SERIES: Ask a BJJ Black Belt #2

August 15, 2013 3:46 pm by Sean McClure

This week asks Gracie BJJ black belt Dr. Brian Jones about wrestling and wrestlers in jiu jitsu.

Why do you think strong wrestlers neglect jiu jitsu more often than not?

In the context of mixed martial arts there are many paths to victory. The fighters that enter MMA from a strong wrestling background have been conditioned to avoid positions that jiu-jitsu considers fundamental. A good wrestler has a difficult time breaking the habit of going to his back and working guard. If he didn’t he wouldn’t be a good wrestler. Considering that the whole point of MMA is to win, the strong wrestlers will tend to focus on their strengths and this will often steer them away from jiu-jitsu.

Would you prefer to have someone with a wrestling background or a “blank canvas” so to speak with no prior training as a student?

I really don’t have a preference. Many students have come to me over the years with a wrestling background and I’ve developed a method for finding out what they are good at and tweaking it so that they can use it in a jiu-jitsu context. For the tabula rasa students, it is more a matter of building up their fundamentals of mat mobility, stability, and base. Neither one is better than the other but they will end up with distinctly different styles of jiu-jitsu.

Do you find people with great takedown defense work less on BJJ submissions and more on positions to stand back up? Why would someone not add another path to victory to their arsenal?

MMA is a sport rather than a martial art or style. It is simply a set of rules. One can be successful as a fighter using a variety of different skill sets. It is a sound strategy for a strong striker or wrestler to play the “brawl and sprawl” or “ground and pound” game, standing up whenever possible against good jiu-jitsu fighters. In the gym, they can work on whatever they want but when game time comes they need to play their strongest hand. It would be difficult for someone with no BJJ background to train enough to play the submission game with a strong jiu-jitsu and be successful, just like it would be if a BJJ specialist tried to stand up and kickbox with a world class striker.

Chael Sonnen has great takedowns and poor submission defense by most accounts. What is it that stops someone from working on something like that? Do you believe it is a belief that they will always end up on top from experience?

Sonnen is a world class wrestler, fighter, and all-around athlete. He’s also a world class trash talker and showman. I’m not sure his or his coaches’ training philosophy, but it would make sense to me for him to develop a solid submission defense. Sweat, lack of shirts, fatigue, strikes, and sometimes blood make it more difficult to get submissions from the bottom. But the potential to get caught is always there. Sonnen will most likely end up on top during the fight, but to assume he will always bypass the guard when getting the takedown is somewhat naïve. It makes sense to have solid submission defense when working a ground and pound style game.

What other areas has jiu jitsu creeped in to that you have seen? Defensive tactics and the like?

Jiu-jitsu has become a worldwide phenomenon. From the anti-bullying programs to police and military, it has changed the way people train martial arts. Regarding the specific defensive tactics issue, it is imperative that law enforcement officers get some training in jiu-jitsu. This is especially true from the defensive standpoint. The proliferation of BJJ and MMA gyms mean there are many young people with real fighting skills and not all of them are law-abiding. Police attempting an arrest run the risk of serious injury or death if they don’t know some fundamentals.

Brian Jones has been studying martial arts for over twenty years. He is a first degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Carlson Gracie Jr. and a black belt in Judo under Donald Leach. Brian has trained and continues to train with a number of outstanding instructors including Helio Soneca, Michael O’Donnell, and Aaron Little. In addition to BJJ and Judo, Brian has experience in many other martial arts including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, and Kenpo. He has even traveled to Iceland to train in the traditional viking grappling art of Glima.

In addition to martial arts training, Brian has extensive education and experience in exercise and fitness. He has a PhD in Exercise Science from the University of Kentucky and is a full-time college professor. Brian is the Kentucky state director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and a Fellow and Faculty member in the Institute of Martial Arts and Sciences (IMAS). He is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting certified Club and Sports Performance Coach, Crossfit Level 1 Coach, World Kettlebell Club (WKC) certified fitness trainer, and certified Functional Movement Specialist (FMS).

Brian has worked with clients of all types in fitness, martial arts, and combatives contexts. He has served as a strength and conditioning coach for high school, college, and professional athletes. Brian has trained military personnel and law enforcement officers and tactical units in both fitness and defensive tactics.

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