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Striking techniques in Jujitsu


Ever since the start of the Brazilian Jujitsu craze in the United States, a common misunderstanding is that Jujitsu is literally a grappling or ground fighting only art. This is simply not true. So you may ask; why are these techniques not included in Jujitsu anymore? The answer is that they are still included in some Jujitsu systems. It is just the most popular commercial and competitive styles that seem to have all but eliminated effective striking techniques. Unfortunately, other techniques that are often taught in conjunction with strikes such as effective blocking, slipping, evading, parrying, and more are also left out of most Jujitsu curriculum today. It does not take much research to see the importance of such techniques as these if one has ever been in or seen any real life attacks. The bottom line is this: Striking techniques are Integral and necessary to the overall effectiveness of jujitsu and self-defense in general.


If, in fact, striking is not effective, why is it that most real self-defense situations end by a well-focused blow to the head? Most real life attacks also start with full force blows aimed at your head. Not being hit before you get a chance to pull off you most elaborate, multi faceted, ultimate UFC, spinning flip move, should be of the utmost importance. One important fact to remember is that the brain controls your entire body. Once jarred with sufficient force, it shuts off (unconsciousness). Watch a Boxing match to see the effectiveness of blows to the head. This is not to say that striking to the head should be the only focus of your training. The point here that should be considered in a realistic system of self-defense is that; a properly executed blow to the head can be very effective as well as striking to other vulnerable targets on the body. In contrast, being hit by such blows can also incapacitate you as well hence, you must be trained to avoid such techniques coming at you! When I was in high school many years ago, I had a good friend who was a boxer. I personally witnessed him knock-out at least six individuals in real fights over a few year period. These fights never lasted more than a couple of seconds before ending in a knockout for my friend. Looking back on these conflicts now, I realize that all of these fights were avoidable. I am sure it was because of our teenage egos that they ever occurred. This should not be understood that I believe boxing is the best style for self-defense either. However, because of the training methods, and full force contact in boxing, I would take one of these individuals with me in battle before many other so-called “Martial Arts Masters”. Nevertheless, the point here is that striking worked very well for him in real fighting. When I would ask him how he could win so easily, he would usually respond by telling me “they just attack and do not protect themselves”. Later after studying Martial arts, I realized what these things truly meant. The first thing I understood was that just the act of attacking in itself leaves an opening for a counter attack. A trained fighter is aware of this and does not want to expose himself to the counter by making over extended offensive maneuvers. The next thing I understood was that a skilled fighter will only attack or counter attack when they perceive their opponent to be exposed. Dropping ones guard to strike only when there is the least chance of exposing oneself and then quickly returning to a guarded position. This is the essence of self-defense people! If everyone in an attack knew how to protect him or herself, they would just stand there with their guards up not wanting to make an opening for the other to exploit. If self-defense situations happen with both opponents ready and protected, why is it that most self-defense experts agree that most fights last less than 5 seconds in duration? This is also, why in sport competitions it is so hard for equally matched opponents to defeat one another. In a self-defense situation, if the attacker does not attempt to apply an offensive tactic, you are not under attack. (Save for firearms). If you ever see a Judo competitor charge his opponent, it would be the quickest match in history! They know better! The same can be said for a boxing match if one of the combatants just ran around the ring swinging blindly with no defense. It would not take the other boxer very long to see the proper way to dispatch his opponent, and do so. Attackers usually just come at you full force and are not concerned about possibly giving you an opportunity to counter their attacks. In a real attack, you will be beaten or, successfully defend yourself within a VERY SHORT TIME FRAME. Being attacked by a highly skilled fighter is almost an oxymoron. Trained fighters fight!  They do not attack! They use a combination of offense and defense being cautious of being countered. I have seen several trained fighters take a challenge to fight, but as I said before, this is not an attack or a self-defense situation.



I believe that many grapplers do not have faith in striking techniques because of several reasons:

