The recent on set brawl between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlie Silva during The Ultimate Fighter Brazil highlighted an essential lesson that every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner should keep in mind when things start to get out of hand – control the distance. As tensions began to rise between the pugilists Chael attempted to deescalate the situation politely asking Wanderlie to please stop. Once Chael realizes that diplomacy has failed he shoves Wanderlie away saying “I can’t let you get close”. This statement served two purposes; first it told Wanderlie that his shove was an act of personal protection and not aggression. He wasn’t trying to insight him only keep safe. Secondly, it put him at a comfortable distance too far to be struck. Jiu-jitsu fighters are often trained to clinch, but they forget that being at a distance is often times the safer option since it allows for potential flight. Additionally, it is easer to clinch on an opponent who is coming towards you rather than one retreating away. Once you create the distance a motivated attacker must advance if they want to pursue the attack further. Chael drew Wanderlie in with the full intention of closing the distance once Wanderlie initiated a committed motion. A striking attacker wants their opponent in the mid range, right at the end of their punches placing them close enough to hit, but far enough to generate power. Chael’s role as the grappler was played perfect. Keeping the hands up and chin protected he goes from being too far to immediately too close, executing a double leg while in flip flops is perhaps even more impressive.
The sad reality is that this concept of distance management is being lost by many modern day BJJ practitioners. The sportive game, while technically advanced, is often played completely at the mid range. The same rules that apply on the feet exist on the ground, especially from the guard. If someone is in the mid range either kick them away and stand up in base or you pull them in so tight they don’t have an inch of daylight. The “self defense problem” is not that people are training exotic techniques or positions, but rather that they are executing them from the inappropriate distance.