Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for Stick Fighting
A Dog Brother’s Approach to Training Realistically in BJJ


When I started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I had one goal: to successfully incorporate gi grappling into my stick fighting at Dog Brothers Gatherings.  I never enjoyed getting hit by a stick and suspected my opponents felt the same way.  Being able to end fights by inflicting the least amount of damage seemed like the most “humane” approach to a Dog Brothers Stick Fight. Jiu-Jitsu gave me a blueprint for how to accomplish this by using “submissions.”

The “no rules” aspect of Dog Brothers Gatherings coupled with the fact that at any time one can get hit with strikes from a weapon or limb (including head butts and the occasional groin shot) adds a whole new level of realism to a fight.  Not to mention the possibility of hidden training blades on my opponent that could come out at any time.  Albeit unintentional, I’ve even been fish hooked in a gathering.  This “realism” is an aspect of fighting that is widely neglected in Sport Grappling, the Striking Arts and Mixed Martial Arts.

The more rules that are implemented in a sport, the further it gets from “reality.” Dog Brothers Gatherings are as real as it gets since there are truly “no rules” other than “be friends at the end of the day.”  I am not limited to one aspect of Martial Arts.  In Dog Brothers Gatherings I can use weapons, Striking and Grappling.  Gatherings also do an amazing job at keeping one’s skill set honest and prove to be an outstanding “BS filter.”  I find that “Sport Jiu-Jitsu” is on the other end of the spectrum and has traveled furthest from realism than any other combat art.  Because of this, the task of melding modern Jiu-Jitsu and Stick Fighting has become a lifelong chore. 

For my personal training, if it doesn’t seem to be practical for a Gathering, I tend to exclude it.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things in sport Jiu-Jitsu which are very applicable to Dog Brothers Gatherings and if your thing is straight “sport Jiu-Jitsu,” more power to you, I think that’s great!  I, however, have always been in search of things that work across all areas of combat.

“Consistency Across Categories” is something Punong Guro Marc Denny from Dog Brothers always says and to expound on this; “Consistent Concepts Create Categorical Competence.”  In other words, a concept or technique should work in all areas of combat, not just one.  A “Theory of Everything” for Martial Arts, if you will.  Following this mindset does, however, mean that I gave myself the eternal job of sorting through all of the Jiu-Jitsu “games” and “techniques” and figuring out what works in no rules combat and what is simply better for sport BJJ.  I am forever asking the question “could I use this without getting my head caved in?”

Take gi training for example.  When I first started training in the gi, what intrigued me most and what is missing from other combat arts, is the fact that I was able to use my opponent’s clothes as grips.  Before starting my training in the gi, I fought in several Gatherings and quickly realized that having an understanding of how to grip clothes would be a distinct advantage I could have in my fighting.  After all, it was completely “legal” to grab my opponents clothing in a Gathering.  You can’t grip your opponent’s clothes in MMA, Boxing, or Muay Thai and to my knowledge Stick Fighting is the only style of fighting (i.e., Gatherings) that allows strikes from weapons and limbs and also allows grappling and gripping of the clothes, aside from Ice Hockey of course ;).

After having this epiphany of gi training helping my stick fighting, the question was, “how do I get past the weapon range and into grappling range and take it to the ground in order to submit my opponent and use these grips?”  Takedowns and wrestling seemed to be “hazardous to one’s health,” as Punong Guro Crafty Dog says, because many takedowns left the head vulnerable to stick shots, elbows and more.  Sure there were tough stud wrestlers that could likely shoot in and get a takedown but I was and am still neither a stud, nor wrestler.

Crashing into close range under a roof block into clinch seemed to keep me out of danger.  It was also already a proven way of closing the distance as Eric “Top Dog” Knaus showed us years before and many have continued to use.  However, running out of time to end the fight became a problem since Gathering fights are between 2-5 minutes, and takedowns from clinch can be problematic for me in a stick fight.  If I wanted to end the fight by submission I needed a solid way of taking it to the ground that wasn’t wrestling based.  Luckily Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu had the answer.

