What is most efficient for newcomers to unarmed self-defense: Krav or BJJ?

Foreword by Evan Carson “I recently asked Aaron Jannetti from Columbus, OH, whom I met at the 2012 Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference during the FitShot Coach Certification Course that we took, to write on a topic that he is passionate about and an issue that I thought a lot of people have questions about. Especially people that carry a gun for self defense and have realized that combatives/unarmed defense should be an important part of there training regimen. Then the question becomes, Where should I spend my resources? and on what?”

Before we dive into this topic, two things need to be covered. First and foremost, who am I to talk about this topic? My name is Aaron Jannetti, I am a black belt instructor in Krav Maga, a striped blue belt in BJJ, a defensive firearms coach under I.C.E. Training and an avid practitioner of various other martial arts and defensive tactics systems. I have a box stocked full of training diplomas and certifications and frankly none of them really matter. I know plenty of certified people in the industry who are a disgrace to what we do, and I know even more non-certified instructors who I’d trust my family’s lives with. I train with a lot of people in various fields, study a lot of material and constantly seek the best knowledge for my students, even if that means going back on something I said in the past. A lot of people may not agree with what I’m about to say, but that’s fine, I respect everyone’s opinion, this one is mine. Secondly, this article is NOT to say one style is better than the other overall, this is a discussion of which system suits someone with little to no close-quarters experience, in the context of real world defense. PERIOD.

When you go in search of Martial Arts or Self Defense training, you have to make sure you search in the context of your life, your needs and your goals. Krav Maga is without a doubt the best overall option for self defense training. Whether or not you have had any prior firearms, edge weapon or close quarters training or whether you are simply looking to learn how to defend yourselves and your loved ones, Krava Maga . If you don’t know much, or anything at all about Krav Maga, let me give you a quick explanation. The system was developed by a man named Imi Lichtenfeld who was tasked with the duty to train the new Israeli military shortly after WWII. With his in-depth experience fighting in both domestic and military battles, he developed a very practical defense system that is based off your body’s natural instinctive responses. Given the short and immediate time constraint of training a new military comprised of men and women of all walks of life and ages, this system had to be easy to learn, easy to remember and more importantly actually work under the stress of real world violence. The system has continually adapted over its brief history and still to this day holds some of the most currently tested ideals, techniques and concepts for defending yourself.

In Krav Maga we teach a series of overall concepts that can be adapted from one scenario to the next, as opposed to 1,000 techniques that need to be learned for specific situations. By teaching concepts versus techniques this allows you to utilize the same amount of training to adapt your body to a realistic fight standing up, in a confined space, in a car, on the ground, etc. We are teaching you to endure a fight that can have a million variables. Inside of the system of Krav Maga we also teach ground fighting which is derived from techniques from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coupled with the strikes and concepts of the system overall. Remember, Krav Maga was originally created out of necessity. The ideas and movements were adapted from prominent systems like boxing, kickboxing and BJJ (to name a few) and these movements were broken down to simple components stripped of all of the pomp and circumstance. We teach you how to fight on the ground if you end up there, whether voluntarily or not. You must learn to maintain or gain control of the threat quickly, aggressively and efficiently, this way you can respond appropriately to your goal or duty in that moment. If you find yourself alone, your best option is most likely to get to your feet and escape to safety as quickly as possible. If you are with your loved ones, it may be in your best interest to use a third leverage point (i.e. wall, dumpster, car, ground) to keep the threat from reaching your family. What you have to understand is there are NO ABSOLUTES in training for self defense. Attackers may travel in pairs or groups, carry guns and knives, and are not interested in your life or well-being. I firmly believe you need to learn to keep yourself standing in a fight. However, I am also a realist and know that some scenarios are best answered by going to the ground and you better know how to fight from the ground if you end up there. If you find yourself on the ground, you need to know how to keep yourself in a dominant position and be able to escape that scenario as quickly as possible. In Krav Maga that is always our main focus, escape safely and as quickly as possible.

