self-defense tweak #4 – Stand up

As we discussed prior in this series, we need to have options for self-defense. We need to be able to select the right answer in the correct moment and not just stumble headfirst without thinking. Today I am going to talk about one specific option that is a classic part of fundamental jiu-jitsu, but one that sadly gets overlooked all too often. This option is to stand up and get to your feet.

There will be moments when staying engaged on the ground is not a good choice. It may be that we are suddenly about to face multiple actors who will jump in. It may be that the opponent starts striking and is able to hit us hard and continuously and we are unable to handle it in the entanglement. Perhaps the opponent produces a contact weapon such as a knife, and we can’t stop it and getting away and making big space becomes a really, really smart idea. However, it may be a situation where we have reached a stalemate with the ground fight, such as the possibility that the other guy has enough grappling skill (or enough disparity of physicality) that he negates what you are doing.

This last scenario is something that can occur in a typical sparring session at any jiu-jitsu academy in the world. I see it happen pretty much every single class. At least once, I will either see, or actually be involved in, this exact thing every day I train. I have heard my Professor yell “get up!” so many times over the past 25 years while watching students rolling and not being able to progress forward. Usually, the stalemate arises because the two people in it are peers and are evenly matched, or one person just happens to have a game that works against the other guy. I think it is a very human tendency to keep bulling ahead, regardless of the lack of success. It’s almost as if we are locked into the operating program loop.

The answer is to remove ourselves from the stalemate. Not as in running away, but in taking a step back and looking at other options, with getting back to our feet a very useful one. Once there, we may have more freedom or speed of movement, or we now have more space in which to move. If I am trying to pass his guard from the knees and I cannot, then standing may give me the ability to go in a direction that from the knees was not possible. Or if I am in side control and he is able to block my submission attacks, then standing may allow me to see another pathway to get the tap.

Here is one way to do so:

The mantra should be that we are ALWAYS looking to either:  a) sweep, b) submit, or c) stand up against any opponent at any time. Whichever of those three options gives us the best chance of success, we will take that. It is the height of foolishness to ignore one of those things. The more options we have to throw at an opponent and the more he has to worry about defending against, the more we have the chance for on e of those attacks to work. For self-defense, all we do is add d) strike, e) shoot/stab/smash or f) run like hell.

Here is a drill that is easily implemented that can help ingrain this response:

The tremendous advantage to practicing this is that it can be done in the jiu-jitsu context with no one being the wiser that I am also practicing my ability to stand up and disengage from the fight and getting away. It is a win-win ; I improve my capability of self-preservation in the street and I get to have adman fine option on the mat.

Self-defense tweak #3 – Options

In the previous article, I wrote about the absolute need to not hyper focus only on the single attacker that is in front of you and that you know about. As I said, that is to ensure that you can see other things going on around you and allows your brain to make other cognitive actions. Today we will go into more depth about why we need that ability, because that allows us to exercise the best option to survive and win against the violent criminal offender.

As I mentioned before, one of the dangers or hyperfocusing is that we get mentally locked into a single answer to the problem. In the specific case of using Jiu-jitsu for self-defense, we need to keep in mind that yes, in some contexts, entangling with an attacker and even taking them to the ground may be the single best answer. It may also be the single worst answer. It all depends on context. If we turn all of our attention to the single opponent in front of us, we may miss the second attacker coming up from behind who hits us when we are not prepared. Or we may miss the signal that our opponent is going for a weapon that he is carrying and he starts shooting or stabbing. Or we may miss that the police have pulled up and all they see is us on top of another person and they interpret things to mean that we are the aggressor and we end up getting arrested.

If we miss these signals, and keep trying to choke him out or break a limb, we may miss the moment when we should have done something else. That something else may be just pinning the other guy so he cannot move or continue the attack. Or it may be that we need to get up and run away from the situation. Or that we should not go to the ground at all. We need to have multiple options to maximize our chance to preserve our lives and well being.

Arguably, we need more options than just pure Jiu-jitsu, such as possibly using tools ourselves. The tool may begin and end at pepper spray, or it may include knives, small impact weapons such as saps, and might very well include firearms. However, these extra options are a bit outside the specific scope of this series, so suffice it to say that the more options we have, the better the chance we select the right one.

Self-defense Tweak #2 – The danger of hyperfocusing

The next thing we need to address with our Jiu-jitsu when we are discussing self-defense is the danger of hyper focusing.

