"The Best Style"

By Roberto Pedreira  

Updated June 26, 2018*

 

Whatever the exact percentages, Rorion was surely correct that many fights end up on the ground. It is conceivable but unlikely that an attacker could force you to stand up while he punched you out. Someone like Alexandre Karelin (three-time Olympic Greco-Roman super-heavyweight gold medalist) probably could hold you up with one hand while punching or choking you or twisting your nose (if he thought you were too insignificant to take seriously, which is likely) with the other. 

But Karelin has better things to do with his time, and the number of other people who could or would want to do it is undoubtedly small. So if either defender or attacker wants to be on the ground, then they are going to be on the ground, and more often than not, even if they don't want to be. 

The first UFCs proved that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® can be very effective against the type of people who are likely to attack other people, i.e., aggressive and not skilled in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®. Rorion made a lot of money demonstrating this. Subsequently so did a lot of other people, most of whom would be moving furniture for a living otherwise. Rorion advised everyone to back up their "style" with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu® and a lot of people did just that. A lot went even further and made Gracie Jiu-Jitsu®, which eventually became known simply as "Brazilian jiu-jitsu" or even "jiu-jitsu", their main art. Some however learned only enough jiu-jitsu to beat the Brazilians at their own game. But these are professional athletes competing under rules. Jiu-jitsu is no longer mysterious. No one is completely naïve anymore. Even the wrestlers had to learn jiu-jitsu to survive, let alone win, against the Brazilians, and a few have done it impressively. But the original purpose of jiu-jitsu (supposedly) was self-defense. How does jiu-jitsu stack up against the other styles?

To avoid confounding issues, I omit discussion of general physical conditioning. There is nothing to prevent a Tai Chi man from doing 10 miles of roadwork, six rounds of rope jumping, and five rounds of pads, six days a week. If he doesn't do it, that's not the fault of the art, it's his personal choice. A boxer who neglected his road, floor, and ring work wouldn't be an effective boxer. Physical conditioning is necessary for successful performance in any physically competitive activity. It isn't an inherent aspect of any style.    

Boxing

Boxing, obviously, is tops for punching power, precision, and foot-work. It is also good for defense against punches to the head. If you train like boxers train, you will be a excellent physical condition and ready for most one-on-one unarmed encounters. Boxers don't have good defenses against tackles and take-downs (they don’t need them in boxing matches) but in a "real" encounter the assailant isn't likely to be a skilled grappler and even skilled grapplers without boxing experience do not always find it easy to get close enough to a hard hitting boxer with good footwork to be able to take him down. We are talking street here--concrete, asphalt. So lack of lower body defense isn't really that big a lack for boxing. The big downsides are self-injury to the hands and legal repercussions. Boxing is most useful, paradoxically, if you don't use it. But that is true for nuclear arsenals too and isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Deterrence is cheaper than combat.   

 

Top: Former Jr. Welterweight Champion 3-K Battery at Sityodtong Boxing Camp, Pattaya, Thailand.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai was designed to do what most mall martial arts claim but can't deliver on. Nothing beats knees for damage potential. You don't have to be accurate. Anything you hit will cause unspeakable devastation (to borrow a phrase from Gene LeBell, who might have gotten it from H.P. Lovecraft). You don't have to be strong. Movement of bodyweight alone is what makes knees effective. Unlike hands, it is virtually impossible to hurt yourself by throwing knees. Since the target areas are usually low, the wannabe assailant isn't going to be sprawled on the sidewalk with a bloody mashed face when the police get there. Knees alone make Muay Thai the style of choice. But Muay Thai offers more. Muay Thai is the one style that truly deserved to be described as "street effective", but in a way that won't leave you worse off than if you hadn't defended yourself in the first place. If you live in an environment where you can cripple or kill people without suffering legal consequences then your problem is less of self-defense than bad luck or poor decision-making. And in these types of places reprisals tend to take the place of legal sanctions. Not good at all.    

Judo & Wrestling

Judo is great for throwing people to the ground. If they don't know how to fall, they are likely to be seriously injured, possibly killed. For most self-defense situations, in most jurisdictions, that is excessive force and you will pay for it. If you put them down less impactfully, then they are likely to just get back up and continue attacking you.  

 

Judo Foot Sweep, Fujisawa, Japan

 

Pretty much the same applies to wrestling. Of course, in both cases you could hold them down until the law arrives. Basically judo and wrestling are great but lack options for the less than life-threatening situations that you are more likely to encounter. That doesn't mean you shouldn't train them, just don't rely exclusively on judo or wrestling for self-defense.

Goju-Ryu Karate & Korean Taekwondo (TKD)

Some goju men can punch hard and some TKD men can kick hard. Hard punches and hard kicks can have real self-defense (or deterrence) value. That is not to be scoffed at. Goju and generic TKD could be better than nothing if the stylist did only that one punch or that one kick and forgot everything else. But in the present world there are more options to chose from than goju, taekwondo, and nothing.

