The Difference Between MMA and Self-Defense

By Ben Leven

There is a difference between self-defense and combat sports. Learning self-defense is a somewhat modern concept. The tactics that are taught in various self-defense classes were extracted from warfare – killing techniques if you will. Over the years, self-defense has evolved, as different arts and ideas were exchanged. There are hundreds of different forms of self-defense, many of which share similar ideals to one another.

Self-defense styles such as; Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Muai Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were molded together to give us MMA. MMA employs various striking and grappling techniques from those styles and many others. However, MMA was designed to be a sport, not combat, even though MMA is technically a combat sport. When I say sport I mean this; two willing participants agree to have a fair fight based on a given set of rules and regulations. When I say combat, this is what I mean; I’m going to ambush you in a dark alley, slit your throat and take your money with six of my friends. Bottom line: what works in combat sports usually does not work on the streets.

I am going to be completely honest; if I want to learn how to be the next great MMA fighter of the world, I would learn from the current best MMA fighter in the world. If I wanted to learn how to defend myself in a real combat situation, I would go to a person who deals with that on a regular basis, such as a police officer, a paramedic or a soldier. I really don’t care how many fights the best MMA fighter in the world has under his belt, if he has no street fighting experience I won’t learn self defense from him or her, but that’s me.

I believe there is a huge misconception that people have about MMA. People think that if you learn MMA or components of it, you can defend yourself against five or six attackers. That is simply not the case. MMA teaches you how to engage one and only one opponent. In my experiences, no one ever robs you on the street by themselves unless they have a gun or a knife. The thing about MMA is that there are predictable circumstances based on you and your opponent. On the streets, circumstances are almost completely unpredictable.

Relson Gracie said an interview with Connection Rio, that BJJ is essentially Brazil’s only means for self defense.

“Helio Gracie Jiu-Jitsu – that’s the only source in Brazil right now to teach self-defense.”

                “You don’t know self-defense, you don’t know Jiu-Jitsu.'”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a fine means of self-defense, but I don’t think it’s the best. I think it would be great for close quarters against a single opponent. Honestly though, when you throw two or three other elements in the scenario, that BJJ will go out the window and you will find yourself a victim of blind instinct.

Again, BJJ is a good means of self defense, but far from the only way. I think the most reasonable approach would be this: learn any means of self-defense that works for you, and find an intelligent way to apply it in a real world crisis situation.

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