Is BJJ Good For Self Defense? Everything you need to know

Two men practicing Jiu Jitsu for self defense

Everyone takes up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for their own reasons. For the best MMA fighters in the world, BJJ is a necessary skill required to complement their striking and wrestling.

Jiu Jitsu is also an enjoyable form of exercise. It has been popularized as a mass participation sport for millions of people all over the world who train in specialized gyms.

Is Jiu Jitsu good for self defense? Yes, although Jiu Jitsu is now heading the direction of being more sport focused like other martials arts such as judo, karate and taekwondo. Even when the focus is sport, Jiu Jitsu is still a very effective form of self defense that’s great for all men, women and childern.

Those training centers foster a sense of camaraderie and fun as people work together to get in shape and learn to fight. One of the most underrated reasons to try BJJ, however, especially for women, is self defense.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the best forms of self defense anyone can learn.

The earliest roots of the art date back to Japan where ancient samurai developed hand-to-hand fighting and grappling techniques. This could help them survive on a battlefield if they were knocked off their horses.

We’re no longer in danger of being called on to ride a horse into battle. But the need for many people to develop self-defense skills is undeniable.

As a form of self defense, none of the forms of martial arts hold a candle to BJJ. It could on day help you fend off an attacker on a dark street and is useful for anyone of any size.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can impact your life positively in many ways, but it might actually save it.

Why is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu so good for self defense?

There’s a reason why every professional MMA fighter practices and learns some form of Jiu Jitsu to use in the cage.

These are highly-skilled fighters, who could probably overwhelm any attacker on the street with brute force – honestly, who in their right mind is going at Jon Jones or Khabib Nurmagomedov?

For the rest of us, especially if we are uncomfortable carrying a weapon, self defense is a little more difficult.

Being mugged or attacked while walking at night is one of the scariest things that can happen to most of us, especially for women who travel alone at night.

Learning to defend yourself should something bad happen is one of the best ways to give yourself peace of mind.

There are numerous styles of self defense, but BJJ ranks among the best because it takes a lot physical strength out of the equation.

Here are the best reasons to consider taking up Jiu Jitsu if you want to learn self defense:

  • BJJ does not rely on strength or size, instead focusing on leverage and superior technique.
  • BJJ does not rely on striking to render an attacker harmless.
  • The goal of BJJ is to teach you to control an opponent and bring them to the ground.
  • Lessons are available in every major city and most small towns.
  • Like karate and taekwondo, BJJ is a great family sport that can get kids exercising right next to their parents at a young age.

Jiu Jitsu lessons can serve as an effective foundation for self defense, but there are some important things to keep in mind for anyone hoping to learn how to fend off attackers without a weapon.

How can you use BJJ for self defense?

If you are hoping to take up BJJ to learn self defense, it is extremely important to understand that there are two types of Jiu Jitsu taught in schools – sport Jiu Jitsu and self defense Jiu Jitsu.

As the competitive aspect of BJJ takes off and becomes more popular, many schools have shifted away from the art’s roots as a way to defend yourself in hand-to-hand fighting in close quarters to focus on winning moves and scoring points in competition.

That’s great for BJJ students who hope to compete or are just looking to get some exercise, but this is not necessarily the most effective way to learn how to defend yourself.

There are Jiu Jitsu experts who take both sides of the sport Jiu Jitsu vs. pure self defense, and all sides make valid points.

You, as the student, need to have an understanding of what you are looking for in Jiu Jitsu instruction and practice. That will influence the school you select or the type of lessons you sign up for.

What you need to understand about BJJ for self defense

The primary question that prospective BJJ students who want to learn self-defense skills need to consider is – can sport Jiu Jitsu really prepare me to defend myself in a violent encounter on the street?

Let’s present some varying viewpoints on the topic and try and answer that question.

Does sport jiu jitsu work for self defense?

Critics of the rise of sport Jiu Jitsu as the dominant style of teaching and practice claim that it is not properly preparing students for real-life situations.