What do I mean by this? To put it simply, this is the very understandable concentration of the threat in front of you to the exclusion of all else. This is not odd; it is simply the general way our minds work even when things are normal. Our brains function best as uni-taskers, where we can focus our thoughts and actions on a specific and directed task. Under life and death pressure, especially when it comes on suddenly, is it any wonder that this will happen even more forcefully?

Many people who have studied how to survive violence have found this over and over again. It goes by different names – Massad Ayoob has written for decades about this as part of the “body alarm reaction”, but regardless of how we refer to it, it is the same concept – you are only thinking of the interactive actions between you and the immediate aggressor.

In our framework of jiu-jitsu, this will genially involve the defender dealing solely with what is happening right in front of him, and probably cause us to treat it the same as if we were on the mats in the academy, when the only other thing that can affect us if other students rolling nearby collide with us. This is incredibly dangerous! Not only do we have to make sure that we are not attacked by other parties while engaged, we also need to make sure we do not ignore things like the police arriving and giving us commands that we do not hear. Needless to say, they don’t react well when that happens and they don’t automatically know who the good guy is.

We also have to keep in mind that just staying entangled with someone (even if we are “winning”) may not be the best idea in a given context. This principle will be addressed in another part of this series but suffice it to say that our brains cannot be mentally locked into just the grappling situation we find our self in to be able to look for different options. Like a computer program stuck in a continuous cycle of operation, it may need a system reboot to find a better path.

And just as with the concept of arm control, we already have a decent way to instill the idea of not letting ourselves get hyper focused by what we are already doing in the academy on a daily basis. One of the things I make sure of every class I am in, I always know what is happening off the mats. It is a simple matter of knowing when someone comes in the front door, or walks to the back and into the locker room or bathroom. Or when one of the students steps off the mat and sits down on the side. Very basic things like that. I don’t ah veto do anything about any of them, and it does not change what I am doing while rolling with my partner, it is just a simple and easy way to build a general rather than a hyper focus. If someone comes out of the locker room and I did not realize that person was in there, I mentally put a negative check mark on my ledger. The goal is to rarely have to make that mark. It is not hard, nor does it have to be obvious to anyone else.

One of the things to keep in mind however, is that this is not a jiu-jitsu centric problem. Not at all. It is a problem across the board with all “specialties” whether that specialty is grappling, striking, knife, or gun. And the self-defense people reading this better not be getting smug In truth, we are more likely to see it come up with people who come from the gun world. In that world, authentic oppositional training is rare, and in addition, there is already an overwhelming tendency to see the firearm as a magic talisman/luck rabbit’s foot/Harry Potter wand, and just having or producing the gun will lead to a positive outcome, and so this leads to truly massive failures in force-on-force training time after time. At this point, I have seen tens of thousands of these drill evolutions and I cannot begin to count the gun person desperately trying to introduce a weapon when the good answer was to do anything but that. Hyperfocusing only on the immediate and automatic can get you killed.

You may come up with other “games” to accomplish the same goal, but however you do it, don’t ever let yourself get lazy and only see the person on the mat entangled with you.

Tweaking jiu-jitsu for self-defense pt.1

I am continually amused by people who don’t know anything about Brazilian Jiu-jitsu attempt to try to talk about why it is a bad choice for self-defense. Even with the easily discovered legion of actual video and even more legion of documented non-video reports of real world success, these critics tend to have substantial cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, they are so vocal that they have even convinced some jiu-jitsu people of their arguments. This is sad, and misguided. With one single exception (and one in which I will write about in the final part in this series), what we need to do to successfully use jiu-jitsu to defend ourselves is already internally physically contained within the art. All that we really need are a few mental tweaks to make sure we are doing what we need to be doing. Rather than hoard that information I want to get it out as widely and as public as I can, in order for as many good guys have access to these concepts and can utilize them to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.   I am going to write a multi-part series of posts showing all jiu-jitsu practitioners the handful of minor mental adjustments they need to make to be able to rely on their own methods to protect themselves and their loved ones.

I kick off the series today with the single most important physical action we need to take, and our first line of defense. And that is active control, or at the very least active monitoring, of the opponent’s arms.

In a self-preservation situation, where striking and/or weapons may be involved, I cannot let my opponent have freedom to use his arms. Period and end of story. Any damaging thing he can do to me has to emanate from his arms.  Even if I am on the bottom of side control or the mount, I still need to be active in monitoring it as best as I am able. I need to have the shot at preventing him from deploying a weapon, or setting an opportunity up to start throwing bombs; or if the weapon comes out, to be able to keep him from using it in the manner he wants to.

