Moving away from sport BJJ

So, I’m a first degree black belt who “grew up” in a IBJJF orientated school. Mostly Gi. Very competition focused.
I’d moved across from 20+ years of striking training and my focus has shifted since starting combat sports as a teen from a “wannabe badass” to someone who enjoyed the sporting aspect but want interested in “self defence.”

I’ve been running my own part-time gym since I got my black around 3 1/2 years ago.

Recently, I’m questioning where BJJ is going. I still love doing it, but it is moving further and further away from being about fighting.

I want to bring back more realism into our training.

I wasn’t around for the early days of BJJ and Vale Tudo being basically the same so have no experience to draw on.
I don’t want to start to piece together my (long forgotten) striking experience and turn my place into a bad MMA Gym where people can’t really grapple and can’t really strike.

Anyone give through this process before?
Any pointers?


IMO ADCC style comps are the future of BJJ. It seems like everyone is into no-gi these days.


Have at least one class (more would be better) where people actually put on MMA gloves and strike (lightly, of course), during training. This is a huge eye opener and really exposes the issues of sport BJJ.

Incorporate more wrestling-oriented techniques. Students need to train takedowns. They also need to train takedowns while avoiding strikes.

The biggest issue is that training like this can be hard, frustrating work. Most gyms are businesses and more people want to pretend to be bad asses rather than actually be bad asses. So you always run the risk of alienating the casual folks who are there for fitness, socialization, delusions of grandeur, the soccer moms, etc.

As someone who came up in, as you said, the “early days of BJJ and Vale Tudo being basically the same,” it’s amazing the mindset difference between then and now. Then you expected to use BJJ for fighting, you knew there weren’t any weight divisions, and that things like headbutts were allowed. Now you have guys who complain about a hard BJJ-only roll. I hate the direction that sport BJJ has gone, but it’s also the most most business-friendly.

Also, as Fast_Pitch insinuated, no gi is much more closely related to fighting and self-defense at this point than gi.


Good input, thanks guys.

Fortunately, my gym isn’t commercial. I’d like it to at least break even but even that isn’t a driving factor - my day job pays the bills. So I’m not worried about losing potential “customers.”

We do train allowing strikes on the ground occasionally. We should and will do it more. Using that as an example, although it tightens up my game I struggle to teach how to do it. Perhaps because I minimalise my game and take advantage of a large experience difference, I don’t feel confident (or actually, comfortable) teaching my guys on things that I am winging myself. But how do I get from doing ok through experience and bloodymindedness to bring proficient to the degree of being able to teach it?

I’ve seen to many people teach too much shit because it is a mishmash of what they know. I don’t want to be that guy. I also don’t want to become an MMA guy which I see as different from using BJJ realistically.

Are the old NHB videos where it is at for how BJJ should / used to be taught?

I remember Sperry showing de la Riva as an MMA guard on his instructional, so it definitely wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the old stuff. So many of the old techniques have fallen out of favor with the current MMA meta, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still effective.

As far as teaching vs. performing BJJ while using strikes, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think a lot of gyms do a very good job of instruction in this regard, even ones with pro fighters. I see UFC fighters all the time make incredibly bone-headed BJJ mistakes in the cage, and it’s obvious they do so because that’s how they were taught.

It’s also been my experience at many gyms that “MMA class” is really just code for regular no gi rolling. Which obviously isn’t MMA.

Instead of focusing on teaching specific techniques during this training, think about using your experience to express concepts and principles instead. Take when someone’s turtled for instance. Instead of putting hooks in and going for the RNC as BJJ typically teaches, guys should be maintaining top position and throwing strikes. There’s several ways to maintain this top position and several control points that can be used. Those specifics are less important than the idea of keeping top control and punching itself. And, of course, the guy turtled is going to try to stand up or roll escape. How can we stop that?

So it’s not really about teaching new techniques. It’s about adapting existing ones and creating a mindset that pairs well with striking.


Sport JJ is gay af. All martial arts should be self defense first imo.


I don’t think it takes too much to remind people that strikes and slams exist. Just explain that when you are teaching the technique or in a specific class. I’ve been hit way too much in the face and nose specifically in jiujitsu so I tend to protect myself as best as possible when rolling.

That said a lot of modern no gi I feel is the way to go. Just watch Gordon Ryan he can play guard but he prioritizes top position and dominating control. Craig Jones is more of a guard player but he has very good wrestling and defensive wrestling and he coaches a UFC champ. The style of the B team and New Wave squad is very solid and not ridiculous “sport” bs.

Watch Gordon’s match versus Couch. Yes he dramatically outweighed Couch but the series he was working thru a punishing wrestling series. Look at all the Daisy Fresh guys they are very old school with their training.

The fusion of wrestling and jiujitsu is becoming deeper in this new generation. Jay Rod hit a spectacular duck under to back control at this ADCC. I know people complain about the buggy choke but his buggy choke was especially nasty with knuckles in the throat to finish. That said we also saw someone get viciously KOed at ADCC for being far too committed to a buggy choke and forgetting the consequences of a slam.

I guess it depends what exactly you are trying to focus on because I think a lot of the successful modern no gi generation guys have styles that can be applied with strikes in mind as well.


