I did not start training jiu-jitsu because I wanted a way to get in shape or a new hobby — I started training because I wanted to learn how to f*ck people up.
Like many people who train, I signed up for a simple reason: someone had tried to hurt me, and I didn’t want that to happen again. I started in kickboxing, then expanded into jiu-jitsu, then combined them in MMA. For a while, it was great… until it wasn’t.
During a night of sparring, I was paired up with someone who was easily 50 lbs heavier than me and had something to prove. They landed a hard kick to my side that cracked my rib, and I fell to the ground and focused all my effort into not puking all over the mat.
Up until that point, I thought I was pretty hardcore (spoiler alert: I was not). I could take and give punches to the face, I thought my ground game was pretty solid (spoiler alert: I was a white belt; it was not), and I wasn’t afraid of anyone. But all it took was one kick to put me firmly back in my place and remind me how fragile the human body really is.
In the years since I decided to focus all my energy on jiu-jitsu, that self-awareness has only become stronger. I still think I’m relatively tough, but I know that the amount of force it takes to dislocate a shoulder or severely damage tendons and ligaments is shockingly small. Perhaps even scarier is how easy it is to injure yourself just by stepping the wrong way or landing at just the wrong angle, even when you can train hard for an hour at a time without any issues. And that’s not even factoring in all the punches, kicks, elbows, and knees that get thrown in MMA.
Combine that physical fragility with the recklessness of an untrained person who wants to hurt you, and the idea that someone would ever be eager to get into a fight sounds absurd. But a Saturday night visit to a rowdy bar or a quick browse down your Facebook feed during a UFC event will tell you that not everyone has those same reservations.
I think about the person I was when I first started training and the person I am now, and honestly, they’re two very different people for many reasons. But one way that stands out is how hard I now focus on trying to deescalate potentially violent situations. I’m confident enough in my training that I think I could keep myself safe in the right circumstances, but just as I’ve gotten better at avoiding submissions instead of getting trapped in them and having to fight my way out, I’ve also gotten better at preventing violence before it happens.
I know a fair number of people who have experienced the same transformation, especially BJJ black belts and experienced MMA fighters. Their training has given them the confidence to know that they could handle a violent interaction if they had to, but also the wisdom to know that avoiding a fight usually leads to better outcomes for everyone involved.
Of course, there are still plenty of martial artists and trained fighters out there who are a bit too eager to test their skills in the “streets.” I like to think, though, that they are outnumbered by the number of people whose enthusiasm for hand-to-hand combat with strangers has been reduced since they began training. After all, the safest fight is the one that doesn’t happen at all.