Warriors search all their lives for the ultimate weapon and a superior understanding of warfare on every level from all-out war to individual confrontation. There’s a vast difference from the public perception to the soldier’s reality of combat, conflict, and reality self defense. We must always beware the lure of entertainment over reality.
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In the public’s mind Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become the Nike of self-defense. It has reached a level of notoriety as the most effective, fastest growing form of self-defense that people are learning in order to confidently protect themselves mostly due to the general public’s exposure to the Ultimate Fighting Championship that debuted in the early 1990s. Jiu-Jitsu is perceived to be the titanium standard, built on a foundation of demonstrated effectiveness presented in those early competitions aired on Pay-per-View for entertainment. The original events clearly demonstrated its superior effectiveness based on results; but the event has changed for entertainment value and the vast majority of the public hasn’t noticed what has replaced it has overtaken this once great self-defense system in the name of entertainment.
When I first encountered GRACIE Jiu Jitsu over twenty years ago I had an experience that was instrumental in changing my life forever. Some experiences make you take notice and some encounters make you different from that moment forward and strike a cord with your soul that mark your life with a milestone of destiny and become part of your life shaping story. Some two decades earlier I embarked on such a journey when I spent the weekend training with Royce Gracie and formally began my introduction to GRACIE Jiu-Jitsu. At the time I was a Team Sergeant in Army Special Forces and had just returned to the Green Berets after a special assignment with 3rd Ranger Battalion in wake of their epic Gothic Serpent operation which has come to be known for it’s depiction in “Black Hawk Down”. I immediately saw the brilliant simplicity of GRACIE Jiu Jitsu and the limitless effective application for myself and my fellow special operators. It inspired a vision that sparked a goal and launched a 20 year journey that completely changed my life and my destiny.
After initially seeing it I began to search, test, and evaluate a number of martial arts and self-defense systems that claimed effectiveness for REAL situations like the circumstances we were training for in actual combat. I explored Krav Maga, SCARS, the LINES program and a number of other well marketed systems of the day. But GRACIE Jiu Jitsu easily stood apart at the time; it was more than the self-defense system itself, it was the almost magical way that it was presented and taught to us as warriors by Rorion and Royce Gracie. It was a devastating personal protection system conveyed with fun, playful lethality, and effortless sophistication against chaotic brutality, basically a laser against a stone axe. It was magical.
For the last twenty plus years I have dedicated my life to learning the essence of its mystic effectiveness. In that time I have seen the world open up to it and embrace it for it’s gladiatorial entertainment in events like the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Most recently I’ve seen it degraded for competition application and now there is a huge difference between the Authentic Gracie Jiu jitsu that I learned and studied and the modern BJJ that permeates the public landscape. As it has become more widely known around the world it has also become much less of a secret weapon with mystic effectiveness.
So what happened to this once great self-defense system? The same thing that always happens to reality - it gets blurred by entertainment. The art that once took the public by storm and looked like a deadly constricting serpent, devouring opponents of other styles, has been consumed by man’s innate desire to tame the savage beast. This desire to be part of the action without being privy to the complete risk constantly drives people to convert combat to a game. People love the title of “Warrior” but can’t stomach the act of war. Another often encountered issue is that the romanticized image of combat is lost in the fog of war. The chaos of real encounters makes it difficult to follow and without a technical background it’s hard to understand what really ended the fight. Because of Hollywood depictions we look for amazing acts of athleticism instead of appreciating superior strategy and prevailing simplicity of technique. As a result the savage competition designed to showcase Gracie Jiu Jitsu’s effectiveness introduced rules to make it more entertaining to watch to the untrained eye. While the rules took away some of the reality of actual fighting situations they didn’t alleviate reality’s greatest instructor: PAIN!! Consequently, an opportunity for another level was revealed: Sport Jiu Jitsu.
Sport Jiu jitsu provided the opportunity to practice individual confrontation without the major reality of getting punched in the face. It’s like a candy cigarette, a chance to look cool without an ominous threat like cancer. While competitive events have some major training value the challenge for the true warrior occurs when he sells his soul and starts valuing points over real proficiency. This causes us to ignore the ugly facts of real confrontation and tailor our strategy and techniques within the safety provided by the rules or to gravitate to skills that please the audience instead of vanquishing the enemy. If you have no desire to train for real self-defense that’s completely OK, train and compete for fun and enjoy every minute of it, just don’t misrepresent what you do and especially don’t kid yourself and try to say that you’re a warrior. NO ATHLETE is a warrior by virtue of competition. The bottom line is that if there’s NO WAR you’re not a warrior.
No matter how fierce competition may be and even with the threat of some severe physical pain and the prospect of feeling embarrassed to death it’s still a long way from the reality of war. In competition you don’t truly risk being killed, it may be a possibility but it’s not the actual objective of the event. In a tournament you don’t risk being mutilated, captured, tortured or the psychological scars of seeing your friends killed or severely incapacitated for life. You’re not likely to lose a limb, be ripped apart by an explosion, or wrestle with the moral dilemma of having taken another human life. So enjoy the game whatever it may be for the fun of the game but never lose sight of the fact that it is still a game and you are a player not a warrior.
To avoid falling under the bewitching spell of competition you may find it helpful to take a military approach and establish your own Statement of Requirements (SOR) for your training. A Statement of requirements simplifies what your training is all about and addresses your core reason for training. Here’s an example of some things that I include in my training SOR, they’re not Murphy’s Laws of Combat but they keep my training on track:
Since warriors place more value on surviving than entertaining, they should be much more interested in effectiveness over appearance. People prefer to dabble in playing games for entertainment because they would rather deny the possibility than prepare for the reality. Just remember, no matter how cute and cuddly a lion or a bear looks, you must never forget that inside the animal lies a beast that may be sleeping but is never dead and could awaken at any moment. Train like you live in the jungle but live like you want to exist in a civilization. In the words of John Maxwell “Change is inevitable, but Growth is optional”. Constantly evaluate your training so combat and confrontations act as a mechanism to improve your skills.
Article written by: Randy McElwee
Article edited by: Stephen N. DiLeo