As Soul_Gravy wrote, concepts and principles > techniques. Understanding the priority in a position/transition is paramount when it differs from sport BJJ’s priority (turtle example from SG).

I suggest focusing on positional sparring. What are the most common positions in an amateur fight? How do we encounter these positions thousands of times in training? Not by full on rolling - we have a day or week or month where we become incredibly comfortable in side control, mount, guard, etc., with strikes if desired.

Good luck!

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“Self defense” is a myth.

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You’re right. The best “sport BJJ” guys nowadays are using wrestling to control and dominate. The old points scoring positions of the IBJJF are not enough to win ADCC anymore.

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It’s come full circle as it does . Late 90’s early 2000’s most guys would fight for the take down and stand up if possible. Guard pulling was done after a stand up exchange , generally not first thing . It’s exciting grappling and I’m happy too see it . Gi needs to go back to it , would definitely make things more exciting and thus draw more eyes , more money etc .

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Ok let’s hear it…

By wrestling I mean more than just takedowns, I mean guys are using wrestling positions and strategies down on the mat to force their opponents to move certain ways. If you watch ADCC events you’ll see it’s gone way beyond BJJ strategies and techniques and is it’s own animal now.


Good for you man! What an impressive resume you have. If you had a school near me I’d check it out because I share a lot of your views.

I’ve tried to do my own garage class like the one you described. The grappling and striking were lower levels than your class but over all I thought it was a well rounded class.

Bottom line it’s what the consumer wants. While your class may embody what martial arts should be not many guys want to do high level mma. Either they want to do pajama fighting with no takedowns or stand and bang with no grappling. That is my experience anyway

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no gi / sub only is just as much of a game as ibjjf… loosely related to actual fighting but certainly not what youd do to get ready for fight… when two skilled grapplers fight it becomes a game and a very elaborate race to the whos going to edge out the other grappler huge mistake to think those ranges / techniques are going down in a fight

Visualize ., Justin Garcia or Gordon Ryan vs Ankalaev or Jon jones in a fight

OP, there are a LOT of BJJ BBs who feel the same way.

AND there are a lot of BJJ BBs who’s mind never really leaves the realm of pure sport BJJ. Just as with Judo, to them BJJ IS a sport. Period.

Nice thing is --much as with Russian Sambo-- there are different “flavors” of BJJ so these days people can hopefully find the “type” of BJJ training they want.

You’ll never convince anyone to change the way they look at BJJ, so I wouldn’t even try.

But I have noticed generally that the way one views BJJ DOES tend to change and evolve over the years. Not uncommon for people to even do a 180 in what they like.


Any opinions on Eddie Bravos competition with strikes?

Ebi combat jiujitsu is cute but again not a fight… speaking honestly most BJJ guys dont have major issues on the mat its taking it to the mat – takedowns and keeping it there —> get ups…

The EBI event doesn’t focus on either so you’d be much better off in combat sambo to prep for a fight… too much back in the day talk while everyone else is studying the good part of every style and reinventing themselves for a scrap BJJ guys are waiting for carlson to come back and give them the stamp of approval when really what made the style as powerful as it was when it came to the western light in the 90’s is the idea of taking the good and throwing the rest out … IBJJF and adcc are doing that and evolving well every year where as “orthodox jiujitsu” is still stuck on the 80’s and fight history.

look that russians sambo guys were always tough but sucked positionally in the early days of vale tudo… now you have killers coming outta the eastern block who can fight everywhere by being plugged into winning today not hero worship of the past

Self defense aspect can be dangerous because people get a false sense of confidence…how good is hand to hand combat vs a knife or gun or multiple opponents? Plus can be killed by KO hitting the street or just end up in jail. Sport is the way to go but I agree it should be grounded in realistic fighting style. Perhaps just need extra focus on takedowns/throws/sweeps and fitness/strength/size. Seems like muay Thai plum and dirty boxing compliment grappling well.

Also I saw video from Ryan hall how he teaches escaping side control by turning over like a wrestler as opposed to staying on your back to recover guard…top position being better in a fight I think.

Eye gouges and groin squeezes are also legit threats in self defense that I rarely see addressed. Headbutts, Hair pulling, finger breaking, fish hooking, biting? How about how hockey players pull shirt over opponent head in a fight, seems legit in street fight. Situational awareness is important like knowing when de-escalate or where to keep your hands during verbal confrontation (like hand under chin so it doesn’t look aggressive but could stop a punch/headbutt). Being aware of your surroundings is big like bas rutten self defense video where he picks up a chair to keep distance from opponent with a knife. How about wearing street smart clothing like tough shoes for savate like kicking and not flip flops.

How about carrying a knife somewhere? If self defense, as opposed to fighting, is really your concern then you might want to have a weapon. Learning a handgun disarm is really easy but I doubt I would ever have the guts to recommend it to someone. The classic Gracie self defense stuff is always good like if someone grabs you from behind or the knee kick like in UFC 1 actually could break or dislocate a knee if someone really did it (I don’t have the guts to think about doing that to someone but I know someone that did it in a fight and won it from that one kick to the knee)

I think it should be more of a mix of judo and bjj. Bjj needs more focus on takedowns/standup