Traditional Martial Arts vs Bjj by Dip Thappa

Having come from a traditional martial arts background such as TKD (Tae Kwon Do),

One of the primary difference I see among most of the traditional styles vs BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) is that there’s a greater sense of straightforward honesty in BJJ simply because of the live resistance aspect that is prevalent in the art.

Not to say that traditional styles can’t build effective skills in self defense but unfortunately there are many ways in these styles to hide your deficits.

One prime example of this is with people who specialize only on forms.

Now I’m not hating on forms because if I’m being honest I always loved them.
It was a great learning tool for visualization, kinesthetic awareness and control over my body.
It allows the participants to gain hyper awareness of their body and how it moves through space.

In some ways it’s like shadow boxing but I’d argue that if the world’s best boxers had only ever done shadow boxing and never hit pads, or sparred (even if only lightly) they’d have never reached the same level of martial proficiency.

We know through academic research and just good old fashioned common sense,

if we want to get better at skill X then the best thing would be to practice skill X or the closest thing to X.
The further we move from the actual skill the less the skill development gained will transfer to real world events.

With that being said,

During my years doing TKD competitively, one of the biggest issues I’d see would be people who only specialize in forms and actively avoided any type of sparring, full or even light contact.

These same people would however also walk around with an air of confidence as if to say they could beat just about everyone on the street. They believed with 110% certainty that their predetermined set of movements would work exactly as they’d practiced.

The issue with this is that life rarely works out so perfectly.

Just because I did the most perfect sidekick to the sternum region doesn’t mean my opponent will react exactly how the form tells me they will.
As a matter of fact they might just punch me in the face which is where one of the major glaring weaknesses of this mentality comes in.

Getting hit and facing resistance,

It’s not fun, it’s not glorious and yet it’s probably one of the most important things you can experience in a safe and controlled environment to better understand the reality of life.

In the martial arts world this usually occurs in sparring.

Because there’s very little other things that can give you the same chaotic feel of real combat like actual combat.

No matter how many times you rep out a roundhouse kick through the air, without contact there’s a severe lack of knowledge missing from a person’s applicable knowledge.

From what impact feels like, to what it takes for actual follow through to occur againsts a solid object. There’s also the timing and distance management aspect which becomes problematic when the opponent decides to move in a manner not aligned with the forms you practiced.

Now after we have all this chaos already stirring we add the lack of understanding on what getting hit feels like and we can have an army of overly confident “combatants” who have no idea what kind of trouble they’re about to get themselves in.

As Iron Mike said himself “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

And the reality is, most traditionalist who only have hid behind the safety of forms end up getting blasted in the face in a real life altercation fairly quickly.

Again, let me reiterate something.
I loved forms and 1 step sparring and learning various different unique strikes that made up the traditional arts but I loved them with an understanding for what they were.

I loved them for their artistic values, the meditative qualities forms had and ultimately for my general love of culture, language and traditions.

They never replaced the sparring. They were simply supplementary for my learning of the particular art.

Moving onto sparring,

Finally we think yes, now here’s the meat and potatoes of the martial aspects for the martial arts.

How can we go wrong with this piece?

Well, it depends on how they’re going to go about it.
There tends to be two schools of thought for sparring regarding the traditional arts. (which exists in the BJJ world to an extent, though I think it exists with a bit more harmony in BJJ context)

There’s the world of self-defense enthusiasts and the more sportive competitive world.

The self-defense oriented arts tend to pull a lot more from the traditional foundations to keep with the “realism” of an actual fight, in doing so they start “sparring” with less and less realistically practiced movesets.

I find that the more traditional artists will put down a lot of other arts which has a sportive component in order to make their own art stand out as the real deal but rarely step into an arena to prove the effectiveness of their own skill.
Usually these schools have restrictions on who can and who can’t spar at their schools.

Usually it’s for “safety” reasons or that you must earn a certain level before sparring.

Other times they simply don’t let outsiders come in to spar.

In the few times outsiders do get to participate it’s under house rules where basically house always wins, though again it is always argued that there are no points, no winners because they don’t practice a game.

It becomes an interesting study into human psychology and how we go to great lengths to maintain a sense of authenticity within ourselves when faced with truth that stands in direct opposition against what we believe.

Under the sportive side it’s pretty clear where this can become problematic,

As we go further into the world of combative sports and eliminating biases and safety hazards we get athletes who specialize further towards winning the game rather than keeping the realism of combat alive.

Now if I’m being honest here and I had to pick one I’d rather go with the sportive versions of traditional arts because at the least they tend to be more honest in their own abilities then the non who don’t ever get their skills tested in a live setting.