This element has to be ingrained in us from day one, and it must be constantly reinforced so it becomes as subconscious and as automatic as possible. If we ignore it, or dismiss it as “just something else to worry about” , then we underplay how crucial arm control is to our very survival. If you takeaway nothing else from this series of articles, please absorb that one.

Here is what is so funny about this principle – we already need to do this all the time in our normal jiu-jitsu practice! This is not wishful thinking in any way. It is simple fact.

Think about it. If he is trying to pass my guard, what is the main weapon he is using? What if he is trying to sweep me? Or if he is trying to escape from a bottom position? What about when he has superior position and he is working for a submission? What if I am on top and working for my submission? Don’t I need to have some control over his hands? If not, he can block that submission all day long, or work an escape/reversal while I am focused on the attack. His hands/arms are going to be the main driver in anything he can do in opposition to me. No matter what is happening, he needs his hands to do the majority of it, which means I have to obtain some control over them. Don’t take my word for it. Go watch high level grapplers who are successful over and over again. Watch something such as the 2015 match between Roger Gracie and Comprido. Note how Roger controls Comprido’s limbs as soon as possible, and how it leads to the eventual win by choke. You will be able to see this in your own academy any night of the week. The dominant wins will happen when one person controls the hands of the other person. Every single time.  

So if that is the case, why do we so often slip up, to include great champions? Because in anything we normally do – regular training, heavy duty sparring, competition, and even MMA – the penalty for failure is not that bad. If we tap in a roll in class, then we restart, slap hands and go again. In a tournament, we lose and the tournament is over for us, but there will be another one soon where we can try again. Even in MMA, the worst that happens is a knockout, but even that is not so bad. We still have a career in fighting again (usually) and we still essentially have our health – even if we have some trauma after for a few days. With such a fairly low penalty for screwing up, it is treated as not so bad and we can easily develop a bad mental scar of shrugging off the mistake of letting the other guy have freedom with his arms. The problem arises in that the consequence of that same exact failure in a self-preservation scenario quite literally is death or massive and/or permanent bodily injury. That is not something we can shrug off, and therefore it has to permeate our fundamental mental approach at all times in training.

Does this mean every moment we train we must do it like it is life or death? Of course not, life does not work that way, and training in just such a manner will lead to injury and mental or emotional burnout.  After a long tough day at work, maybe when we get to the BJJ academy we will need to be more relaxed and less intense on occasion. That is no problem at all as long as we keep it in mind what we are doing and why – FOR THAT MOMENT ONLY – it is okay to slide. We cannot let it become an every time approach. Keep those stakes in mind, and let that be ever present.

This is an incredibly simple concept, but it is monumentally crucial, and we need to treat it accordingly. We don’t need to add or change any of our physical actions on the mat, but keep the principle in mind always.

just go

I didn’t want to go to Jiu-jitsu last night.

I was on little sleep, was in the middle of an important project for a client, and with some personal and medical stuff going on, the stress made me feel like a cord with the most of it frayed and coming apart. The last thing I wanted was to put myself in a position where I had to perform on demand in front of people who would see me fail and perform poorly. Most of all, I did not dig the thought of not living up to my own expectations. The easiest thing would have been to get my Professor to run the fundamentals class, and go home, go to bed, and pull the covers over my head while waiting for a new day.

But I went. And guess what? Teaching-wise I was solid, because somehow I can always pull up the needed drive to do that, but when it comes to my personal training, that is not the case. My performance rolling was not awesome. I did not do as poorly as I feared (that is actually almost impossible to do since I always fear the worst), but I still was not particularly good. And so what? Do I do this to make everyone think I am awesome? Do I do this so I get rich and famous? Nope. I do it for myself, and for what it does for me.

And that benefit – what I get out of it – is as much in the doing, and the choice and effort of doing, as it is any particular level of performance. Sure, I want to get better, and I am hoping to see improvement at least in some incremental way, but the real advancement is in the discipline to just do it when you don’t have to. The easy thing is to not do it, so when we make the choice to take a step forward; it is truly and in every way a step forward.

Character has been defined (quite rightly in my opinion) as what you do when no one is looking. Well, discipline can be defined as doing what you know you should when there is no immediate consequence to not doing it. If I am fasting, could I go ahead and have a donut? Sure, who would know, and one donut is not going to destroy the diet, but it is in those little choices to not do so that we grow.  My buddy Larry Lindenman did the carnivore diet for a month not that long ago. When he explained it to me, I asked him if it would have been a big deal if he had eaten a salad. His answer summed it up – “no, but that was not the diet”. He made a choice to follow a program for a month, and cheating even once was a violation, so he did not do it. It is that simple.