Proponents of the sport beg to differ, claiming that anyone schooled in Jiu Jitsu would be able to draw upon what they have learned to subdue an attacker who does not know martial arts.

Sport Jiu Jitsu has led to the development of dozens of new moves that would not be effective in self defense. But the supporters of the new style believe that any Jiu Jitsu practitioner’s first goal when confronted with a need to defend themselves would be to take their attacker to the ground with the most basic Jiu Jitsu moves – not the competition-focused moves like spider guard or a lasso guard sweep.

How can sport BJJ be applied to self defense?

Regardless of their thoughts on the style of Jiu Jitsu being taught in schools, all experts in the sport agree that practitioners do make themselves more prepared for self defense by taking lessons.

Jiu Jitsu students train by practicing on a live opponent, putting the sport on the same level as boxing and judo when it comes to preparing for self defense.

Jiu Jitsu trains students to react quickly under pressure in dynamic situations – just like a street fight. Training in BJJ will provide a baseline of familiarity with how to react when attacked.

Additionally, Jiu Jitsu practitioners develop a sense of confidence in their own skills and bodies that will allow them to remain calm if attacked on the street. In scary moments such as these, that’s half the battle.

How to put BJJ into practice for self defense

Legend of the sport Rener Gracie is skeptical that competition Jiu Jitsu can prepare students with 100-percent effectiveness for dangerous moments on the street. But he does offer very detailed advice for how to keep yourself safe if attacked.

Manage the distance

When attacked, your goal is to keep yourself in the green zone and out of the red zone.

You are in the green zone when you are too far away or too close to be struck by your attacker. Anywhere in between, and you are in the red zone – danger.

“Whoever manages the distance, manages the damage that can be done,” Gracie says.

The attacker will be constantly trying to change the distance, but Jiu Jitsu teaches techniques to gain physical control of an opponent.

Take the fight to the ground

The ultimate goal in a street fight for BJJ practitioners is to get their attacker to the ground.

Doing so will prevent them from making explosive or sudden movements. They’re the most dangerous in a fight, especially one involving weapons.

Attack the back

The best position is to control your opponent’s back, and this should be the ultimate goal.

By controlling the attacker’s back, you will be in full control of their movements while also making it impossible for them to strike you.

Working towards control of the back should be the ultimate goal in self defense, but you may need to take several steps to get there before your attacker surrenders or runs off.

Careful in side control

Side positions that are typically useful in standard Jiu Jitsu competitions but can be dangerous in a self defense situation because the attacker is still able to grab you or use a weapon.

Break down their posture and use your guard

Control their posture to limit striking ability. If the attacker does attempt to strike, use that as an opportunity to wrap them up and bring them in even closer.

On the ground, use your knees and shins to create space or control. In that situation, legs become incredibly useful for protecting the face and torso.

Knee on belly

Use knees to drive their chest or stomach into the ground with a technique called “knee on belly”. 

This is a painful position to be stuck in if you’re the attacker. If the Jiu Jitsu practitioner knows how to properly apply pressure from this position, they can make it hard for an attacker to breath and move.

Full Mount

If you are confident and controlling the attacker well, a technical mount could provide even more control, especially of an attacker’s upper body and arms.

There’s nothing worse than having someone sit on your chest and not being able to do anything about it. 

If you train BJJ, this is often a position that you’re taught to escape from early on. It’s also a great position for controlling an attacker to make sure they can’t hurt you.


Remember, the fight has to end at some point, and you need to be prepared for what happens at that moment.

It’s perfectly fine to train under sport Jiu Jitsu techniques, but practitioners should always keep in mind that the roots of the art lie in self defense.

If you don’t lose touch with that fact, you will be prepared to defend yourself on the street.

If you’re interested in getting your kids involved in BJJ for self defense here’s an article for you, What’s the best age for children to start Jiu Jitsu?


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