Don’t Get Cocky Just Because You Know Jiu-Jitsu

Flickr/Creative Commons: MythicSeabass

At some point during your jiu-jitsu journey, you will likely have a moment of feeling invincible. Dude, you can choke people now. With their own clothes! You can kinda do some UFC stuff. You now know more than the average person about how to break limbs and choke folks with nothing but your own body and some knowledge about leverage and anatomy, and it feels neato.

Look, jiu-jitsu is a highly practical martial art, and it can absolutely help you subdue inexperienced opponents if you get attacked. Unfortunately, it’s not the ultimate superpower many people think it is, and the results can be cringy at best and dangerous at worst.

From what I’ve seen, it’s usually around “upper white” or blue belt level that many jiu-jitsu students start to think that what they know is enough to defeat every large, muscly, inexperienced tough guy that walks through the academy doors. They’ve been fed the narrative that small and skilled can beat big and strong, and they believe that narrative can be applied universally. If they do get submitted by a buff newbie who can crank an Americana hard enough to make technique irrelevant, the more experienced student can shrug it off and assume that they still have a ways to go before they can beat everyone who walks in to take their first class.

A few years down the road, though, this illusion is often shattered. A purple or brown belt might really struggle with a less experienced student, likely one who is super strong, aggressive and unpredictable, or has a secret wrestling background. They’ll have their own butt handed to them by someone who they believe they should easily be able to clobber, and suddenly, the image of eventual invincibility they held as a lower belt will be seen for what it really was: a mere fantasy.

That’s not to say that this will happen all the time; normally, by the time you reach the mid-level or upper ranks in jiu-jitsu, you are doing a significant amount of butt-handing to your less experienced training partners. Getting beaten up by or simply struggling against a newer student may just be a fluke, but it’s also proof that it is possible to be dominated by someone who doesn’t know any jiu-jitsu. And keep in mind that this is all taking place in a controlled, relatively safe environment — if this interaction were to take place under less friendly circumstances (say, a bar fight or a Tinder date gone wrong), you could be up against someone who wanted to hurt you. Slams, strikes, and other attempts at genuine harm would all be possible, and relying on the idea that “technique always beats strength” could get you killed.

You should take pride in your jiu-jitsu and, yes, understand that it does make you better equipped to defend yourself if needed. However, always keep your head firmly on your shoulders. Don’t assume that your ability to submit the bigger guys at your gym translates into an ability to submit the person you’re dating or the guy who’s talking trash to you at an MMA event. Avoiding the need to use what you’ve learned should always be your first priority, and if push does come to shove (or takedown), you should never assume that you’re safe until the situation has completely diffused. Technique may beat strength, but de-escalation will always beat unnecessary confrontation.


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