Mario Sperry’s Thoughts on Sport Jiu-Jitsu’s Effectiveness for Self Defense

Mario Sperry’s Thoughts on Sport Jiu-Jitsu’s Effectiveness for Self Defense



Mario Sperry is a 3 Time World Jiu Jitsu Champ, 6 Time ADCC World Champ, MMA veteran.

Born in a wealthy family and coming from a military college, where he practised sports like waterpolo, volleyball, soccer and hammer throwing, Sperry started his martial arts career learning judo under master Georges Mehdi. At brown belt level, he expanded his training to Brazilian jiu-jitsu with Carlson Gracie, becoming one of his main apprentices. Mario earned his black belt in this art at the 1995 World BJJ Championships, where he entered and won the heavyweight black belt division, and it was popularly said that until that point he had not lost a single point in his earlier competition career. He gained the nickname “Zé Maquina” (“José Machine”) for his relentless performance, which later changed to “Zen Machine” in his introduction to United States.

Having had his mixed martial arts debut in 1995, Sperry debuted in United States as part of the Extreme Fighting event, where he was billed as having a 272-0 fight record. The first round of the tournament saw him face Ecuatorian fighter and Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Rudyard Moncayo, who Sperry defeated by ground and pound, but the second one would see a different outcome against Russian kickboxing and sambo specialist Igor Zinoviev. Though Sperry was able to take him down and assume dominant position, Zinoviev managed to escape to his feet every time. After ten minutes, Sperry tried to leap into a rear naked choke while Zinoviev was giving his back while holding the fence, but he slipped and fell in front of the Russian, reciving a kick to the face. Mario took Zinoviev down, but the kick had opened a deep cut and the match was stopped to give the win to Igor.

At the world BJJ championships in 1998, after winning the title for three consecutive years, Sperry became the first fighter in history to make a Gracie submit in a match when he defeated Royler Gracie in Brazil by koshi-jime or “clock choke”.

In the January 1998 issue of Black Belt Magazine, there was an article titled ‘Fail-Safe: Will Your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Work on the Street?’. Sperry contributed, and he expressed his views on Sports Jiu-Jitsu as it was taught in the USA, and it’s effectiveness in the street. Sperry shares the same opinion as this article written by another BJJ black belt about sport Jiu-Jitsu not being suitable for the streets.

Here are the most interesting parts of the article:

“Jose Mario Sperry, Brazil’s current heavy weight Jiu-Jitsu champion, believes that Jiu-Jitsu students in United States may not be learning the street-lethal martial art that they think they are. Sperry claims that most of the instructors currently teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the United States are concentrating too much on sport Jiu-Jitsu rather than the street fighting aspect of the art.

The majority of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructors in America are teaching sport jiu-jitsu, “Sperry Notes. “Americans must understand that sport Jiu-Jitsu may not be the most effective method of self defense in the street.”

Sperry was one of the heads of Brazilian Top Team

Sperry was one of the heads of Brazilian Top Team


Sperry likens sport Jiu-Jitsu to the fancy, unrealistic martial arts techniques used in movies. “They look great,” he explains, “but have no place in a street fight. When you compete at the sport Jiu-Jitsu level, you use certain positions in a very flamboyant way.”

Sperry points to the “guard” position to point to illustrate his point. “In a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, you want to pull your opponent into the guard (position) because it enables you to use your legs and perform some really exotic reversals and obtain pints,” he notes. “But in a street fight, being on your back is a very dangerous, and the guard should only be used if you get into trouble and lose your positioning. If you end up on your back, you need to get out very quickly, because a strong opponent can do great damage to you inside your guard.”

Sperry says students need to do a better job of recognizing what type of Jiu-Jitsu is being taught at a school before enrolling, so they can choose class that fits their particular needs.

Sperry certainly understands what it takes to win in both sport Jiu-Jitsu and reality combat competition. He was a convincing winner at Reality Superfighting show in Alabama last November in his only major American appearance, and he won the heavyweight division at the 1996 and 1997 World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Rio de Janeiro.

Sperry, commonly called the “Zen Master” in Brazil because of his cool, calm demeanor during fights, claims, however, that success in the ring does not necessarily translate into success in reality fighting. And because many Brazilian fighters focus solely on tournament competition, they lack the skills needed to properly teach self-defense to their students.

“Once you hit the pavement, it’s a whole new ball game,” say Sperry. “Do not attempt to do fancy submissions on the street because they won’t work. Knowing 100 armbars from the guard is not going to help you at all. It is very important to know the timing of when to strike and when to go for a submission hold; it’s an art in and out of itself.”

When asked why most of the schools in America are not teaching the proper techniques for a real fight, Sperry’s response is direct, much like his approach to fighting.
“Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for street is nowhere near as flashy as sport training.” he says. “Right now most of the Americans are mesmerized with all the fancy submission holds and are flocking to those teachers that can show them the most moves. I feel this is the instructor’s fault because the students are not being told the truth about what works and what doesn’t.