hope this post will help you in your BJJ journey.