Throwback to the 90’s Challenge Matches

Gracie Challenge
Almost without exception the Gracie Challenge videos that shocked, inspired and motivated us to pursue learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (the old school generation among us) was highlighted by the fact that in almost all the challenge matches strikes and kicks were thrown. Granted that the environment was ideal for a one-on-one “duel” and there were safety considerations that didn’t favour either party

In stark contrast to what is presented in today’s Mixed Martial Arts matches and sport Jiu Jitsu matches, there is a glaring chasm that spans the realms between a professional journeyman fighter who is trained and skilled in multiple combat disciplines versus the specialist jiu jitsu grappler. The disconnect between these two zones is where most regular people will be vulnerable in the sense that everyday crimes of opportunity will be presented. It will be improbable that you will be attacked by a professional fighter or by a specialist grappler, trained fighter. Professional athletes possess some discipline and ethics, though this is not always the case, but still the likelihood is comparatively low. More than likely the form of attacks on your person will involve some degree of strikes, kicks, and the use of improvised weapons such as screwdrivers, kitchen utensils or similar work tools and actual weapons like firearms. More than likely there will more than one assailant. The field of engagement may be in a place that you are familiar with, such as a home invasion, office or your usual routine journey, or somewhere that is isolated such as a parking lot or down a quiet corridor. Where ever the incident may take place much of your training in a martial arts school will usually address a certain range and dealing with singular unarmed attackers. The perpetrators could be career criminals or everyday “good” people with the opportunity to do something bad and get away with it or be involved in a “crime of passion”. Who really knows what truly motivates serial killers, perverts or pickpockets to do what they do but they are present and in our communities nonetheless and we must be aware of this fact.

The aforementioned Gracie Challenge matches were not domestic or crimes of opportunity. They were unarmed duels to showcase their abilities, demonstrating the effectiveness of the combination of striking and grappling skills against strictly a singular skill stream such as only boxing, or only kicking, et cetera. It was fighting for recognition, for pride and to establish style that was relatively unknown in the Western mindset back then and proved time and again the effectiveness of the art. In a nutshell the Brazilians developed an effective fighting system and are able to reproduce other similar fighters with success. It wasn’t meant to single out any individual or style and I interpret the matches to showcase the abyss between “fantasy” martial arts and those which can produce results using the combination of strikes and grappling.

I remember watching the early UFC (1-4) matches on VHS and how surprised and shocked I was that they allowed real, full contact strikes. Surprised that well-known and established martial arts styles were destroyed by a skinny Brazilian man methodically and repeatedly. Shocked and surprised yet again that despite the representation of well known martial arts styles after the first punches landed that “style” went out the window and the fight devolved into bad kickboxing and brawling. In addition to the early UFC the Japanese scene introduced Pride FC where there were even less safety rules and those matches were eye openers too. Almost immediately after that I second guessed my current set of abilities and the seed was planted that I had to supplement my training with the study of some form of grappling.

The contrast between what most people who practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu today (2018) and those who practice it pre-UFC days (pre-1990’s) is very different. Back then there was no worm-guard, Berimbolo, flying armbars, 10th Planet: gi versus no-gi jiu jitsu debates. It was simply Jiu Jitsu versus wrestlers, versus punching, kicking, it was very much in touch with the combative aspects and the techniques reflected those demands. The majority of BJJ schools nowadays don’t teach the combative or self defense parts of the art, with a preference to focus on the more lucrative sports aspects of BJJ instead. Can it still be called a martial art or should it be renamed Combat Sport?

This isn’t to say that new school jiu jitsu is all bad but it has become a very specialised grapplers versus grapplers situation, focus on not letting your partner score points, stalling and competition based. There is value to modern day BJJ competitive training but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

A well respected Jiu Jitsu teacher, Master Pedro Sauer, shared one of his more famed Gracie Challenge experiences about the differences between fighting a jiu jitsu practitioner versus someone who is strong but largely untrained. To paraphrase, “their (latter) movements were totally unpredictable. Instead of trying to pass my guard he tried to flip or back flip out which was totally bizarre and weird. It didn’t work.” Food for thought. Instead of preparing for a precise, deliberate and technical fight how would one prepare to deal with a similar situation with a thrashing strong man? Will your strength and conditioning be just as important as your technical abilities in such a situation?

