Train Jiu Jitsu—Be the Sheepdog

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As we talked about last time, we don’t have to be a black belt to know how to stay safe. Sure, having a black belt is COOL, but there are some simple things we can do, that we can teach our KIDS to do so that we can minimize what bad people can do.

If you’ve seen the movie, “American Sniper” you have heard the parable of the Wolf, the Sheep and the Sheepdog. I actually laughed out loud in that scene because I think that speech must be issued to all Texas parents, or at least military parents because I recall getting the same speech when I was a kid.

For those who haven’t heard it, the analogy goes as so. There are three kinds of people in the world. There are the wolves. Wolves prey on the weak for their own ends. They are always looking to exploit a weakness. When wolves (or any predator) hunts, they don’t go after the strongest and the fastest. They target weakness. They go for the small, the weak, the young, the old, the infirm, or the one who wandered off and isn’t paying attention. They go for the one who strayed too far from the safety of a group.

This is what wolves DO with most of their time. They hunt, they search and study and patrol LOOKING for any kind of weakness where they can take advantage.

There are human wolves. All they do is look for opportunity to exploit.

Then there are the sheep. Sheep are dumb. They are often oblivious. They follow where they are led and they will even follow to slaughter. They don’t question. They are a herd creature and they are the favorite prey for the predator.

Finally, we have the sheepdog. The sheepdog is a formidable adversary. The sheepdog is FIERCE but also gentle, loving, loyal and protective. The sheepdog watches over the sheep. Hs doesn’t exploit the sheep. If he sees a little one wandering off, he herds him back to the group and watches out for predators.

For the sheepdog, violence isn’t always the answer, but it IS an option.

Our goal in Jiu Jitsu (or any martial arts) is to train sheepdogs. Those with an interest in becoming wolves with our techniques don’t last long, and they know they will ignite the ire of a pack of nasty sheepdogs if they are discovered. So most stay away. Many people join Jiu Jitsu to be trained how to transition from sheep to sheepdog.

When I was growing up, we used to train Belgium Sheepdogs as service animals. What was SO COOL was that you could see the wiring of the sheepdog from puppy to elderly. The pups would bounce around and play in a group of small children, but if one of the toddlers decided to wander off, the pups would rush over and gently guide the baby back to the group. Same with the old dogs. We had an elderly Belgium who was an AMAZING service animal even at the age of eleven.

But sheepdogs exhibit behaviors that distinguish them from wolves and from sheep and we can learn from that. In fact, Gracie Barra training is ALL ABOUT honing and training our inner sheepdog.

Image courtesy of Virtual Wolf via Flickr Creative Commons
Image courtesy of Virtual Wolf via Flickr Creative Commons


Wolves will almost always be found hunting in packs. They are bullies and use their numbers to pick on the weak. They don’t like one-on-one confrontation because they lose advantage.

Sheepdogs have no problem with one-on-one confrontation and they don’t rely on outnumbering for advantage.


Yes, sheepdogs meander through the herd, they protect the herd, but they are never ONE with the herd. They don’t rely on safety in numbers like the sheep. They are never part of the groupthink of the herd.

Sheepdogs are ALWAYS Alert, Present and AWARE of Surroundings

Sheepdogs might be seen basking in the sun but trust me, they are very aware who who is where and doing what. They are always on the alert for any signs of danger and that somethings doesn’t look right. They keep an eye on those who are weak, not to take advantage, but rather to PROTECT the weak from predators who wish to exploit.

Sheepdogs Will Never Seek a Confrontation but They Won’t Back Down from One

Sheepdogs don’t go out “looking” for predators. They generally hang back and keep watch. But, should danger present itself? GAME ON.

Sheepdogs are WIRED to Be Prepared

Sheepdogs have genetic wiring that gives them the ability to take on or back down a predator.

When we train in Jiu Jistu, we are training to be sheepdogs. Unlike sheepdogs, we don’t have the same genetic wiring, so there are skills we need to learn.

I hate to say it, but I see A LOT of sheep behavior in people and it’s a good way to get hurt or killed. One of the first steps we can do to stay safe (and keep those around us safe) is to start behaving more like a sheepdog and less like a sheep.

Some Human Sheep Behaviors


I like listening to music as much as the next person, but one thing I see that vexes me PROFOUNDLY are people (particularly females) out jogging in a park alone wearing a set of headphones. To me, they look like some little lamb that’s wandered to the outside of the herd and is too busy munching on dandelions to notice the wolf.

Remember, human predators think and act A LOT like predators in nature. What better place to snag an unsuspecting victim than a park where the potential victim is oblivious to her surroundings?