Now, just because it is simple in no way means it is easy. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things to do as a human being. But here is the secret. YOU CAN DO IT. I know this because I am nothing special, and I can do it, so you can too. Give it a shot and keep fighting that good fight with the inner voice that tells you to stop. It is worth it. Win baby, win.

Flying knees and false credit

So a top grappler (Ben Askren) got knocked out in the most recent UFC by a flying knee from a striking centric opponent (Jorge Masvidel) and then, inevitably, the people who have zero to do with it try to jump on and attempt to validate themselves by somehow aligning themselves with the situation.

It only took minutes for a number of non-grappling martial artists and combative self-defense “experts” to make claims that they too are equal to this KO. Probably the most laughable was a knife focused group posting all over social media that they have been teaching this same move for years. As if that meant one damn thing. It is sad commentary that so many martial artists, who have so little ammunition to argue against the efficacy of grappling, will make such huge leaps in order to try to bolster their weak side of the debate.

Here are a few points these folks should keep in mind.

  1. It is irrelevant if they have taught a similar move. Is there any evidence at all that they themselves have been able to pull it off against a fully resisting and uncooperative opponent? How about just one of their students? Of course no such evidence exists because if it did, they would have already bragged about it. It is really unseemly to try to equate yourself to someone who does a fighting methodology completely different from you, who you have never trained with, and who has a bio of accomplishments that have nothing to do with you in any way.
  2. Just because you “know” a move, or have even taught a move is meaningless. If you have not been able to practice it under high pressure sparring against another person who is doing their best to make you fail, then you have about a zero chance of suddenly pulling the move off for real. So someone can pick up a guitar and play a couple of chords. They are not going to suddenly become the next Jimi Hendrix until they practice. A lot. For real. Anything less is mental masturbation fantasy. A good number of traditional martial artists love to try to convince others that there are hidden grappling moves in old kata, and ergo, they are knowledgeable grapplers. Except that not one of them can actually pull off any moves against even a BJJ white belt with less than a year of training. Because sheer knowledge does not equate to being able to perform. I “know” how the top Formula 1 drivers drive. That does not mean I can drive the same way.
  3. Cherry picking your examples of success is intellectually vapid. So the flying knee knocked a high level grappler out in the most recent UFC. Awesome. Now, let’s add up all the times in the past 50 UFCs where not only did it NOT KO the other guy, but actually failed miserably and it failed to do any damage, and put the knee thrower in a worse position than prior to the knee. What you will find if you do the numbers is that the success to fail rate is along the lines of 1:50. Does anyone really think those are good odds and that with the low level of success that anyone should be putting much of their limited training time into doing it? If so, I have some ocean front property in Arizona I can sell you.
  4. The biggest issue with people trying to somehow share the spotlight in these situations is that they are by default telling you that they are as physically capable as a professional athlete in the prime of their career who does nothing but train multiple hours every day. We know that is not the case, and they are not on that plane of performance so their chance of pulling the move off is not even the same. Which makes their attempt to equate themselves all the more laughable. If a pro athlete can only pull off such a move once in a great while, the non-athlete chances are exponentially more remote, so stop pretending. It is just gross.

It can be very useful to see what is working in MMA fights. However, we need to see what is working CONSISTENTLY, not the rare move. Just because some technique is spectacular does not equate to useful.

Salt Lake city seminar – September 21/22, 2019

I am really excited to announce that I am going to teach my fundamental coursework for the first time in in Slat Lake City. It is a beautiful city and I can’t wait. 

Instructor: Cecil Burch
Class dates: September 21/22, 2019, 8:30am-6pm both days.
Cost: $300 for both days, $175 for one, inclusive. No facility fees; all tuition fees go to Cecil.
Location: TNT Guns and Range Murray UT 
Class size: Maximum 14 students


Immediate Action Jiu-jitsu 

Real World Application of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a Weapon-Based-Environment

Contrary to popular belief, many empty hand fights and those involving weapons, end up on the ground. No amount of pontificating or self-proclaimed “expert” posturing will change this simple fact. If you ignore this reality, you may very well find yourself in a situation you cannot handle with disastrous consequences. This course is designed to give the layman a realistic and functional set of concepts, techniques, methodologies, training drills and experiences that will prepare them for a worst case “ground-fight” scenario. All techniques and concepts are high percentile applications which span a wide spectrum of confrontations. Training consists of presentation, drilling and Force-On-Force evolutions providing attendees with immediate feedback regarding the efficacy of the skills learned. The goal of this course is not to create a “ground fighter” or grappler. The objective is to provide attendees who have limited training time and resources with solid ground survival and escape fundamentals geared toward the increasingly violent weapon based environments they may live, work and/or travel within. And all techniques/concepts are from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and are combat proven over the past 80 years by thousands of practitioners, including the U.S. Army.

