What’s the best martial art for self defence?  This is a query we get asked quite a lot so I asked Tiago (one of our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts) for his response.  Silviu (our Boxing and Sambo Instructor), Jeremy, (our MMA Coach), and Aaron (our Muay Thai Coach) may have different ideas!

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

I always get asked about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and self defence by people when I tell them to try BJJ or when they come to LFF for the first time. What most people don’t know is that BJJ didn’t start off as a sport, but as a method of self defence.

Martial arts are excellent sports to watch and a good way to get in shape.  However, they take on greater value when used for self defence.  Let’s take a look at Jiu Jitsu for anyone interested in protecting themselves from attackers.  Jiu Jitsu is a true hybrid of techniques and incorporates grips, strangles and joint locks.  It also teaches you how to control your centre of gravity against that of any attacker.  So, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is good for self defence but it’s not designed exclusively for self defence.

In theory, all Jiu Jitsu is premised on the concept that a smaller opponent can defeat a less skilled, larger and stronger one by utilizing leverage and skill.  In essence, Jiu Jitsu grappling techniques can neutralize this larger opponent, not withstanding their longer reach or better strikes.  In this way, BJJ is a form of self defence but – just how good a form of self defence – is another question as it depends on the context.

Sport Versus Self Defence 

Not all Jiu Jitsu is created equal and it can be split into two camps: sport and self defence.  There is an important distinction to understand between the “sport” of Jiu Jitsu and Jiu Jitsu’s application in the self defence arena.

The differences between each style can sometimes feel like splitting hairs.  For example, ‘Gracie Jiu Jitsu’ as taught by Rener Gracie and family, would typically fall under the self defence banner through programmes such as the Gracie Combatives Programme.  Other styles, such as combat Jiu Jitsu might be better classified as competition or sport Jiu Jitsu – despite the rules allowing striking.

Most commonly, Jiu Jitsu is practiced for competition.  In competitions and tournaments, there are clearly defined rules and regulations designed to keep participants safe.  Plus, of course, there is no striking in Jiu Jitsu competitions.  Hence, what you practice rolling on the mat is not necessarily going to translate well to a real life fight.

Self defence Jiu Jitsu, unlike sport Jiu Jitsu, is focused on understanding how to defend yourself in a ‘no rules’ scenario.  Therefore, while the fundamental techniques are the same, the approach and goals are completely different between self defence Jiu Jitsu and sport Jiu Jitsu.


It’s probably safe to say that no martial art is perfect or ‘right’ for each situation.  Even its biggest proponents would admit that Jiu Jitsu does not have all the answers.

However, despite any perceived limitations, I think that Jiu Jitsu, whether it has a sport or self-defense focus, offers a value unparalleled by other martial arts when it comes to learning self defence.

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