If you want to jog wearing headphones, great. But get some friends to go with or do this in a contained environment like a gym. Predators back down when there are numbers. If you are alone? Ditch the headphones so you can maintain situational awareness.

Smart Phones

I love Facebook. I like to text and talk as much as the next person. But, there is a time and a place for everything. Parking lots are NOTORIOUSLY dangerous, and yet daily I see people walking alone (usually with headphones) completely immersed in their Twitter feed instead of paying attention and looking for potential threats.

If I am busy tweeting about my latte, I can’t see that there is a panel van or an open trunk or a pack of thugs who look like they might want to go Christmas shopping with MY purse.

Put the phone away until you are in a safer place. Don’t text and talk when you are walking across the wolves’ favorite hunting grounds.


As a Stay-at-Home Mom, I totally get it. Sometimes we just have to go unleash the kids in the park. It CAN get boring watching Junior on the monkey bars and it is tempting to chat with a friend or another parent (or even get out the cell phone). This is fine so long as we limit it and keep situational awareness.


I always stay on the lookout for potential predators. One day I had my two young nephews at a park. I noticed a man walk down the hill and linger along the fringes in a copse of trees beyond the play equipment. He had no children, but was unusually focused on the kids in the park. I moved in between him and the kids and made STRONG EYE CONTACT to let him know I SAW HIM. I NOTICED HIM.

He left.

Those who are going to possibly prey on a small child are hoping we aren’t paying attention. They DO NOT like being noticed. Often, like the sheepdog perking its ears and growling, this is enough to make the predator slink away, because they have lost their greatest advantages—stealth and invisibility. They KNOW we are not going to let any little lambs wander their direction.

Again, I hope you find a Gracie Barra close or even come join us here in Mansfield. We are offering free trials so you can get a taste of Advanced Sheepdog Training. Train the pups!

Just remember, stay alert, stay calm and stay SAFE!

~Dojo Diva

32 Responses to Train Jiu Jitsu—Be the Sheepdog

  1. You have hit on my pet peeve too, people oblivious to their surroundings. I don’t want to be a total paranoid diva but really, people should be paying attention to what’s going on around them.

  2. As a children’s church facilitator in an inner city neighborhood, I think I will formally have my “title” changed to sheep dog. These kids have seen too much and need to be kept as safe as possible at least while they are at church.

    Too many times a stranger or even an estranged parent will come around to try to see what they can get away with. These people have to be confronted and our kids protected. I can’t take them on physically, but your blog principles apply.

  3. Having grown up in Minnesota, I was never introduced to the “wolf, sheep, sheepdog” lesson. Boy, could I have used it though! I was introduced to self-defense, however, it was part of our phy-Ed curriculum back in the 70s, so that was good.

    I work in a public library and situational awareness is taught (well, as much as it can be), but I think the analogy of sheep dog will stick in people’s brains much more easily than “situational awareness.” Thanks.

  4. Aren’t we all sheepdogs as parents? We herd our brood out of harm’s way. We always have one eye peeled on where they are and what they are doing.
    Even as adults,I just had a twenty minute conversation with my grown son who was in a very negative state with money worries, and with me trying to move him to a more positive outlook before it got worse. I don’t know if I was a successful herder this time, but we never stop trying.

  5. I’m learning to be more sheepdog and less of a sheep. I’m a runner, and being outdoors with my music is something I look forward to during the week. I do, however, keep on busy roads and try to stay aware of my surroundings. The best way to prevent tragedy is to stay one step ahead of it! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Situational awareness is one of the hardest things to teach a kid. Our dojo instructor devotes a class periodically to teaching the younger kids about not wandering off with ‘nice’ strangers who ask for help or have dogs, or not to get too close to a car, or to simply avoid trouble. She also has a great lecture on how to defuse or avoid a bully without resorting to violence except as a last resort. It’s a great class.

    But here’s the thing. I speak to so many people whose kids are getting picked on or bullied. I tell them to bring their kids to martial arts, but there’s this perception it’s everybody else’s responsibility to keep their kids safe except for them. Ultimately, it falls to the kid to know what to do when the wolf comes slinking around. Our job as parents is to teach our kids to not be sheep and survive, not to make sure all 9 billion people on earth are fellow sheep. One thing is in your control. The other…

  7. I think I just changed my moniker from Mama Grizzly to Mama Sheepdog. I’m a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children. The vulnerability and innocence of children is something I am fiercely passionate about protecting.

