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Take Down or Stand Up? Why You Need to Learn Striking to Improve Your BJJ Game

“Are you a ground person or a stand up person?” This question used to be how fighters, grapplers, martial artists, wrestlers and other practitioners would identify and categorize others’ fighting style when mixed martial arts (MMA) was booming. However, today, that answer should not be limited to an “either or” answer, but rather “both.” It doesn’t help you in a fight if you are a “ground” person, but cannot take a punch nor help if you only know striking and get taken down. Even if one internally identifies him/herself as a “ground person,” it is still necessary to know how to strike to effectively defend against it.

Most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners do little to zero stand up striking when training. Obviously, this is because BJJ as a sport is meant to go to the ground and is a form of grappling instead of striking. That is, BJJ is more about putting an opponent into a specific position for a submission rather than hitting or kicking that person. Additionally, it is very clear to see why so many BJJ athletes would rather practice BJJ rather than kickboxing: injury. With BJJ the risk of injury is much lower than stand up striking because fighters can more easily control the pace of the match and can “tap” to signal submission before receiving serious injury. With boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do, those luxuries are not necessarily present. For a striker to control the pace, that usually involves moving around the ring rather than grabbing and holding. Furthermore, strikers cannot simply “tap” before receiving the punch or kick. Additionally, constant blows to the body cause more damaging and targeted impact which can be off putting to anyone who is used to grappling.

However, a truly well rounded BJJ athlete does practice striking to enhance their ground game. By understanding the mechanism of how different punches and kicks are thrown and when to spot those moves, a BJJ athlete can shut down an opponent’s game much faster than if unaware of how to strike. For instance, when The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) came onto the scene, Royce Gracie decimated his competition without truly throwing any major punches or kicks. By studying how strikers initiated attacks, Royce learned that most strikers prefer to take a step forward before unleashing a kick or a punch. So to combat making the match a stand up game, Royce would start by hopping toward his opponents with his left foot up as if to do a left push kick. This simple strategy allowed him to move his opponent back, which stopped them from throwing any strikes to Royce. As soon as they moved back, Royce went in to take them down and to got the match to the ground. 

Similarly, when another major MMA event, Pride Fighting Championships, exploded in Japan, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (a.k.a. Minotauro) studied strikers to submit them on the ground. If you watch his matches, Nogueira had no problem going on his back and into the guard position for MMA matches. While most fighters are always taught that being on top is better when it comes to ground game, Nogueira often played an open guard (i.e. legs wrapped around an opponent’s waist, but ankles not locked) game. However, he would control the threat of his opponent’s punching by grabbing both of their wrists. By controlling their wrists, Nogueira prevented his opponents from connecting their punches with his face and it allowed him to push back their arms so that he could land different BJJ submissions such as triangle chokes and arm bars. As a result, Nogueira claimed the Pride heavyweight championship.

Indeed, while striking and grappling are different martial art forms, they can be very complimentary of each other. Learning how to strike can improve grips and positioning for BJJ in that it allows one to not only control the current actions of an opponent, but also to prevent any damaging future actions. By taking the time to invest in understanding the mechanics of striking, a BJJ practitioner can come out with a greater BJJ game.

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