Kali

The basic kali hubud technique meshes well with both BJJ and Muay Thai. The two defenses against forehand and backhand stick strikes are also serviceable. I used the forehand strike defense when a kid named Charlie Larson swung a baseball bat at me a long long time ago, in a dispute over who was a better pitcher, Giant Juan Marichal or Dodger Sandy Koufax, long before I or anyone else in California ever heard of kali, which suggests that the move is intuitively obvious. The rest of the kali stick techniques would fall into the categories of "showing off" or "dueling." As Eric Knauss put it, "many are taught, few work.”

In any event, I seldom leave my house carrying one let alone two sticks that I can grab quickly (although I actually did do that when I lived in Korea. Had a special pocket sewed into the inside of my winter coat. Never had a chance to use it though, which is the way it usually works--when you are well prepared for trouble, trouble doesn't happen). In many places, that would get you arrested or at least looked at carefully by passing agents of law enforcement. However, knowing how to defend against forehand, backhand, and overhead blunt weapon strikes could be useful. As far as the knife material, maybe if you live in Rwanda or the Philippines, but not many other places.

Some people justify irrelevant training by calling it "sensitivity" or "energy" training. I'm skeptical that it has any such value. I will revise my opinion when I see evidence to the contrary. That hasn’t happened yet. In any case, the time spent would be better spent on training that has a demonstrably relevant purpose. It is useful to look to the pros for guidance. When people are involved in a competitive activity where there are big prizes or purses at stake, they are not going to spend time doing things that do not maximize the probability of successful outcomes. If energy drills helped them win matches, they would be doing energy drills. If working on the wooden man helped them, they would do that. If meditating and playing bamboo flutes helped, they'd meditate and play bamboo flutes. Instead, what you see them doing is running and sparring. There's a lesson here. Namely, you need to be in shape, above all, and you need to be able to respond appropriately to the attacks and defenses of an opponent. These are the two essentials without which any martial art is just teenage mutant ninja turtles. Hence, running (or the equivalent) and sparring.

Hapkido/Kuksulwon

I learned kuksulwon privately from a kuksulwon 4-dan in Seoul. According to him, kuksulwon is identical to hapkido, other than the name, which I confirmed when I enrolled in a hapkido dojang, in Masan, Korea (on the southeast coast, about an hour by train from Pusan).I already knew Muay Thai and boxing so I didn’t particularly want to learn hapkido striking. The hapkido sabom wouldn't agree to teach me only joint locking. Understandably, he wanted to teach the whole system. So I did it, kicks and all. I trained in the afternoon, when no one else did, so the sabom practiced daeryun-hoshinsul, with me. Daeryon-hoshinsul is like judo randori, or jiu-jitsu rolling, except standing up. It was not a waste of time. With more daeryon-hoshinsul and less striking, hapkido would be a better self-defense art, understandably, because hoshinsul is the Korean word for self-defense. Striking is  apparently regarded as aggression rather than self-defense, which is not an unreasonable point of view. But in that case, why train hapkido striking at all? Probably because hapkido people don’t want to train like, or be, boxers (and Muay Thai was unknown in Korea when hapkido was first organized). Possibly because hapkido teachers don’t know enough about boxing to teach it? Because hapkido kicks look cool? All of the above? Maybe.

Hapkido joint locking is good. It is the same as BJJ in fact. Joints bend certain ways to certain degrees. If you force them beyond that, pain results and tendons snap. BJJ obviously is doing it from the ground which reduces the opponent's options for resistance and lets you use your legs for attacking rather than standing. But there is useful transfer of motor memory.  I got off to an encouraging start my first day of jiu-jitsu at the academy of Mr. Rickson Gracie, submitting all of my equally naive, fresh-faced, beginner opponents, using hapkido elbow and shoulder locks. I didn't know much, but it was more than they knew, and that was enough. But there is also a difference. Hapkido teaches to grab a punch out of the air and lock the joint. BJJ teaches to put the opponent in a position where he can't punch you and can't defend his arm, then lock it. The BJJ way is less likely to get you punched in the face.

The fact that a technique isn't useful for street self-defense doesn't mean it isn't useful for something. The best proof that a technique is useful is having successfully used it. I have used hapkido wrist locks on several occasions. Twice to be precise, both times in Thailand. 

 

Country Girl, Pattaya, Thailand, wearing Academia Gracie cap.

 

The first was when a strange person playing with a high powered pellet gun pointed it in my face while seated at the outdoor counter facing the street, at the Linda Bar, on Walking Street in South Pattaya (just a few steps south of the Marine Disco complex). The individual had just fired a round at the leg of a farang passer-by, who reacted by yelping loudly, glancing around and then limping along on his way to whatever Go-Go bar he was headed for. I knew the gun couldn’t kill anyone, but it could certainly leave them blind if fired into their eyes. When she playfully pointed it in my face, I wasted no time taking the gun from her. I handed it to the mama-san behind the bar and asked her to keep it securely out of sight for the time being. It was quick, easy, no one get hurt, no one noticed, and no police got involved. No one lost anything, except the drunk girl, and she was better off not having the gun anyway.  

