From the British Combat Association. An interesting discussion piece if nothing else.
Grappling in Self Defence
JAMIE CLUBB â?? CLUBB CHIMERA
Grappling has a long and remarkable association with civilian self defence. There are manuals and illustrations depicting control and restraint methods being used against armed and unarmed attackers across Europe throughout the medieval and renaissance period. The British seemed to have changed from their own â??art of self defenceâ??, boxing, to Asian grappling arts at the end of the 19th century. By this time boxing had completely established itself as a respectable professional sport first and as a method for self defence second in the public consciousness. In 1898 E. Barton-Wright launched his own hybrid system of bartitsu with the emphasis on teaching combative application as opposed to sport. His writings make this distinction and he even felt the need to explain to his British readers that the rest of the world didnâ??t practice arts just for sport but also as an active means for self defence. He brought over Japanese ju jutsu instructors to teach at his short-lived academy and wrote illustrated articles on self defence techniques for civilians. Bartitsu imploded and Barton-Wright completely abandoned it within a few years, leaving ju jutsu as the one component of his school to endure as a means for self defence. Ju jutsu, which was often interchangeable with judo during the early part of the 20th century, found its way into western military programmes and even early womenâ??s self defence instructional films.
And yet grappling, by its nature, is less efficient than striking. This might be a little contentious to say in view of the high success rate grapplers have in match fights, but the striker creates distance. Escape is all about creating distance. In short, stun and run is a better policy for a normal civilian in a life-threatening situation than entangling oneâ??s self with an enemy. The grappling imported from Asia at the end of the 19th century and the grappling we see being depicted in 15th century Europe onwards is derived from battlefield training against enemies armed with blades. In many instances empty hand striking techniques would not have been advisable as adversaries were armoured. The purpose of the grappling appears to have been to use the techniques as the only resource available to prevent the armed person from using his close quarter weapons.
If targets are said to dictate weapons then objectives and context certainly dictate tactics. If you are involved in law enforcement, are an officer in some sort of institution, are involved in security or in any situation where your mandate is to control and restrain people then grappling should be your preferred tactic. However, when your life is on the line matters change. From a civilian perspective subduing an antagonist should be seen as an add-on skill, something for medium range threats better trained for once high risk tactics have been thoroughly confirmed. This view is not without its opposition in the self defence world. There are instructors who base their preference for grappling for self defence on the probable truth that most interpersonal physical alterations in the developed world does not rise above the mid-level threat line; you are more likely to be manhandling your drunken friend or family member out of a party than you are to be facing off against a potential rapist or murderer. Therefore, they argue, most training should be geared towards mid-level physical threats. By the same token emergency services should prepare more for non-life threatening situations and false alarms as they are called more to these than genuine disasters. Imagine a carâ??s safety features being tested against the commonest types of knocks and prangs it will encounter. Simply put we just do not assess risks or test things just on likelihood. It is far more logical and practical to prepare for the worst so that you can reduce your tactics accordingly that it is to do it the other way around.
In conclusion grappling from a combative point of view is a last resort method when pre-emptive striking has failed and is best employed as a means for getting in a better position to strike and escape. Of course, there are techniques contained in grappling, including some of the most lethal unarmed techniques known to man, that work very effectively in their own right. However, these techniques, like grappling in general, should be viewed as incidental.
Grappling is a humanâ??s default fighting method. When we play-fight we grapple and street-fights often turn into grappling contests. Early free-for-all fights the world over have routinely favoured the grappler over the more strike-based fighter simply because humans naturally end up clinching within the first few seconds of a fight. There are several theories for this. Essentially our species has excelled with its tool-using capabilities. All animals from other apes to ravens to dolphins tend to indicate their level of intelligence through their use of tools. Humans seem to have sacrificed a good deal of their unarmed physical capabilities, compared to other animals, in favour of this increased intelligence. We make fairly pitiful fighters until we start using tools, which might be the reason why untrained people will strike with their hand in the same manner as they would swing a blunt instrument[i].
