My instructor and his instructor echo this sentiment. They are Renzo Gracie lineage, with the head instructor being Amal Easton’s first black belt. Amal was one of Renzo’s first American black belts, and a world-class instructor. The head instructor is also a judo black belt, former pro MMA and Vale Tudo fighter and all-around hardass. I’m not personally acquainted with anyone with more authority on the subject of violence. Much of what I share here is just regurgitating his ideas that have been validated in my experience.
@burien_top_team If I haven’t been clear on this before, I’ve got roughly equal mat time with this instructor and my other, more accessible nearby school which is of the Marcelo Alonso lineage. I’m sure that instructor has thoughts on this subject, but he’s never shared them with us during class.
I’ve got just over two years of fairly consistent mat time, much of which is one-on-one lessons at home mats with my Renzo lineage instructor who is a four stripe brown belt. Most of my ideas about self-defense have been shaped from those sessions and from bouncing encounters. He’s not in the business of awarding belts from home sessions, so I’m officially a three stripe white belt at the Marcelo lineage school.
I’ve also got about four years of part-time bouncing experience in a bar where violence sometimes happens, so I’ll go ahead and share my thoughts on this very interesting subject. This is from the perspective of a relatively new student who is starting to “get it” on the mats and has successfully applied jiu jitsu concepts in many situations off of the mats. I have no sport competition experience, so I can’t speak to what’s best for those situations.
If your goal is self-defense with your bare hands in uncontrolled circumstances, I have general advice to offer that’s independent of whether you’re training at a sport school that prioritizes competition, a hobbyist school that’s really chill or in a school that’s dead-serious about handling violence with your bare hands.
Roll with everyone you can, from upper belts to the youngest, strongest and most aggressive white belts. Roll hard often, at least until you know how to moderate your effort to match your partner. Moderating my effort is a gear I didn’t have for at least my first year, and I think most people will need some level of mat time to get there. If not, get to dominating without going all-out as soon as you can.
If you want to toughen up, get used to struggling against someone who is trying to stop you with everything they have. Get used to being smashed and learn to endure pressure and discomfort. Learn to stay calm and make informed decisions under whatever stress you’re being subjected to. Learn to make safe from strikes and submissions, and expend energy on high percentage techniques. Move with a clear purpose, whether on your feet or on the ground. Throw slaps into training to keep things honest with regards to strike management and sound tactics in a fight.
Start your rolls on the feet whenever your training partner agrees to it. Train on your feet as often as you can. Make your takedowns work. Make your takedown defense work. Learn how to close the distance and get to a good position, whether it’s a side-clinch, double underhooks, a Russian tie, a path to the back, a judo throw or a takedown. Learn to sprawl, and practice sprawling. I’ve ended several bar encounters by putting the other person on the ground and staying on my feet. You should not go to the ground casually in a violent encounter if there is any potential of other people being in play, so train your stand up just as seriously as you do your ground work.
Now we get to the meat of this thread. You have to make your stuff work, which will generally mean rolling with people you out-class once you’ve put the mat time in to out-class the other students you have access to. Prioritize positional dominance on your feet and on the ground. Being on the bottom sucks, so make safe and work on improving your position. If your partners don’t want to start from the feet, give them a top position and work from there. More often than not, you will either be starting from a bad position or committing assault if things are getting violent for real, so get good at working out of bad positions.
Treat the guard as an emergency position. Armbars, Kimuras and chokes are there, of course, but so are sweeps and so is standing back up, so train all of those options. The guard is not a good place to be in a fight, so don’t go there unless you have no other option. You can’t lose a fight from the mount, so work on getting to mount and then holding mount. Hunt positions and hold positions before you worry about submissions. You can always beat a guy into a pulp if you can hold mount, even if you can’t pull any submissions off. Lots of options from side control too, where you can throw knees and elbows while holding a good position.
Eating white and blue belts alive has been a boon to my jiu jitsu. I’m bigger and stronger than most on the mats, but I’m also bigger and stronger than most in the bar, or on the streets. There aren’t any weight classes when the whistle blows and a fight is on. That said, roll with the biggest and strongest people who step on to the mats. Seek them out, even if it means dragging your 6’9 300lb buddy to class.
Keeping on-topic, I’m light-years better at moderating my effort in training rolls now vs. when I first started. I really only had one speed back then, which was trying like hell to somehow not get tapped and usually failing. Nowadays, my rolls with most blue and white belts (even the biggest guys) do not involve me using any energy that isn’t directed at a specific technique that’s addressing a specific condition that I’m dealing with. I don’t even use much pressure unless it’s someone I know is okay with it. I just try to advance to high mount and/or a back-take and work from there.
That takes some mat time to develop. It took me a year, but maybe it takes a smaller, weaker person longer. Maybe it doesn’t. You’ll know when you can do it. You can roll longer, for more rounds and with more people. You can manage the aggression and unpredictability of new white belts who think every roll is a UFC title match, and you can do it without compromising your body if you’re conscientious about how you move.
Of course, I’m still at the stage where I’m in survival mode with brown and black belts, which doesn’t feel a whole lot different than when I started. I do less stupid stuff, but still usually fail when I try to do what I think the right thing is. That said, jiu jitsu has become a lot more like cardio for me in the last year, even if I’m spending a lot of time in survival mode. I’m not moving in ways that are likely to lead to injury. I’m tapping well before there is any chance of orthopedic damage. I’m also riding most chokes out right to the edge, since the consequences there are negligible.
Mat time builds awareness all-around, and I think it is very important to train safely with a clear purpose no matter what you want to get out of jiu jitsu. I think almost everyone is going to have to put a certain amount of mat time in, but knowing how to move on your feet and on the ground without injuring yourself is a core element of self-defense. Your training partners have a say in what happens to your body too, but hopefully you are training in a gym that instills good habits in the student body. It needs to balance courtesy and good mat manners with a level of violence that’s appropriate for your training goals.
If not, change gyms and train with people who aren’t assholes and are of like mind. If that’s not an option, exercise self-defense 101 and decline to roll with anyone you don’t feel is safe to train with. Self-defense begins with standing up for yourself verbally, so don’t let any sort of social pressure put you into a dangerous situation.
That’s my $0.02 on the subject.