A Not so Modest Claim: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the Best Self Defense Style for Kids

By June 13, 2014Article

I’m going to state a controversial opinion. And perhaps its heavily biased because, well, I’m a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practioner. But I don’t pretend my words here are undisputed. I state my claims, and I invite any and all friendly discussion to the contrary. As the title states, I claim that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the absolute best, most effective and most appropriate self defense style for kids. That’s not to say the other styles, such as karate or kung fu aren’t effective. They’re just not as effective as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. For kids. For adults, the answer is not as quite as one sided, but for kids it is. Here’s why.

No Striking


That’s right. There’s no striking in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. We basically wrestle. We take down our opponent, wrestle them into a submission hold and subdue them, all without throwing a single strike. How can that be better for kids? The reasons are multitudinous. Striking isn’t as effective of a fight ender as a submission hold. A child generally lacks sufficient strength to strike without enough force to incapacitate another kid. Yes, a kid can give another kid a bloody nose. And its true, that could end a fight. But not always. Not all kids will give up from a bloody nose.

And kids instinctively realize that in a fight. They will initially throw some punches, but what they REALLY want to do is grab the other kid and wrestle them to the ground. This has happened in every fight I saw on the playground. What about you, when you were a kid and witnessed a school fight? Did they stay on their feet the entire time, or did they grab each other and wrestle to the ground? My bet is that they went to the ground.

No matter how good a striker a kid is, the chances he or she can knock out another kid in a single strike is slim to zero. That means the other kid can close the distance and grab and turn the fight into a wrestling match. And that’s where we shine. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is all about wrestling. That’s all we focus on. Every class. Heaven forbid your child has to defend his or herself, but if they do and when their opponent inevitably tries to wrestle them, they will be in their world. A world they’ve been practicing in for months and years.


Because there is no striking, the perception of violence is less with brazilian jiu-jitsu than with striking. If your child has to apply Brazilian jiu-jitsu for self defense, he or she can choose to simply hold their opponent in place, without applying any breaking force. That means they can get on top, maintain a superior wrestling position and simply wait for an adult to come and break up the fight. At that point, your child can explain that it was a self defense situation, that the other kid was the aggressor. And when no harm was done to either child, then there is going to be no police involved, or lawsuits or further escalation as a result. Contrast that with strikes – bloody noses, or eye-gouges or groin-strikes or throat-strikes that are often taught. If these actually connect, there WILL be escalation. Police and lawyers will enter the picture. Police and lawyers should not be a deterrent for a child to defend himself. But if the choice was to offer a better self defense choice without police and lawyers, which would you choose?

Practice Makes Perfect

Gracie Barra Brazilian jiu-jitsu is more effective because when the kids are sparring, they spar at full intensity. The contact is real. The pressure and exertion is real. The submission holds are real. When a child has another in an armlock, the arm can be broken. A carotid artery hold can result in unconsciousnes. A child trained in Gracie BARRA jiu-jitsu is fully capable in every way. But rather than breaking, the training partner “taps” or submits, upon which the submission is immediately released. They shake hands as a sign of good sportsmanship and they go again. Thus they train at full intensity every single class. They seek after submission holds every single training session against a fully resisting training partner. We can do this with kids because the submission holds are never finished – arms are never broken. Kids are never choked unconscious. In our entire history at Gracie BARRA Carlsbad, we’ve never had a serious injury from the kids sparring. Occasional stubbed toes, yes. Broken arms, never. More kids got hurt playing soccer or some other activity outside of our academy than doing jiu-jitsu.

In contrast, you can’t have kids fully striking each other during practice. Heck, even during a tournament. When kids spar in karate, they don’t actually connect the strikes to each other (and I’m not advocating that they should!)

Which of the two matches above was Brazilian jiu-jitsu? The two karate kids on the left are great! However, you will notice they have no fear of getting hit. Not once do they bother to block punches and kicks coming to their head. Not once do they try to dodge. Why? Because they don’t actually hit each other in practice, so defense is not a priority. Unfortunately, their offence suffers also.

