Does BJJ Work in a Street Fight?

Many of the top martial artists today seem to come from Western arts. Wrestling, kickboxing, and similar martial arts have dozens of champions, titleholders, and other recognized fighters. Does that mean Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) doesn’t offer the same benefits? 

It turns out that, while many martial artists today may not start as BJJ practitioners, learning BJJ can be the difference between winning or escaping a street fight and getting seriously hurt. 

Is BJJ Effective in a Street Fight?

Street fights don’t work like the spars or matches trained martial artists engage in every day. A street fight doesn’t have rules or rules that fly out the window when one side feels they start losing. So, if a martial art can protect you when there are no rules, it’s worth looking at. 

Funny enough, that’s where BJJ had its style solidified. 

Back in the early 1900s, a judo student named Mitsuyo Maeda, who was well-known for his ground fighting expertise, traveled to other countries to display the prowess of judo and what it could do in a fight. He would spar against all kinds of martial artists, winning a majority of his bouts. 

In 1917, Carlos Gracie watched one of these bouts and wanted to learn the style. In time, he and his younger brother Hélio Gracie developed a style that focused on the ground game and grappling that modern BJJ is known for. 

Over the next few decades, martial arts as a sport grew more popular in Brazil. A style of bouts, called Vale Tudo, or no holds barred, allowed martial artists to fight in their preferred styles and imposed far fewer rules than a traditional spar or exhibition match. In these matches, BJJ practitioners did well in bringing fights to the ground where most other arts at the time didn’t train. 

By the 1990s, Carley and Rorion Gracie moved to the United States and helped found the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which borrowed its rules heavily from the Vale Tudo bouts seen in Brazil. BJJ practitioners won most of the early UFC matches that pit different martial artists against one another, leading to BJJ becoming the main facet of mixed martial arts (MMA) training.

Nowadays, anyone that studies BJJ is familiar with a phrase first coined by the Gracie family: all fights eventually go to the ground. Thus, any martial artist that wants to protect themself needs to learn how to fight against foes that can throw or take foes down to the ground. 

Fortunately, BJJ practitioners study a style developed over decades that focuses on just that.  

Advantages of BJJ in a Street Fight

Brazilian Jit-Jitsu is a style that focuses on grappling, takedowns, and submission holds to force opponents to submit to the grappler. It’s not like many of the martial arts developed over the centuries that focused on strikes and inflicting damage to an opponent. 

Of course, BJJ can hurt others if pushed too far. Joints have a threshold of lock they can take before they pop or break. However, many BJJ practitioners recognize that these situations should only come about because their opponent chose it, not because the practitioner sought to break their opponent’s body in the first place. 

Focus on Ground Game

One of the first things that shows the strength of BJJ is its focus on the ground game. When a fight goes to the ground, mobility suddenly matters much less. There is much less footwork or dodging than there is when everyone is standing. Our bodies weren’t designed to fight on the ground, making BJJ stand out when things go to the ground. 

Most of this advantage comes from the training BJJ practitioners go through. In BJJ, the focus on grappling and submissions means that trainees can spar at full strength and full speed all the time. Not all martial arts have this luxury, allowing BJJ practitioners to constantly train in combat-like scenarios. 

So, what happens when you train to fight on the ground regularly, and then a fight goes to the ground? Well, your body kicks all that muscle memory to the front of your mind, allowing you to fight guards, grapples, holds, and chokes you would go for in sparring. The only difference now is that your safety is on the line, unlike in the dojo. 

Takedowns to Get an Advantage

Before a fight goes to the ground, you and your opponent have to be standing. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses on its ground game though, meaning its practitioners should have a tough time while standing, right? 

As it turns out, Jiu-Jitsu borrows heavily from its parent martial art judo to bring opponents down to the ground. Throws and takedowns that upset an opponent’s balance can force them to the ground, giving an advantage to the BJJ practitioner. 

Gear Independent

Many BJJ practitioners can be seen practicing their art in traditional gi, the formal martial arts attire many Japanese and Japanese-inspired arts utilize. BJJ, much like judo, favors a heavy jacket that can stand up to the grabs, pulls, and throws the practitioners inflict on the clothing to help the gi last for a while under training. 

However, BJJ doesn’t require your opponent to wear a gi to get the most out of a takedown. While gi is great for staying together in a spar, regular clothing only has to last as long as the fight takes. Many of the grabs done to the collar or back of a gi jacket work just as well on a regular shirt or hoodie, making them useful holds regardless of what your opponent wears. 

Strategies for Single and Multiple Attackers

Given all the advantages mentioned earlier, you can already guess what makes BJJ great against a single opponent. The martial art gives you tools to take an opponent to the ground and force them to submit with superior grappling technique and familiarity with ground game. 

However, there’s a side benefit to learning how to fight on the ground: you learn how to handle multiple opponents in a way that improves your chance of escape. 