Desmond Morris, the eminent zoologist and ethologist, argues that humans are essentially a non-violent species and only through the perversion of our tool-making and using abilities through our increased intelligence have become the deadliest creatures on the planet. Against our own species we prefer to grapple. Despite containing one of the few genuinely fatal unarmed techniques â?? strangulation â?? grappling is a far less damaging way to fight another person than striking. After a full on grappling bout the protagonists might be as much or even more physically drained than those in a striking-only contest, but they will have taken far less injury on either side. This is why you will find that striking sparring, such as boxing and Muay Thai, is often far more restrained then grappling.
So why do we naturally opt for grappling against another person if it takes more work and the result is that far less damage will be inflicted? Some have put forward the idea that we grapple to protect our species. It all stems from our tribal nature. The grappling match is the safest way for an Alpha Male or female to assert dominance over a challenger without depleting their tribeâ??s ranks[ii]. The idea is that most species, given the right natural conditions, will use non-lethal tactics against one another. Horned and antlered animals will butt heads in a test of strength rather than try to gouge each other in the side as they would do with an attacking predator; venomous snakes entangle each other rather than inject venom and so on. Even our fellow apes, who will happily use their superior teeth to bite off whatever appendage that we offer them, tend to wrestle each other and only show each other their teeth. Serious biting, as opposed to mouthing, only tends to come into play if there is something in-between them such as mesh in a zoo-type situation or when other apes join-in to gang up.
Whatever our reasons, certain grappling moves are inherent in our fighting make-up. I have observed this, particularly in my childrenâ??s classes, when I have set up combative activities for novice students. During these activities students will naturally do crude versions of headlocks, bear hugs, waist-locks as well as grip wrists, trip, push, ankle pick and tackle, and they will often fall into positions taught in trained grappling. It is a fascinating observational study in effectiveness through a type of individual natural selection. It also brings into question theories regarding the international roots of certain grappling arts. Although there is documented evidence that certain martial arts systems did influence other countries, at least in modern times, history and common sense tends to support the theory that every country and most cultures have their own indigenous form of grappling.
Having formulated some great robust methods for grappling that have taken the form of combat sports, the intuitive student or coach can use the fundamental feel for primal grappling and build on it. Furthermore, by understanding primal grappling through play-fighting we become acquainted with the most common moves people put on each other. For example, the side headlock is a universal hold we pick up at a very early age and it groundwork cousin, the scarf hold, is often found by accident. Drilling escapes from it immediately better prepares us from falling into it during a real life skirmish in the clinch.
Martial arts and self defence are often taught in a very passive and reactive manner. Students clear their minds in order to have them filled by the knowledge and experience of their teacher. This can be fine in some respects, but I like to encourage my students to think for themselves as early as possible. When it comes to a real life situation they are the baseline. Self defence, after all, should be about independence, empowerment and personal responsibility; this is best achieved when you reveal to a student their instinctive capability to fight. By cultivating this capability and then directing it intelligently you have a better chance for the skills to become instinctive and not an abstract notion.
In his autobiography â??The Godfather of Grapplingâ?? (aka â??The Toughest Man Aliveâ??), â??Judoâ?? Gene LeBell makes a heavy distinction between wrestling and the art of â??grapplingâ??. He said he was first taught to grapple as a child by Ed â??The Stranglerâ?? Lewis, where he learnt all-in fighting. LeBelle asserts that in grappling pretty much everything goes from standard submissions to face-bars and nose tweaks. This, it would seem, stems from primal grappling. It is an extension of what comes from childhood brawling, where you start to learn all the dirty tricks of in-fighting. Many of these techniques have been directed towards stopping an adversary from grappling and now come into their own isolated category known as anti-grappling.
Anti-grappling is a term used to describe the various tactics used to neutralize grappling techniques. Many include illegal close-range techniques not found in mainstream sports competition such as eye gouges, biting, head-butting, strikes to the groin, larynx crushes, fish-hooking, gripping or pinching flesh, pulling the hair, ears, lips or nose, and small joint manipulation like finger-locks. However, they can also be any technique that staves off a grappling situation such as evasion techniques or pushes or blocks to prevent takedowns.
