One of the biggest epiphanies I had in my martial arts life was watching Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Action in 1988.
It is probably too hard to fathom what this did for me.
Seeing grappling work so well against different arts was like a gut shot. It
woke me up to what was possible, as well as the probability that I was had not
seen the total package of fighting. What the UFC did for a lot of people in
1993, and then later in 2005 when it hit the mainstream, was what I felt in
This video is actually one of my favorite parts of the first volume. Here is the quick back story. There was a karate instructor in Rio who was looking to prove the superiority of his art and decided that challenging the Gracies was a good idea. He most likely thought that they would want so many rules and be on soft mats that he would not have to actually face them. To his shock, the Gracies agreed to all his conditions and even suggested using the location (which I will get to in a moment). There are a number of important takeaways from this short video, and they are easily understood lessons if people would look at it with a critical eye.
First of all, this video took place in the late 70’s and was
made widely available on the original mass marketed video tape in 1988, and yet
there are some who keep spouting ideas that this video trashes.
Note the surface. It is the kind of hard and
unyielding surface you might find on a public racquetball court. It is most
certainly NOT a nice padded mat. And the ones who wanted this surface? That’s
right, the grapplers. Of course, that should be impossible because all the
combative experts say grapplers won’t be able to fight when they are not on
mats, that somehow they will freeze when they are on a solid surface and they
will be at the mercy of the non-grappler. Utter crap. It isn’t that big a deal
to fight on a hard surface. No grappler wants to continually train on it,
because it will eventually cause accumulated trauma and damage. But that is
over YEARS of training, and has nothing to do with a single particular instance.
As this video aptly demonstrates over multiple fights. Find any single moment
where the BJJ practitioner is having trouble with moving on essentially
concrete. You won’t find it, just as you won’t find it happening in any of the countless
hundreds or even thousands of real world videos showing people using grappling
to defend themselves. It is a moot point and another illustration of why those
combative “experts” who have no grappling experience have no idea of what they
are talking about.
Note the absence of gloves. Bare knuckle
striking, done by stand up fighters who spend all their time using bare knuckle
strikes. There is no chance of hiding behind the old trope of “well, the gloves
softened the blows and made the strikers less effective”. The grapplers let the
strikers have yet another advantage and it made no difference.
Note that even with the bare knuckles, the
strikes had no effect. Most of the time, the karate men got off only one or at
most two strikes before they were tied up and taken down. Striking is a great
and useful tool, but thinking that you will be able to end a fight against an
adrenalized opponent with one or two strikes generally falls in the fantasy
Note that even though most of the jiu-jitsu
fighters did not have a particularly great method of closing the gap, it still
worked 100% of the time. Most of them were turtle your head and dive forward
type close, and it did not matter. Imagine if instead it had been a good collegiate
wrestler or trained MMA fighter. How much better that close would have been. If you do not train and have practiced to deal
with a true grappling close, you will fall victim to it far more often than
not. You are fooling yourself if you think you can handle it otherwise.
Note that unlike the striker that the jiu-jitsu
man could strike at will once he had established positional dominance and the
other man was completely at his mercy. That is a much more sure way of being
effective with your strikes.
Note in the last fight the attempt to smash the
grappler backwards to the ground. Again, according to combative “experts”, this
should be sufficient to stop the grappler and let the other man escape, and yet
once again that kind of wisdom fails in reality. Even slammed to the hard
surface by someone 40 pounds heavier on top did not shake the positional dominance
of the grappler and the choke still happened right after.
As I said, I love this video for all the short and immensely
powerful lessons it provides. Learn from it.
This is not one of the first MMA fights ever. There had been
hundreds if not thousands prior to this. Just in Brazil alone through the first
three decades of the 20th century there were a lot (all documented
in the book Choque), as well as many formal such events in Europe. However,
currently this is the earliest one on video.
Neither one of the competitors were top of their professions.
Pio Pico (real name Lupe Lemon) had a final record of 7-14-2. Not exactly championship
caliber. However, keep in mind he was a legit heavyweight boxer at a time when that
really meant something, and he could hit hard and was used to fighting. It was
not new to him. Likewise, the pro wrestler he faced in this video, Nick Lutze
was a mid-card wrestler who had a bit of notoriety on the west coast from the
30’s through the 50’s, and he did his work at a time when most wrestlers had to
actually have a base skill in actual grappling (as opposed to the modern Hulk
Hogan body builder types of the current era). So while neither was the best in
their fields, they were legit and were far tougher, more dangerous, and more
capable than most people.