“Pulling Guard” was the most efficient and fastest way to get the fight to the ground without taking strikes and blows to the head by the stick.  It also afforded me the most time on the ground within the fight.  If I spent my time trying to take the fight to the ground with wrestling, or just stayed on the outside and exchanged blows, I may never get the submission I was searching for.  This game plan took a number of Gatherings to get comfortable with.  I had my share of fights where I never got to close the distance and ended up in a heated stick battle with my opponent.

Unfortunately pulling guard has had negative connotations and is seen as more of a joke in MMA and even in Jiu-Jitsu now-a-days.  This is primarily because it seems like the easy way to get the fight to the ground.  “If you want to be a man, take your opponent down, don’t pull guard.”  However, when you add weapons into the mix, the “easy” way to get a fight to the ground without getting hit suddenly becomes the “smart” way.  Fortunately, it has become a very valid strategy for Dog Brothers and is even featured as one of Punong Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny’s go-to concepts in the Stick Grappling DVD from Dog Brothers (available here: http://dogbrothersgear.com/dbma-stick-grappling-guard-anti-guard-2-dvd-set.html ).

Deciding that pulling guard was the way I wanted to go led me to first testing it out in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.  At least in BJJ tournaments I didn’t have to worry about strikes or my opponent’s stick like I did in a stick fight.  After pulling guard I went for submissions from my guard or sweeps to get on top and submit my opponent.  It took some time but eventually I became competent in pulling guard and so started the years of me pulling “Guard” in Dog Brothers Gatherings.  After over 5 years of fighting in Gatherings with this strategy it led to the pleasant surprise of attaining the Doggy name of “Guard Dog.”  Get it!? 😉

Through the years when training Jiu-Jitsu it has been hard not to fall into the realm of “Sport Jiu-Jitsu.”  It is easy to forget that my original goal of using BJJ in my Stick Fighting was to get submissions.  The aspect of strikes and other weapons coming into the fight (knives, etc) is always in the back of my mind when I am training straight grappling so I don’t do dumb things like forget about hand control when having someone in my guard.

I have done my share of Jiu-Jitsu tournaments at each belt and plan to do more at Black Belt but I came to the conclusion that many of the sport oriented Jiu-Jitsu games weren’t the best for no rules “fighting” and weren’t helping me achieve my original goal.  Many games become null and void if strikes and weapons are involved.  There may be some high level BJJ practitioners that can pull them off in a Dog Brothers Gathering but this has yet to be done, and I have found that much of the traditional “self-defense” Jiu-Jitsu held up well for Gatherings because it was very “street” based and much of it was always considering the fact that you could get hit and also the possibility of multiple opponents and weapons.  I invite any and all to test their Jiu-Jitsu centric games in Dog Brothers Gatherings and I look forward to the various new Jiu-Jitsu games being proven useful in Gatherings. Heck, I’ll even be your dance partner if we are at the same Gathering!
It was never my intended goal to become a Black Belt in Jiu-Jitsu but has become a positive externality of my original reason for training in the gi centric grappling arts.  It is an honor to reach the level of Black Belt and honestly I still feel in many ways like a white belt that has so much to learn.  I have a distinct love for the sport aspects of Jiu-Jitsu and other sport Martial Arts but being able to use the arts inside Dog Brothers Gatherings seems like the ultimate test.

I have been privileged to have taken the Jiu-Jitsu road less traveled by intentionally learning BJJ to use in Stick Fighting over MMA or sport Jiu-Jitsu.  I would think many of the Kali and Jiu-Jitsu Grandmasters would be happy with my path and see it as a throwback to the original intent for the arts; self-defense.  Thank you to Punong Guro Marc “Crafty Dog” Denny for providing me with an arena to test my skills and thank you for all the knowledge you have given me in the weapons, striking and grappling arts.  Thank you Sensei Erik Paulson for your continued instruction through the 20+ years you have been an instructor and mentor.  Thank you to all of my other instructors and training partners for being part of my continued journey.

I hope this might inspire others to follow similar paths and continue to evolve Stick Grappling.  I look forward greatly to seeing where it goes from here in the next few decades of evolution!

WOOF!

Ryan Gruhn
Guro Guard Dog
Full Dog Brother / BJJ Black Belt