There are three popular schools of thought on anti-grappling in the martial arts community. One school does not see the benefits in grappling for self defence whatsoever and argues that a student can simply learn certain tactics that will neutralize grappling tactics so they can strike more efficiently. Another one argues the complete opposite. They find the concept of anti-grappling being ridiculous, believing that once a person has clinched you need to know how to grapple better as adrenaline will probably over-ride all the nasty tricks an anti-grappler will try to pull out. The third school of thought believes that in order to be a good anti-grappler you need to learn how to be a grappler first.
There is something in all these philosophies. I am not going dismiss any of them, but see their pros and cons. Self defence is a skill that should be learnt within a short space of time, containing techniques that do not require a huge degree of maintenance. Grappling is an art that is perfected through countless hours of hard labour. So the first school of thought has a point. However, as we have discussed, grappling is a basic instinct and one that is likely to be used against you by a larger and stronger adversary in a self defence situation. Although it is probably unlikely that the attacker will be a skilled and trained competitive grappler, it is not unlikely that he will have forged his limited grappling skills through fighting other people in civilian situations. These physical advantages will quite possibly have meant he will have been selected during his school years for sports, such as rugby, that will have taught him some degree of determination and full contact grit. Adrenaline, drink or drugs will most probably dull his senses bringing any pain compliant or psychological tactics into question if you donâ??t have a good position. The second school of thought seems to have been proven through the huge success the grappling arts have enjoyed in virtual no rules competitions. For example, Brazilian vale tudo permitted many anti-grappling techniques or at least only imposed a proportionately minor fine for violation of them and still the grapplers prevailed.
I have to say that, at the time of writing, the last school of thought appears to have the most value for self defence. How the ratio of grappling to anti-grappling is decided is a matter for further debate and perhaps the individual, but it all rests on the basic idea of understanding your enemy before you can defeat him. After all some grappling techniques are useful anti-grappling techniques. Sprawling is a prime example of this and was a key technique used to aid strikers regain their respect in the world of mixed martial arts competition, giving rise to the term â??sprawl â??n brawlâ??. Furthermore, many have discovered, to their dismay, that anti-grappling techniques often lack efficiency without good grappling positioning. This isnâ??t to say that you should fight grappling with grappling, but you should consider combining your anti-grappling tactic with your grappling defence. Otherwise you might receive the same in kind from someone who holds a better position over you.
Grappling to Strike
Once you are in any grappling position it is often difficult for people to over-ride their natural instincts and to strike. We tend to fight our adversaries by their rules in real fights. In the case of grappling we could argue that we are simply obeying our inherent desire to fight like an alpha member of our species, but we also often square up when someone squares up to strike or simply hit back when someone hits us. The predator often runs the show and this can be seen as much in verbal exchanges as it can in brawls. This is why a core exercise in my school is the â??Strategy One versus Strategy Twoâ?? test/exercise. Itâ??s a type of pressure test that has a wide range of uses, but essentially pits a person using distancing strategies (strategy one) against someone restricted to using tactics for closing the distance (strategy two). Roughly speaking it is striking and anti-grappling versus covering and grappling. The test is very intensive due to the two different objectives, which is much more in line with an assault/counter-assault situation as opposed to a â??square goâ?? situation. The test also forces the striker to find ways to strike the grappler and the grappler to understand how to tie up the striker. It serves as a good tool for developing the different sides of combat grappling.
After this exercise you can look at more specific areas to couple grappling with striking. This includes fighting up against a wall, from various clinching positions and positions on the ground. In the world of MMA we have seen the development of â??dirty boxingâ??, popularized by Randy â??The Naturalâ?? Couture, that harks back to the 18th and 19th century methods of bareknuckle fighting, where fighters could grip and trap to strike. We have also seen plenty of tactics taken from muay Thai, where the clinch position is used extensively to strike with the knees and elbows.[iii] However, the most famous and iconic MMA tactic of all is perhaps the use of striking from the top position on the ground. Known as â??ground â??n poundâ?? it was popularized by wrestlers in MMA like Mark Coleman and is a classic example of striking from a grappling position. In self defence, the person on top should use the position to better regain their feet and avoid getting tied up even if they are in a completely dominant position like the full mount. This obviously stems from the danger of multiple attackers who can surround the fighters and attack the person on top whereas the person underneath might actually even be an advantageous position, where all he has to do is hold onto the â??dominantâ?? person. This is why I recommend using the knee pin (aka knee-on-stomach) as the best type of pin.