As to the fight itself, we see the same things repeated that
the UFC has shown to the modern world.
The grappler does not try to hit, and actually
is wide open to get hit himself. And in fact, does get hit often. And remember
from the hands of a HEAVYWEIGHT boxer. Using the very small and not well padded
gloves of a 30’s boxer (if you ever get to see gloves from that era, you may be
shocked to see they more resemble UFC gloves instead of modern boxing gloves as
far as padding goes), he takes a bunch of shots and it does not stop the
wrestler. Strikes are rarely a decisive quick stopper against a determined
While the boxing stance of that era was not as
bladed as the current methodology dictates, it is enough that the wrestler has
no problem shooting in and getting hold of the boxer’s leg or body.
The oft repeated “advice” from tactical
self-defense guys to “just get back to your feet when you get taken down” is completely
meaningless if you do not have the physical skill set to do so. Note that Pico does
try to get up; using every ounce of his peak athletic 200+ pound body, and it
is useless. If someone like that fails at getting back up, what chance does the
average person have? The only time the fight gets back standing is when the
boxer can grab the rope and the referee steps in or he is pinned (a pure sport
concept). When is that going to happen in the street? All the combatives gurus
love to talk about how there are no rules in the street and it is not like the
mats. Well, neither is it like a boxing ring with ropes bro. If you have no outside
factor that will let you get up, and you don’t have that skill already, it will
not happen magically just because you will it to be so.
Note how quickly the shoot happens, over and
over. A professional boxer, who trains everyday and has a lot of experience
actually hitting a moving target, never gets in more than a punch or two before
getting taken down. How likely is someone who does not train to that level will
get even a single shot in? The answer is slim to none and slim just left town.
It is a lesson that a goodly number of people try to resist
even though we have an overwhelming mountain of evidence to the contrary. In a
one on one scenario, trying to beat a grappler without having a dedicated
practice to do so is quite literally placing your well being on the hope that
the ball lands on green zero. Not exactly best practice to staying alive.
Last week I did a podcast (which should be out before the end of the year) and the host and I had an interesting discussion on ego.
Now generally, ego is spoken of as a negative thing when we
speak of training and trying to become a better version of ourselves. Ego makes
us do dumb things to prove how tough we are, how much of a warrior we are, or
to show others that we won’t be beaten by them. A great many injuries, perhaps
the majority of them, in BJJ stem from ego making someone do something they
should not do.
Case in point. When I first started training with Megaton
Dias, he had an assistant who was a good dude, as well as a good jiu-jitsuka.
The guy always helped me, even while making me tap. After a couple of years, he
moved on in life, and I continued training. Flash forward about 5 years, and he
comes back. I am now a purple belt (as he was), but while I was not the same
horrible and fat ass white belt I was when he was training, he still thought of
me that way. So when I started handling him with ease, you could see he was
disconcerted. At one point, we were rolling, and I was passing his guard. He
was fighting as hard as anyone ever has. He was bound and determined that I
would not pass. The problem was, I was passing because I was good enough to do
so. As I was finishing up, he screamed out and rolled into a ball. Panicked, I
went to him to see what happened. It turned out that he tore his groin muscle.
He was so desperate to not lose to someone he saw as inferior, that he severely
injured himself. Not only did that take him away from training, he never came
back. That was entirely due to his ego. It was really sad.
That is the kind of thing that happens far too often, and
holds us back from truly getting better. However, the truly tough thing is that
we need the ego to some extent. The ego is what helps us to push through when
things get tough in training. It helps us to not give in and accept failure or
loss. The ego tells us to get back on the horse and show the other guy who is
This is not to suggest some miraculous way around the
problem. It is just one of those things that make you go “hmm”.
With the rise in the understanding that we could possibly find ourselves in an entangled fight (or at least, be in the RANGE of an entangled fight – this is a really important distinction that many critics fail to understand), there has been a concurrent rise in both people teaching how to deal with it, as well as specific techniques. One of those techniques is the “contact shot” i.e. when the pistol is in actual contact with the opponent’s body. Personally, I am not an advocate of this method, for multiple reasons.