On my mind
One of the important criteria for me is that in Crazy Monkey Defense, the emphasis and focus on self preservation is one of the guiding principles that underlines our purpose for training. The CMD program addresses several components of personal security on several assumptions:

  • No one will come to your help, even when you are beaten or injured
  • Bystanders might interfere as they do not know who is the “good” or “bad” guy
  • You may and will probably be attacked by more than one assailant
  • Your actions have to be defensible in the court of law
  • You have to minimise and manage the amount of physical damage you take if unavoidable
  • Escape to safety whenever possible
  • Fights are fast, ugly and very violent and is nothing “cool” like what you see on TV or in the movies
  • Sometimes you have to “lose” in order to “win”
  • Understand the difference between a fight for your life and fight for your ego

The old saying is that when you have to fight your way out of a situation that means you messed up a long time ago. Where was your awareness? Why didn’t you avoid the situation completely? Did you employ verbal de-escalation techniques? Did you move out of the line of danger? Was there an opportunity for you to escape to safety and why didn’t you create one or take it? As a person skilled in grappling, taking the fight to the ground may not necessarily be the best strategy and I think this also gender specific. Do you know what to do to keep a fight on the feet? Do you know what to do if the fight ends up on the ground and strikes are thrown or weapons are present?

There are so many more questions and we explore these options within the context of empirically proven arts of boxing and jiu jitsu. You might be thinking, sure but how about X-Y-Z martial arts? They work too! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not dismissing other martial arts as ineffective as this is not the intention of this post. It’s not to say someone skilled in Muay Thai or sport Jiu Jitsu won’t be able to defend themselves on the contrary they will definitely have an unfair advantage over the common untrained man.

I keep a mental list of what I consider highly-effective in a self defense situation, having a weapon in hand first comes to mind. some sort of firearm, edged weapon or blunt weapon in that order. Possessing skills in Wrestling, Thai boxing, Judo, Boxing and Kickboxing, Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, all rate very highly in my consideration but they all take time to develop, meaning that you can’t become competent in these skills over a weekend. They all deal with the realities of contact and people skilled in these disciplines typically possess a work ethic and grit that is matched only by the effectiveness of their art. Therefore it’s no surprise that many professional fighters seek out to learn these skills to bring into the arena of mixed martial arts in contrast with other “softer” martial arts of which there are also many videos debunking their efficacy.

What about the martial arts that train with weapons like knives, sticks and swords? A competent armed defender will have an unfair advantage against an unarmed attacker. This is assuming the attacker is unarmed but time has proven that the probability of your attacker being armed with a weapon is pretty high. It becomes a huge deterrent for an unarmed attacker, pervert or potential rapist to want to pursue his attack.

Perhaps it may be illegal for you to carry an edged weapon daily orĀ  you may not be in possession of a concealed carry weapon firearm license. Perhaps you don’t want to deal with the responsibility of carrying a firearm or edged weapon but it doesn’t harm you to know how to use one effectively. Keeping everything above board and legal, how about using improvised tools such as defense pens, torchlights, pepper sprays or similar tools?

By understanding the nature of the weapon you demystify it and remove the fear of the unknown through familiarity and conscious choice. Whatever you carry on your person can also be used against you, and this is also true if you secure possession of the attacker’s weapon.

Is there any correlation between combat sport success and your ability to successfully survive an attack in real life?
There have been numerous examples of champions and world champions in any given martial art that have been severely or fatally wounded in real life just as there are many successful victories. The circumstances leading up to the demise of these individuals will remain unknown to me. Perhaps the victims were over confident of their abilities, or caught by surprise in an ambush or were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were victims of circumstance. Perhaps they were also not prepared for situation as one contention is that sport combat have many safety rules that will be a hindrance in a real-life “anything goes” fight and variables that cannot be predicted. One has to remember that agreeing to spar or fight inside a ring with someone else, no matter how skilful is an agreed duel where both parties know and are willing to be involved in is a form of duelling. In a predetermined time and place with safety elements and the ability to concede safely is common. In a criminal situation one party is not willing or unprepared to be in a situation where the possessions or person’s safety is at stake and even if you concede defeat there is no guarantee that the attackers will not continue the attacks. The mindset of this is very different of the former.