When practicing in class the only way that they can win against another student is by submission. What does this mean exactly? This means that you cannot maim or cripple another student in class by striking to the eyes, throat, groin, ears, elbows, knees, and more. In addition, you cannot expect to have any students left after letting them crush each other’s skulls with such blows. Therefore, submission fighting is the only way you can practice more aggressively while lowering the likelihood of major injuries, to win in the dojo. Thus, students of the grappling styles will inadvertently always go for a takedown in class to end the contest, even when many of their instructors teach them that they should never willingly go to the ground in a real situation. I have seen this for many years with my own students. What do you do in an attack after you have applied a submission hold? Will they not just get up and attack again? (This time being angrier than before?)  What if more than one person is attacking you? In the heat of battle is NOT the time to contemplate these things. When I ask my students why they always go for the takedown in class to test their strategy, the answer I receives is always “how else can I win in class standing without striking full force?”  They are correct! Another commonly overlooked dilemma is that; if you students are properly trained to fall, throwing will have no effect on your opponent in the dojo either. This usually lessons the students’ expectations of the effectiveness of a throw on an untrained Jujitsu/Judo opponent. Because they are programmed in class to go for the takedown to end the fight on the ground, instinctively they will always do the same in a self-defense situation and ignore obvious opportunities to end the confrontation standing. This includes ignoring opportunities to end the conflict using strikes, throws, chokes, joint dislocations, or many other techniques. In class, strikes, throws, and many other techniques are much harder to enact then on an untrained attacker. Students in the dojo train specifically to defend against the same techniques that they learn to apply. This causes the trained Jujitsu practitioner to have less respect for the techniques that are the hardest to make work on another classmate. The bottom line is this: you cannot always judge the effectiveness of a technique for self-defense by comparing it to the difficulty to apply it on another highly trained fighter of the same style.  With this said, I have had to defend myself for real several times in my life after being Jujitsu trained. In every case, I used simple focused striking techniques and/or full judo-type throws. Many judo throws are very easy to resist with little training. In addition, most striking techniques can be easily blocked with little training. Keeping this in mind, one of the most surprising realizations after using my jujitsu training for real was that none of my opponents tried to avoid my techniques. They reason they could not avoid my techniques was not necessarily that they did not have the ability to do so; it was because their attacks set themselves up for my counter. Their attack itself was the cause of there own failure. I know what you are thinking! What if they were highly trained?  If they were highly trained, they would not have attacked me in a manner in which they would have no defense. As I stated earlier, just attacking itself leaves an opening so yes, if a trained fighter attacks full force like an untrained fighter, he is leaving an opening for the counter. You cannot attack someone without an initial offensive technique (attack). If a trained fighter stood in front of me with his guard up, waiting for me to do something so he could counter it; he would have a long wait. Just because I believe that in most cases a martial artist will have a distinct advantage in real combat (real martial artists that train for self-defense I should say), this is no excuse to wimp out on training. You will never know what the skill level will be of an assailant or, the exact circumstances you may encounter; therefore, you should always train to expect the worst. Training in the dojo for self-defense must simulate as close as possible the ways that real street attacks happen no matter what style of Martial Art is studied.


Most grapplers also ignore striking techniques because many of us have seen Karate fighters lose in real fights. This is NOT because striking is not effective. I personally know Karate instructors that can and have defended themselves using their chosen art very well. These individuals understand self-defense and have practiced Karate with this being the only purpose for training. They are rare however. Karate practitioners usually fail because of the training methods used in most martial arts schools like:



Too much kicking can also be a problem. To land kicks effectively you must remain at a distance where hand strikes cannot be used. Therefore, these fighters cannot produce an effective hand, elbow, or knee blow at close range; they are simply not used to striking at close distances or hitting anything for that matter. If their kicking techniques are ineffective or an assailant closes the distance before they know he is coming, they will have to fight at this distance. YOU MUST BE ABLE TO FIGHT HERE! These fighters also (in most cases) will not have very powerful hand strikes at all. Additionally, if you practice a striking only style, you had better train to avoid a takedown effectively if you know you cannot fight on the ground. Street fighters with no martial arts training still know how to “ground and pound you.” All of us grapplers have heard the same old statements from striking only practitioners like “I can keep anyone from grappling with me” and “I will not end up on the ground”. I always hoped that because most street fights go to the ground, the striking only crowd would admit that this is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE! The grappler WANTS to be at this close range! Consequently, a good grappler that can also strike effectively from a close distance is very dangerous. In addition, from close in, the grappler has everything else in his arsenal ready to apply from here as well. I will give some examples of striking from close range:




As you can see here, there is only one closed fist technique. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that closed fist strikes to the head, can and WILL break your hands. Sure, all of us would probably sacrifice a broken hand while successfully defending ourselves. However, if one of your first punches breaks your hand and the attacker is still coming at you, you will have to defend yourself with a broken hand. The second reason is that there is not sufficient room to generate full punches in a grapple. The vertical fist can be throne from very close in because of the direction of attack while grappling.


