So I recently discovered…

That for the majority of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academies popping up all over Malaysia that none of them practice the martial art of jiu jitsu rather they do submission grappling sport. In a recent conversation with a reliable source whose current objective is to unify the many tribal BJJ factions found in the country with the hopes of forming a National body to represent Malaysia in local and international BJJ competitions. This source also shared some frustrations in admitting that they were unsure whether they could effectively defend against someone trying to punch them in the head.

Crazy Monkey Defense Annual Training Camp 2015

Fighting against blunt weapons

This prompted me to chat about my earlier experiences with other martial arts (traditional Japanese karate) where over time, the original motivation to educate myself in a martial art that will empower me to defend myself is sidetracked into a ritualized, rule-bound subculture of sport karate. Is point sparring effective in a real fight? Maybe. There will always be a percentage of athletes who will hold their own but for the majority, I have my doubts. I remember being chastised and penalised for throwing a KO (liver) kick on my opponent and repeatedly coerced to train the concept of “sun-dome” punches vs a ball point pen…

I say this when comparing similarly experienced Western boxers in mind. If an average 25 year old male invests 3 years in a boxing, kick boxing, muay thai gym and the other puts in 3 years in a traditional martial art, I believe the chances of the former guy beating the latter on average will be much higher.

To illustrate:

Let me clarify from the get-go that I’m not taking sides. I’m not trying to diminish the effectiveness of BJJ or karate. I mean I wouldn’t want to stand in front of a golf pro swinging a 9 iron at my head but I still wouldn’t call golf a martial art just as some people consider Collegiate or Greco-Roman wrestling a sport but I will happily categorize that as a martial art and a documented ancient one at that. Ritualised combat sure. Rules? Yes definitely. Effectiveness? Highly so. Martial Art? Yes to a degree and as a subset. Ironically ancient Roman and Greek wrestlers also crossed trained with strikes and kicks back in the day because these elements were included in the sport, resembling more like today’s MMA events and less the specialised grappling-only competitions. Over the years the brutal competitions were toned down to the filtered, homogenized events we have today.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with just training BJJ for sport and enjoyment. I enjoy sparring/rolling as much as a the next person; however, given my previous exposure to boxing, and other intentional martial arts (firearms and Iai-jutsu come to mind) whose sole objective is to incapacitate or eliminate the target, there remains little doubt of the effectiveness of the weapons in the hands of a proficient user. The only variable really that remains untested is how the martial artist reacts physically and psychologically when under extreme stress; under return fire, facing a live resisting blade. The cost to find out is therefore too high as a mistake could cost your life or leave you with a permanent injury. So safety rules and terms of engagement are drawn up and agreed upon prior to combative contact. This exact point forms the premise of many dramatic martial arts movies where students are keen to test their mettle in combat against known or unknown combatants and we are silently outraged when one of the fighters fight “dishonorably”. How does the hero behave when they too sustain injuries, and usually at this point some flashback moment helps them to regain psychological composure and focus, setting aside their injuries and ego’s to win the day! Well, sadly life is not a romantic, martial art hero movie. Shit happens when you do the wrong things, even with the right intentions.

Now I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but those who know martial arts and those who have experienced a real fight know that not all fights automatically end up on the ground. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes voluntarily going to the ground is bad strategically. Putting the opponent to the ground is good strategically as been shown in many cultural traditions where there is a strong warrior ethos (Japanese Sumo, Mongolian, Turkish Wrestling and Indian Gushti but a few examples) and I see it as such because if one warrior can best another warrior without the use of weapons they are demonstrating their superior combative skills without the use of weapons and thus have room for diplomacy without spilling any blood.

Not all submission wrestling techniques have a place when it comes to self preservation. There are more benefits to being physically fit and strong and having a wide spectrum of defensive techniques to keep you alive rather than to be a specialist in a particular submission in a fight to the death situation. One of the key points that has been extensively researched over years of human conflict was derived from the Vietnam War where many young, rapidly trained American teenagers were deployed to the front line and in the face of enemy fire, froze in fear. Some soldiers never even returned fire because they were in shock. The key point here is that you will default to the way you are trained when under extreme stress, hence the need to include personal safety drills in the jiu jitsu class at my gym.

Tapping into the knowledge and experiences of people who have lived through the violence of real fights is invaluable in selecting which techniques to learn and modify for the domestic altercations that might arise. I look at these skills similar to learning First Aid. You aren’t there to do neurosurgery nor will you cure cancer with First Aid skills but you could keep someone alive long enough so that they can get to more detailed, experienced medical care when there is nothing else available.

Consider your training objectives carefully. What motivated you to learn martial arts in the first place and what are you learning there? Ask your instructor to focus a few hours a month on personal safety skills at the very least to maintain your combative effectiveness.

In servitude and openness,
Vince Choo