How effective is judo in a street fight?

If you have never done Judo before, I would suggest that you go out, find a dojo and try a few classes. Ask the instructor to spar with you. He or she will probably go easy on you, but I suspect that you will find out very quickly that as soon as a Judo player gets their hands on you, if you have no equivalent standing grappling training, you are pretty much done for.

There are several aspects to a fight:

  • The person or persons your are facing;
  • The fact that they are armed or not, or have martial arts skills;
  • The environment factor (obstacles, debris on the floor, etc).
  • I will assume the intensity of the confrontation is a factor too. There is a difference between a few pushes and an attempt on your life.

In the event of an aggression, pretty much, you won’t be able to control any of these variables. In these circumstances, the outcome is extremelly unpredictable and makes a street fight a particulary bad place to start learning self defence. I think we can all agree on that.

On the other hand, all martial arts systems reduce the unpredictability of a real fight situation by managing the different variables in a more or less realistic way.

  • Environment: Starting with the practice area, you will find that most if not all systems, use wide open spaces with flat surfaces, even special flooring to cushion falls, such as Judo.
  • Physical confrontation: In Judo, only one opponent at a time. In randori (free practice) only unarmed grappling is practiced. Free practice itself can be modulated in intensity, degree of cooperation, situational drilling, etc.
  • Fighting proffiency of opponents: In judo and other ranked systems, levels of profficiency are graded by the belt system. I find it’s a very good way of protecting inexperienced players.
  • Physical and Psychological pressure/stress: Drilling, free practice and competition are important tools in learning to deal with the intense physical and psychological pressure of an attack. Try sparring at high intensity levels with a good judoka for 5 minutes and you’ll know what I’m talking about. And competition is 10x worse!

On this last point, think about those animal wildlife documentaries with animals being rundown by a predator or group or predators. At some point of the chase, either the predator will give up or the prey will get caught. Sometimes, you will see the prey just give up. The lion or whatever hasn’t caught up to it yet, but the zebra just gives up from pure exhaustion. And gets eaten.

This happens in Judo grappling too, a lot. Some opponents will just put so much pressure on you, grind you down until you just WANT to give up. You’ll want to take the throw, accept the guard pass, the hold down or the submission just to get it over with. Getting to know yourself and deal with these situations is also very very important in learning how to confront a situation on the street.

Most situational self defense drilling systems just can’t replicate this kind of pressure, because the techniques they teach don’t translate to a free practice format. And believe me, there is a huge difference between drilling a technique and actually trying to fight off someone that’s looking to really take you down and submit you.

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