Here’s What Really Keeps People Hooked On Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

The other night at BJJ class, we were working on some open guard passing and drilled details on the knee cut. We also went over why we might use a leg drag if the guard player was using a De la Riva guard to prevent the knee cut.

It is BJJ tournament season and several of the students are preparing to compete under IBJJF rules and tournaments in the next month. That means paying attention to points and strategies for dealing with sports specific situations. If you are not familiar with these guard positions, you are going to have a really tough time passing and will likely end up getting swept or submitted. This is a common class format in my academy as the majority of the students are active competitors.

A guy and a woman in street clothes wandered in to watch the class. Obviously, they were doing a tour of the gym (we also have muay thai and cross fit classes). They stuck around to watch and seemed intrigued by what was going on.

I was immediately aware of how the techniques we were doing must have looked to them. Statistics say that the vast majority of people who sign up for martial arts classes do so for reasons of self-defense and physical fitness. Perhaps, they had heard of Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a good self-defense martial art or heard about jiu-jitsu from watching MMA. However, the techniques they saw the class practicing (leg drag guard pass and breaking grips) were not something the average person equates with self-defense. They were seeing a technique that is important for a sport tournament with many different rules for scoring, but not something they would identify as a realistic self-defense scenario.

This is a tricky thing for BJJ schools that advertise themselves as a great form of self-defense but then teach mainly sport BJJ positions and strategies. Do you need to know how to pass Lasso guard for street self-defense? Yet, the truth is that the majority of people who buy a few kimonos and train several days per week are not getting addicted to jiu-jitsu because of the self-defense aspects.

The part of jiu-jitsu that makes people get addicted are the friendly rivalries we first develop in class that make us want to learn more techniques so we have solutions to the positions we deal with in rolling with the other students. This healthy, friendly competition lights a fire under many people and they can’t wait to roll with those favorite training partners the very next class. And those rolls are governed by sports BJJ rules in most academies.

Many students may initially walk into a BJJ school interested in self defense, but after a short while, the primary interest becomes getting better at rolling with the other students. And so starts an “arms race” of sorts where everyone enjoys pitting their skills against their regular training partners.

It is the most fun part of jiu-jitsu! Then, after deciding to try a BJJ tournament, they go even deeper down the rabbit hole.

The prospective students don’t know that yet, so I explained that regular classes included some instruction in common self-defense situations and that this week we were training specifically to prepare several of the students for an upcoming tournament. I’m not quite sure of what they made of it, but I hope they come back to try a jiu-jitsu class.

Why did you start training BJJ? Did your reasons for training change after you got into it?


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