Sport For Street’s Sake: Is Sportive Training Helpful For Self Defense And “Real” Fighting?

Ever notice that the people who decry sportive techniques are those who have never actually spent any time doing them?  Also, ever notice that some of the best MMA fighters come from a sportive wrestling, boxing or jiu-jitsu background?  The rule sets of all of these sports makes them ineffective as stand-alone arts and yet there are very few “self defense” practitioners at the top of the game.  The sport vs. street argument misses a key point…

Sport techniques are bad in “real life” situations, but the skills that are required to get good at those sportive techniques are actually kind of useful…

Let’s take a look at the Berimbolo for example… Arguably the most sportive and non-self-defense-oriented technique in the game.  What exactly is a Berimbolo?  It’s a sweep from De La Riva guard that ultimately translates into a back take.  In order to Berimbolo well, one needs to understand how to off balance an opponent, and work around to the back.  I want all of you “street” guys to go ahead and try to Berimbolo someone the next time you roll.  If you fail, you probably shouldn’t talk about the technique…

Related: These Are The Most Effective BJJ Moves For A Street Fight


The journey not the destination…


The truth is that what makes jiu jitsu practitioners so tough aren’t their specific techniques, but rather the innate understanding of distance management and leverage.  Boxers use the speed bag to develop hand eye coordination and rhythm, but you never see them punch the way they hit the speed bag.  Similarly, wrestlers and judokas will often go belly down to prevent the pin, but if you ever watch a wrestler or judoka in an MMA fight they rarely go belly down…

Sport techniques, strategies and concepts aren’t necessarily detrimental to one’s ability to manage in a real life altercation, and more importantly the skills are transferrable.

When a boxer hits a speed bag they’re developing certain kinds of coordination that then can be translated in a boxing match.  When a judoka or a wrestler goes belly down it is to prevent a certain position from occurring, and the ability to do that can translate into positional awareness in a fight.  Chances are neither would go belly down if taken down in a fight…

And when a sport jiujiteiro works on their Berimbolo or their donkey guard, they’re not committing to using those techniques if they ever get into a street fight, but rather are developing a certain kind of coordination and spatial understanding that only makes them more dangerous.  Ryan Hall hasn’t done too badly in his MMA career using sportive BJJ techniques.

Obviously sport techniques should always take a back burner to sound fundamentals, but on a high level can the two go hand in hand?  And if not, why not?


Is there a possibility that while these techniques in and of themselves would get you killed in a fight, the act of getting good at them while developing other skills actually makes jiu-jitsu competitors better fighters?

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio ( and teaching at Ground Up BJJ ( For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at and Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo ( discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company ( discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards ( discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van ( discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.


  1. Certain habits are really bad ideas in a real confrontation. Pulling guard is a great idea. Holding onto that guard when someone stands up? A recipe for getting slammed.

    Also, lots of sporty guards, DLR for example, lack the ability to effectively screen you from strikes. Sure, if you can off balance them quickly enough maybe that won’t matter…but remember that this is a real fight where you, the experienced jiujitsu player, have already found yourself on the ground. That means a bigger, stronger opponent, and maybe you’re not 100% what with having been hit in the face by a sucker punch or having just tripped over a bar stool.

    Sporty jiuijtsu and ‘meta-jiujitsu’ (guard passing for instance) aren’t wrong, but one has to take care not to mistake a really good sport bjj game for being all that useful in real life.

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