Children as young as 4 are currently being taught how to strangle another child. They are being taught to hyper extend a limb of another child to the point where the child feels that their arm is about to break and they must submit.
(please note this article has been updated 2/4/2016, please read the update)
No this is not some TV show, this is real life and the sport in question is the fastest growing sport in the world. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ as it is known.
The picture above is a screen capture from YouTube footage of a children's BJJ match. The result is a choke hold known as the Rear Naked Choke. The aim of this choke is to stop oxygenated blood going to the brain and the person will pass out. In this case the child realises the danger and 'taps' out which is a signal that they have been caught and the girl lets go.
The safety aspect here is clearly covered, there are numerous adults present and a referee to watch over them to intervene at the right moment. However in this article I will ask the question is it both morally and ethically right that children as young as 4 are taught to strangle and arm lock other children?
The picture above is from another You Tube clip and I will embed the video below for you to watch. The girls here are young but the female lying upset and crying on the floor has her neck knocked into as the other child s arm went into it.
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I will warn you I found the video shocking for a few issues. Firstly it is clear that one of the children is neither physically or emotionally ready for this type of event and secondly is the actions of the coach or even father of the female child. You can see him shout 'armbar, armbar' several times which is him telling his young daughter to arm lock the other girl.
The sport of BJJ is very fast growing, in fact the interest in BJJ is getting larger than the on line interest in the Olympic Sport of Judo so it was inevitable for a children's sport to form. For those that dont know the sport of BJJ is a grappling based sport that is very similar in many ways to Judo however the focus in BJJ is heavily geared towards the ground work element and chokes and arm locks feature heavily.
Whilst the sport of Judo does actually feature arm locks and chokes as well they are actually not allowed in children's Judo and are only allowed for senior athletes.
I actually posed my questions on why BJJ allows the practise of children to be choked and arm locked to a variety of BJJ coaches and players and I got a mix of responses. From "the submission is the essence of the sport", "its no different than BMX or boxing". I actually got little real substance to any answer.
So I cant actually answer why the sport allow this activity to take place. Judo do not and that is a sport which is nearly identical in many ways. However I want to ask the question here from a moral and ethical point of view.
Should A Child aged 4 Know How to Strangle another child and Break an Arm?
I cant recall too much of my life at aged 4 but I do know it was filled with playing with toys, having fun and I think generally wanting to be HE MAN or Luke Skywalker. I cannot ever remember my desire to learn how to strangle another child.
If we are honest children would never ever want to train Judo, BJJ or any other sport and for the most part they want to play. Therefore as parents and adults we try and direct that play into the best kind of activity for them.
In this issue, as is with Judo it is the family element that is showing through. A proud father who studies BJJ will know doubt want their son or daughter to follow and reap the benefits that the sport has to offer such as increased fitness, focus and discipline. I totally understand this.
However this clearly identifies that the parent is actually involving the child in BJJ. It is the parent that actually gets the child involved into the activity and they who want their child to learn to choke and strangle another child of their age. The child in many ways is doing as they are told.
As adults it is our job to safeguard our children from violence but in this activity there is a strong encouragement.
But Its No Different From Boxing
Im not a fan of children boxing but you would be right in saying that there is no difference.Boxers punch each other in the face. Well yes but there are a few fundamental differences. In boxing the aim is to score a point and although pain is involved in the sport of boxing the aim is to get score a point without a point being scored against you.
In BJJ the sport uses something called submissions. In other words the child has to submit. This involves a child tapping the mat several times or the other child to show they cannot continue. However what causes this tap?
The tap or the submission is caused when an arm lock or choke is applied to the other child and that child is aware of the consequences that either they submit or risk a broken limb or being made to become unconscious. This decision making process is of course proceeded by pain. Any child who cannot breath or is having their limb hyper extended will be in a degree of pain.
It is that pain that will cause a child to tap. Of course in BJJ the referees are present or coaches to stop the match if the child does not tap. However we are talking split second judgement here.
Its interesting that the age for criminal behaviour is 10 in the UK. That is basically the age that a child can be deemed as criminally responsible for their actions. However in a recent report it has been suggested that this age is raised as children are not really aware of their decisions.
So within the context of a child 'tapping out' we are asking them to recognise the consequences of not tapping and then take action. Are they really able to do this as 4 year olds?
The other key aspect missing from this is intent. By this I mean what is the intention in BJJ? It is clearly all about a submission. However to get a submission the other child must be willing to cause pain to his opposition. They must be taught to hyper extend that limb to the point of breaking it and must cut of the oxygen supply to the brain of the other child. All of which will actually cause huge injuries or knock out a child if there is not a tap or adult intervening.
So the training in BJJ is actually all about creating the intent to cause pain to other children. Is this really a healthy attitude or desire to have?
Putting a Business Before Child Welfare
The fundamental difference between BJJ and Judo lies not within its techniques but within its organisational structure because at its heart BJJ is a business and a good one at that. Judo has one product to give the world and its Judo as an Olympic Sport, however BJJ has followed the rules of busines and grown by creating numerous products such as Combatives and No Gi Grappling. It now has a child programme yet at what cost?
