I recently worked with a female friend to teach her a little bit about jiu-jitsu for self defense.
Obviously I believe that jiu-jitsu is super important for self defense in general, but when it comes to women who want to defend themselves, well, it’s completely indispensable. We can argue all day about what percentage of real fights end up on the ground (like the Gracies I believe it’s very high), but when you’re talking about sexual assault going to the ground is almost inevitable.
Therefore if you’re a woman who wants to be a hardened target, you need to have some high quality training in, and understanding of, the ground game.
Yes, we did lots of technical and competitive drilling, but here are the key ideas I tried to share in that first session…
1) As a woman you’ve GOT to prepare for the ground. The idea that a skilled woman can reliably knock out a much bigger, stronger opponent is bullshit. Laura Croft, the Black Widow, and River Tam are fun to watch as they take out large numbers of men with kung fu amazingness, but sadly it’s a complete fantasy that’ll get you killed in real life.
2) The single most important thing you can do is to become comfortable with close proximity and non-sexual physical contact. If you’re talking to a cashier 5 feet away then you’re probably feeling comfortable. If that person comes out from behind the register and stands with his or her forehead 2 inches away from yours then things just got weird and you might freak out and/or freeze. But that’s exactly what happens in a fight or in an assault. Unless you train in grappling and desensitise yourself to this range, your brain can shut off on you, and you need to keep thinking all the time in situations like this!
3) You can learn all the techniques you like, but unless you actually SPAR them at some point you’ll NEVER develop the ability to use the techniques in real life against a real opponent. The ‘secret sauce’ of BJJ is repeatedly trying to apply your techniques against high levels of resistance. Or, as someone once said, “No sparring, no miracles!”
4) It’s better to be on top than on bottom, but if you end up on bottom then the ONLY position in which you’re not losing is the guard. It’s called ‘the guard’ because your legs are guarding your head and controlling your opponent.
5) When you’re using the guard for self defense purposes you either want people to be very close or very far away. Two good places to start include having your opponent’s posture completely broken in your closed guard, or both feet on his hips pushing him away (here’s how to do that). It’s the middle distance – where your opponent can generate power with his arms and hit you in the head – where you’ll get hurt.
6) Never, ever turn your back to your opponent, especially when trying to stand up. Advanced jiu-jitsu players and MMA fighters can break this rule, but for people starting out it’s almost always better to face your opponent so that you can defend.
7) Your legs are much stronger than your arms – that is why the guard is so effective. Open guard retention drills (both competitive and non-competitive) are a great way to develop dexterity and coordination for your legs.
8) BJJ is a POSITIONAL strategy, and that’s what makes it so powerful. Don’t get all fixated on submissions right at the beginning, or – even worse – striking. Yes you can kick and punch from the ground, but if you’re always focusing on striking your way out of positions you’ll never make progress with the positional game, and then you’ll be completely hooped when your deadly elbow to the thigh doesn’t paralyse your opponent the way your self defense course instructor promised it would.
9) The first two submissions you should learn are the straight armbar from guard and the rear naked choke from the back. These submissions work on bigger people, so you’ll get some quick results. The straight armbar will give you an option when you’re being strangled in the guard. The RNC is the highest percentage choke in grappling, and it also demonstrates why turning your back is so very dangerous.
I believe the best way to quickly learn jiu-jitsu is to start with the six basic positions of BJJ. You can read about these positions in my free Roadmap for BJJ downloadable book or get started learning them with my free video-based Roadmap for BJJ app available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle devices.