These methods are for everyone regardless of physical condition – young, old, male, female, athlete or not – You DO NOT have to be a professional fighter to perform at a functional level. This will be a class about physical training, but it is NOT boot camp. Participants may go at the pace that is comfortable for them, while trying to push the envelope of their own individual performance.
Requirements : Loose, comfortable but durable clothes, mouthpiece, cup, notebook, and an open mind
The course is divided into modules that address specific situations. Among the topics covered by the modules include:

Surviving/defending/escaping when you are on the ground underneath an attacker
Surviving/defending/escaping when you are on the ground and your opponent is standing
Functional methods of getting back to your feet
Countering takedowns and remaining on your feet
IFWA (in-fight weapon access)
Denying your opponent’s weapon access – understanding technique, positional hierarchy AND timing
Multiple opponents – realistically maximizing your chances
Surviving inside the guard
Proper usage of the guard to win/escape
Defending against punches, elbow strikes, stomps, kicks, etc…
Proper role of “dirty tactics”
Essential training principles, methods, & drills
How these concepts & techniques remain true with or without weapon involvement
Learning to deal with the most common MMA attacks and holds
Recognizing and defending against common submissions (guillotine, rear naked choke, triangle, arm bar, etc.)
Structuring and balancing your training and integrating it into a busy real world lifestyle

Immediate Action Pugilism

Clinch for Self-Preservation in the Weapons Based Environment

Sometimes, in order to defend ourselves and our loved ones, the only tool we might have to rely on is our own body. Even if you have external weapons, you might not be able to access them. Your safety may come down to how well you can survive a hand-to-hand confrontation. The Immediate Action Pugilism course is designed to give the layman a realistic and functional set of concepts, techniques, methodologies, training drills and experiences that will prepare them for a worst case H2H scenario. All techniques and concepts are high percentile applications which span a wide spectrum of confrontations. Training consists of presentation, drilling and Force-On-Force evolutions providing attendees with immediate feedback regarding the efficacy of the skills learned. The goal of this course is not to create a professional boxer or MMA competitor. The objective is to provide attendees who have limited training time and resources with solid fundamentals geared toward the increasingly violent weapon based environments they may live, work and/or travel within.

All the techniques presented are based on orthodox and MMA boxing methods and are the best, most functional and high percentage moves and tactics available.

These methods are for everyone regardless of physical condition – young, old, male, female, athlete or not – You DO NOT have to be a professional fighter to perform at a functional level. This will be a class about physical training, but it is NOT boot camp. Participants may go at the pace that is comfortable for them, while trying to push the envelope of their own individual performance.
Requirements: Boxing gloves (at least 12oz or bigger unless per-authorized by the instructor), loose, comfortable but durable clothes, mouthpiece, cup, notebook, and an open mind. MMA gloves are strongly encouraged, but are not mandatory.
Immediate Action Pugilism is divided into modules that address specific situations. Among the topics covered by the modules include:

Why & How to use Vertical Clinch skills in a WBE
Underlying Concepts and Mindset for use
Dealing with the Sucker Punch / Ambush
The Default Cover
Transitioning to and Regaining the Initiative
Fundamentals of the Clinch/Safely Entering
Controlling the Entanglement
Individual & Partner Drills
Gradual introduction and immersion into sparring
Fighting at Close Quarters; attached and unattached
Disengaging from the clinch
Safely gaining distance for escape, weapons access, or orientation reset
Keeping the Fight standing, realistically defending the takedown
Performance Coaching and Troubleshooting
Insights and Suggestions for Solo Training
Tips and pointers on how to train the material with the limitations of a real world lifestyle

New Seminar in Bay area

I will be in Petaluma, CA on August 3rd at Esteem BJJ teaching how to make sure our BJJ skills are street ready, including dealing with the possibility of multiple opponents and weapons.

Not sure of the price, but the owner of the Academy likes to keep it low, so it will most likely be under$100. Text him at


And jump on in! If you want to understand the tiny tweaks we need to be truly ready to apply our BJJ in the real world, you will dig it.