Rolling With (the) Punches

Rolling With (the) Punches

One of the greatest realizations a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner can experience is through the participation in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training. The riches MMA provides goes way beyond the obvious of developing a well-rounded set of self-defense skills.

I’m speaking very specifically to how MMA can help a typical, dedicated BJJ student develop a much deeper overall understanding of the art they love so much. To tap into the essence of how Jiu Jitsu is performed in a combat environment is to tap into the raw power of the most effective martial art on the planet.

The biggest problem is that MMA just isn’t for everyone.

It is still possible to reap all the rewards and lessons MMA has to offer if students set aside some gym time to roll with trusted friends with punches. Obviously, I’m not suggesting going back to the old Vale-Tudo days of bare-knuckle mayhem. Everyone participating in this type of hybrid training needs to wear all the proper safety equipment such as a mouthpiece and some 7-ounce MMA gloves often called “teardrop gloves.”

I say trusted friends because nowhere in the lesson should anyone be trying to knock out or injure their training partner. As crazy as it sounds, this type of training should always be done in what I like to call “good fun” and if done so can be very invigorating to one’s Martial Arts spirit.

Instantly, most students, regardless of belt level, will feel like a fish out of water.

The distinction between sport BJJ and MMA BJJ are literally felt instantly. This is a tremendously important distinction for all BJJ students to further understand how to optimally defend themselves in street fight or when attacked.

Like we’ve heard so many times in our journey, it all comes down to the basics.

A strong emphasis on basic Jiu Jitsu is the key to not taking damage and imposing your will instead of the exact opposite occurring. The level of faith in basic Jiu Jitsu going forward, in my opinion, can not be achieved on this type of level in any other way and will pay unmeasureable dividends to the entire journey.

The true gem of this type of training is in the deeper level understanding of how the mere timing itself of all Jiu Jitsu techniques can be so powerful it can almost appear to be magical. I would love to sit here and explain exactly what the magic is, but to truly witness what I am speaking of you have to go out and experience it yourself.

I can shed some light, however, on what I’m talking about and hopefully intrigue everyone enough to go out and buy a new mouthpiece and gloves.

A question I love to ask students to further understand their perspective and insights to Jiu Jitsu is the following scenario: you are starting in bottom mount and we’re rolling with punches. How do you get out and what’s your first line of defense to protect your face from being pounded to oblivion?

Most students naturally think that defense from punches lies in the blocks learned in your first few classes:

The old “grab the crown of your head and tuck your elbow into your face.”

I always emphasize that such blocks are always the last line of defense and nowhere near the first. The first line of defense in every single position, for every single technique is how you position yourself according to what is being presented to you.

I always finish the discussion with the following tidbit so they can take what I’ve said and reflect on it on their own schedule. If I am mounted and we are rolling with punches and I time every technique properly, I will absolutely escape this scenario any other scenario presented without a single punch being thrown, let alone landing to cause damage. Not only that, but if my opponent chooses to throw a punch under my circumstances presented, they will be handing me an effortless escape as they should by the shear nature of BJJ be trying to hold the position as their first priority.

Contemplate this scenario and realize that if you can escape this scenario untouched, what can the power of proper timing provide you in your sport Jiu Jitsu development? No matter how much you think you understand already, all the chokes in the world will not provide the depth of understanding of a few simple punches to the face.

My advice? Get out there and roll with some punches.

Author: Patrick Applegate is a Gracie Barra blackbelt and has been teaching since 2006.

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Patrick Applegate