You can also see that there are very few kicking techniques listed and none are high kicks. Here are some of the reasons for this. Other than knees and low kicks to the groin or knees, kicks must be thrown from farther away. This is obviously, because our legs are substantially longer than our arms. As a result, the grappler can not apply them from close in. The use of high kicks for self-defense is also not very practical because of MANY reasons. Where do I start with this? Balancing on one leg is not conducive to staying on your feet. This is especially important to avoid doing if you cannot defend yourself on the ground. It is very hard to protect yourself leaning back off balance, especially your groin and the one leg you are standing on. You have to be farther away to throw them than hand strikes, and these types of kicks do not set up any follow-up techniques well. I have been called on this opinion on countless occasions from the high kicking crowd. After being annoyed at this obvious lack of understanding in the concepts of balance, distance, focus, and self-defense from these individuals, I have developed my standard response to these people, which is this. Bruce Lee was an exceptional Martial Artist. I have read all of his books many times. Even though he was more of a striker than a grappler, this makes my point even more valid I believe. Anyone that believes that Bruce Lee was not one of the best strikers of all time is mistaken. Just reading his books should prove his deep understanding of the physics involved in proper striking, balance, and MANY other principles. He has said MANY TIMES that he would not use high kicks for real to defend himself. His opinion is for the same reasons that I have listed above. If Bruce Lee would not use high kicking to defend himself for real, what makes these individuals think that they could? Do they think they can kick better than the Little Dragon? I doubt it! These high, spinning, flipping kicks simply go against the basic principles of the Martial Arts and self-defense in general.


The Jujitsu practitioner usually differs from the striking only Martial Artist as far as striking techniques are concerned. Because Jujitsu is primarily a grappling art, strikes are used mainly while at close range and as a means to an end. This is to say that many times they are used to loosen a grip, reposition an attacker for a throw, or many other reasons.  In addition, most grapplers do not expect to end the conflict with striking only. However, if the opportunity arises in a real situation to end the conflict on your feet, why not take it? Even if your blows do not incapacitate the attacker, just stunning or injuring him will make any techniques that follow much easier to execute.


If you still do not believe that striking is an important part of self-defense training, take this challenge. Ask someone in your dojo to walk up and grab you in any manner they wish. Front choke, lapel grab, wrist grab, etc. Tell them to hold on with full force and totally resist your attempts to apply a throw, escape, or joint locking technique, but have them stand in one place. Without using any striking techniques, try to enact an escape, joint lock, throw or any counter. Your “uh oh” light bulb should go on. It should be tremendously obvious that this task is not as easy as you thought it would be from practicing with cooperative partners. Next, if you are successful in applying a defense to this particular attack. Start from the beginning but this time allow your attacker to move around the room if they wish including, pushing and pulling you. Also, let them strike you with one hand as they hold on with the other. While trying to enact a defense your “uh oh” light bulb” should be ready to explode. If you can successfully get to this third step, add the next challenge. Because an attacker is likely to be bigger than you are, this time, pick someone bigger and stronger than you are and follow the above steps. I promise that even a seasoned grappler will feel that something is wrong as to why this is so difficult, especially since Jujitsu techniques are supposed to work with the least amount of strength. I will fill in the blanks for you. MANY Jujitsu and Aiki Jujitsu techniques did and should include atemi waza (striking to vital targets) if necessary to make them work properly. To find them in most Jujitsu schools today is a rarity. I do not mean Karate schools that teach a few Jujitsu techniques, I mean real Jujitsu dojos. If you try the above exercise again striking your partner lightly to the groin, nose, solar plexus etc, you will be amazed at the proficiency in which you can now apply your defensive maneuvers. It simply, works too well to not be correct! Sometimes you must take the initiative to go back to the source of your chosen art to find the answers or, experiment a little when things do not make sense. Many things disintegrate over time once they have been passed down many times. Some of the biggest changes in the Martial Arts were made intentionally for sporting purposes, which have no business in the self-defense realm.


 Thinking in a ground fighting, submission only mind set for self-defense is a mistake. In contrast, striking should not be looked at as an end all be all either. If striking is used in the context of self-defense, it plays a very important role and should not be overlooked. Yes it is hard to hit other students in the dojo with striking techniques while sparring however; this is not the context in which it is going to be used. Do not dismiss techniques because they do not work well in a fantasy (Dojo Only) situation. Only when one understands what they are trying to accomplish and, what is involved in meeting that goal, can the tools be evaluated for efficiency. Only strikes that make sense, practiced properly, delivered effectively, accurately, and work in conjunction with the other techniques and principles of self-defense will be of any benefit for defending oneself.


Jim Barry

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute

Budokai South Defensive Arts Institute
Minami Budo Ryu
Ju Jitsu / Aiki Jujitsu / Judo / Self Defense
Aiken, SC
Phone: (843) 864-3125
Email: newtobudokai@gmail.com

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