Do YOU Use Dirty Moves? If You Don’t… You Should!

Perusing the Facebooks today, I came across a post of a parent of a well-known and well respected teen competitor complaining about the conduct of an opponent during a match.  The opponent tried to use a hard cross face/grind to cause the competitor to make a mistake.  The parent referred to this tactic as “dirty,” even though the tactic is perfectly legal.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen successful competition-legal techniques referred to as dirty or cheap.  In fact, I’ve fallen victim to this fallacy of thinking myself: I am a submission hunter and I will give up position if I am up against an opponent who holds position rather than searching for the submission in hopes that it will make them open up and try to submit me.  This sometimes results in me getting the win off of my opponents’ failed attempts, but it often results in me losing.  I have found myself blaming my opponents’ willingness to hold onto points instead of going for the kill, rather than my own deficiencies.  It’s easier to blame someone else than it is to truly be introspective.

I’ve heard leg locks and wrist locks referred to as “cheap” moves even though they’re widely accepted and legal.  I’ve heard people refer to my willingness to attack these joints as “cheap,” “dirty” or “sneaky.”  The truth is in competition true competitors will do whatever they can to win.  How they define winning and victory may be different from competitor to competitor, like in my case where I really don’t feel that a win on points presents the same significance or feeling of accomplishment than one by submission.

Ultimately there are no “dirty moves.”  There are legal moves, and there are illegal moves.  If you get a caught doing an illegal move, there’s a good chance you’ll get penalized or DQ’d.  Just because a move is not something you personally practice doesn’t mean that there aren’t gyms that focus specifically on that move, and train their competitors to seek that move out.  In competition, ideally, practitioners are evenly matched based on rank and size, the key distinction between evenly matched competitors is who is able to use their techniques more creatively in the moment thus prevailing in the match.  And, yes, “dirty” moves fall into that frame work.

If you are learning jiu-jitsu for self defense, avoiding and neglecting “dirty” moves could wind up meaning that you are less effective if you ever wind up in a self-defense situation.  Jiu-jitsu is all about efficiently countering another person’s physical movements, and what’s more efficient than attacking weaker joints of the body?  What’s more efficient than causing a person to react by causing pain?

If you are learning jiu-jitsu for sport, avoiding and neglecting dirty moves not only means that you’ll miss out on opportunities to apply those techniques, it also means that those moves can be used against you and you’ll be unready.  Training with brutish catch wrestlers has made my ability to tolerate pain compliance techniques far more effectively than in the past, because the reality is that very few opponents will be quite as skilled with those techniques as my training partners.


  1. At a Gracie Barra school I was given a choice, stop cross-facing people or don’t come back. Its an incredibly simple technique and if you cant counter it then you need to take a long look at your game. Want me to stop doing something then use a technique to counter it and I’ll stop doing it and figure something else out.


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