There are three main issues with contact shots.
There is no way to know if the barrel is aligned in such a way that the round will hit anything important. The reason we use sights is because it is the only way to ensure the barrel is lined up and the bullet goes where it will actually do some good. Short of sights or a robust kinesthetic locked retention position, you will have no clue where the round travels to. Think it does not matter because you are so close? Guess again. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen someone using a Sims or UTM equipped gun in a training situation fire at contact distance and be absolutely positive where the round went, only to debrief afterwards and to find that the projectile was a peripheral hit, or that the trajectory was through some body part like love handles that would have had no impact on the fight. That alignment misjudging is magnified by the press of the bodies. The pressure of the other guy moving into you can cause what you thought to be a perfect lined up shot to cant in any imaginable direction. You just cannot count on the round to go where you think it will.
Once the first round fires, the gun is now an ungainly and ill balanced small impact tool because it is now inoperable. You have exactly one round to accomplish something. Is that realistic in any way? There is not one reputable and knowledgeable firearms instructor anywhere that will tell you that when firing at a distance, you can count on a one round stop from any handgun caliber or bullet configuration. Everyone agrees that handgun rounds are poor stoppers and the only way to count on being able to use it effectively is to shoot multiple rounds, with many experienced instructors(such as Tom Givens) saying a minimum “effective dose” should be thought of as 3-5 rounds. So why on god’s green earth would someone then advocate turning your pistol into a single shot weapon? It has not suddenly become a death ray.It is the exact same weapon it was at distance; with the same level of needing more rounds to ensure that it stops the bad guy. What possible reason is thereto voluntarily give up that ability? It makes no sense to use a firearm differently and in a way that takes away from efficacy.
The only way to ensure you will get even one round off is to use both your hands on the gun which means the bad guy has both his hands free to do whatever he wants. He can grab your gun and stop you from firing, he can strike you and possibly knock you out before you can fire, he can get his own weapon out and shoot you while you try to shoot him, or he can control you to the point that he can move to a better position where you are unable to make physical contact to him with your gun. We need to always keep in mind that the legal justification to use deadly force to protect ourselves means the other guy is doing something threatening. He is going to continue to do that same physical behavior as we bring our gun to bear and wrap it with both of our hands. He is not going to suddenly stop and become a frozen zombie.He is going to keep trying to kill us or cause grave bodily injury. If we ignore that and just do our gun thing, we give him all the opportunity in the world to finish the job he has already started. Not exactly the best plan to stay alive in my book.
The fact is that there are far more certain methods to use a firearm in a contact fighting situation. They require a bit more practice than contact shots, but not that much more, and those methods can be counted on to actually work. That seems to be worth the investment to me.
I am a huge fan of Theodore Roosevelt. He was one of my first heroes, and probably the main person who inspired me to try to overcome my asthma when I was a child. There is a lot to admire about him. But it may just be that his son was an even better and inspiring person. Read about him here. You will be glad you did.
Unfortunately there is a lot of lousy information in the self-defense community. A great deal of traditional martial artists use pure lies to maintain their self-anointed position as “master”.
One of the worst is Master Wong. A supposed Wing Chun expert, he somehow manages to show how his stuff is so superior to other proven fighting methods like BJJ or MMA without ever actually showing himself testing his methodology against a truly resisting opponent with opposing will, malevolent intent, and freedom of action.
Let me be clear – his stuff is pure garbage at every level. But don’t believe me, watch this excellent video that puts his ideas to a legitimate test and the results show how spectacularly it fails. Watch if for yourself, and the next time you see one of Wong’s promotional BS vids on YouTube or social media, you will know how truly crappy it is.
I am a big believer in keeping a training log, as well as a training journal. I think it is critical to our efforts to become more capable to keep good track of every stumble, every success, and every thought or discovery. There are tons of logbooks and journals out there, but I use these. They are not cheap but they are incredibly well organized to help you keep logical track. I think there is an end of the year sale now going on too.
(FYI, I get zero money or gifts from this place. They only know of me as a customer)
Massad Ayoob is one of the most experienced trainers in the history of armed self-defense. Not only is he one of the foremost lecturers on the legal aspects, he is a deep thinker and researcher on the actual performance of self-defense for the everyday person. He is also an incredibly prolific writer. Here are a list of what I consider “must own” books for the serious self-defense minded person.