The consumers for this programme will be adults with a family who have an interest in BJJ already. This is a ready made market for their business to grow and it provides each club owner with a new revenue stream. However as stated BJJ can exist for children without any submissions or chokes. Judo does this already and BJJ can adapt similar rules.
Should We Equip 4 Year olds with the Knowledge To Kill?
This article has a very strong ending. It is a question that is simple. A choke hold can kill, this much is a known fact. It is a matter of time not if. Many people have lost their life due to overly applied choke holds.
I do not know of any sport other than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is actually teaching a technique where the whole purpose is to stop oxygen getting to a child's brain. Or a technique that causes so much pain and discomfort to the child that they are forced to give up. With that in mind should we really be teaching these techniques to children and do we really need a sport such as this out there for children?
Judo has been around for a long time now and at some point the officials involved in Judo made the decision to NOT allow children to choke or arm lock each other. I feel that is the correct decision and I feel that at this time I would not recommend BJJ for children in its current format as a safe option for your child.
However what do you think? Should BJJ for children have armlocks and chokes? Did Judo get it wrong? Are parents trying to push children into an activity that could have fatal playground consequences later on?
As always comment below and feel free to share.
By Andrew Holland
This article is now nearly 2 years old and every now and again the same thing happens. A BJJ player reads it and gets angry then shares it to a Facebook group or forum and I get a lot of comments and abuse.
However what is alarming is the nature of the comments all of which are mostly abusive and never see the light of day for that reason.
The BJJ community is one I have dabbled in and found that the on-line attitudes are very aggressive/rude and the complete opposite to the actual personalities in real life.
But either way I certainly won't tolerate abuse both on-line or in person. So for those who are writing comments please try and make them clean.
The next aspect is of course the argument for or against the teaching of chokes to young children.
So far all I hear from the BJJ community is that "its not worse than Karate or boxing" , "It develops confidence", "In Judo people get thrown what if a child throws another child in fun?"
I also get a range of people saying that the way children's BJJ is run and organised there are high levels of safety.
All of which I get, so here is a question to all those commentating:
Have you ever been to Crown court as a witness?
Have you ever been to coroners court as a witness?
If the answer is no then let me tell you the things you are saying in comments to this article would not stand up to questioning.
And this is exactly where the BJJ instructor will be heading if a fatality ever occurred inside or outside of the BJJ class.
If you are unsure what I mean. let me explain further.
The art of BJJ is teaching children to choke other children.
The art of the choke or strangle will cut off air to the victim and render them unconscious, also it may cut off the supply of oxygenated blood to the brain.
The argument among BJJ teachers and students is that this is safe to teach young children however my argument is that it is dangerous.
Even with older children we have seen issues in the sad case of Stephan Arceneaux III who was killed by a 14-year-old using a choke at a party. This caused Gracie Jiu Jitsu to put out the following video
The ex-cop in me sees a situation that is going to occur at some point, a child is going to fight how they are taught and when they get into a school fight they will of course, use a choke hold or lock if that is what has been drilled into them
At that point, we are asking the child under the age of 10 to recognise when to let go without causing injury.
However are we considering the chemical cocktail that occurs in any one of any age when violence happens?
The rush of adrenaline that affects vision, awareness of time and of course judgement.
When we add this to the mix we are asking a lot of the child.
Could BJJ be a sport for children without chokes? Yes we know this, and I am sure it would be an excellent and very safe one at that.
However at this time the question still remains: Why teach the children chokes in the first place?
Self defence? That argument doesn't hold up the scrutiny for under 10's.
Confidence? Again the ability to choke another child has nothing to do with confidence.
Part of the art? Sure this is part of the art but then why do you ban heel hooks? Oh yes because of the dangers of use in events.This shows that modifications can be made to the sport.
The other arguments such as "Its just as dangerous in Judo". Sure in the playground a child could get thrown by a Judo player in self-defence or offence.
And yes the child could land on his neck, head or back and face life-changing injuries.
The factor missing in this argument is of course intent.
The child would be throwing onto the floor, that is their intention. They are not intending to cut off their air supply.
This is a key factor
Here is another thought, what if the child being choked had asthma and the choke was just used to render the child unconscious? Well this could trigger a severe asthma attack.
I could go on all day with this debate because the simple truth is that by teaching children as young as 4 to choke another child, you are providing them with the technical knowledge and technique to end the life of another.
Now I hope that this doesn't happen. I am sure the risk is ridiculously small, but there is a risk.
For myself the risk of this is too great, I don't feel comfortable with it and without any serious counter argument i cannot change my views on the subject.
Please feel free to add a comment if you can add to this debate, please don't re hash the same old comments that I have mentioned here. They will only ever be published if they add value to this debate.
I welcome strong counter argument to this article because I'm not an idiot and if I see a compelling argument that changes my mind on the subject I will change my mind and tell everyone why. However abuse and poorly constructed comments will not be published.