Jiu Jitsu vs. Weapons

Last night we worked on a few weapon-oriented self-defense moves in Pedro Sauer’s blue and purple belt curricula: particularly, club and knife defense.

I have mixed feelings about training these techniques.  In general, I think it’s an extremely bad idea to engage an attacker if they have a weapon (or even if they don’t) unless you have exhausted every other option (de-escalating the situation, running away, getting into a crowded area, screaming for help, calling the police, etc.).  I also worry that naive jiu jitsu practitioners might get the impression that they can successfully and safely defend themselves from an armed attacker by knowing these techniques, and might opt to engage their attacker rather than run.

On the other hand, there is potential for these techniques to save your life in a worst-case-scenario, and I understand that weapon defense training is probably particularly useful for law enforcement.  In addition, the general principles of the techniques apply to other situations as well; staying out of the “power arch” of a baseball bat can apply to a variety of situations, including protection from punches and kicks.

As a lowly blue belt, perhaps it’s not my place to question a well-established curriculum.  However, I do think that instructors should explicitly couple self-defense technique lessons with general self-defense awareness.  Practicing a knife-stab defense technique in class a few times doesn’t make you stab-proof.

I think it would be useful to spend a night training with something like this Shocknife, which apparently packs a walloping 7,500 volts. It would help reinforce the idea that entirely avoiding a knife attack situation is better than engaging an opponent.


About Dave

Grad student in Ecology, Blue belt in jiu jitsu.
This entry was posted in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Self Defense, Training and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Jiu Jitsu vs. Weapons

  1. bsenka says:

    Do you guys use a wooden tanto (dummy knife) for knife defense, or do you actually use that Shocknife? The tanto is what we use in my Japanese Jiu-Jitsu classes (we train weapon defense almost every week). It still hurts enough that you have to be focussed and get good at those forearm blocks, wrist grabs, and one arm takedowns. The Shocknife looks like a great idea, I’ll have to look into that. I’ve also heard of some self-defense schools using a red marker with the defender wearing a white t-shirt so you can keep score of the damage at the end of the session.

    You train these things regularly enough, you can get good enough at it that you should have a decent chance of being able to defend yourself if attacked. Problem is, if you don’t train these things regularly, you might have a false sense of confidence that could get you killed. From what I’ve seen in my BJJ classes so far, the self-defense aspect is just an occasional side-note, rather than part of the core curriculum. It’s one of the reasons why I still train at both schools.

    • Dave says:

      We don’t use either a tanto or a Shocknife. We used markers as substitute knives. This was the first time I’d done any knife defense training, and I don’t foresee myself doing a ton more in the future. I’d have to practice A LOT before I’d feel anywhere near competent in a weapon self-defense situation (I’m talking drilling 3 or 4 nights a week for months), and even then, I still think escaping is your best bet. I don’t have the time or interest to do that when there are so many other techniques I am interested in improving.

      Yeah, I’ve heard of schools using red marker too. The problem is that it doesn’t hurt and there isn’t the same incentive to avoid damage as there is with a real knife. As you said, the Shocknife probably comes closer to the real thing.

  2. slideyfoot says:

    I’m with you on this, Dave. I’ve always seen weapons defence as fairly ridiculous. If someone wants to stab me in the face, I’m either going to run the hell away or give them my money.

    The only people I would even consider training with if I wanted to learn realistic weapons defence are the Dog Brothers, or possibly some Filipino martial art. I definitely wouldn’t look to BJJ.

    • ST says:

      My instructor doesn’t teach weapons self defence either. I’m not sure if I would feel confidence in dealing with an armed assailant even with some defence knowledge.

      Btw Dave, can you please dedicate a blog post to your experience when you were promoted to blue belt and what you’ve learn that has been essential to progressing as a blue belt?

      • Dave says:

        ST, definitely – I’ve been meaning to do that for a while actually. I think it will be fun to look back in a few years and see what *thought* was important at blue belt.

    • bsenka says:

      Running away and/or giving them you money should always be the first choice, but that’s not always an option. People do randomly attack strangers without warning, and if the guy has a knife, I want to know what to do to save my life.