One of the ways to dodge a strike is to move ever so slightly out of range:

andersonsilvaHere, it may appear like Anderson has been hit. But he is just slightly out of range and has not actually suffered a hit. Striking practice is ineffective unless the strikes actually connect. That’s because a punch is effective due to its kinetic energy and placement. And the kinetic energy and placement can’t be truly ascertained unless it connects. Strikers often use a flurry of quick, but weak jabs to disorient, followed up by a power shot, like an upper cut. These techniques cannot be simulated unless they connect. That’s why when adult boxers spar, they spar at full punching power and they really hit each other. There is no other way to truly be effective at striking.

But we can’t do this to our children. We can’t make them hit each other at full strength and speed. Its too dangerous. But we CAN let our children wrestle at full strength and speed. We can have them apply an effective submission hold against a fully resisting partner. And because they are practicing at full strength, it becomes effective. Striking’s biggest strength, is its biggest weakness when it comes to children – they can’t train it realistically on a regular basis. Thus our practice makes our style more effective for kids than striking can.

Natural, Peaceful

familywrestlingWrestling is natural for kids. Kids often wrestle for fun, without any malice. Kids wrestle with their parents. Its fun and natural. Punching…is not. We punch each other when we want to do each other harm. It is difficult to separate anger from striking. It can be done, but its not easy. A natural reaction to getting punched in the face, even on accident, is an immediate rise in adrenalin and a desire for retaliation and escalation. Gracie BARRA jiu-jitsu doesn’t invoke that. It’s hard work. It makes your muscles sore from exertion. But that’s different than being hit. Feeling the burn in your muscles from working hard is different than feeling a crack on your jaw. Gracie BARRA jiu-jitsu is thus a peaceful self defense style for our children. It doesn’t teach them hit. It teaches them to have a fighting spirit, without anger or malice. And its natural. They will pick it up immediately, on the first day.


Finally, Gracie Barra jiu-jitsu is more effective than striking because your kids will be in full control of the level of dominance they apply on their aggressor. With striking, you either hit or you don’t. And an aggressive bully isn’t going to stop because he was tapped on the jaw lightly a few times. Your kid will have to really hurt him, knock him down hard with strikes. With Brazillian jiu-jitsu, that’s not the case. Your child can choose to simply apply positional dominance on a bully without applying a single submission. The bully is rendered ineffective. However, if the situation is more dangerous and rather than a bully, its an attacker with an intent to do real harm, your child can then decide to apply a submission and break joints or render the attacker unconscious via a choke hold. The level of damage and dominance is in your child’s discretion, depending on the situation and attacker. This control is exercised and practiced every class.


At Gracie BARRA Carlsbad, when our kids train with each other, they are sometimes paired up unevenly. That means that one child may be significantly larger or stronger or older. One may simply be more skilled and experienced. We teach the larger or more experienced child to adjust his or her intensity level accordingly, but the fact is, the smaller/younger child will have an uphill battle. They may struggle in that spar against the larger child. Within limits this is a great opportunity for the smaller child to really learn to push themselves, to not give up in the face of great challenge. And then later, that larger kid is then paired with someone larger than them, so now they get to struggle. They all learn, as we endeavor to teach them, that willpower and heart, to never give up, is far more important than whether they were submitted or not. And learn it they do. Our kids train hard, but with no egos. They fight for the submission and fight to defend, but if a submission happens, its a quick tap, smiles all around, shake hands and go again!


So there you have it – my opinion as to why Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the best self defense style for kids: Grappling and submissions is more effective than striking, its safer, they can practice at full intensity, going 100% for submissions, its just more naturally suited to kids and it truly teaches them heart and humility. You can get these in other martial arts styles. I just think you get more with Brazilian jiu-jitsu!