The Best Form of Self Defense is to Walk Away

Last week, a video surfaced of an Alliance Minnesota Purple Belt who was sucker punched after a pick-up basketball game at a YMCA. The Alliance Purple Belt was able to effectively use his BJJ skills to take the fight to the ground, secure his attacker’s back and then transition to a triangle choke attempt, to an arm attempt, to opponent guard sweep and finally to a foot lock position. The initial video posted on the Alliance Minnesota Facebook page started moments before the sucker punch and was applauded by many in the BJJ community since it demonstrated the power of BJJ in a self-defense situation and it also showed the restraint of the BJJ practitioner who gave his attacker a chance to back off rather than secure a footlock.

A day later, a longer video was posted that showed the minute before the altercation where both men were talking trash about each other’s basketball game. Both men acted in a childish manner, cursing and mocking each other’s basketball skills. While the Purple Belt was sucker punched and had to defend himself against the attacker, the whole situation could have been avoided if the Purple Belt showed the discipline and restraint of a martial artist and defused the situation before it escalated.

At the start of the video, the eventual attacker and the Purple Belt are walking off the court and the attacker calls out the Purple Belt. Rather than engage this person in verbal sparring, the Purple Belt should have either diffused the situation right there or walked away. It is difficult to just walk away when you are called out or verbally accosted. We have our pride and egos. We don’t want to back down in front of our peers since they might lose respect for us.

However, the Purple Belt should have used his head and calmly diffuse the situation rather than lowering himself to the attacker’s level .This is the guaranteed way to avoid escalating the situation into a physical confrontation. In the event the attacker continues the verbal assault, the Purple Belt should have further wished the attacker a ‘nice day’ and to ‘take care.’ In the worst case scenario, for any of us we should simply walk away. Sure we might be called names and taunted for backing down, but it is the best way to avoid a physical altercation.

We as martial artists, should be examples of calmness and reason in these situations. We should be the ones who have the inner-confidence and character from our training to be the better person and to work to resolve the situation without violence. The ability to do so is a sign of inner strength, rather than a sign of weakness that others may perceive from the situation.

I was once in a confrontation in downtown Las Vegas at 3 AM in the morning with a drunk college-aged guy who got in my face and called me every name in the book. Since I was sober, I was able to quickly compute a few of my options and potential outcomes.

Option A: Walk away and I can be back at my hotel in 20 minutes relaxing.

Option B: I throw a punch and it turns into “Keeping it Real Goes Wrong” and I am injured and/or arrested.

Option C: I throw a punch or do something to injure him and I am arrested, sued, and facing jail time.

Out of those 3 options, the only one where I am in complete control and am 100% sure of the outcome was to walk away. Sure, I was mad and part of me wondered what could have happened if we did get into a physical altercation. IN the end, the best outcome for all of us, was to be the bigger person and walk away.

If I were still in my college phase, I might have taken the bait and done something I would have regretted. Thankfully, I had trained BJJ for a year when that confrontation occurred and the lessons learned in BJJ helped me to walk away. My ego was calmer from having the constant release of stress from drilling and rolling. I also knew from BJJ that you could not judge a book by its cover since I had been roughed up by numerous training partners who were much smaller than me. From the beatings I took in class, I also gained the knowledge of knowing just how uncomfortable a physical confrontation could be and how helpless I could find myself if things went wrong for me during a quick 15 to 30 second fight. One punch could severely injure me or my opponent. One takedown could break a limb or cause permanent damage to my back or neck.

Martial Arts and BJJ isn’t just physical exercise. It is a mental and spiritual enlightenment as well. The awareness gained from BJJ should give us the confidence and ability to diffuse a potentially violent situation and to walk away with our heads held high. The best form of self-defense is to diffuse a situation through diplomacy before any punches are thrown.



  1. An instructor told us never think of a self-defense situation as a fight. You fight on mats in dojos and schools and gyms (and hopefully avoid injuries). You want to take it to a high level, then do grappling tournaments, Muay Thai, full contact karate, boxing or cage fights. Self defense is not fighting, it is concerned with safety, not ego. Ego says beat up the “dumbass. Now dumbass can track you down and kill your dog, slash your tires, shoot you, wait for you with a baseball bat, and so forth. This coach said to keep your inner ape on a short leash. For example if faced with dumbass saying, “What the xxxx are you looking at?” we trained to say, “Oh, sorry man, long day, I was just spacing out.” The idea is to give NO reason to fight – give every reason to slide like teflon. Let dumbass fight some other dumbass. A Kajukenbo sifu when faced with a very obnoxious drunk took him outside by pinching the flesh beneath his nose. After a talk, they went back in and had a beer. A Kyokushin karateka and kickboxer in our school in the same situation chewed the guy out, fought and threw him out. Then the drunk snuck in the back door and slammed a fifth over karate hero’s head – KO’d and emergency room to be sewed up. Sensei Del Griffiths (two time Hawaii karate champ) was mortified that one of his students was that stupid. I myself have hit three people outside of training (started martial arts 1965). Looking back two were bullshit that I could have avoided, but pride and ego were talking real loud. One though, was self defense. A maniac speed freak attacked and I was really happy that he seemed to have neglected training kick defense techniques! Watching the video again the bjj guy could have avoided the fight easily. He was busy being RIGHT! His ego prevented him from disengagement; he couldn’t shut his mouth. I know, I know, why should he shut up? The black guy sucker punched him – well bjjer said something at 1:20 that made the guy attack. He could have diffused it anytime til then, he provoked that attack. He is actually the dumbass in this video. I would suggest that civility is safer and smarter than fighting for silly reasons. This is not in any way self defense, this is two hot head getting it on.

  2. Sorry for my english:
    You are talking about BJJ. Just to remind you that some of the first BJJ videos in the internet, with really low quality video, have some members of the Gracie family talking on top, and they try to show how effective BJJ is at the streets while showing some macho guys fighting on the beach. Gracie family started this kind of promotion, by presenting stupid fights that could have been avoided, as evidence of how effective BJJ is. You can easily find these videos in youtube. Famous Gracie family members are fighting in these videos.
    So…don’t expect more maturity from the students.
    Hopefully, the “ethics & morality” of other traditional martial arts will join BJJ as more and more black belts from other arts join BJJ, and non-brazilian BJJ instructors are not so fanatic to prove that their sport/art is superior.

    P.S. and people needs to understand the difference between the real definition of self-defence (and this is what matters in front of a judge) and the one-vs-one unarmed cock-fights for whatever reason. If the purple belt had broke the opponents leg, he would have been in jail by 100%.


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