My personal take is that the individual may have been well known so by default any aggressor engaging a known fighter will automatically escalate and adopt a “shoot first – ask questions later” approach when dealing with someone that is known to possess formidable martial skills. By that I mean someone high-profile within their community and is known to be a fighter so knowing that you will eventually face this individual for whatever reason it will be safe to assume that you would not want to contest your skills on a level playing field. Several incidences come to mind when on this issue with many examples worldwide that is an easy search online but for the everyday person possessing some skills in self preservation situation and unexpectedly deploying them with the element of surprise will greatly amplify its effects, just like any ancient warfare strategy, rather than when the enemy already has an accurate assessment of your forces and abilities. The element of surprise can work both ways.

Education is the key
Educating yourself in these areas of personal safety and self preservation is like learning First Aid. You never know when it will be useful and it will always be better to know some basics than not. The risk of seeking out self preservation education is that this is largely an uncontrolled industry. There are individuals and groups who profess to know but in reality cannot deliver the results. There are others who promote fear and paranoia to market their classes yet others display their many trophies, medals and belts as if those mattered when the business end of a gun or knife is aimed at you.

In conversations with many professionals who have been in these life-threatening situations and survived their stories and experiences are valuable in understanding the nature of violence, how it occurred and how it was resolved. And through these experiences we can weave our own fabric of understanding of this dynamic and morbidly fascinating subject and aim our training direction in response. Statistically it is a question of when such a situation will happen to me, to you, to someone you know and love and how best to prepare for it’s manifestation. If you pay attention to the skies you can almost predict an incoming rainstorm or change in weather and dress appropriately. If you were too busy with your life to notice changes in the sky only then to complain of getting caught in the rain is something to avoid. Or you could carry a spare umbrella for a loved one.

Give some thought on how much time you invest in perfecting your triangle choke or boxing combination routine versus how much time you put in developing your awareness and avoidance techniques? How much time do you as a Jiu Jitsu practitioner put in to work against strikes or weapon based attacks and for the Boxing practitioners how often do you practice dealing with rugby tackles and grabs? How have the sporting rules of combat sport limited your conditioned response and your reaction to interpersonal crime? If you are physically fit, possess an athletic base with some effective skills, undoubtedly your physical posture, alertness and presence won’t be as attractive to a criminal as much as someone with a poor gait, distracted mind and looking sad or depressed, struggling with multiple bags or immersed in the depths of their phones.

I remember some of my old karate training and in one of the black belt tests, one of the criteria was the demonstration of your ability to control your punching and the amount of contact. A pen was held up and you were asked to punch at it without touching. I understood the purpose of this but didn’t see the point. Surely punching in combination, repeatedly, effectively demonstrating the conditioning of the fist and knuckles and accurately should have taken priority over punching it without contact but I digress. I have seen other karate styles where the opposite was true. It was to demonstrate how strong your punch was not how well you could control it. A difference in philosophy I suppose. This was one of the points of contention that eventually led me to learning other martial arts as this form of karate no longer provided the answers I was seeking. The disillusionment of my karate training opened up a Pandora’s box of questions that ultimately led me down this current path.

That is a personal decision and perhaps for you now, if you are training in a different martial art and happy with what you’re doing then great! More power to you but if you have doubt and would like to supplement your current skills with additional and different skills, which was what I did, until one day I concluded that why not just do this full time since it provided more answers that makes sense to me, please check out our programs. I’m only here to provide you a complementary solution to your current abilities. We are on the same team. If you have questions about punching, avoid getting punched in the face, dealing with being rugby tackled, or what to do if you end up on the ground and being attacked, then let’s chat. My focus is mostly on self preservation and I’ll be more than happy to share my knowledge and experience with you.

In service and gratitude,