I know what you’re thinking, “Sure sounds like he’s biased to Krav Maga!” For the context of overall general self defense, I firmly believe that if you can find a competent reliable instructor, the system cannot be beat. That being said, when it comes to mastering the art of control, manipulation and movement on the ground, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best options. I’ve been quoted, on several occasions, saying “If you believe BJJ is a well rounded self defense system, you are an idiot, but if you don’t respect BJJ as one of the most effective tools for learning ground fighting and improving your self defense training, you are also an idiot.” Please remember, I teach grappling classes at my gym in Ohio. I actively train with a black belt and brown belt instructor and have trained with several others. I’ve competed in tournaments. I LOVE BJJ. I love it for what it is. It’s a great sport and an amazing tool to further develop your ground fighting and truly master the art of controlling a person on the ground. Studying BJJ will help you to develop body control and awareness. It will develop your hip and body movement, it will teach you to use the weight of an opponent against them and get you to attack and defend locks, breaks and chokes. All of these are valuable skills in keeping yourself safe if an altercation ends up on the the ground.

With all of this taken into account, let’s remember the context of this article. If you want to learn how to protect yourselves and your loved ones against real world violence, you need to think about what that training will entail. How much time do you have to train? What resources are available to you? What are your handicaps/ability levels? What is your job? Are you armed or unarmed in certain scenarios? If you are only going to study and train one system, Krav Maga is an amazing resource to teach you how to fight standing up, on the ground and in confined spaces. You will learn both unarmed and armed defense, with a weapon you carry, they carry or an improvised object. You will learn concepts and movements that can be used to answer several problems as opposed to specific techniques geared towards specific scenarios. You will learn to not only deal with one threat, but multiple threats which is very likely. After spending some time training true defensive fighting, then you should absolutely look into training Jiu-Jitsu to supplement your training. You just need to keep in mind what may be “flash” and what can truly be used in real life.

You will hear both sides of the argument “All fights end up on the ground, so just learn to the fight there” and “You should learn to stay standing, you never want to go to the ground.” In a weird way, both arguments are true. A lot of fights do go to the ground and in most cases I don’t want to go to the ground, but the idea is not to train in either absolute. Train a system of defense that revolves around actual fighting skills that are adaptable to various scenarios. When you start to understand the true idea behind learning to survive a dynamic critical incident from a close quarters perspective, feel free to start fine tuning those specific areas. If the only system of unarmed fighting you know is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you are missing an ENORMOUS chunk of survival skills. My goal for this article is not to get you to run out and find the nearest Krav gym and blindly follow the instructor. My goal is to get you to understand why certain systems and instructors are better than others and to train efficiently and effectively to meet YOUR goals.

In my experience, training and research, I believe Krav Maga is one of the best systems, but if you don’t have immediate access to a quality Krav Maga facility, research self-defense systems in your area. Possibly couple together a good muay thai gym and bjj gym, which these days are on every corner. Find a great defensive firearms coach. Research videos and books. Learn to strike, grapple, shoot, stab, run fast, avoid, talk down and everything in between. Just make sure when you seek that training, you are always training in the context that fits you best and your duty to yourself, family and others.

Reputable Krav Maga Organizations:

United States Krav Maga Association

Krav Maga Alliance

Krav Maga Worldwide

Krav Maga Universal

International Krav Maga Federation

Suggested Books and Manuals:

Complete Krav Maga by Darren Levine and John Whitman (a great overview of basic techniques used throughout the system along with some talk of concepts and theory)

Krav Maga by David Kahn (another overview of techniques)

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller (insight into real world violence and human behavior)

About the Author:

Aaron Jannetti is a defensive tactics and fitness instructor in Columbus, Ohio. He holds a black belt instructor diploma in the system of Krav Maga and is currently in charge of curriculum and instructor development for the United States Krav Maga Association. He also holds various certifications and rankings in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Balintawak Kali, Defensive Firearms, Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit, along with several years of training in Muay Thai and boxing. He lives and breathes defensive tactics and fitness for himself and his students.

Similar Posts