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Self-Defense vs Competition in Jiu Jitsu

April 15th 2024

With the growth of Jiu Jitsu, also known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Gracie Jiu Jitsu, the divide between academies that focus on self-defense versus those that focus on competition continues to grow.  Here in Utah, and even more specifically in Orem, where Griffin Jiu Jitsu Academy is located, someone wanting to compete could likely compete in some type of grappling tournament monthly, if not multiple times a month. 

Competitions can be a great way to build resilience.  They can also be a way to get out of your comfort zone, face fears, and much more.  Another great benefit of competing is that it helps you see where you stand against others in your belt level and weight level.  Some academies will promote their students to the next belt if a student consistently wins tournaments at their belt and weight class. 

However, there is a downside to competition training.  It is competition training, with a specific set of rules, and with its own culture, do’s, and don’ts. Not to mention, if you want to get really good in competitions, you need to train hard, and train specifically for competitions.  The hard part of this, is that someone wanting to also learn street-ready self-defense will have to sacrifice time for competition training.  Many Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (also known as BJJ) do very little actual self-defense training during classes.  This goes for kids, youth, women, and all adults.  A big reason for this is that in a tournament, no one is going to be punching you.  No one is pinning you against a wall.  No one is pulling a knife on you.  No one is trying to kick you.  No one is bear hugging you from behind, and so on… Further, as an example, one of the main areas we teach at Griffin Jiu Jitsu Academy is escaping headlocks on the ground and standing up.  In competitions, you would rarely see any kind of headlock, as it is not a submission, and it doesn’t necessarily help you dominate your opponent. 

This is where you will see the biggest divide, and difference in Jiu Jitsu schools, and where lineage matters!  If you are training at a Jiu Jitsu school with a lineage straight back to Helio Gracie, there is a strong chance you are going to learn self-defense standing, and on the ground.  If you are training at a school that traces its lineage back to Helio’s older brother, Carlos Gracie, the academy will likely be more focused on competition.  Not always, but from my experience of over 25 years, this is very often the case. In a later blog post, I will discuss the reasons why in more detail. 

I received all my belts, including my black belt, directly from Master Pedro Sauer.  He received his black belt directly from Helio and Rickson Gracie.  From day one, I was being taught self-defense standing and on the ground.  As the years have gone on, I have focused more and more of my training on self-defense.  This has been reinforced as I have learned additional techniques, concepts, and principles of self-defense from Rickson Gracie, Relson Gracie, Pedro Sauer, and others that studied Gracie Jiu Jitsu directly under Grandmaster Helio Gracie.  Too add to this, I am a Level 3 Army Combatives instructor, law enforcement defensive tactics instructor, and firearms instructor. What has come from this is a level of awareness, preparedness, and a training mindset to prepare for real-world encounters that can and do happen, in stores, churches, family gatherings, parks, and more. Don’t get me wrong…along the way, a lot of what is taught on the ground can certainly be used in tournaments successfully, as is evident by the success of Pedro Sauer, Royler Gracie, Rickson Gracie, Kron Gracie, and others.  Why? Because what is developed is a SOLID foundation in the basics of self-defense, the concepts that make it work with more efficiency and love of leverage, and how to yield energy when your attacker/opponent moves, attacks, etc. 

So, what does this mean for you or your kids? Certainly, someone who trains primarily for competitions will very likely do just fine in a real-world assault or fight.  However, with most competitions spending most of their time on the ground going for points, there is A LOT of standing self-defense and defense against striking on the ground that is missed.  Is this important to you?  It is to me, so that is why Griffin Jiu Jitsu Academy focuses so much on self-defense. 

Have questions or a specific topic you would like me to discuss?  Message me at or 801-513-9775.