Realistic Training Tips-installment 2

In this second instalment of our series on more realistic training methodologies, to enhance your Brazilian Jiu-jitsu self-defense skills, I wanted to address this rather tiresome “Gi” vs. “no Gi” controversy. This is relevant to our real-life self-defense discussion because one side or the other is often trying to tell the public that what they do is so much more “realistic”. Once again, a lot of this debate seems to me to be more silly nonsense from the usual self-absorbed pseudo-professionals. The first problem with this argument about whether training in a traditional uniform is less “realistic” or not relates directly back to our first instalment about training specificity. I hate to break it to the people fixated on this debate, but if all you are doing is sport rolling on nice wide open mats and not training with strikes, in confined spaces or against weapons and all the other real world considerations then how the hell can what you are doing be called “realistic”!?- Regardless of what you are wearing. Like I pointed out in that first post, if you want to be able to stop some scum bag from hammering you in the noggin with a hay-maker punch or soccer kicking your head open like a ripe melon then you better train specifically for those contingencies. Real simple, I know but when some high-profile “expert” starts telling people that the secret to their personal safety rests upon their wardrobe choices then an often goofy pseudo-profession reaches new heights in childish hijinks.

Think about it, if you have been pushed or knocked to the ground in a real assault and the assailant wants to stomp your head into the pavement then I’m pretty sure you are not going to be too worried about what he, or anyone else, is wearing. What about when a screaming road ragger comes at you swinging a tire iron? Does it really matter to you if he is naked or wearing a fur coat? (Is it just me or does everyone else feel more anxious at the prospect of having a naked man running at them?) Therefore, I need to make it clear to members of the public who may be confused by this issue and the claims of some BJJ practitioners that “no” there is nothing inherently more “realistic” about one form of unrealistic sport orientated training over another sort of unrealistic sport orientated training. In other words, leaving out the realities of real life self-defense can never be very realistic regardless of your training attire.

Let us remember, that this debate really only came about because the sport aspect of Brazilian jiu-jitsu diverged into two distinct and somewhat competitive versions. Back in the day serious BJJ practitioners always did both. Although there was certainly a greater emphasis on Gi training because the traditional BJJ identity and philosophy was so strongly tied to the Gi (but that is another topic). Once again, at its worst, I think the bottom line is that self-absorbed people need to rationalize to themselves or justify to the public that what they are doing is more “realistic” and therefore “valuable” or worthy of your respect, etc.. This is because BJJ is supposed to be about fighting and self-defense. When in fact the individual motives of the sport people making these claims probably has a lot more to do with the ego gratification of being able to win in one but not the other format. For example, did some athlete choose to devote himself to no-Gi sport training because he truly believed it was more realistic and wanted to help people out of a sense of duty to them? Or is it more likely that he simply liked it more or was more successful at no-Gi tournaments and therefore rejected any other kind of training so he could specialize in his chosen sport?

This too, is another example of training specifically for the goals you want. If you want the ego gratification of winning consistently in no-Gi tournaments then you must train specifically for that by doing exclusively no-Gi training or vice versa. Again, this should be pretty self-evident that doing only no-Gi training is really going to help your no-Gi game. However, what is less commonly appreciated is that while exclusive training in any area is of course going to greatly develop that area, it is also going to greatly retrograde all the other areas not being trained. In The realm of authentic Brazilian jiu-jitsu that’s a lot of valuable stuff being left out and therefore, a lot of lost knowledge. Now there is nothing wrong with this at a certain level, modern athletes need to train specifically for their sport or event. However, the problems of credibility appears when these people want the public to think they are doing it all for them (“because it’s more realistic and we want you to have realism” or whatever) and not for their own ego. Therefore, as long as the public and the self-defense consumer realize that like most athletes, BJJ athletes probably can’t afford to give a shit about you, your needs or anything else and only care about their own win/loss record and all the ego and financial benefits they gain from that. If we all understand this then we should not have a problem.

