“Yeah Jiu-Jitsu works great in a cage one-on-one but it’s not effective in an alleyway with broken glass on the pavement and multiple attackers.”
A former colleague of mine said this to me after he found out that I do BJJ. I nodded thoughtfully and said, “I can’t really imagine anything other than running helping in that scenario.”
My colleague chuckled but let me know that he is proficient in several forms of kung fu that have trained him to deal with multiple attackers at the same time. I nodded thoughtfully thinking, “Don’t know if I could handle multiple lovers at the same time.”
As the head BJJ coach of SBG Texas, I get to have a lot of fun self-defense scenario conversations. I’m always struck by certain individuals’ convictions regarding their personal ability to deal with multiple attackers, knives, and guns. I’m going to unpack all of these fallacies one by one but I’ll let the cat out of the bag straight away and just say the common denominator is a narcissistic personality disorder. Caveat: I ain’t a shrink.
Let me start with a bit of a disclaimer about my own abilities. I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu for around 14 years. I’m a four-stripe brown belt certified by Rickson Gracie and coached by John Frankl. I feel very confident that in hand-to-hand combat I could easily handle an untrained civilian. While I could do so easily, I don’t take the situation lightly at all. I recognize and train for the probable reduction of all risks in any such encounter. I base my confidence on the reality that I’ve grappled with hundreds of trained grapplers and submitted many of them and regularly spar with beginners and I have seen overwhelmingly consistent results. I also train regularly for combat that includes striking not just submission grappling. All these experiences have led me to general confidence but I don’t think I will ever pick a fight for the rest of my life because I’m a reasonably mature adult with a decent life and I know that one punch is all it takes to ruin my night and possibly my life. I’ve also trained enough to know that things don’t always go your way.
The one-punch principle has been played out in combat sports innumerable times. One good shot can put the better man down. World champions get scuttled by scrubs who never knock anyone else out. Any sensible person knows this which is why when we switch to the multiple attacker scenario, it should be obvious from the onset that we are being pretty fanciful with our imagination when we declare any certainty about victory.
Here’s where narcissism comes in. With the magic of narcissism, you imagine the multiple attackers to have the coordination of Disney’s Goofy and the physical wherewithal of a paper bag. You see the one punch principle entirely in your own favor in terms of probability, probably because an overwhelming amount of Hollywood action films have convinced you that every strike can knock people out if you’re the protagonist.
The multiple attackers’ scenario breaks down if you just consider the reality that one of those attackers might be as formidable as you or more so. Even if you’re the heavyweight UFC champ, you know the number one contender will at least be a challenge, but the top three contenders simultaneously is just impossible to imagine surviving unless you suffer from a personality disorder that doesn’t allow you to perceive reality correctly.
Knives are another fun scenario. How big is the knife? How big is the bad hombre holding that knife? I’m not saying training knife defense is useless but anyone who thinks that “knives aren’t a problem for them” possibly needs clinical support of the mental variety. You’re a walking sack of fluids and if one punch can knock you out, one puncture is at least mildly more concerning.
Do we need to go to the gun scenario? One punch, one puncture, one shot. I won’t bore you with these redundant concepts.
Instead let’s take a step back and ask can we train to improve the probability of survival in the above scenarios? I think that’s true but almost entirely premised on Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian and otherwise. The central tenet of Gracie Jiu Jitsu has always been close the distance to remove the probability of a one strike knockout. With knives in play things get hairy for sure but my feeling is punching range is pretty much puncture range as well. With a good arm tie like a Russian tie you might stop someone from continuously stabbing you at least but I don’t think I could ever imagine feeling confident about that scenario.
Adding to that, guns are dangerous in the extreme. Again, one might get a gun barrel offline with quality grappling control enough to take someone down but anyone who likes those odds is a few stripes short of a belt promotion. The whole tactical advantage of the gun is that it has incredible range and requires less practice than a punch to be deadly effective. Jiu Jitsu could help against guns but no one should feel confident about those scenarios.
So I’m brought back to my cocksure colleague, master of long-fist kung fu who felt certain he could handle multiple men in a dark alleyway filled with broken glass that you can step on without concern but could never lie down on. Could Jiu Jitsu help? Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo and Jiu Jitsu as we know it, really thought throws were the key to multiple attackers. I don’t think he’s wrong but it feels like a stretch to me. Grapple one guy, throw him into the rest and count your lucky stars if you can run away before they swarm you. A world class striker might be able to deal with that scenario but I think only a professional with a winning record could hope to score the consecutive knockouts required.
I’ll leave you with my favorite rebuttal to the multiple attacker fantasy especially when someone brings it up in an intro lesson. It comes from my coach John Frankl, “You can’t deal with one attacker. Get good at that first.”
Check out Paul Sharps thoughts on BJJ for everything from harsh words to hand grenades.
Check out SBG Texas if you want to have fun learning how to defend yourself.