BJJ vs Crossfit Defense
Lessons from BJJ that leave me skeptical of Crossfit Defense
Let me preface this article by stating that I have never taken the Crossfit Defense class. This is not a review of the services they provide. Instead, having seen various videos, articles and comments on it in recent days, I thought I would add my two cents; specifically, the lessons a year of BJJ training have taught me that have left me with no interest in this latest craze.
I do not have any issue with Crossfit more generally. While it is not necessarily something I am interested in, and despite its cult-like following being off-putting at times, at its core I like its goal; that of stripping away what doesn’t work, and boiling the concept of ‘fitness’ down to the most effective and functional exercises. I do not harbor any scorn for it in the way I might for some fitness fads. That said, here is why this blogger won’t be taking off the gi any time soon:
I will openly admit that I am no BJJ expert; I am, after all, still a white belt. That said, I have learnt many things in the time I’ve been training. One lesson that comes around time and time again is that despite each new tip and trick I pick up along the road, I still have a long way to go. Most rolling sessions for me are spent with a focus on remaining calm, controlling my breathing and thinking through the best way to effectively survive against higher belts. Some classes I might leave with more questions than I walked in with, but I will know I’m progressing because I wasn’t even aware of the basis for those questions before class. All of this is fine by me, because the infinite scenarios and subtle nuances of live fighting mean a BJJ practitioner is never truly finished learning. This leads me to the first reason I might question Crossfit Defense; it is a one-day course. While the course is not aimed at turning anyone into a professional martial artist or MMA fighter, but rather, to teach some self-awareness and defense, I find it hard to believe that anything taught would be particularly effective. The unlimited range of positions and scenarios that can arise can surely not be boiled down to one day’s worth of training. Besides, even if the skills taught were perfect, after months of being a BJJ white belt, I know that it takes a lot longer that one day to train yourself to react and respond reasonably and effectively to physical aggression (regardless of how many times you punch a medicine ball!).
There are a handful of black belts at my gym, and I consider myself very fortunate to have the privilege of taking classes taught by some of them. I’ve also taken classes led by brown belts, purple belts and blue belts, and all of them have taught me an enormous amount as I start out learning the art of BJJ. On top of them all being great teachers, they are also great training partners. Learning BJJ goes beyond the demonstration of techniques that we can then practice on a bag or stationery opponent. It is learnt by constantly training against resistance with partners who are all working together. It is a wonderful collaborative experience where white belts are fortunate enough to be able to ask questions and learn from those a few, or many, years further down the path than themselves. Regardless of whether people are doing BJJ for sport, self-defense, MMA or just for fun, the years of knowledge and experience on the mats on any given day can often be counted in decades; a living, rolling resource of tested, functional techniques waiting to be learnt from those who have put them to good use themselves. In contrast, Crossfit Defense is taught by instructors with no prior experience who have attended a two-day Crossfit Defense Trainer’s Course. Once again, without having to delve into the techniques taught in the class, it is evident that the instructors will not be teaching from experience, nor patiently working with you on problems they had to tackle years earlier, but instead, repeating the directions shown to them two days prior. A trainer cannot confirm that a technique is effective, nor accurately correct mistakes, if they have not applied it themselves in a real situation.
I suppose, in a way, it is not a problem that the trainers of this course have no prior experience in what they are teaching (aside from two days’ worth), as the Crossfit Defense FAQ states that neither the athlete or trainer course involve fighting or sparring of any kind. As such, both athlete and trainer alike are working on the assumption that somebody somewhere has tried the techniques and that they are effective. If there will be no sparring, the trainer does not have to concern themselves with whether what they teach is practical or useful. They will not be challenged on it, nor have their techniques disproved. The ever-present self-correcting mechanisms inherent in BJJ, practiced against resistance, mean that such a set up simply would not work. A passing down of a handful of basic, static drills is much easier to compress into a one day course, but is an almost useless approach to teaching and learning. Students cannot feel and see what a technique is like in reality, and they cannot identify questions that arise or correct mistakes, if the methods are not tested to check that they work for each individual.
An over-confidence in incomplete skills
While I’d say I know more about BJJ, self-defense and ground fighting than a random member of the public, I am also aware that I have much left to learn. My overarching concern with regards to Crossfit Defense, or a similarly short program, is that the opposite is true of its students. A one day program empowering people with the confidence that they can avoid and/or defend themselves in certain scenarios can be extremely dangerous if done incorrectly. As I mentioned in my first point, my year of BJJ has often been a test in the ability to remain calm, focused and able to survive under a superior opponent in an unfamiliar situation. After this much time, I am nowhere close to dominating my live rolls. I am distinctly aware of both my abilities in BJJ, and also my limitations, as each class and sparring session allows for testing, review and reflection. A one day course that runs through basic, static drills provides no such means, either during or after. Athletes believe they can defend themselves because they are told it is so. What is worse, they are told it is so by a trainer with two-days of experience. An over-confidence in skills they have never used is a terrible and dangerous thing to possess. They must take the existence of their supposed skills on faith. I, personally, would rather base my self-confidence on the truth.