I didn’t want to have to write this blog post. I really didn’t. But, I’ve had enough people ask me about this situation that I feel I have to address it. There is a school in North Wales (Chris Pritchard PMA) that has come under fire for what I consider fairly ridiculous reasons. They are a Royce Gracie affiliate and focus their instruction on Jiu-Jitsu as a real world self defense style, in keeping with the wishes of Royce and his father, Helio and uncle, Carlos.
In recognition of the heritage or our art and the core purpose of it, they recently posted some changes to their curriculum:
1, We will be recognised as GJJ (Gracie jiu jitsu) not BJJ (Brazilian jiu jitsu)
2, Only white kimonos to be worn in class.
3, No fist bumping before sparring. Only a firm handshake.
4, We teach self defence not sport.
5, Turtle position is banned! If your partner does this, slap them as hard as you can in the back of the head!
Well, apparently someone got hold if this and posted in on the UK BJJ Underground and then, of course, later on the BJEE page picked it up and people lost their minds. I know many of these sites are just interested in controversy so as to draw clicks as well as harboring a pretty strong bias against Royce or anyone focused on self defense, which is why I won’t link to the sites here.
Helio predicted that when he died, people would start to try to try to tear down his legacy and name and I guarantee that when Rickson dies, the knives will come out for him too but most of them are too cowardly to say anything about him or his views now. And, I also know most of these sites are populated by white or blue belts who don’t really care for the art outside of sport grappling but I’m still amazed at the attention these few minor rules have drawn.
To me, most of these changes seem innocuous. Some academies are more strict and some less about various of these rules (and others) but that’s just the way it is . So, let’s look at these one by one:
1. What’s the big deal? Many on both sides of the name debate are now referring to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as the complete Self Defense centered art (and to honor Helio and Carlos) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as the sport grappling portion. So, it seems the academy is just saying they will be teaching every aspect of Jiu-Jitsu. I don’t see the problem. No one’s complaining when a school refers to itself as BJJ.
2. For whatever reason, people get pissed about having to wear white kimonos. I don’t hear of any other gi art where the students complain about color restrictions but gis have become such a fashion statement that it somehow insults the student’s sense of self identity to not be able to rock his $300 black and gold limited edition Shoyoroll to class. I got past the whole idea of what I wore not mattering to how good I was when I was a beginner and my friend Brian Miller used to come to No Gi class in a white T-shirt and old gym shorts and smoke all the guys in their $70 sprawl shorts and Hayabusa rashguards. Here’s the irony, all these people that complain about having to wear a white gi never seem to have a problem with the Gracie Barra uniform rules which are much stricter. They also don’t seem to have a problem with the Mendes Academy requiring only white gis.
3. Schools have different levels of formality. I understand the reason for the handshake vs fist bumping as reinforcing a more formal level of interaction. I allow fist bumping at my school but I also didn’t fist bump for most of my JJ career. I would shake or slap hands and guys would hold their fist out to me and I would just stare at it, confused. It just wasn’t part of my gym culture, coming up.
Recently, I was talking to another Black Belt friend of mine about how we came up. We learned Jiu-Jitsu as a fighting art – not as a sport, but as a way to protect yourself outside of the gym. We learned to wrestle, to clinch fight, to strike. We trained with a heavy pressure style. We fought to get on top. We fought to finish. We competed a lot but we never trained with an eye towards what would win tournaments beyond “try to take him down, get on top and finish.” I didn’t know the point system until I was a mid-level Purple Belt. And, we also almost all came with extensive previous experience in other arts. We came from arts with fighting as their goal and saw Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as the supreme art for that and that’s how we trained it. But, because we came from traditional backgrounds it never occurred to us to raise a fuss about minor gym rules. If the instructor told us to just shake hands before rolling then that was a pretty minor thing when you’re used to being hit with rattan sticks because you can’t hold a squat long enough.
4. “We teach Self Defence not Sport.” I really am amazed that I have to defend training Jiu-Jitsu as an art you can use to defend yourself with…to other Jiu-Jitsu people! I never have to do it to the average person – they just assume that if it’s a martial art then that is its goal. Other martial artists will sometimes claim Jiu-Jitsu is just a ground grappling sport (and thus not effective for “real street fighting”) and that’s mostly because that’s exactly how many schools treat it in our community.
But, what Pritchard is saying is that the focus at their academy will be on this self defense aspect of Jiu-Jitsu. Yes, can an elite athletic Sport Jiu-Jitsu practitioner protect himself without learning and self defense concepts or techniques? Absolutely. So could most athletic football players. That same football player could also escape most blue belts mounts, probably. Does that mean he shouldn’t learn how to efficiently and technically escape it if he signed up for classes? No, of course not. The idea of Jiu-Jitsu is what to do if you’re not an elite athlete? And, it seems that the focus of Pritchard’s school is to teach the average person how best to defend themselves against the most likely attacks rather than how to win the Mundials. If you want to train with only competition in mind and no interest in Self Defense or the other aspects that make up the complete art, that is absolutely your decision and I will defend your right to do so. But, at least don’t be so disingenuous as to have pictures of Helio and Carlos Gracie on the walls of the school, when that mindset was anathema to their stated goals.
And, here’s the important part that I will flesh out later…pay attention: he’s not saying that you have to train with him or that someone else’s academy has to do it his way. As hard as it seems to be for many to fathom, all he is saying is that that is how he chooses to run his program.
