This has got to be the biggest and most annoying debate within the Jiu Jitsu community. Let me start by telling you my experience. I am currently a brown belt, I started out training under the Renzo affiliation and earned my purple belt through Rocky Marcantoni, a Renzo black belt. I moved to another school which is a Relson affiliate and earned my brown and eventually will receive my black belt through Relson. My first school was a sport environment, we never once talked about self defense, we just trained. The current school I am at is self defense heavy. Now before I begin, I am going to start with this, I train primarily for therapeutic reasons, self defense is a bi-product for me. I enjoy the sport side almost more than the self defense side, but I completely understand the need for self defense and this is why I learn it.
Lets begin with this, is wrestling classified as a self defense? How about football? I dont believe either of them at classified as self defense because they never talk about real fights or real situations and how to deal with them. Could a wrestler or football player be better off in a fight than someone who has done nothing and knows nothing? I believe so. Wrestlers have always been the toughest kids in schools. Everyone knows you dont pick fights with wrestlers. This is my thought and comparison when it comes to sport and self defense. Sport Jiu Jitsu is what it is, a sport. Still effective in a fight for people who continue to train for a long time, and are athletic, strong, fast. Self defense Jiu Jitsu is Jiu Jitsu with the emphasis of self defense. Talking about real scenarios, common attacks an untrained opponent may do etc.
Now there should only be "Jiu Jitsu" not sport, not self defense, just Jiu Jitsu. We shouldnt differentiate the two. Unfortunately, we now have to because some schools never talk about real scenarios, or how to deal with common attacks, or even simply just the punch defense. This leaves the students to put a lot of trust in their instructors that if a fight were to happen one day, they would be okay. Self defense schools do the opposite, they put gloves on, they talk about fights, they teach how to deal with, deescalate situations, how to get back to the feet etc.
Does this mean self defense schools are more superior? No, neither is a sport school. To defend the sports schools, I've seen self defense students and schools that never teach how to pass the guard, hold position properly, submit properly and its the most watered down crap Jiu Jitsu in the world. At that point, I would rather you just train sport because you will be better off in a fight. Ive seen schools where its turned into a "kata" type training like some Karate schools and the students almost never roll, and when they do its the ugliest thing alive. Now I've also seen schools where they teach sport and when gloves get put on people dont understand proper posture control, distance management etc.
Sport Jiu Jitsu teaches you a lot about how the body does and does not want to move, but does not teach you self defense. Again, can sport jiu jitsu be effective in a fight, yes, but its not self defense. Students who are police officers, military personnel, sexual assault victims, children who are bullied all need to learn how to deescalate a fight, and whats expected. Especially children. Children have no idea what a real fight is, they think they can jump off the top ropes and knock you out, do perform some flying drop kick they saw on a Power Rangers show. Informing them how an untrained person may attack them, headlocks, punches, rear chokes, bear hugs, tackles, guillotines, are important to the development of a childs growth, especially towards bullying and self defense. Teaching kids spider guard and x guard at age 5-10 will only benefit the 1% that can actually comprehend it. They need basic mount and guard retention, simple and effective techniques. This is why teaching and developing children and adults are completely different. When I teach an armlock or a double leg to an adult, its very different, and when I mean different I mean simplified with tons of details left out on purpose so the kids can understand the concept and idea behind the move. The details can come as they grow, as they get better you as the instructor have to tighten the bolts for both adults and kids.
The main difference between self defense and sport in my eyes is the mindset, and distance management. Proper mindset for what if they have a buddy, what if you are on concrete, what if they have a weapon like their car keys, or the fact that anyone losing a fight will fight dirty, and the techniques on how to properly execute and defend these attacks as well as learning how to manage your distance and what exactly is distance management in a fight.
The people who discredit the other side are usually people who have never been in both shoes or who experience the wrong side of the other side. Example politics, if you only run into crazy right wing or left wing people, you may think they are all crazy. When in reality, I have plenty of friends on the other side of politics that are good people that just have a different way about doing things. At the end of the day we all want the same thing.
Like I said before, there should never be "sport" or "self defense" Jiu Jitsu, just Jiu Jitsu. The reason is has split is because the self defense part was lost and left out as time went on. I truly believe you should know both. Learn how to properly pass the guard, learn how to properly sweep or submit or escape against both a trained and untrained opponent. The more you start to learn the more you see the bigger picture and how much it is all connected yet separated. Everyone has different reasons to train Jiu Jitsu and you have to respect that someones purpose for training is different than yours. This doesnt mean you exile them, you just train Jiu Jitsu and make slight adjustments. I dont roll with the 50 year old who has a curiosity for self defense the same way I do with the 20 year old who wants fitness and compete. And if you ever plan on opening your own academy, and teaching Jiu Jitsu, learning the self defense side as well as the sport side is very crucial to the growth and development of your school. It only brings more knowledge and value to your program.
Hey! My name is Stephen Miller and I am currently a Brown belt under Relson Gracie, training at Gracie Maryland (www.RealJiuJitsu.com)