Striking from the guard appears to be in its infancy in MMA competition with some gyms even advising against it. The guard position has seen the development of sophisticated sweeps and submissions through grappling based competitions. However, even in the early days of MMA the likes of RoyceGracie demonstrated striking techniques that could be used from the guard. Striking should be sought from every conceivable position and the guard, which has a good degree of control, is no different. If we can use our legs to push then we can use them to kick. The heels can be used savagely in downward striking actions to the rear of the person on top and the knees can also be used, albeit in a limited way. There is also sufficient leverage to strike with the hands and parts of the arm such as the elbows, especially as you transition.
Grappling as Attribute Training
Sport grappling is a fantastic art to cross train in to develop good attributes for self defence conditioning. I would highly recommend judo, sombo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, submission grappling, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling to develop combative fortitude. Grappling fitness is a consistent and toughening type of athleticism that develops great cardiovascular endurance, strength, flexibility, balance and agility.
The experience a person can bring from grappling sports will only enhance a self defence studentâ??s knowledge of positioning and make them panic less about the dangers of ground fighting. The only danger that can be imported from cross-training in any combat sport is not changing the context. We cross-train to gain experience not accumulate techniques. You can use your new techniques and competition-based tactics within the realms of the sport, but when we come back to the self defence path we need to adopt a minimalistic state of mind and to keep our objective clear.
Combat Grappling in Conclusion
Interestingly I have read that FILA have named their form of amateur MMA â??Combat Grapplingâ??. Nevertheless, the term is popularly still known as the self defence application of grappling techniques. Essentially combat grappling is what Gene LeBell simply termed â??grapplingâ??, all-in-wrestling strategies. Efficiency is consistent, which is why all full contact grappling sports essentially contain some very similar positioning and tactics, rules permitting. This positioning is also at the core of combat grappling with the addition of illegal techniques. It should be simplistic by design, not dwelling on sophisticated takedowns, submissions or combination work that relies on the other fighter being a grappler (or an MMA fighter for that matter), so that it can be easily learnt as a support system when matters go wrong in a self defence situation.
Training can be mainly done on mats for safety reasons, but all groundwork should also be exercised off the mats, in confined spaces and around obstacles so that you full appreciate what it will be like scramble around on a regular floor or the unprotected ground. Using the floor or ground as a weapon should also be taken into consideration, as the average streetfighter will certainly take advantage of this tactic if they end up on top. Multiple attacker exercises and tests are also great ways to get out of the habit of unnecessarily getting tangled up with single combatants. Contrary to popular belief the grappler actually has a great ability to manoeuvre around multiple assailants if he keeps his head.
Grappling is a strategy two tactic. Its purpose is to get in a better position to strike and escape. If a choking/strangling, sweeping, takedown or locking opportunity arises that does unnecessarily delay you then,
by all means, use it. Scepticism should be applied when practicing these. Ask the question whether the techniques are man-stoppers? A rear choke or strangle performed with the arms is perhaps the highest percentage techniques you can find in combat grappling. They are easy to learn and apply delivering potentially lethal results, if required, in a short space of time. They are also non-attribute based making them ideally suited for the individual.
[i] Theory put forward in â??Manwatchingâ??, Desmond Morris 1977
[ii] Itâ??s an idea in line with Desmond Morrisâ??s inâ??Manwatchingâ??, but I first heard it being put forward in the martial artssector by Sgt. Rory Miller during one of his seminars circ. 2004
[iii] Of course, muay Thaiâ??s close Burmese cousin, Lethweialso uses the clinch to headbutt, a tactic famously still allowed in theScandinavian MMA promotion, â??Fin Fightâ??.