A few weeks ago the Verbal Grappling Podcast (a collaborative project done by The BJJ Hour and Jiu Jitsu Times) featured Rener Gracie in a no holds barred discussion about the merits of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and the direction it’s heading. Rener repeatedly made a specific point: if your jiu jitsu training doesn’t frequently include striking, you’re not doing Gracie Jiu Jitsu. Now that the dust has settled a bit, I’d like to analyze this from my own (possibly narrow) perspective.
As a disclaimer: this article isn’t a criticism or indictment of GJJ, but rather a question for anyone out there who has trained the kind of jiu jitsu that Rener described: is GJJ limited when handling trained opponents? By trained I mean schooled in both striking and grappling. How would someone with a year of casual MMA training at a local MMA gym do in a fight against someone with a year of Gracie Combatives training?
I did striking for many years. I started with Kempo Karate back in 1993, eventually getting into Muay Thai, boxing and a mixture of other styles. Oh, and I was first exposed to Gracie Jiu Jitsu in 1999 (no, I haven’t been training all this time, I took many years off, but my first exposure was nevertheless in the late 90s.) The appeal of Gracie Jiu Jitsu to me was, very specifically, the ability to practice it full force without worrying too much about injury, a luxury that I didn’t have when striking.
Gracie Jiu Jitsu has always been marketed as a complete martial art. The idea has always been to address someone trying to hit you by clinching, establishing a dominant position, and then deciding how to finish the altercation. Gracie Jiu Jitsu also hasn’t really done very well over the past decade in mainstream MMA…
The majority of successful fighters in MMA today use boxing and Muay Thai (in some cases mixed with Karate or Taekwondo in order to be unorthodox) when standing, Judo and/or wrestling in the clinch and a combination of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sweeps and submissions, as well as occasional catch or Sambo submissions once the fight hits the ground. We don’t see people doing the now infamous shuffle that Royce Gracie did in UFC 1, and there’s a reason for this.
If GJJ is so effective, why don’t we see more of what we saw in the early days of the UFC? Why don’t we see fighters standing with their head straight up in the area and their arms extended, kicking at the other person’s legs and eventually rushing in? I believe that this is because the striking that is taught in GJJ is ineffective against a trained striker with an understanding of the clinch and how to stay out of danger.
I am not saying that GJJ isn’t effective at all, nor am I saying that one should steer clear of it. What I am saying is that GJJ as a complete martial art may leave its practitioners vulnerable in comparison to breaking up training into the various aspects of the fight, which is why so few MMA fighters tout it as their main style. The ones who are grappling specialists tend to be former sport BJJ competitors who are able to use the same techniques they used in the sport to do well in MMA, but if you watch their style it looks like what it is, sport BJJ modified for MMA, NOT GJJ.
Striking is important to any self defense program, so I would tend to agree that GJJ as a complete martial art requires striking, but I would posit that one is better served training their striking and their grappling as two separate factors in their journey as a martial artist as to become well rounded and effective both on the feet and on the ground.