← Back to blog

The Sport vs Street Argument in Jiu Jitsu

There’s a position in Jiu Jitsu called 50-50 (fifty-fifty). You may be familiar with it already. It divides opinion. Some think of it as a tremendous tactical innovation, and others consider it all that’s wrong with “modern” Jiu Jitsu. I’m using it here because it illustrates a big issue with Jiu Jitsu in general, and it’s good to critique our own martial art from time to time.

First, if you don’t know what 50-50 is, it’s just about what it sounds like. A position where you and your opponent’s legs are entangled, and neither of you have an advantage. In sport Jiu Jitsu, it can either be the key to a leglock submission, or (more often) it’s a boring stalemate. Literally a 50-50 scenario.

Part of the issue is that it’s difficult to release yourself from this position without giving your opponent a tactical advantage. The result is that you might have 2 grapplers getting to the position accidentally, and then neither wanting to move lest they give their opponent a position.

A mutually agreed upon stalemate that is terrible to be in, terrible to watch, and bears no resemblance to real fighting.

It’s only divisive for the last reason though. Martial artists and those unfamiliar with martial arts alike can easily view the position in a Jiu Jitsu match and scoff at it, as they could about a lot of Jiu Jitsu positions. “How is THAT going to help me defend myself?” It’s the age old Street vs. Sport argument. And the worst thing about it is that the Street vs. Sport argument was won years ago. Jiu Jitsu guys should know- WE WON IT!

When I was coming into Jiu Jitsu, it was blowing away other martial arts and their pretence of practicality. The “It’s too dangerous to show you man” guys were getting the elbow as skinny kids in Gis were choking and armlocking them at their first Jiu Jitsu class. The Gracie Challenge videos were doing the rounds, with Kung Fu guys getting schooled easily. I thought I was an accomplished martial artist, a Black Belt, until an out of shape Jiu Jitsu blue belt took me down and tapped me time after time in a few minutes.

The point was that Sport won. We (or rather the generation before me) showed time and again that sporting methods of training beat those who were practicing for “The Street” on almost every occasion. We were fitter, trained more practically, and had the advantage of experimenting every night on the mats to find out what worked and what was just rubbish.

And you know what? People are right about 50-50. And they’re right about saddle, and deep half guard, and lasso guard, and Single-X, and lapel guard. They are more or less USELESS in a real fight. Jiu Jitsu would be far more practical if people stuck to the basics. However, there’s another factor.

The vast majority of these positions have come about because of fighters looking for a competitive edge over a similarly skilled opponent. Not because anyone thought that they were practical for outside a pub if you got hopped on.

I remember speaking to a World Champion who spoke about going away from competition for a year to develop a “special move”. He took time to study the people in his division and spotted a weakness. He went away, studied and trained with someone who had in-depth knowledge of that position, and came back and won his first World Title a year later. He wasn’t thinking about how he could make Jiu Jitsu better for self defence, he was thinking about how he could get to the top of the podium.

Now if the Novice walks into Jiu Jitsu on their first day and is thought the 50-50 position, it will be a confusing class for him, and idiotic choice of technique by the coach. Instead, novices today (certainly in Kyuzo anyway) are first schooled in the fundamentals of takedown, control, submission. Top is King. Pressure is best. I think a Beginner to Jiu Jitsu now is still learning the same concepts as 20 years ago. In most Jiu Jitsu schools at least.

What happens after that is down to good coaching and structure. As an older lemon these days a lot of my coaching job is taken up reminding my Jiu Jitsu students to focus on the fundamentals, and don’t go chasing down too many rabbit holes of obscure or popular, fancy techniques.

But you know what? The fancy stuff is really cool. And forget about what’s practical for a second, you’ll have a lot of fun playing with supposedly stupid positions and techniques in training. And many of these moves will make you more skilful into the bargain.

So the next time someone tells you a position wouldn’t work on the street, just tell them it’s not meant to. And then invite them to open mat and use your training from your Beginner Class on them.

See you on the mat,


Want to read more?

Fill out the short form to subscribe to our mailing list