Saloon Pizza Bar

 

Saloon Pizza Bar

 

The next incident took place at the Saloon Pizza bar, another few steps south of the Linda Bar. I was sitting at the outside bar watching the transvestites hustle farangs and other typical late night South Pattaya shenanigans, when I noticed that someone’s hand was in my pocket. I removed the hand along with the crumpled 20 baht note it was clutching, using another hapkido wristlock, gently restraining the “perp” while she (I guess it was a she), attempted vainly to extricate herself, as a few onlookers gawked in seeming amazement (as in, why was she struggling when no one was restraining her, but merely lightly holding her wrist (it must have seemed). The story also ended happily. I retrieved my 20 baht and no one was hurt, no police involved. Another success for hapkido.

Silat

Silat entries, at least the way I learned them, are logical and potentially useful. Possibly that was because I learned them from Erik Paulson, who trained BJJ and many other grappling styles and competed in MMA. The problem was not the material but the training--no sparring. Judo is designed for performance, hence practice against a resisting opponent is essential, hence ukemi (safe falling technique) is indispensable. Judo throws are designed to permit ukemi, thereby facilitating realistic practice, resulting in performance capabilities. Silat however is designed for combat—or self-deception—take your pick. Few people routinely engage in unarmed hand-to-hand combat, so quite possibly silat is trained for other purposes. In Indonesia, silat is intended primarily for children and serves the same purpose that taekwondo and judo are intended to in Korea and Japan, less as a collection of practical self-defense techniques, and more as part of the socialization process.

Nevertheless, silat throws make bio-mechanical sense and could work on someone with poor posture. Of course, it you are good at judo, breaking someone’s posture is a basic skill (called kuzushi). But to be good at judo, you have to train judo. Silatists also have ways to disrupt an opponent’s posture, usually involving smashing them with knees and elbows. In combat, this might work, but as a way to practice and develop skills, it has some obvious drawbacks. My conclusion is that to be effective at silat, it is helpful to train judo.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

    Jiu-jitsu is based on two simple assumptions. One is that you will on the ground either because you want to be or because you can’t avoid it. The other is that if blood does not carry oxygen to the attacker's brain, he will not be able to attack you. The first is closer to certainty than an assumption and the second is an indisputable fact of biology. Few sciences are founded on firmer ground than this.  

Sumo 相撲

The most under-estimated art happens also to be the oldest, namely sumo. Today we tend to associate sumo with men who resemble sea mammals more than ripped athletes. But that is nothing more than a result of current competition rules. Weight and body shape matter a lot in professional sumo. But so does technique. It helps to be big but size can't compensate for lack of skill. Sumo contains effective techniques that can be used by anyone of any size, anywhere. If you partake of the prohibited techniques as well, you have an easy-to apply all-around street effective art. 

 

Prohibited Techniques

Prohibited techniques, by the way, are usually prohibited because they are effective for serious combat. That suggests that we should pay some attention to the techniques in every combat sport that stylists are discouraged from using and practicing. The universal problem, of course, is that it is dangerous to practice dangerous techniques, hence for sound reasons of self-preservation, we don't practice them. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Chave de Braço, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 Bottom Line

    If simpler is better, then simplest is best. The simplest is doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is not an option, but usually it is, and when it is an option, it is usually the best option. When you can’t, or decide not to, do nothing, the next best option is a mixed style consisting of two Muay Thai techniques, one wrestling technique, and one BJJ technique:.  

1.      Muay Thai clinch, along with any serviceable entry. Often, simply reaching for the assailant’s neck, while keeping your own correct posture (hands up, chin down, elbows as close to body as possibly) will work. You can create the necessary opening by jabbing or Gracie-style beach-slapping with the near hand.

2.      Muay Thai knees (For details, see Ti-Khao).

3.      A good duck-under/pop-up, which you should be able to execute from the Muay Thai clinch, or almost any other fundamentally solid tie-up.

4.      A BJJ mata leão rear naked choke. (call it a hadaka jime 裸締め] or sleeper if you prefer.

      Obviously, there are a lot of details that you will need to deal with. You could make it sound more complicated than it is by calling every detail and variation a different "technique" (and some systems do), but why bother? Get in shape, put in the mat time, and the details will, eventually, take care of themselves. That is, from extensive experience, you will notice better ways to execute and ways to overcome or circumvent resistance. Sort of the same way that BJJ has evolved. This four technique “style” doesn't cover every conceivable scenario, but no style does or can. As hard as you are training to defend yourself, someone is trying to figure out new ways to f**k your s**t up. The four technique style will cover a lot, and more than most, at the lowest cost in terms of potential for self-injury and legal consequences.

Of course, what style is best (for you) depends a lot on what you need it for, along with local laws, traditions, and conditions. Smashing someone’s face with your knee can definitely discourage them from attacking you, but it might have costs that make it more trouble than it’s worth. For simple, “self-defense” against the type of scenarios that most people (men at least) most often face, or are worried about, basic boxing has a lot in its favor. But for boxing to useful, you will have to train like a boxer. See the section above.

   

© 2012, Roberto Pedreira, All rights reserved.

Updated August 23, 2015.

Updated June 26, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Craze Vol. 1: The Life and Times of Jiu-Jitsu, 1854-1904

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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