There’s also the clear benefit of athleticism that is built when there’s a competitive aspect added into the mix which honestly does play a factor in the reality of combat.

It is something that is very clearly downplayed in a lot of traditional combative arts.

Again not to bag on the “self-defense” side of things but there’s this cliche that has and probably always be perpetuated in martial arts world and that is that “Size doesn’t matter.”

I’m sorry but this is nonsense.

Size matters,

Speed matters,

Strength matters,

Stamina matters.

Sure, if we lived in a vacuum where suddenly everyone’s attributes were all null then then you can spread this false pretense but we don’t.
In the world that we currently inhabit these physical attributes all matter,

Now how much they matter, that’s a different question.
These can be adjusted based upon your own skills combined with your attributes.

I find that most of the times, this size doesn’t matter is repeated by people who aren’t 120 lbs adults cause let me tell you.
In TKD, BJJ, Wrestling, and Kickboxing, my size, speed, strength and stamina has always mattered.




Again, how much it mattered that I was able to work around and with.

To return to the original point here,

I prefer the sportive aspect because if nothing else, the sportive aspect tends to develop these attributes along with the skill sets involved in combat.

Even if it is not as “realistic” as maybe the traditional arts.

So maybe now your question becomes,

Well why not find something that has a sportive aspect and also stresses the importance of the traditional self-defense in their striking field?

Well now we go into the issue that most traditional arts simply lack the very close, grappling range tools that tends to occur in a majority of street altercation.

Not because most people on the streets are trained grapplers but rather most folks don’t know how to fight.
They don’t understand range or distance management and so end up swinging for the fences which usually ties them up with the other person.

A counter argument to this might be something like

“Hey but I’ve done Hapkido (Korean AIkido basically) in TKD” or perhaps they just straight up practice Aikido itself.

This is all good and well but then it comes back to the first issue I brought up with traditional arts.

They tend to be simply to choreographed.

Or are practiced in the most impractical manner possible.

There are some real biomechanics at play when you see people getting wrist locked and thrown in these demonstration but you have to ask yourself.

Is a person just going to grab a wrist with all their strength in the hands alone and allow his wrist, elbow and shoulder all to stay malleable?

I answer that for you, no.

It doesn’t take a master martial artist to simple let go or just double down on the tension in their entire arm to stop many of these big circular movements.
Now, again.
Let me reiterate, you catch someone fast enough with some of these, completely off guard and with all the stars lining up and sure you might snap their wrist but I don’t want to play with might.
I want as much certainty as possible. I want to make sure that my skills will work in the majority of problems I’ll face.

This write up is getting a bit longer than I’d originally intended so I’ll try and finish up with a final point I’ve had come up from traditional martial artists.

Well I’d just never let them get a hold of me,

Or I’ll never go to the ground so why would I need to grapple?


A little about myself, I’m a pretty spry, lightweight individual with fairly good balance.
I’ve always managed to acquire most physical skills pretty rapidly at a fundamental level because of this.

Everything from TKD (8-9 years), breakdancing, trapeze, tai chi, etc

If it had a balance component I tend to jump into it with a fair degree of success.

Now with all that being said,

I’ve literally also slipped and fallen while walking down the street.

No one was chasing me, I wasn’t moving backwards, my stress levels weren’t elevated, and my only focus was literally to just traverse the ground with my feet in an upright manner.

I’m not proud to admit it but it’s happened and I’m sure it’s happened to others as well.


with that taken into account.

What are the chances of a person getting a hold of me or you (which really isn’t that difficult to be honest, like they can straight up tackle you) and both parties end up on the ground?

Ultimately though,

I’ll say that even if you don’t’ have an interest in grappling a person on the floor in the streets which personally I don’t either.

The ability to at the very least escape some of the bottom of various pinning positions that you can get stuck in and fight your way back to your feet is perhaps one of the most important skills for self-defense.
Whether you choose to run (which is what I’d suggest) or go to your striking strengths (which I don’t suggest unless you have no choice) is up to you but at least now you have the option.

Now to be honest,

No BJJ doesn’t inherently have striking involved in it anymore but the core principles still stress distance management to get people on the ground, control posture which can greatly disrupt an attackers striking abilities and or to escape the  hips to get back up.

Along with this, it is practiced on a much more regular manner and a more realistic pace and resistance.

Yes they might start slow for beginners but most if not all students end up getting to a level where they are able to grapple at a decently hard pace at a fairly rapid pace.