While it is not the flashy answer, the best strategy against multiple opponents is to run away. The chances of you winning against multiple foes is substantially lower than against a single opponent, especially if your opponents coordinate at all. 

However, these one-versus-many fights have the same tendency as other fights: many of them go to the ground. 

Thus, BJJ gives you a way to escape multiple foes by recognizing openings in a ground fight or scrum and escape from the group harassing you. It also teaches submissions that could be used not as a way to force an opponent to yield, but instead to give you an opening to escape. 

It’s not a perfect solution, though. Avoiding confrontation with multiple opponents is better than having to escape from those fights. Still, BJJ will instill some escape tools in its practitioners through the creative use of its techniques rather than specific drills. 

Examples of Using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a Fight

Reading about BJJ in a street fight helps paint a picture, but proof comes from more than just words. So, check out some of these examples of videos showing how BJJ works out in a street fight:

Takedown and Choke

Two mainstays in BJJ are takedowns from standing and quickly securing a grapple or choke. In this video, two men agree to a simple street spar to give one of the guys an idea of what fighting a trained practitioner feels like. 

After the two opponents size each other up, the practitioner goes for a single-leg takedown by pulling the leg up. This action disrupts the opponent’s balance, causing him to fall. The BJJ practitioner then goes in for a choke, causing the opponent to tap out.

This video shows that, against a foe not ready for a takedown or grapple game, a BJJ practitioner has a distinct advantage. Granted, this fight has more rules than a regular street fight but also shows the difference a little training can make. 

Triangle Choke From Full Guard

In a more realistic scenario, this video shows what mixing BJJ into a martial arts regiment can do for a person. 

The fight starts on the ground, with the attacker trying to land a series of punches on the person on the ground. The guy on the ground goes to wrap his legs around his opponent in a full guard position. This guard allows the guy on the ground to control his opponent’s distance and prevent the blows from doing too much damage. 

From there, the practitioner slowly works his opponent into a triangle choke, a hold where the legs form a triangle around a person’s neck to cut off blood flow. Mixing this hold with some strikes helped turn the fight in favor of the guy on the ground. 

BJJ doesn’t teach striking. Thus, we think this practitioner studied MMA and not just BJJ. Still, the video helps prove why BJJ is a staple of many MMA training programs. 

Using BJJ to Help Law Enforcement

Finally, it turns out BJJ can help law enforcement finish the aftermath of a street fight while also helping someone survive a fight. This video shows how a BJJ student helped a police officer control and arrest a suspect larger and stronger than himself through BJJ’s teachings on control. 

As mentioned, BJJ is about grapples and holds. These things come from the leverage you can put on weaker parts of the body, like joints, to force the body to move in specific ways. Here, the BJJ student uses their weight to control the suspect’s legs, preventing them from using the leverage granted by flailing the legs to buck or hurt the officer. 

The student also uses underhooks, a grab that allows control over the limbs by grabbing and pulling from underneath them, to force the suspect into the officer’s cuffs. 

The takeaway isn’t that the officer needed help or that the suspect required two men to arrest him. Instead, focus on how, with an understanding about controlling the body, the BJJ student helped handle an uncooperative suspect. 

Examples of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Not Working in a Street Fight

Like most martial arts, BJJ doesn’t work well when you fight multiple opponents. It offers plenty of ways to help you escape from those situations, but it won’t help you defeat opponents through combat. 

This video breaks down how BJJ can help in a fight putting you against two opponents. However, the instructor mentions several things that are not part of BJJ teachings, such as striking and clinches similar to what you see in Muay Thai. 

Thus, BJJ practitioners should use their knowledge to get away from these larger brawls rather than trying to fight more than one person at a time.

Does BJJ Training Still Focus on Self-Defense?

Despite its acceptance as one of the staple martial arts to study for MMA, BJJ still stands for more than just combat sports athletes. The techniques that BJJ teaches apply to those who want to learn self-defense techniques. The members of the Gracie family that developed the style were not tall or heavy men, meaning the art helped them combat bigger, tougher foes than themselves. 

Today, the Gracie family has a program called Gracie Combatives. This program teaches 36 techniques from BJJ in a digestible way to help folks learn the art and how to defend themselves with it. There is no sparring, focusing on safety and study instead. 

Those that want to can graduate from the lessons to learn combat techniques and wear their belts this way. Still, the Gracie family recognizes that BJJ offers a lot outside the combat sports ring. 

Final Thoughts

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a phenomenal martial art that proves time and again that it is worth studying. The ability to control a fight with grapples, holds, and chokes can help a fighter against opponents larger than themselves or unprepared for a ground fight. 

Still, it won’t help in every street fight you might encounter. As always, learning how to escape, including checking your pride at the door, will do more for your safety than fighting back as needed. 

Overall, if you worry about trouble from folks on the street, BJJ is one of the better choices you could make to keep yourself safe. 

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