Is BJJ Good for Self Defense? Yes, Here’s How

In this article I tell you why Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) is the best martial art for self defense, and which BJJ techniques and strategies you should use in a street fight.

BJJ for self defense: headlock escape

What is Brazilian jiu jitsu?

Brazilian jiu jitsu is a self defense art and sport that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. 

It was popularized after having massive success in the first Ultimate Fighting Championships, winning fights against all other martial arts.

Why BJJ is great for self defense

BJJ is incredibly effective for self defense situations because:

  1. By bringing the fight to the ground, you limit the explosive power of your opponent
  2. BJJ has full violence scalability: it contains everything from harmless to lethal techniques
  3. You build up confidence through BJJ because you do full contact sparring every day when you train

In the rest of this post I outline how you can best use Brazilian jiu jitsu for self defense situations.

The best BJJ techniques for self defense

In terms of techniques you want to stick with basic moves for self-defence.

The 5 best BJJ techniques for self defense are:

  1. Single leg takedown. It’s one of the easiest takedowns, and you don’t necessarily have to follow your opponent to the ground.
  2. Mount. It’s a solid pinning position, and you can talk to your attacker to calm him down. You can also get up quickly.
  3. Rear naked choke. If you ever feel like you have to choke an opponent out, the rear naked choke is the safest to perform because you hide yourself behind your opponent. 
  4. Scissor sweep. If you’re ever on your back in a fight, it’s better to come on top. The scissor sweep let’s you come to mount, which is great.
  5. Triangle choke. If you’re ever on your back and you somehow can’t sweep, the triangle is the easiest submission to hit on untrained opponents, because it’s not at all intuitive to defend.

These are just a few examples. As long as you stick to basic moves (like the ones you learnt in your first year of jiu jitsu), you’ll be fine.

BJJ self defense strategy against 1 unskilled opponent

You perform a simple takedown such as a single leg or a double leg takedown.

Then you pass into the mount and sit up straight.

Most of the time, your opponent will calm down just from being pinned.

If not, you can do any or all of the following:

  • Keep crossface pressure until your opponent calms down
  • Americana your opponent
  • Ask a bystander to call the police
  • Punch your opponent endlessly
  • Get up and run away

(Actually, don’t do those last 3 in that order, that’s a very bad look for you….)

BJJ self defense strategy against 1 skilled striker

If they have only striking experience you’re basically going to do what Royce Gracie did to everybody in the first UFC:

  1. You perform a simple takedown (single leg or double underhook takedown)
  2. You mount
  3. You either:
    • Submit them from mount
    • Punch them until they give their back and then you choke them

Royce Gracie proved that self defense strategy is extremely effective against strikers.

BJJ self defense strategy against 1 skilled grappler

Jiu Jitsu also has the advantage against other grappling arts, such as in a BJJ Vs Judo or BJJ Vs wrestling situation.

If you are attacked by somebody with grappling experience (which seems quite unlikely, but ok) you still try your basic game plan: takedown to mount to submission.

The only difference is that because your opponent has grappling experience, he might take you down first.

Fortunately other martial arts don’t really focus on submissions and the ground game that much.

So if you get taken down, you’re going to be patient and avoid taking punches, and after a while you will either submit your opponent from your back or you will sweep and submit from top.

This is what Royce Gracie did against a huge wrestler (Dan Severn) and a judo guy in the first UFC.

BJJ self defense strategy against multiple opponents

Obviously, if you try to fight multiple opponents you are very unlikely to win, no matter how good you are. Even Bruce Lee would almost certainly get beat up if he fought 5 guys.

But, I used to think that striking arts are better against multiple opponents, and I don’t believe that anymore.

The striker’s game plan against multiple opponents would be to stay on the outside and pick guys off 1 by 1. But honestly, that’s never going to work. You’d have to be a pro boxer with knockout power and still you’d probably just get swarmed.

Now, doing BJJ against multiple opponents will also fail most of the time. But, John Danaher shares a strategy on his feet to floor dvd that gives me some hope. 

Danaher argues that in fighting situations against multiple opponents, you have to do as much damage as possible as quickly as possible.

And the most reliable strategy to do this is to:

  1. Pick up a single leg on 1 opponent
  2. Either:
    • Run them through a wall or window
    • Put them on the floor and kick them in the head immediately 

Of course, kicking people in the head is extremely dangerous and should only be done when you are in extreme danger yourself.

But for those life or death situations this is actually one of the only strategies that lets you neutralise opponents definitely and quickly enough.

Remember, I’m not saying this works most of the time. But it’s a better strategy than I’ve ever read anywhere else.

BJJ for de-escalating self defense situations 

One of the main upshots of Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that you can use it to scale down the intensity of a fight.

 if somebody grabbed you you could ask them on their back and break their arm.

Or you could just break the grip and disengage.

And you could do anything in between.

The biggest problem with arts like Krav Maga and boxing is that their minimal level of violence is pretty high.

A boxer can’t do much except punch somebody in the face.

Krav Maga can only teach you how to kick someone in the groin and poke their eyes out.

Neither of those is great if you want to avoid a full-fledged fight.

And neither allows you to defend yourself without hurting your opponent.

Whereas with jiu jitsu you can take somebody down and hold them down without hurting them and 90% of the time this will solve the situation as well.

BJJ Vs weapons

All martial arts are at a disadvantage against weapons. Especially if you’re fighting someonw with a ranged weapon at a big distance, you are chanceless.

Also, every martial art loses to knives at a small distance.

However, if you fight someone with a ranged weapon or a blunt striking weapon, you’re best off with a martial art that trains you to close the distance and gain control over your opponent’s arms. And that’s what BJJ teaches you.

Is BJJ good self defense for women?

Yes! All the self defense strategies I mentioned were performed by Royce Gracie. Granted, he’s a guy, but in the UFc he was much smaller than many of his opponents, and the strategies still work. BJJ focuses on leverage and technique rather than strength, which makes it the perfect self defense art for women.

How long before you can use BJJ for self defense?

You can use BJJ for self defense immediately. Everything you learn in your first class will be useful to you if you get into a street fight. And probably after about 1 year of BJJ training you will reliably beat unskilled opponents in street fights. 

Is BJJ the best martial art for self defense?

Yes. Its combination of full contact sparring, violence scalability and effectiveness against other martial arts makes BJJ the best martial art for self defense.

That being said, I think all other martial arts that include full contact sparring are also incredibly effective. And given that you’ll probably get attacked by an unskilled opponent anyway, they are all equally effective.

Final thoughts on BJJ for self defense

Let’s face it, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a very effective martial art for self defense and street fights, and it can also be a lot of fun. Mastery of a martial art is not only a great way to get fit and strong, it can also teach self-discipline, build confidence, and give you a way to focus your aggression. The training can help you to develop patience and focus, and learn how to control your body and mind. These are invaluable lessons not only for self defense but also for success in life.

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