BJJ Street Fight Breakdown: Guard Retention, RNC Defense, and Knowing Your Surroundings

The purpose of the BJJ Street Fight Breakdown series is to show how knowing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu could have been used in a street fight or self-defense situation for both offensive and defensive purposes. Knowing basic grappling and BJJ fundamentals that are taught during the first year of a beginner’s curriculum could mean the difference between getting out of a fight or self-defense situation with a few bumps and bruises or a major injury like a concussion or broken bones.

In this week’s edition of BJJ Street Fight Breakdown, we showcase a high school fight between Jeans (kid in jeans) and Shorts (kid in shorts) that goes to the ground and highlights the realities of street fighting. In street fighting and many self-defense situations, there aren’t any rules and honor and fairness takes a back seat to cheap shots and interference from others. In addition to discussing the lack of rules and honors in street fights, we will also show how basic BJJ learned in the first year of training could have helped save Shorts from taking a beating and nearly being choked unconscious on the ground.

Here are 5 tips and takeaways from this fight

Guard Retention: At :40, the fight goes to the ground after Jeans gets a body lock and takes Shorts down. Shorts is on the bottom with an open guard. Despite lacking formal BJJ training, he is doing well at times by placing his feet on Jean’s’ hips and keeping him at a distance where Jeans isn’t able to reign down strikes on him. Despite Jeans’ pressure, Shorts is able to maintain his guard and use his feet to push Jeans back. However, he doesn’t realize the importance of constantly keep his feet stuck to Jeans’ hips. By not training in BJJ, Shorts is very uncomfortable off his back and doesn’t realize what his true options off his back are which includes a technical stand up, potential submissions, up kicks, and using his hips and legs to maintain his open guard and create distance to get up. While nobody wants to be on their back during a fight or self-defense situation, you need to know what to do if you are taken down and are forced to fight from the bottom position. In the old Gracie Challenges, the boxers, kung fu and karate experts were dumbfounded once they were placed on their backs by the Gracies. Knowing how to defend and fight off your back is a core piece of self-defense training and BJJ fundamentals.

need feet on hips
Shorts needs to keep his feet on Jeans’ hips


Omaplata: At the :47 mark, Shorts has Jeans in position for a wide-open omaplata attempt. However, since he never trained in BJJ, he didn’t realize what a great gift Jeans has given him. If he was able to execute the omaplata from that position, the fight would have been over. Shorts would have gained top position on Jeans and been able to end the fight right from that position. Here is a great variation on the omaplata set up and finish by Open Mat head instructor and Shawn Williams Black Belt Elliott Bayev. 

Shorts had a wide open omaplata attack.


Don’t turtle and give up the back: At 1:05, Shorts is asking Jeans to let him up to continue the fight. The reality in street fights and self-defense situations are that your opponent won’t let up and won’t let you up. Asking your opponent to let you up will likely cause him to turn up the intensity of his attack as shown in this situation. Jeans’ strikes started breaking through Shorts’ collapsed guard and Shorts panics and give up his back. Ideally, if Shorts knew BJJ he would have used his open guard to keep Jeans at a safe distance and to create space to stand back up. Instead, Shorts panicked and turned onto his stomach in a turtle position. Jeans went for a rear naked choke despite riding really high with no hooks on Shorts. If Shorts knew basic grappling he could have rolled Jeans over his head or squared up and faced Jeans while in that position.

Shorts panicked and gave up his back.
Shorts panicked and gave up his back.

Rear Naked Choke Defense: At 1:13, Shorts is back on the ground while caught in a rear naked choke by Jeans. Shorts, has no idea how to defend the choke and is trying to throw futile head punches at Jeans’ head. He is in a life or death situation at this point. By not knowing basic choke defenses, Jeans is in a position to kill him or cause major brain damage from a lack of oxygen to the brain. Shorts could have alleviated pressure from the choke or broken it by getting his back and shoulders to the ground by shimmying towards his right side. Once his back is on the ground, Jeans would have likely tried to mount him, and Shorts would then recover half or full guard and worked for a sweep or technical stand up. Stephen Kestings has a great video on read naked choke defense. In the video he highlights exactly what to do in this position, which is the common counter taught in many BJJ schools.

Shorts is stuck in a rear naked choke and doesn't know how to escape.
Shorts is stuck in a rear naked choke and doesn’t know how to escape.

Be aware of your surroundings: At 1:27, Jeans is still holding the choke on Shorts when a third person soccer kicks Jeans in the head. At 1:34, the same person then starts to punch Jeans in the head. The strikes from the third person might were to protect Shorts who was stuck in a choke hold with Jeans refusing to let go. Like I stated above, Shorts is in a life and death situation once he is caught in the choke and there is no guarantee Jeans will let go of the choke. There are no rules or honor code on the streets. With the lack of rules and honor, you also have to be aware of your surroundings since other people might attack you if you have an advantageous position on one of their friends. Borrowing from Krav Maga philosophies, there is a need to account for your surroundings and fight to survive and fend off attacks. Holding onto the choke at that point while in enemy territory is not a wise decision. Jeans already gained top position and control of Shorts and it could have ended there. By holding onto the choke, it leads to a third person intervening in a very violent manner.

In a street fight or self defense situation, you need to be aware of your surroundings and the possibility that you will need to survive multiple attackers.
In a street fight or self defense situation, you need to be aware of your surroundings and the possibility that you will need to survive multiple attackers.

The best way to avoid a fight is to communicate to defuse the situation or walk away from the confrontation. If the fight does escalate and you are attacked and taken down, it is important to know how to defend yourself while on the ground. Knowing basic BJJ fundamentals can really mean the difference between escaping with minor injuries and being choked to a point where you could suffer serious long term brain damage or death.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here