There’s a contemporary statement made of late where people refer to old school jiu-jitsu as a way of distinguishing it from the modern interpretation of the sport. In the modern vernacular, strategies such as berimbolo, 50/50 guard, and the rise in lower body attacks (i.e., ankle locks, knee bars etc) have ushered in the era of what is defined as new school jiu-jitsu. While there is no single answer to the reason for this direction in the ground game, part of it stems from rule changes in competition. For those who do compete, playing to the rules, has seen many not as determined to submit their opponent, but rather win by an advantage or sweep.
Old Vs. New: A Misnomer
In my mind, the idea of suggesting that there is an old school versus new school approach is a misnomer. What it comes down to, is that there is a sport perspective of jiu-jitsu (i.e., what is often referred to as new school), that depending on the rules presented, one can play the game to those rules in order to win. If it means winning can be achieved by advantage, then so be it. In this respect, I feel it’s silly to try and make an argument for new versus old, simply because they have two very different applications. There is of course at times a correlation between the two, but correlation does not imply causation.
So what then is old school jiu-jitsu? Simply put, it’s an approach to jiu-jitsu that had, and still does have a very different intention. Lets dispense with the new and the old monikers and say this: there is sport jiu-jitsu, and there is self-preservation jiu-jitsu. So what is often referred to as old school, is really a way of saying jiu-jitsu that has the intention of dealing with a striking, possibly weapon wielding, multiple attacker situation.
Jiu-Jitsu for the Street
When one looks at it through that lens, an approach to jiu-jitsu that is often referred to as old school, takes on a new light. For example, holding a closed guard may not make so much sense in the competitive world of jiu-jitsu when one is attempting to win a match by points, but it certainly makes a whole lot of sense when you find yourself on the ground and someone is trying to smash your face in with their fists. The closed guard then becomes a way to survive, and close down the opponents ability to strike you. Combine this with breaking that opponents posture, tying them up with your arms, and climbing your closed guard, and you have just presented a real problem for that striking opponent.
This could be said for every single position in jiu-jitsu, either on the top or the bottom. If you have a self-preservation intention in training your jiu-jitsu, your mindset needs to change. It changes because the intention of both training and applying jiu-jitsu for self-preservation has a different end goal. Here scoring points becomes irrelevant. Personal safety becomes paramount. In this way, Jiu-jitsu strategies for self-preservation, changes based on the environment one finds oneself in. Take a knee ride for example. You won’t see it much in competitive jiu-jitsu, but it is an obvious feature in self-preservation jits. When, again, you place it within a lens of a fight out on the street it makes perfect sense. For example, do you really want to go to side-control out on the street, where possibly the opponent on the bottom can hold onto you, which now traps you on the ground, while his four friends kick your head in? A knee-ride would solve all of this. You can still apply your jiu-jitsu skills, but now, if you need to, you can exit that position with relevant ease if required. You can also, and crucially, scan the environment while you control the aggressor on the floor, something much harder to do when you have committed to a full side control.
Everything Needs To Be Changed For The Street
The same can be said for a myriad of other techniques. Takedowns in the academy on a padded mat, are not the same as takedowns on the asphalt. A picture perfect double leg takedown in the academy is a great move, do the same on the street, and you will likely blow your knees out. Like it or not, adaptations need to be made to your takedown game based on the context you will be applying it in. Again, this isn’t about old school versus new school, but simply a fact of intentions. One has the intention of being applied in self-preservation, the other sport. Both are valid approaches depending on the environment they are being trained for, and deployed in.
But here is the big warning. Taking this argument at face value implies that just because you are really good at the sport aspect of jiu-jitsu doesn’t mean you will be in the application of jiu-jitsu to the street. This should be obvious for many reasons, not least at all that they are two very different environments. Environment informs behaviour. As was noted earlier, some takedowns are going to work really well on the padded mat in the academy, but those same takedowns are dangerous to apply on the street. This differentiation between the mat and street doesn’t only apply to takedowns, but every aspect of the ground game. No one is going to just know what these are, unless they trained for it. In the same way, not all competitive jiu-jitsu events have the same rule sets. You need to know what they are, so you can adapt your ground game to leverage those rules to your advantage. The same can be said for the street.
Just Because You Do Jits, Doesn’t By Default Mean You Can Defend Yourself
I feel it is quit dangerous to imply, as many do, that sport jits is enough to see someone defend themselves in all out, possibly to death, interpersonal violence. I will agree that sport jits is a better platform than most traditional and even reality based self-defense approaches for self-preservation. But without knowing what to change, and how to apply those changes for the street, can see even the best sport jits guy lose. It may be a controversial statement to make, but you can demote a black belt in jiu-jitsu to white belt, with a punch to the face. I have seen it happen.
Remember, when we talk about self-preservation, we are talking about a complex, dynamic environment, that may have multiple opponents, weapons, and a chaotic environment to deal with. There’s no curbs, glass, chairs, asphalt, lack of light etc, etc, to dodge on a competition floor. On the street, this and more will be present. I haven’t even talked about the physiological changes that will take place in interpersonal violence, the loss of peripheral vision, the change of mindset required to survive and so on. All in all, the street, and surviving interpersonal violence is a different animal.
You Still Need To Roll
With that said, rolling against a resisting opponent is absolutely crucial to self-preservation success (but not enough). The roll is where you learn to stay calm, build timing, movement efficacy, and more. The roll is also something you can do with a partner every day. But, you still need to ask what is your ultimate intention for doing jiu-jitsu? Is it for sport or self-preservation? There’s noting wrong with focusing on either of these approaches (or both if you like). But in the end, there’s no such thing as old school jiu-jitsu. There is jiu-jitsu or more generally grappling for sport, and grappling for self-preservation. There’s nothing old about it, its current, because just like a thousand years ago, yesterday and right now – knowing how to protect yourself is still a vital skill to possess.
The bad guy is still out there!
Dr. Rodney King has taught personal threat management all over the world. His clients include special force military operators, law enforcement officers, and close protection teams. He completed is PhD, with a research focus in the role mindfulness plays in peak leadership performance.
Rodney is regularly asked to present on the role of mindfulness in peak performance environments. As such, Rodney was a speaker at the Disruptive Passenger Global Security Event in London (2019) where he presented on the role of mindfulness in overcoming Amygdala Hijacking in an aviation security context.
Rodney served in the South African Military’s VIP protection unit, and as a platoon sergeant was the lead unarmed combatives trainer for his unit.