Learning Self-Defense For Others

The Gracie jiu-jitsu self-defense curriculum is not for you.

Relson Gracie and Mike Stewart Jr. at Kogen Dojo. Photo by Mike Oswald Photography

Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners often talk disparagingly about the Gracie self-defense curriculum. They say things like: “I don’t care about that. I just do BJJ for fun. I can defend myself. I don’t need that stuff.” The people who say things like this are usually capable, fit, adult men who have enough skill and physicality that they can most likely defend themselves, especially with a little bit of BJJ or Muay Thai added to their skillset. They are missing the point.

The self-defense curriculum is not for them. The self-defense techniques taught in Gracie jiu-jitsu are for smaller, weaker people who may never train long enough in BJJ (or whatever) to get good enough to defend themselves with BJJ skills. They are for the average person to learn how to deal with the most common attacks they are likely to encounter in everyday life. They are not meant to teach fighting. They teach survival.

The techniques in the self-defense curriculum teach a child how to deal with and control a bully when conflict is inevitable. They teach a woman how to get out of and get away from unwanted grabs and restraints. They teach a man who is shoved or punched at how to close the distance or create space so as to stay safe. They teach a person how to both take the fight to the ground and how to get up off the ground safely. A BJJ or Muay Thai practitioner may not need these skills. It is not about them.

There is a lot of talk in BJJ about leaving your ego at the door. For a BJJ practitioner, especially for BJJ instructors, learning the self-defense curriculum is a selfless act. It should be learned so that it can be taught to the person or people who need it. Learning and teaching self-defense, especially when you do not need it yourself, is an act of charity. It is not about you. It never was.

“As in life, so too it is in budo. As in budo, so too it is in life.”

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body, Severna Park’s Holistic Chamber of Commerce, and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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