Self-Defense vs. Sport Jiu-Jitsu at RGA Pittsburgh

Self-Defense vs. Sport Jiu-Jitsu at RGA Pittsburgh

I’m reposting this, which was originally a question from someone looking at our school for the first time. I’ve edited it a little and added some things. The question was: “Does your school focus more on sport or self-defense?” It is a good question and I had to reflect on it some before writing an answer. There are schools that focus on one or the other, if not exclusively then at least they state one or the other as a focus. For example, Gracie Torrence states that the main goal of their jiu-jitsu is self-defense. I think Alliance would be on the other end of the spectrum. There are both great schools and, although I have trained with students from both, I have never been at either school for a class. Below is what I feel is the focus of our school. Individual members may have a different focus. Hopefully the response will give you a better idea of what our guiding principals are at Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh.


Sorry that it took me a while to respond. I saw your message when I was training in NYC and wanted to provide a more thoughtful answer than was possible on my Blackberry while sitting at a restaurant with other people.

I do not think we are really about competition or self-defense. What I think we emphasize is more like personal development. For example, use the following as an analogy: someone who enjoys mountain biking is not necessarily doing it for competition and may not use his bike as transportation to and from work. It is more of a game that the person derives challenge and other benefits such as health and camaraderie from.

The techniques of jiu-jitsu were developed from both sport and martial-craft/self-defense over the centuries. There has always been a co-mingling between the two different expressions of jiu-jitsu and more generally grappling. One of the modern geniuses of martial arts, Kano Jigoro, (founder of Judo), emphasized training/competing with a resisting opponent. He felt that this type of training was the only way to truly learn how to apply techniques even if they were martial or self-defense applications. Another way of saying this is that the only way to develop effective self-defense skills is to hone them in a competitive environment. This can be friendly competition among classmates among classmates or high-level international sport. The venue doesn’t matter. At Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh we adhere to this philosophy. Renzo Gracie (one of my teachers) believes this and has had extensive “street” experience and teaching experience with NYC and Rio De Janeiro special police units. Katas, or as we say in western martial arts, “shadow boxing” and drilling techniques is important but cannot, on their own, realistically make someone competent in a high pressure, real situation.

To answer your question in a more specific way, the techniques we teach/practice, especially in our beginners (“fundamentals jiu-jitsu classes”) will be effective outside the academy on the street or in entry-level competitions. They will give you a good base. You will not see “defense to a chair strike” or how to disarm a knife-wielding person. There are places which teach this. I do not think there is strong evidence that it really helps in life and death or seriously stressful situations. I feel that, as a black belt, I would be at a serious disadvantage against a sixteen year old kid with a five-inch blade. Furthermore, some of the benefits I would receive from my training would not be specific techniques. Some important benefits may be more body awareness and clarity of mind under stress. I do believe that I am safer and more confident due to my jiu-jitsu training and technique although this is tempered by understanding the limits of it. I hope this answered your question. See you in class.

– Warren