Is Jiu-jitsu Good for Self-Defense?

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Jiu-jitsu is known as a venerable form of martial arts developed in feudal Japan as a method of neutralizing enemies who were two well-armored to be brought down through conventional combat methods. The form has kept a continuous presence in Japan ever since the samurai mastered it, but more recently the form has spread to the rest of the world, becoming extremely popular in places like South America and the U.S.

As it spread into other areas, there has been a constant debate about whether jiu-jitsu should be treated as a sport or as a method of self-defense. Each side of the argument has passionate supporters. There are some who say that the days of using jujutsu as a practical method for fighting are long gone, and that the art is only conceivable today as a sport. They argue that due to the prevalence of firearms in modern crime and combat, relying on jujutsu as one’s primary mode of self-defense is foolhardy.

On the other side, some argue that turning jujutsu into nothing more than a sport dishonors the art’s founders and its long tradition. Moreover, they say, jujutsu is still a reliable form of self-defense and combat. In light of the fact that most people in the developed world haven’t the first idea about how to defend themselves in threatening situations, learning jujutsu certainly can’t hurt.

In the U.S. especially, jujutsu trainers have tried to find a balance between the two poles. Trainers invariably warn their students that using jujutsu against an armed assailant is likely to get you killed. In most crime situations—for example, armed robbery—experts say the smartest thing to do is just to give the criminal what he wants. Otherwise, you risk being shot or stabbed.

In other situations, however, jujutsu can actually be useful. Yes, it’s probably true that the best thing to do in an armed robbery is just to swallow your pride and hand over your wallet, but this philosophy disregards the fact that criminals aren’t always rational. There are always going to be situations in which criminals get violent no matter what their victims do, and in these situations, knowing jujutsu at least gives the victim a fighting chance.

In the end, the two sides can live together. Jiu-jitsu is good to know, even if you are fortunate never to have to put it to use in a real-life situation. But it’s also a compelling spectator sport, as shown by the popularity of its descendent Judo at the Olympic Games. The sport side of jiu-jutsu is essential for recruiting people to the art, so it shouldn’t be dispensed with any time soon.

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