Striking vs Grappling for Self Defense


Chewy from Chewjitsu recently published a video titled “Friend Said BJJ Is Useless for a Street Fight (Boxing is Realistic)”, and that got me thinking about writing this blog post comparing striking vs grappling.

Prior to starting jiu jitsu, I studied several martial arts. I got involved in a few TMA’s (traditional martial arts) that I won’t name here. Those styles essentially amounted to nothing more than choreographed movements that had zero effectiveness (we’ve all been there right?). I took some boxing, I wrestled a little in high school, and did some MMA training.

I also had some street fights (nothing too serious thankfully), as well as some friendly fights with my buddies just to have fun and goof around.

I feel pretty confident in saying that if you’ve never been punched in the face before, it is a shocking experience. If you are training any type of martial art, but have never really been punched by someone trying to take your  head off, then you’d be pretty surprised at how it feels.

I would say that a real life self defense situation is not where you want to have your first experience getting punched.  So if you are purely a jiu jitsu practitioner then I think you should at a minimum train with punches occasionally.

Chewy mentions taking some boxing to supplement your jiu jitsu training. I think this is a great idea. I don’t even think it’s necessary to take much boxing. A year or so of boxing would get you used to taking some punches, and the feeling of giving out some punches. I really feel it’s invaluable.

On the other hand, prior to training jiu jitsu, the few times that I’ve gotten tangled up with people that had good grappling experience (during MMA training and goofing off with friends) I could honestly say that once they got a  hold of me I was basically helpless. A good grappler (or even just a decent grappler) can completely immobilize your attacks if they can get a hold of you.

I really experienced this when I first started jiu jitsu. We weren’t training with punches of course, but as a new white belt I was absolutely helpless. There was nothing I could do to counter even other more seasoned white belt’s attacks in the first months of training, let alone anyone with a blue belt or higher.

So from my perspective grappling, and in particular jiu jitsu is where the majority of training for self defense should be. The level of control over a situation that knowing grappling gives you is extremely useful.

I will reiterate that I think it’s important to do some striking, just so you know how it feels in case you’re ever in a situation where you’re getting hit, but for my money the majority of my time spent training for self defense is going to be in jiu jitsu.

EDIT: Ryan Young released a video addressing this same topic. He argues that it is better to focus entirely on jiu jitsu rather than spending time learning a striking art like boxing. He has some good points. In jiu jitsu we learn to manage the distance between us and our opponent so we stay out of the “red zone” of getting hit, while training boxing will keep you in that “red zone” more often. The two strategies are at odds with one another and you don’t want to get too used to the distance you fight at in boxing if you’re main discipline is grappling. He talks about focusing on one art, becoming a master of that and forcing your opponent into your game. He mentions a few MMA fighters that are good examples of how to do this. He does say that if you train mostly jiu jitsu for the competition aspect that you would eventually need to learn another fighting style, but jiu jitsu really has more to offer than most competition based training offers in terms of striking. I guess this goes back to my earlier point that you should at a minimum train jiu jitsu with strikes regularly, and he argues that a well rounded jiu jitsu program should already be addressing this. I like what he has to say in this video. I think the bottom line is if you’re not dealing with striking in some aspect, whether through learning a striking art or incorporating striking into your jiu jitsu training then you’re missing a big part of the self defense puzzle.