Offence vs Defence For Jiu-Jitsu Training

The debate over Offence Vs Defence for Jiu-Jitsu is always interesting, and on this special debate episode of “The Sonny Brown Breakdown,” I was joined by two guests who went into battle for the respective sides. With School of Grappling taking the side of offence and Priit Mihkelson being on the defence side.

So what’s more important in the battle between offence vs defence? Well, In the seminal 1997 action film “Double Team” starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, the following exchange takes place…

JCVD: Offence gets the glory…
RODMAN: …But defence wins the game

With the issue being reasonably broad, it takes some interesting turns from a general conceptual overview of the topic to practical applications of the technique, the learning and teaching of grappling. Andy and Priit had a great conversation so check it out on your favourite podcast app to listen to how it went down!





[04:28] – How they decided about the debate
[07:10] – In any combat sport, you should know both offence and defence
[09:38] – Chess is a perfect archetype for every combat sport
[12:35] – The only thing that the offensive player can attain
[13:45] – Priit’s views on the necessity of offence and defence in combat sports
[18:00] – Defense that drives the evolution of the offence
[23:33] – The dialectic relationship between defence and offence
[25:35] – How Andy structure his classes
[30:20] – How Priit structures classes for beginners
[37:17] – Defence is understudied that its information is not optimal
[39:26] – Defence doesn’t come as naturally as offence
[41:09] – Make sure to have defence while practising offence backwards
[44:44] – Incorporate the defence into your offence
[47:01] – How to shift your defensive move to offensive
[48:30] – How to pull guard from Turtle position?
[53:55] – A little bit of fear isn’t always a bad thing
[57:22] – Make people get bored, then it’s easy to make them offensive
[1:03:00] – Create an incentive for people to accept the defensive state
[1:06:28] – The outside to inside blocks in Jiu-Jitsu
[1:14:04] – People have a fear of not knowing
[1:20:10] – Getting your back flat on the mat
[1:23:14] – Andy’s background in wrestling
[1:25:10] – Why Priit loves defence
[1:30:09] – Should offence be taught by setting a base posture of defence
[1:33:05] – Teaching to re-attack immediately after defence


Be Skillful in Both Offence and Defence

ANDY: “First of all, I want to point out that it’s stupid to say that only offence or defence is important. Every practitioner in any combat sport has to be skilful in both offence and defence. And to make my point, I come up with two perspectives to explain why I think both offence and defence is essential.

The first question is, what came first, the weapon or the shield? And just historically, it’s pretty obvious that the weapon came hundreds of 1000 years before the first shields got invented. Because the shield is just a response to the SWAT. You have to understand what can hurt you, where you have to protect yourself from and what you have to protect yourself.

And in that sense, take the SWAT as an archetype for all offensive weapons. It had to be first for the shield to evolve and to become important at some point. And another point, if we look at this duality of SWAT and shield, ask yourself what you carry in your primary hand and your right hand. For most people, it’s the SWAT. The shield is carried in your left hand (your less important hand, so to say). So, this can explain well where the humans naturally see the great importance of the shield. So that’s like the first point I want to make about the SWAT and shield from a more martial and combative context.

And the second point I want to make is chess. Because I feel like chess is a perfect archetype for every combat that is concerned about space and time. So in chess, there are a lot of terms that are very useful for general thoughts and tactics. And the first one is initiative.

Initiative in chess is when the one player cannot ignore the threats the other player poses to him, and he has to respond. That’s why it’s said that a wise person starts with initiative in chess because he makes the first move. So by making the first move, he gained the tempo.

Temp is like a measure of time in chess. It’s like, the amount of turns you did. And just by starting by being the guy who attacks, you can win around 55% of the matches. So it’s not a game at the highest level that’s 50:50 white and black. But that’s more like 55 to 45. And white; it is said that white has the advantage because it has the initiative. And it always is one up on tempo.