Furthermore, the public should then also realize the implications about these opinions from these over specialized “experts”. This is what I mean, in our fast paced world we need to have quick short hand methods for seeking out expert advice. In other words, how do we know the person giving us the advice is an “expert”? These expert sign-posts are usually referred to as “credibility indicators”. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu the two most common “credibility indicators” thrown out to the public are: “champion” or “world champion” and “Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu”. There are a couple of problems with these “credibility indicators” in the context of real life self-defence knowledge and so I want to make the public aware of them.

Firstly, I always thought it was grossly disingenuous for athletes to claim to be “world champions” in the sport of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, when Brazilian jiu-jitsu had no world championship! Yes, let me repeat that, Brazilian jiu-jitsu certainly had nothing close to what other sports would consider a world championship. Not if by “world championships” did we mean a championship where all the various member countries or national teams could all bring equal squads or individuals had equal access through elimination tournaments. While this has started to change in more recent years, for decades the largest tournament that was touted as “The world Championship” was always held in the same country (and as a private money making gig for the promoters) and 80% of the competitors also came from that same country.

Now I’m not saying this was necessarily a bad thing or not a hard-fought top echelon event- but could we blame the public for thinking that people appearing so desperate to claim accolades they did not really earn maybe should not be believed when making other claims about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Again, misleading the public is misleading the public and, as I have said many time, if it goes too far we become a fraudulent industry. In other words, if a BJJ “world champion” isn’t really a world champion then maybe the BJJ community is full of “experts” that aren’t really “experts” (at least outside of their specialty) and we should not unquestioningly except their self-defense advice because they won a tournament. This is part of the reason that I believe the public has lost a lot of faith in BJJ as a real world lifesaving fighting system, after having achieved what no other system could in the early no-holds-barred era. Again, pretty simple reasoning I know but people are often taken in by titles. Furthermore, I’d have to make the argument that the greater a tournament competitor a person is, the less likely they are to know much about the other aspects of BJJ (MMA, self-defense etc.) simply because there would be not time or interest outside of their speciality.

This leads to the second point and credibility indicator of being a “Black Belt” in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Now days more and more people are promoted to “Black Belt”, and all the other belts for that matter, solely based on sport competition. This was basically heresy and unheard of back in “the old days” because BJJ wanted to maintain its hard fought reputation and professional standing as an unarmed combat system and the gold standard of self-defense. For this reason, Rickson Gracie, recently stated that if you don’t know the self-defense aspect of BJJ you are an amateur and can’t be a true professional. This is yet another big topic for another time, but again, the point we want to make here is that people should not be presenting themselves to the public as experts on topics they have no interest in and don’t actually do- regardless (or perhaps especially because) of how many tournaments they have won.

This of course includes unfounded opinions on what is or is not a more “realistic” way to train. Believe me, If they started to give out Black Belts and gold medals for jello wrestling and calling the winners “world champions” you could safely bet that we would soon have a bunch of schools and experts on jello wrestling telling people how deadly and realistic jello wrestling is. This would soon be followed by a heated controversy between the traditionalist insisting that you had to jello wrestle only in a bikini and the new school proponents saying that was old fashioned and an ultra-thin condom like wet suit was the only way to go. Hence, our opinions on this and all other aspects of self-defense should be evidence based, not ego based. The ego, especially when it comes to martial arts, sure seems to make otherwise normal people say and do some pretty flakey things and when it comes to self-defense this can be downright dangerous to your health.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that your results are going to be identical by training with or without a Gi on, so don’t worry about it and do whatever you like. What I am saying is; firstly, it’s a silly debate, only some sport specialists think, or want you to think, these two methods have to be mutually exclusive. Secondly, from a training specificity point of view these are not even the only two options you have and each method can help you better develop specific skills. In other words, each approach has different training advantages and disadvantages that can be used together to help you reach your self-defense goals faster and more effectively. Therefore, next time we will begin to more holistically explore how to get the most out of different kinds of training, instead of getting stuck in a rather infantile “us vs. them” self-limiting mentality. For now I have to go, my jello wrestling class is about to start and if I cut a bunch of weight I have a chance at the nationals.