Friday, December 21, 2012

“I’d like to punch you in the Face”! Why strikes are important in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu!

For this article I’m narrowing my focus to ground punching for a "grappling/BJJ" school, nothing stand-up oriented.  So, don’t go emailing me about how I should be standing or this is how MMA does it. I got it.

There is a funny saying about BJJ Black Belts that goes, “If you want to turn a bjj black belt into a brown belt, punch him in the face.  If you want to turn him into a purple belt, punch him again.” I don’t believe this is quite true but there can be a shred of truth none the less.  I, personally, have a couple stand up martial arts black belts along with my BJJ black belt and I have been punched in the face quite a few times over the years. I have also done a lot of grappling and punching in my time as well. So punching is nothing new to me.  But it has traditionally not been explored by many of my students and many in the Gracie community. 

I was recently training with one of my students Tren Long getting him ready for an MMA fight he wanted to do.  Tren is a brown belt and one of my best students.  I was helping him with some of his grappling and striking.  We trained for a while, both of us taking care not to hurt each other’s feelings or faces.  We both know each other’s games pretty well so it made for a very interesting time. I have never had such a great sparring session in all my life and to be honest I got the worst end of the deal that day.

It made me make a decision on something I had been thinking about for a long time.  What good is saying you teach “Gracie Jiu-Jitsu” if you never throw punches?  How realistic is that?  It’s one thing to train in the gi which I find to be a very realistic self-defense training tool.  People wear coats and pants on the street all the time. I also teach the Gracie Stand-up Self Defense.  But you need to take it a step further and don the gloves while you spar!

Here are some problems with never punching during your rolls.  One thing about doing straight gi Jiu-Jitsu is that you tend to not worry about your head and face.  If a guy can look at your head then he can probably tag it.  Checking his arms is vital.  In this kind of scenario you will need to modify your game to take this into account.   

The second concern is that you have no time to be hanging out when you are on the bottom especially if you get mounted.  Mount escaping while you are being punched is paramount. Get out of there!   

Third, disrupting your opponent’s base from the bottom is amazingly important so he can’t get off clean shots at you!  Finally, punching while grappling shows you to get your ass on top during a real fight!  

I’m sure your sitting there saying, “What’s the big deal, we have been doing this all along?”  I commend you for it.  The only problem is that I have been to a lot of BJJ schools that don’t but they should.  They will get a real eye-opening experience If they did.

Let me end by saying that punch throwing should be a once in a while kind of thing...using MMA Gloves of course.   Solid fundamentals are developed by practicing non- punching  free rolling.  Those fundamentals are tested and enhanced by the anvil of the fist though.  Remember that punching doesn’t have to be hard with your partner.  A simple tap lets him know that “I just punched you in the face.” So don’t go knocking teeth out. 

 I’m incorporating more punching with my students from now on so they can become better Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioners.  I think this will be the deciding factor when people ask, “What’s the difference between Sport and Self-Defense BJJ.” 

Good luck with that X-Guard.

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  1. Great blog post, Keith! I've been working with the concept of blending ground principles from BJJ with street self defense over the past few years. I even have a book coming out about it in February, I'm happy to say. I think it's great to see more BJJ artists like yourself incorporating concepts that will serve in self defense concepts like this. Makes me think I've been on the right track. :)

  2. Always enjoy reading and hearing your training philosophies Mr. Owen. I've trained a long time in traditional Martial Arts with some more old school mentality instructors, a lot of what you speak reminds me of them.

    It's unfortunate I can't find many places like that anymore. Everything today is sport sport sport. I want nitty gritty.

  3. Great insight! I have tried to follow this from day 1.

  4. Keith,
    I agree with you completely. Like you, I have several different belts in stand up styles of martial arts. Even though I've more recently developed a love and appreciation (yes, these are different things)for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I always teach my new students very basic striking and strike defense before moving to the ground. I think this is important where most fights will start on the feet but end on the ground. Hopefully it's my guy that takes it there. Still can't quite figure out though why most TKD schools don't practice punching to the face.

  5. I completely agree. Also, allowing (shown) groin strikes and (pretend) head butts changes much of one's approach on the ground.

    I love your instructions Keith, glad to see this evolution of thought made public :)

  6. Thanks for the article sir, I couldn't agree more. Putting the gloves on once in a while definitely keeps you honest. When I teach beginners I always mention the self defense slant.
    Thanks for the Twitter follow.

    1. Whoops, entered the wrong username up there.

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