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Ryan Hall Weighs In On 'Sport Vs Street' Debate In Martial Arts

Ryan Hall; a BJJ black belt, multiple time ADCC, Mundials and No Gi worlds medalist. He has trained under Felipe Costa, Llyod Irvin and Marcelo Garcia and is known for his mastery of the 50/50 guard.
Ryan Hall; a BJJ black belt, multiple time ADCC, Mundials and No Gi worlds medalist. He has trained under Felipe Costa, Llyod Irvin and Marcelo Garcia and is known for his mastery of the 50/50 guard.

Martial arts are an attempt to organize, systemize and teach the skills of personal combat, with the end goal being to best another person or persons, should they attempt to do you harm. The love of the controlled violence and skill martial arts embody is why many of us became MMA fans. Seeing the skills we work so hard to acquire being tested by elite fighters against other elite fighters, be it grappling or striking, results in a compelling physical chess match that is awe-inspiring.

There are endless debates on what is the best and surest path to victory: striking vs grappling, avoidance vs action, weapon based arts vs empty hand arts, to just name a few. One of the biggest internal debates centers around the idea of training purely for self-defense or training to compete in tournaments with defined rules and whether the two are mutually exclusive.

Recently, a multiple time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu champion Ryan Hall posted a video of him using his skills to defend himself in a restaurant. An extremely accomplished grappler, Hall was able to easily defend himself from an extremely aggressive drunken stranger in an unprovoked pizza parlor encounter.

Shortly following the posting of the video Hall spoke to the Fightworks Podcast about the experience. If you are a grappler and have never heard of this podcast, click on that link right now. It is a fantastic program that comes out every so often and wraps up all the happenings in the BJJ world, delivers wonderful interviews and great insights with very high level grapplers.

In the full interview, Hall speaks to the fact that he felt confident using the mount to control the aggressor, despite the aggressor having a friend with him because he knew if the friend got involved, Hall had an entire table of black belts that would have his back. He also talks about how the mount is great because he was able to secure wrist control on both of the aggressor's arms to prevent him for attempting a groin grab or going into his pockets to reach for a possible weapon.

He is then asked about the people who claim that training jiu jitsu for competition makes you less able to defend yourself because you train in techniques that are not useful in a real, self-defense situation. Hall responded:

Those people are wrong, to be frank. Anyone who doesn't realize that situation dictates tactics really can't be helped.

Although I can see a certain level of a point. The angle that makes sense to me is that combative martial arts which creates excellent combative athletes and fighters, like jiu jitsu, wrestling and boxing, while they don't train you for is self-defense, they train you for single combat. I don't care if this person tried to eye gouge me or if they bite me, it is irrelevant. If I want to hurt this person, they don't have a prayer in the world.

The physical tactics don't change. It is really the mental and the understanding of things. Its like - letting this person get too close because if they have a blade, they can cut you well before you'd be able to see it if they are really, really quick.

more after the jump...

The conversation continued and Hall started to speak to martial art schools that are self-defense only and don't have a competitive aspect. One of the most common claims you'll see on YouTube comments or in discussions is that self-defense oriented schools are not limited by the rules of sport martial arts and that gives them a critical edge because they are used to eye gouges and groin kicks being thrown.

Hall spoke to that also:

I think you see a lot of martial arts instructors tying to pass themselves off as self-defense experts, which I am certainly not. I'm a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor, practicer, call it whatever you want. And I know a good deal about self-defense because I'm interested in it... but I'm certainly not an expert. But the idea that John Smith is known for his low single, he better watch out for some angry guy on the Jersey Shore because he wouldn't be able to double leg that guy. Get the f*** out of here...

It is like Manny Pacquiao, I don't care if there are gloves or not, if he hits you, your head is coming off and there is no amount of me practicing an eye gouge that is going to stop him from doing that because he is so used to just dealing with someone who is incredibly good at touching him in the head really, really fast and really, really hard. It doesn't matter what shape my hand is in, he is incredibly good at stopping that and he is incredibly good at countering...

So I would completely disagree. I'd say most of the people that say that practice for self-defense and don't train with tough athletes are really doing themselves a disservice. If I can wrestle with, say, Division I collegiate All-Americans and do fine. If I can wrestle with Marcelo Garcia and do ok, what the hell is some regular guy going to do? The only chance they have is to sucker punch me because anything that engages in an actual engagement of physical combat, I would absolutely hammer this person.

That is like saying "Oh yeah, I'm going to go strike out some guys in the Major Leagues because I'm gonna spit on the ball" Get out of here, it is ridiculous! If you take that though process and apply to any other area of life people would laugh at you.

Finally, Hall touches on the idea of athletes specializing in a technique in competition. Most elite combat athletes become known for one thing they are better at than other athletes: the Cro Cop left high kick, Paul Daley's left hook, or B.J. Penn's back control. Or speaking more broadly about a martial art, saying that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is terrible for self defense because all guys do is pull guard.

Ryan Hall is a great proponent and innovator of the 50/50 guard, which has been decried by traditionalists as a stalling position that is ruining jiu jitsu. Hall is such a fan of the position his academy is called 50/50 Jiu Jitsu and he is a firm believer that is a difference-making position. Detractors of the 50/50 do make the claim that the position is impractical in a self-defense situation. Hall's response is that in a self-defense situation, like the one he found himself in that restaurant, he would never need the 50/50 guard because the the majority of people have no idea how to fight:

You'll see people expressing jiu jitsu or wrestling or boxing in kinda a little bit of an esoteric way every now and then because competition incentives that because they are competing against other elite level athletes and that is where they find their edge. But when you take someone out of an elite level situation, and have them go against some regular guy... the idea that there is some super sweet badass dude walking around, everyone knows how easy it is to beat up all the white belts when they come in on the first day of jiu jitsu or how easy it to just beast a guy up who just comes into a boxing gym the first day. Those are the guys walking around in real life.

Because you compete and because you train athletically against resisting opponents, who are not only strong and fast, but they know exactly what you're going to do and they know how to stop you and how to get you themselves, it prepares you to deal with something like this very easily. So basically I feel the whole sport vs street argument is retarded unless you want to start talking about awareness and avoidance and things like that.

To wrap up, I agree with Ryan Hall: nothing prepares you better to be faced with an attacker than facing fully resisting opponents. Competitions create a stress level that is unmatched by just sparring or hard drilling in your home gym. In a competition, you are facing a person you have never met before and you have no idea what they are capable of athletically or skill-wise. Managing that stress, keeping a clear head and then executing your techniques against someone who is trained to resist you properly is an experience that is priceless for your training. It will make it easier to keep one's head and awareness in a street situation and help a trained fighter maximize his advantage over an inexperienced attacker.

I think there are points to preparing for things like an eye gouge, a bite or a groin kick, but schools that focus so much on dirty "street" tactics are in fact limiting themselves just as much as they accuse the live sparring or sport martial arts of being.