So it’s like we start with more time to do our stuff. And a really simple idea may be to see how that is important in conduct. For example, if we look at boxing, and I jab you, you have to respond. Your response can be manifold. You can block. You can parry. You can evade. Maybe you can even counterattack, but you have to respond in some way. Because if you don’t, you just get hit. So in many ways, what Black actually tries to do in chess, is to either hope that white makes a mistake and loses tempo.”

Make Your Defence Solid

PRIIT: “People should concentrate on something, but my idea is understudied. I think the offence is necessary. I enjoy the rules and pressure, but I think it’s a weird dichotomy that you can pressure more if you have a good defence. You actually are more aggressive. I know you guys agree that you’re actually more aggressive when your defence is solid. That means how deep you would have to go to the defensive side and what would be the level you would reach your optimal level of aggression.

If your defence is not solid, you will not be optimal. You will always hold back a bit or even over commit. And that makes the risk a little bit too expensive. So how much time should you spend on defence? Because I don’t think it’s 50:50 (defence 50 and attack 50). I’m all about the attack because the attack constantly evolves to a certain level. Attack evolves naturally to a certain level, and then it stops because there’s no resistance anymore.

And then people start to counter study it, how to defend it. So for the attack to reach its full potential, even with the microscopic advancements, it needs resistance. It needs defence. And in that sense, I’m honest about it when I say that, figuring out how the defence could be the best that it can be, we can reach better, optimal results potential when that’s coming to attack. 

And we can weed out not working attacks because the defence can do that. It’s not going to be like one is left, like let’s talk about the far side armbar from side control. It’s not like one version is left. But we will definitely have fewer versions left if the defence would be optimal, and then we could spend our time practising those fewer options, or far side armbar, then our time will be better spent.

So, it is actually the defence that drives the evolution of offence. And that’s what pushes offence forward, and without that development of defence, then the offence will never reach its true potential.”

The Dialectic Relationship Between Defence and Offence

ANDY: “We need a better defence to get the better offence and in return. We need a better offence to get a better defence. That’s how actual progress is achieved. Even in science or in politics, we have a theory, then it gets attacked stronger than it has to make its point stronger, and this is like an ongoing, infinite cycle of progress.”

Teaching Submissions to Beginners

PRIIT: “We mostly teach the beginners submissions because it’s easier for them to relate to it because they’ve seen it probably in UFC and other stuff. That’s not the only reason to do that, but the word already said that they need to understand the end goal. And also, when we do a lot of, let’s say, progressive resistance drills, let’s say, an armbar. The other beginner is struggling, and you do progressive resistance. So to find the tap, the other person learns to be calm but responsible. And not freaking out in submission and then tapping. And that’s also a good lesson another person learns to control the lock-in and range and not freak out.”

How to shift from a defensive to an offensive position

PRIIT: “So what I think, as a visual, I want to make people as bored as possible, or as safe as possible. So when they start to get bored, then I can try to attack them. So in a cartoonish way, it would be like that I want you to be safe enough not to be afraid to try.”

Should offence be taught by setting a base posture of defence?

ANDY: “My problem with that is defence in itself is not intentional. It is absolutely directionless. It has no sense outside or no meaning in isolation. That’s my problem with defence. It’s like an attack has, as an aim. It’s like, I have a purpose. I want to do X. But the purpose of the defence, like the SWAT and sheet, will always be to respond to the purposeful attack of somebody else.

I know that you are very familiar with my ideas on intuition and your human movement. And I feel like intention and direction is something intrinsic to human movement. And we organize ourselves, our movements, to achieve a purposeful and intentional goal. That’s why we cannot get students to form a tremendous defensive posture.

Because they lack the purpose behind the posture, they will not be able to harness the power of, let’s say, autoregulation and self-organization. That’s why I think we have to start with purpose in movement. Also, usually, offensive action is way more purposeful in itself. And defensive action can only be understood with offensive action in mind.”

Offence Vs Defence Resources


“Every skilful practitioner in any combat sport has to know and be skilful in both offence and defence.”

“Every offensive action has to be diff has to be defensive in some way. And every defensive action has to be offensive.”

“Attack is the secret of defence. Defence is the planning of an attack.”


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Offence Vs Defence Debate for Grappling & Jiu-Jitsu