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From A Fighter's Perspective: Jiu-Jitsu's Fall From Grace And How To Return To The Top.

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Below is a piece written by local professional fighter Jake Whitfield:

Jiu-jitsu is without a doubt the style upon which the foundation of Mixed Martial Arts is built. The UFC was founded by Rorion Gracie, a jiu-jitsu man. In the early days of MMA in North America, jiu-jitsu dominated far beyond any other style. Jiu-jitsu has a long history of being used effectively in real fights, sanctioned and unsanctioned, without the addition of any striking training. Why then have jiu-jitsu fighters seemed to struggle in recent MMA events?

In my opinion, the answer lies in the question. Jiu-jitsu fighters do not fight like jiu-jitsu fighters, they fight like Mixed Martial Artists.

In order to understand what has gone wrong with jiu-jitsu, we must take a quick look at the history of jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu was originally designed as a system of self defense. The training was designed to address every eventuality of a real fight. Students were taught defenses against strikes, grabs, and even weapon attacks. They were taught how to properly clinch and takedown a striking opponent. And they were taught how to utilize and defend against strikes on the ground.

Up until the late 1960, there was only one Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Rio. It was located on Rio Branco Avenue and featured Masters Helio, Robson, and Carlson Gracie. Around 1968, Carlson left that Gracie Academy and opened his own academy. This led to the establishment of the first tournament rules in Jiu-Jitsu. At that time, tournaments were held only a few times a year and they had only a small impact on training.

Over the next two decades, jiu-jitsu training continued to encompass all of the tools necessary for self protection. Then in the early 90's the number of Academies and the number of tournaments exploded. If you are a student with a large number of options to choose from in relatively the same area, how do you choose which academy is best for you? The logical conclusion is that you will most likely choose the academy that produces the most tournament champions on the most consistent basis.

This leads to the logical change away from self defense and towards a more tournament focused type of training. This trend has continued and snowballed over the last 15 years to the point that almost all jiu-jitsu academies focus exclusively on tournament competition. Students are never taught how to correctly defend against strikes standing or on the ground. Students are never taught how to execute and defend takedowns correctly. And students become dependent on the rules of jiu-jitsu competition.

I recently watched a match from the 2009 jiu-jitsu world championships. In a black belt semifinal match, both competitors pulled guard at the same time and spent over three minutes sitting on their butts across from each other, each man trying to pull the other onto the top. If there is a less effective way to train for self defense, I have never seen it. This is the atmosphere which has produced the many jiu-jitsu black belts competing in MMA today.

When a fighter has had success in the jiu-jitsu tournament atmosphere, he will often decide to switch over to MMA competiton. He begins training boxing, kickboxing, and/or muay Thai in earnest. Many of these fighters get hit for the first time in training and decide they don't want to fight. Others may not have this experience until they get in the ring for the first time. Marcelo Garcia is widely considered to be pound for pound the best grappler of the last decade, yet he lost to a well below average fighter in his one and only MMA fight.

How could such a thing happen?

Because he was taught tournament jiu-jitsu from his first day in the academy and never learned how to properly use jiu-jitsu in a real fight.

So once again, a jiu-jitsu fighter begins fighting MMA and sees the obvious hole in his game to be his striking. So he begins to train his striking as much or more than his jiu-jitsu. Next thing you know, the jiu-jitsu fighter forgets that he is a jiu-jitsu fighter!

You will fight how you train. If every day you go to the gym and hit the pads and stand up and bang, you will get in the cage and want to stand up and bang. Somehow jiu-jitsu fighters feel that their one or two years of stand up training outweighs their ten years of jiu-jitsu training. Vinny Magalhaes, Demian Maia, and Dustin Hazelette are all jiu-jitsu black belts that have been knocked out without even attempting one takedown.

Would a striker ever walk into the cage and immediately shoot on a jiu-jitsu fighter without throwing a single strike?

No way. Its a ridiculous concept. But this is exactly what happens with jiu-jitsu fighters all the time!

"Show me a time when a jiu-jitsu fighter has had success striking against a striker and then I will train kickboxing." - Rickson Gracie

Rickson's quote might be a bit of an exageration but it is worth considering. You can count on one hand the number of times a jiu-jitsu fighter has knocked out a striker, but it would be nearly impossible to count the number of times that a jiu-jitsu fighter has been knocked out while trying to "stand and bang".

So how can this problem be fixed?

First of all, jiu-jitsu students need to learn the self defense aspects of the sport first. After becoming comfortable with the self defense, the students might then choose to branch out into tournament jiu-jitsu.

Next, we must remember that how you train is how you fight. Jiu-jitsu fighters need to look at their training and identify what they're training for. Are you training to stand and bang? Or are you training to truely use your jiu-jitsu?

At my academy, we train jiu-jitsu five days a week and only train kickboxing twice a week. This training method has been heavily criticized. After all, the modern MMA establishment preaches that the most important thing is to be a more well rounded fighter. But is this true? Possibly. I think its more important to have a cohesive well put together game plan than a random selection of isolated skills.

When people ask me why we train jiu-jitsu so much more than our kickboxing, my answer is that I want my fighters to feel comfortable standing but only with the intention of getting the takedown. The jiu-jitsu we train is a complete jiu-jitsu. Our beginner program contains no sport specific takedowns. Every takedown lesson features an effective way to enter the clinch in a real fight and then execute one of several takedown options. Also at my academy, we almost always begin our rolling standing up. My students are training their takedowns in combination with their ground skills from day one. And our striking training virtually always blends with our takedown training.

What is our fight strategy?
Take as little damage standing as possible while setting up the takedown, execute the takedown, pass the guard and establish a dominant position, then look to control and finish the opponent.

How do we train?
We train to set up our takedowns by either executing our own strikes or by defending our opponent's strikes. We train to pass the guard. And we train to control the dominant position and finish the fight.

Our training and our fight strategy line up. This is the logical step for any fighter in MMA. A striker should train to defend takedowns, defend from the bottom and get up if possible, and look for the knock out standing. This is exactly how most strikers in MMA train. For jiu-jitsu to return to dominance in MMA, all jiu-jitsu fighters need to learn to remember where they came from and train accordingly.