      You’re right that too many BJJ schools have degraded into straight tournament training centers, and have lost the martial arts aspect of jiu-jitsu. Just another reason why I train both JJJ and BJJ! 🙂

  3. ST says:

    Thanks Dave. Appreciate it. My gym has grading coming up in a week. We’ll see if I get promoted to blue belt.

  4. slideyfoot says:

    “I want to know what to do to save my life.”

    Like I said, give them your money. Not as impressive as kicking the knife out of their hand then spin kicking them into submission, but then real life unfortunately isn’t like the movies. ;p

    “You’re right that too many BJJ schools have degraded into straight tournament training centers, and have lost the martial arts aspect of jiu-jitsu. “

    Heh – I think you know that’s not what I meant. 😀

    I’ll c&p the usual response to that argument:

    I often hear this distinction between ‘self defence’ arts and ‘sport’ arts, which I don’t think is actually all that meaningful. Taking part in competition does not automatically mean a style is no good for self-defence. It merely means that its possible to use the techniques of that style in a regulated environment, which conversely can result in people who are capable of defending themselves using those same techniques, presuming its trained with ‘aliveness’.

    That is in marked contrast to somebody who only ever trained ‘self defence’ full of eye gouges/groin strikes/biting in a predetermined drill with no resistance, for example. More ‘deadly’, but ultimately useless due to the lack of realistic feedback from your training partner. As it is difficult to train eye gouges/groin strikes/biting etc in a full-contact manner, Jigoro Kano removed the so-called ‘deadly’ techniques from judo in order to enable live rolling. That had the end result of considerably increasing efficacy: because those early judoka could train ‘non-deadly’ (in the sense that you don’t have to fully crank an armbar, lock on a choke etc, as your opponent has the option of tapping before serious damage) techniques full-contact, they became highly proficient, and in fact more ‘deadly’ than their non-sparring contemporaries in ‘self-defence’ orientated styles

    Mastering Jujitsu has a great historical summary at the start, which goes through the theory I’ve basically regurgitated above.

    To work through an example, lets say you wanted to train the typical self defence scenario: someone tries to punch you in the face. First of all you’re not going to be able to recreate the kind of situation you’d face in a ‘real’ fight – you probably know your training partner, they don’t actually want to cause an injury, you’re likely wearing loose training gear, you’re in a comfortable training venue etc.

    Next, if you want to get a genuine feel for how to defend yourself in that scenario, you need a partner to really try and punch you in the face: stopping short, as in a drill, isn’t going to put your technique into practice (to use a cliche, you can’t learn how to swim without getting in the water). Also, they aren’t going to be able to hit you properly if they’re bare-knuckle. As the early UFCs proved time and again, doing that will lead to a broken hand. So unless your partner has superhuman bone strength, or you have lots of people willing to break their hands on your skull, you’re going to need gloves. For similar reasons, you’ll probably want to wear a gum shield.

    Once they’ve punched and either hit you or you’ve prevented them doing so, you’re going to either have to stop and restart, or if not, get someone to watch you so they can call a stop. No doubt you can see where I’m going with this: eventually, you’re going to end up with something like a sport fight. That’s because the sport setting, with ‘alive’ sparring, is the best training methodology for learning and testing a technique.

    I think mindset is more important in self defence, not necessarily the specific techniques. Those are just a delivery system. In my opinion, the most effective delivery systems are to be found in what you’re calling martial sports, as those are regularly tested under pressure. The same can’t generally be said for the vast majority of self defence focused styles (or indeed the people who advocate ‘self defence’ BJJ), given that the teaching in those styles often relies on compliant drilling, never taking the next step into progressive resistance.

  5. Brrr says:

    Like I said, giving them your money should be your first priority, but that’s not always how it works. Thugs often attack first, then take what they want. Such thugs often attack with weapons. Happens every single day in my city.

    Training in both BJJ and JJJ, I find students and teachers of each tend to say the same thing about the other: that it’s “not realistic because they don’t train with full-resistance the way we do”.

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