Before it gained popularity as a combat sport in submission grappling and mixed martial arts arena, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) was first touted as the go-to discipline of people looking to defend themselves against a bigger and stronger opponent, thus it is a likely choice for women.
Students of this art eschew strength-based moves in favor of various locks and holds that rely on leverage. The effectiveness of these techniques are further tested during a “roll,” or full-contact sparring session, where a student is expected to perform techniques against a partner who is looking to do the same to him or her.
BJJ purple belt and 98 BJJ-Team Valores coach Mark Entrata runs a self-defense course tailored specifically for women. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on how women can handle themselves in a potentially violent situation with the aid of BJJ.
FIGHT Times: Almost every discipline has its version of women’s self defense. What makes a jiu-jitsu-based self-defense class different?
Mark Entrata: Our BJJ self-defense is different because it relies on very simple moves that do not require a lot of physical strength, conditioning, flexibility and other physical attributes. We help train the mind, which is the most important weapon we have as human beings.
The moment you panic, you might end up in a striking exchange against your attacker. Chances are, you will lose if that is your gameplan since your attacker is most likely going to be stronger than you are. Part of an attackers plan, especially a sexual predator, is to tire you out physically so you give up. That is when he can start abusing you since you opted to “fight” him and use up your strength at the wrong time. We teach our students how to defend themselves intelligently, with moves that are based on body weight and leverage because that will minimize the use of their muscles. The moment you get tired, you’re in big trouble.
FT: In self-defense, how are women’s needs different from those of men’s?
ME: There are more threats and possible attacks on women than men. Rape, for example. Though there are cases of young men getting raped, the reality is that the number of men being raped is not even close to the number of women being sexually attacked. Almost all women are susceptible to sexual assault that is why their self-defense program should also include anti-rape techniques. In my opinion, it should actually focus more on anti-rape more than anything.
FT: What are the common dangers a woman can encounter in her home, street, or workplace?
ME: To be assaulted physically, for whatever reason, be it robbery, revenge, rape, and everything in between.
FT: What fundamental principles should she remember to prevent a threat from developing into a full-blown assault?
ME: Assaults only happen when three factors are present: predator, victim, and opportunity. Don’t give the predator the opportunity. You have to be aware where you are and where potential predators are in the vicinity. You have to be aware of the distance you have against these predators and where you can escape to a safer area. As long as you maintain a safe distance, an assault cannot happen.
FT: A large number of attacks were done using a weapon. How can grappling techniques deal with these?
ME: It really depends on the scenario. If this is just a robbery, we suggest to just give whatever the robber wants. Your bag, cell phone, etc. is not worth risking your life for. We teach our students to only engage the attacker if the latter is really planning to seriously injure or kill you. This leaves you with no choice but to engage. Now, grappling techniques are very efficient since you take away a lot of space and leverage for the attacker to use his weapons effectively. Eventually, we will address the arm that is wielding the weapon, and break it.
Of course, this is easier said than done and requires more advanced training. I do not want to mislead people that if you learn our BJJ self-defense program that you are guaranteed 100 percent against weapons attacks. We just give you a higher chance of survival and give you techniques on how to deal with these scenarios. The more you practice, the higher your chance of survival becomes.
FT: What are your thoughts on using “dirty tactics” (eye gouges, groin grabs, etc.) in a self-defense scenario?
ME: They work but you have to make sure that when you do it, the time is right because if you try to do these things and they fail, you have just angered your attacker and you will end up in a striking match against him, for sure.
FT: How important is live sparring in a self-defense class?
ME: Very important. This is where you will see what bad habits you have, which techniques you are getting wrong and how you react in a stressful situation. We see a lot of our students do all the techniques perfectly but during live sparring, they panic and mess everything up. Live sparring will help eliminate these anxiety and panic attacks. It will help you correct your mistakes.
FT: What mentality should women cultivate to keep themselves safe at all times?
ME: This may sound weird, but if they want to be safe at all times, they have to be very sensitive to everything that goes around them, almost like they are paranoid. And again, awereness. In all areas you go to, you have to know where the exit is located or where there are people who might help you. Never let your guard down. Ever.