5. Now, we get to the one that seemed to draw the most ire. He bans going to the turtle position at his school and if you turtle, then you will get slapped. Do I think that’s over the top? Maybe. But, let’s understand that turtling in a real fight is very dangerous. In sport, it’s somewhat encouraged since you can save yourself from losing points on a pass but in a real fight (not MMA where there are many areas the opponent can’t strike from behind), you are putting yourself in a very bad position. And, I have to say this over and over to people: you train to develop instincts. In a stressful situation, you will do what you’ve been trained to do. If that’s going to turtle, or pulling guard or whatever, then you have conceded a huge advantage to your opponent. I’m not against turtling but only as a last result, not because I’m worried about points or because I know gym rules will keep me safe. If taking a few slaps to the back of the head will save you later on, then it may be worth it. I often slap students who get their arms wildly out of place and are no longer capable of protecting their faces.
I was discussing this exact idea with a guy recently and he said he didn’t see what’s wrong with turtling. He said “I’m pretty safe and you can’t hurt me if I’m covered.” I responded that I could hit him in the spine, the back of the head, soccer kick his head, or smash his face into the ground. He responded “yeah, but that’s not allowed.” Um, ok.
I know some schools that allow slamming. This is not a bad idea at all because if you don’t train the instinct to stop someone standing up or abandoning the guard, you will very likely get slammed in a real fight. This is not something you can say you would do in a real fight unless you train it. In the most recent ADCC, Geo Martinez slammed Jeff Glover from chest height and won the match. Jeff is an elite grappler and Geo had already slammed him twice but Jeff ignored the danger and the third time nearly got knocked out.
For a long time at my school, if two students were rolling and the student playing guard was able to get to his feet, the person on top had to immediately do 10 pushups. This is because I wanted to encourage my students to be able to get to their feet from bottom – again, many of students are military and this skill is crucial. I also wanted the top guy to develop the ability to hold his opponent down. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing one guy dancing around on the outside trying to pass while the bottom guy just lays there. The guy on bottom should get up! And, if the guy on top can’t stop him then his grappling, no matter how good, is essentially useless. This is valuable for sport and for real world but if you don’t train to constantly pressure the bottom guy because of a gentleman’s agreement that he won’t stand up then be prepared to not be able to hold people down as well as you thought you could. This is an aspect that I focus on at my academy. It is my choice and something I think is vital for my students to be able to do. Does that mean my Jiu-jitsu instruction is illegitimate because I teach them to stand and disengage or re-clinch more than I teach them to grab belts and pants and invert. Some might think so and that’s their opinion. But, I’m not sure I’m that worried about the opinions of some Blue Belt who has won some local tournaments.
I have to imagine that Pritchard is simply trying to give his students more protection than just hoping someone who fights them abides by some tournament ruleset in order to be safe. At Javier Vasquez’ school, his students roll with strikes. I’m assuming after all these internet BJJ experts get done with Pritchard that they will soon be calling Javi out, too. As I said in my last blog post (The Art of Violence), people who only focus on Jiu-Jitsu as a sport seem to get really angry when reminded that it’s an art based on a very violent reality. And, bizarrely, they get mad or condescending at the people who seem to want to prepare students for that reality.
I have had a good number of students visit my academy who’ve never learned to deal with punches, standing or on the ground. I’ve met students who have no idea how to clinch fight and if they take a knee to the body will try to pull guard. I’ve had visitors who’ve told me their schools either don’t train takedowns or train them very little. I’ve met Blue Belts who can show me 5 Spider Guard passes but only vaguely remember how to get out of a headlock (and it’s not the Spider Guard that you are ever likely to deal with in a real fight in your life). I’ve taught private lessons to upper belts who have no idea how to deal with someone getting aggressive in their face – where to put their hands, how to stand, etc. There are schools that train exclusively in the gi and some that train exclusively no gi. Every school has a right to teach and be run its own way.
Am I offended that there are people getting rank in Jiu-Jitsu – the pre-eminent self defense art in the world – who are less familiar with how to efficiently protect themselves against the most common violent attacks than against esoteric submissions? Absolutely. Am I bothered by the fact that the average Blue Belt has probably spent more time learning to defend the Triangle than learning to defend punches? Definitely.
Am I worried that there are some students who have spent more time inverted than getting a takedown? Yes.
Do I demand that a school teach Jiu-Jitsu the way I think it should be taught? NO.
I don’t like it but I recognize that that is the instructor’s choice and if his students feel they’re learning what they want to, then that’s great. At my academy, I focus on a self defense and combatives’ mindset (many of my students are military and I am an advisor to the 82nd Combatives Program) but I also encourage my students to compete and teach them as much of the modern sport game as I can – because it’s fun. I love playing around with all the funky stuff I can and love watching Rafa Mendes compete. But, I sure as hell won’t give a student a Belt just because he can win tournaments.
Again, so there’s no confusion since one thing I’ve learned from blogging is that there are some people with incredibly poor reading comprehension: Pritchards PMA is free to run the school the way he wants to. If a student doesn’t like it, then I’m sure the student is free to leave, market forces and all. If you’re only interested in competing, I’m sure he would recommend schools to help your achieve that goal. He’s not demanding other schools follow his lead or saying that what they teach isn’t legitimate. He’s just letting people know how he chooses to prepare his students. So, how is what he’s doing so offensive to so many?
Ironically, because he’s focusing on teaching his students how to fight and defend themselves realistically (the core of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu), his validity is being questioned. There are many schools and organizations that focus on retaining that belief in Jiu-Jitsu’s purpose that aren’t Gracie University. Rickson, Royce, Pedro Sauer, The Valentes and many more. And, most of these organizations also have people who compete and who fight MMA but the core is still being prepared to use the art outside of the mat room or competition hall. If a student or instructor wants to ignore those core aspects of Jiu-Jitsu (dealing with all kinds of strikes, fighting on pavement, clinching, slamming) and just focus on berimbolos and flying triangles and point strategizing, then that’s their decision but it certainly doesn’t make the guy who is focused on preparing his students for all aspects of a violent confrontation the Jiu-jitsu joke.