    It’s another reason I’m getting another degree in special education. I can’t sit back and watch kids being mistreated because of their inability to defend themselves. (I have adult twin sons with autism so know a lot about that.)

    Good thing Sheepdog Mamas are on the prowl! 🙂 Sure wish there were more of us.

  8. Well, the things I’ve missed growing up in Hoosierland! I’ve never heard the wolf-lamb-sheepdog story. I love the analogy and shared it in my Google+
    Lots of my friends still have kids in school, and I think your advice is golden!
    Kudos (or Cujo–as needed!)

  9. As always in your blog, this was an excellent article on a topic that everyone can personally relate. I raised three daughters, we now have two young (3 & 6) grandsons living in our home. While they are not old enough to start a martial art yet, I have been attempting to teach them situational awareness which seems to be a constant struggle.

    My other concern for the two boys is keeping them from becoming bullies. They have a child’s natural combativeness between siblings but I have seen them take it out to the playground with other children. When the 6 year old punched a little girl, I made him apologize then ‘play time’ was over and we left. Driving, the two of us had a good conversation on bullying.

    I’m looking forward to getting them both into a martial art and while you’ve sold me on BJJ, the only dojo is too far away. I think the two will at least start with Aikido. Thanks again for your blog, always an interesting and thought provoking read!

  10. I have been confined to a motorized shopping cart for the past nine months and talk about people being oblivious to their surroundings. I have sat and waited for over 5 minutes – no exaggeration – while a shopper talked on their phone and shopped while I sat and waited in my cart for them to move over 5 inches so I could pass by. It is this kind of zoned-out thinking that makes people targets for those looking for sheep.

  11. This is another great article! Years ago I worked at a bank and once a year we had security training. One year all the local banks went together to get a speaker. He was amazing. Best I ever heard. He dealt a lot on personal safety. He said the criminals expect a certain reaction and if they don’t get it, they will usually just go for another victim. His advice falls right in line with yours. As women, we need to pay attention to our surroundings.

    This is a great series of blogs you are doing. is my blog. You are doing a great service with these posts. Appreciate you, please keep it up!

  12. Kristen, I am so glad I came across your writing. I appreciate your clear insights that not only sharpen our skills as writers, (Point of View, etc), but also this blog. I will share your writing with others on my Facebook page, etc. We’re having a writers retreat soon and will pass along some of your information and steer them toward your website and training. We’re having the retreat because I’ve seen hopeful writers, as sheep, end up in deep, negative financial situations through contracts with “publishing companies” and I wanted to alert them to alternatives. Do you permit your ‘training’ to be shown to groups? Maybe another time that could work. Thank you.

  13. You’ve probably already shared this over on twitter but I’m going to do it again, just because you are so right about the whole predator/prey thing.

  14. I’d never heard the parable of the wolf, sheep, and sheepdog until I saw American Sniper. I love that movie!

    You’ve done an amazing job expanding on the analogy. We can never have too many sheepdogs in this world. Life is Ruff! Sorry, just couldn’t help it. I get silly when I’m tired. Good night!

  15. I really liked the bit about staring down the man at the park. I would’ve thought such a move wouldn’t make someone go away, but clearly it works. And I’m starting to hate parking lots now that I’m hearing how dangerous they are. Would you say parking lots are dangerous during the day too? (Also, please enter my name in the drawing? 🙂 )

    • I WILl enter you and parking lots are probably at least JUST AS dangerous during the day because people let down their guard and predators know that. We do have the advantage of more light and more people, but it is just best to STAY in good habits no matter the time of day.

  16. Please enter me in the drawing. This advice is invaluable. I’m a litle surprised that some have not heard the wolf and sheepdog analogy. I do try to be situationally aware as I’m, ahem, an older lady and could be perceived as vulnerable. I’ve been told for years that I project an air of confidence, even when I didn’t feel it! Other self-defense teachers/writers I’ve come across have said that’s something to strive for.

  17. Wow! Kristen, you a a black belt (COLLAR) sheepdog! We saw American Sniper and didn’t remember that scene at all! You just gave me a great idea for a scene in a mystery!

    The oblivious cell phone user is a huge pet peeve of my husband. We go to fewer movies now because there are people in the theater who are texting or looking at cell phones, etc., sometimes talking out loud to interrupt what we are watching. (The lights from them are annoying enough!) I’ve seen many teens at family gatherings play games or text instead of enjoying the family conversation. So Rude! When a cell phone rang & interrupted a church service, our Pastor commented, “that better be God calling!” These little instruments are turning us into a nation of “electronic sheep!”

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