The total efficacy of a martial art is not as important as whether it’s fun and safe to train. If a martial art gives moderate returns in terms of preparing you for a real life situation, but is so fun and physically low impact that you train five days a week, the practice of that martial art can be extremely worthwhile. Conversely, if a martial art is extremely effective but is not fun to train, it is ultimately harder and less likely that most people will ever dedicate enough time to get good at it.
Being ready for a self-defense situation is as much a matter of preparing your mind as it is perfecting techniques. Often, getting good at fighting is about inuring yourself to the fear of it, so as to not be swept away by the moment. A good athlete, who is acclimated to high stress situations and can execute a physical plan under pressure can be a dangerous opponent in a street fight, even if he hasn’t been painstakingly drilled in the science of throwing the most mechanically efficient punch.
Often street fights are not won by the most technical fighter, but the most willing to do damage, and the least afraid of prison time. Savagery is the law of the jungle, and the streets. You must acclimate yourself to the chaos of physical combat in order to be able to control it.
So you expose yourself to it. To violence. You put your face close to the flames. Slowly you get used to it. The things that used to overwhelm you are now manageable. You are able to think coherent thoughts, to make plans and execute them.
Effective martial arts are ones where they have figured out a modality of training, a fight-game, a fight with rules, that combines maximal exposure to the experience of having to struggle physically with someone who is trying to hurt you, with a ruleset or equipment that allows the participants to engage with a relatively low level of physical injury.
So you and another man strap on headgear and 16 ounce gloves and maybe shin pads and do at least most of your best to beat the shit out of each other. You learn about the shock of impact, the flash of white light. You learn how to move under fire, how to cover up and land right-on punches that you barely have to think about.
But you learn about the feeling afterwards. The goofy, dumb feeling like a warm invisible blanket covering everything, The swan song of your brain cells, no doubt. But most of all the dumb, numb feeling that maybe you just lost some of yourself. Boxing is an incredibly effective way of making someone into a human threshing machine, a living piston, but for most it comes at a cost. I realized one day that the best boxers at my gym were all construction workers. There were no lawyers, or computer programmers.
That’s where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu comes in. In striking martial arts like boxing or muay thai, hard sparring can only be done 2-3 times a week, otherwise your brain will turn to mush. But in jiu jitsu, you can spar hard 2 times a day 7 days a week, provided the properly recovery regime between sessions. The rate at which one can expose themselves to the experience of being attacked by another capable person is the rate at which they improve at fighting.
Jiu jitsu is perfect in its compromise between allowing heightened and frequent exposure to the experience of violence, but also the lack of opportunity for debilitating percussive impact. Even a non-striking grappling art like judo or wrestling can be unbelievably tough on the body, as the participant bears the brunt of being slammed into the earth on a regular basis.
Jiu jitsu sparring is structured in such a way that you can immerse yourself in the violent storm of another grown man trying his hardest to hurt you, at minimal cost to your body. Jiu Jitsu’s idiosyncratic sparring rules make it the best bang for your biological buck, in the sense of preparing you the most while incurring the least damage.
There is no biological free lunch. Everything you get comes at a cost. What you get with four or five years of boxing training is to become a great physical danger, even in a street fight with multiple assailants, but you pay with your brain cells. What you get for the equivalent amount of time commitment in jiu jitsu is the ability to physically control and subdue a single attacker who is within 30-40 lbs of your own bodyweight, at the cost of some wear and tear on your back, neck, and probably your knees. Is that a good deal? I think so.