The Dunning-Kruger Effect in the BJJ community
Disclaimer: This isn't an article that bashes the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is an amazing martial art that is incredibly effective and a must-have in any modern martial artist's arsenal. We are simply taking a deeper look at the "hidden" or dark side of Jiu-Jitsu that isn't often looked at, talked about, or explored.
What Is The Dunning-Kruger Effect?
As defined and modified for the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or grappling community: The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability regarding the effectiveness of their grappling skills in a real fighting scenario, especially when it comes to training in "sport" Jiu-Jitsu versus training in self-defense focused Jiu-Jitsu.
This tends to occur because of the general sport BJJ practitioners' lack of self-awareness in a real fighting scenario, which comes from the lack of training with strikes, wrestling / takedowns / throws / slams, and / or ground and pound, which prevents some BJJ practitioners from accurately assessing their own skills.
Why Do Some People Think They Know More Than They Do?
Here is a graphic that illustrates the Dunning Kruger effect:
Overconfidence in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will happen most often at the White Belt and Blue Belt levels, where a practitioner has trained just enough to think they are invincible, but not enough to know that they lack knowledge and training in many other areas.
Once a practitioner reaches Purple, Brown, and Black Belt levels, they will begin to understand that BJJ, like any other martial art, is not the end all be all of martial arts, and begin to appreciate cross-training in other disciplines or styles of martial arts to compliment their grappling skills, if they have not done so already.
Common Pitfalls of Modern Sport Jiu-Jitsu Training
Let's identify the types of overconfidence or possible pitfalls in typical modern, sport-focused Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training:
1. Lack of focus in strikes or dealing with strikes.
Modern BJJ training is focused on the grappling aspect of Jiu-Jitsu, but do not train against any form of stand-up based striking, or address the danger of ground and pound strikes / stomps / kicks that can be employed while floor grappling is happening.
They do not train in a scenario where punches, kicks, elbows, or knees are thrown before the fight even reaches the ground, which is where BJJ's specialty is.
This can create a false sense of security for the pure BJJ practitioner, who may be conditioned to think that they only require floor-based grappling skills to win any fight.
2. Lack of focus in stand-up grappling, throwing, wrestling, or takedown training.
In modern, sport-focused Jiu-Jitsu, BJJ practitioners often pull guard, or start sparring at their knees, or otherwise agree to start rolling with each other on the ground with the focus of only grappling or tapping each other out with submission techniques.
Sport-focused BJJ practitioners are not fully aware that against someone with superior wrestling abilities, throwing / takedown skills, or takedown defense, that they either cannot even take the fight to the ground in the first place to use their Jiu-Jitsu, or that they will end up on the ground in a dangerous, vulnerable position.
Why Do Some People Overestimate Their Competence?
Sparring or "rolling" in BJJ and making people tap out to submissions is the primary (and usually only) way that BJJ practitioners spar and practice their skills. While this is often considered enough, most BJJ practitioners will never train in or come across actual full-contact sparring with strikes and other attacks.
Especially in the realm of self-defense or street fighting, the ground is the last place you want to be, as you can be attacked with ground and pound, stomps, kicks, body slams, weapons, or even ambushed by multiple opponents.
There is an old saying in BJJ from Carlson Gracie that goes like this:
"Punch a Black Belt in the face, he becomes a Brown Belt. Punch him again, Purple."
This saying means that a grappler's skills become less and less effective the more damage or punishment they receive in a real fight.
Receive enough damage, and their skills deteriorate to that of a White Belt, eventually becoming unable to defend themselves in a fighting scenario.
Size, Strength, and Weight Matters
Another common myth (or outright lie) that is ignored when marketing the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to unsuspecting, prospective students / practitioners is that "technique overcomes size and strength".
BJJ overemphasizes (and romanticizes) the idea that if you know the right techniques, you can submit or beat any opponent of lesser skill, regardless of their size or strength.
This idea is problematic because in reality, weight classes, gender categories, and age brackets in sports exist for a reason.
I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to engage with this Mongolian wrestler in any fight or have this man on top of me in any kind of situation at all.
People often forget that in a real fighting scenario, there are no weight classes, and you have no idea what the other guy is capable of!
Physical attributes such as size, strength, and weight play a huge factor in determining who wins in a fight.
Not to mention other "X" factors such as toughness, athleticism, and aggression, that can really ruin your day.
People who ignore simple laws of physics and overestimate their own fighting abilities will find themselves in harmful situations with dire consequences.
How To Avoid The Dunning-Kruger Effect in BJJ
To avoid falling prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect, BJJ practitioners should honestly and routinely question if their grappling would work in a real fighting scenario with strikes, wrestling, and even slams involved, rather than blindly flopping onto the ground on their backs, or accepting that "all fights will somehow end up on the ground" (another commonly used / heard BJJ marketing tactic).
BJJ practitioners can challenge themselves and start to practice sparring:
- By starting from a standing position, so that takedowns are a must
- By rolling with light strikes / slaps / kicks / stomps allowed
- Semi-contact or full-contact / MMA sparring with other martial arts practitioners from different disciplines to test their grappling techniques outside of BJJ-only scenarios
Individuals could also escape the trap by seeking others whose expertise can help cover their own blind spots, such as turning to a non-BJJ practitioner for advice, sparring, or constructive criticism.
- Dynasty Team
I completely agree. Pure BJJ folks can easily defeat a day 1 white belt in a BJJ setting, but will find unique challenges once other techniques are allowed. Or, in the case of street fighting, when all techniques and weight categories are allowed, they will find themselves in more danger. Definitely better to be well-rounded