Gross Motor Skills

I’ve been thinking about self defense training lately. I realized that most of the techniques I’ve learned from traditional jujitsu are probably ineffective because they are fine motor skills. What gross motor techniques would you recommend for self defense training? So far I’ve come up with jab, cross, duck, Thai clinch. Anything else?

Small circle jujitsu is very effective (in my experience) in breaking small bones like fingers and effective at controlling passive/aggressive subjects, not so much for violent individuals. Again, my experience, but someone else more highly trained could have different results.

“Gross motor skills” can be found in a multitude of arts including BJJ, MT, Boxing, Judo, and Wrestling. A basic understanding of the fundamentals in any of these will go along way toward your goal.

Do you have specific examples of gross motor techniques you would recommend practicing?

From a BJJ standpoint, pretty much everything I’ve learned is a gross motor skill. Not all is applicable to self-defense, but most is. Some basic moves that start on your feet AND are very common in street-fights are…

Standing headlock escape
Standing headlock to side clinch and throw, escape headlock on the ground
Arm-drag to street choke
Rear bodylock escape
Standing turtle to dive-and-clinch
Some basic takedowns - body lock and trip, single leg, double leg
Basics of sprawling and takedown defense
Distance management concepts
Technical stand-up
Strike management

On the ground, escapes are always super-important to staying safe. There are many escapes, but knowing a few that can reliably get someone larger off of you is vital. You don’t need to know how to finish someone with a lap-drop choke or anything fancy, just be able to get out from underneath a big dude and either run away or hold your improved position to administer a beating.

For practice, a partner is needed and a competent instructor is highly recommended. Most BJJ schools will do first class free. Show up and try it out.

Good luck!

Don’t forget about those mean leg kicks to the thigh.

Punches plus elbows, knees, headbutts, hooks.
Learning these will also teach you to guard against them.

Good point. Funny how the simple stuff is usually the best. I would say the basic eye poke is probably the best self-technique of all. A jab or right cross won’t help a small woman beat a large man. But she could disable him with a eye poke easy.

In fact, I would say the simple eye poke is probably the best self-defence technique of all. A small won’t beat a large man with a right cross, but she could easily disable him with an eye poke.

You received some good replies. Your statement has some merit if the attacker is someone not trained in violence ( suburan dweller, gym rat, etc) However, if you are facing someone who has experienced violence and received injuries from that violence ( terrorist, gang-banger, hardened criminal) a simple eye poke is not going to stop that individual.

I have seen individuals fight on from several bullet wounds, losing a limb, etc. until they bled out. There are individuals out there where the only way to stop them is to kill them. A eye poke is just a technique.

An eye-poke should not be where you hang your hat for self-defense. If you’re fighting for your life and you get an opportunity to eye poke, I say do it. That said…

Eyes are small and hard to hit, for one. Two, as Idaho said, it is not a guaranteed fight stopper like, say, a blood choke. Third, if you do poke someone in the eye, or try and fail to do so, you’ve possibly escalated the violence to the level of maiming each other.

Maybe the guy was just going to rough you up and steal your iphone before, but now he wants to put you in the hospital. Better start eye-poking really hard, and pray that it works the second time. Remember, if you can eye-gouge them, they can eye-gouge you.

Just some food for thought.

You are right that an eye poke does not work in every situation. However, no technique works in every situation and has draw backs.

For example, applying a blood choke on a bigger, faster, stronger opponent is difficult. If you don’t believe try rolling with a couple bigger guy.

Plus have to get in close and grapple. This can be bad if there are multiple attackers or the guy has a knife

The eye gouge doesn’t have these drawbacks. However, I agree with you that chokes are good techniques to know. They do have their limitations though like eye gouges and every other technique.

I do, every chance I get.

Pretty much this.

Ha! It’s funny how we were basically saying the same thing but I didn’t understand. Right on, brother. What do you do? BJJ? I’m almost purple belt.

Back to gross motor skills and self defense. I think another great one is head movement. I liked to do ducks and weaves after throwing a 1-2 on the heavy bag. Blocking punches is more effective if gloves are one in my opinion. Otherwise it’s usually better to move the head.


I didn’t realize that. If you’re a purple belt in BJJ, I think you’ve got an awful lot of gross motor skills covered!

If you’re looking to expand your toolbox, why not take up Muay Thai, western boxing or something like that?

I care about my brain too much. The potential for brain damage is too much for boxing and muy thai. Though, I think their techniques are some of the best for self defense.

I hear you there. At some point I’d like to take a few Muay Thai classes at my instructor’s home academy to hopefull get some basic stuff down, but I’ve got no interest in taking up concussion sports at age 38.

Relying on a reaction to pain or pain compliance is a mistake. In BJJ you apply joint subs to get a tap, in reality you apply them to break something.

There is also a saying in BJJ: don’t do something to the other guy which will give him the idea that he can do it too. Imagine if someone assaulted you and you ended up mounted on him. Then he tries to gouge your eyes. So not only did this guy attack you but he is trying to blind you as well. What would you do to him?

Chokes work, the difficulty lies in getting in position to apply it. But, are we talking about trying to choke someone bigger and more skilled, or the person we are more likely to encounter in reality?

That’s only really a valid argument though if both people are equally skilled or in a neutral position. Suggesting that you should avoid extremely effective skills for fear that your opponent might try them on you makes little sense as the same could be said of any effective skillet.

The issues that I think are valid with such skills are:

  1. The inherent danger of training them. We all have heard the saying “you fight how you train” and this is equally true of things like eye attacks or biting; if you don’t train them against resistance you aren’t gonna be pulling them out of thin air (at least, not in a skillful manner) in a real situation. The problem lies in figuring out how (or if) you can do so against full resistance without people winding up in the hospital or morgue on a regular basis.

  2. Lack of knowledge or skill on the part of the instructor regarding such skills. Yes, there is a science and levels of skill to things like biting and eye attacks and most people have little knowledge and skill in these areas. And just like I would not want a boxing coach teaching people Heel Hooks and then having them jump straight into trying to apply them in full
    Speed/resistance training, lack of knowledge of these “dirty” fighting skills makes them poor choices for most BJJ or MMA instructors to teach. Greater knowledge and skill in these areas though can allow for safer full resistance training of such skills.

  3. The mental/emotional barriers that civilization has put in place. The fact is that many people lack “Killer Instinct” and the idea of biting or performing eye attacks on someone makes them squeamish and they are generally uncomfortable even thinking about the idea of doing so, let alone actually practicing them. Put them in the “right” situation though and that veil of civility can get cast aside and you will see their true primal survival instincts come through (which have no such aversions to violence). The trick is understanding human psychology and the psychology of violence enough to know how to coax those survival instincts out of them, or how to introduce such skills in dosages that don’t require a full discarding of their civilization to get them to practice. Again though, not things most BJJ or MMA instructors have much of any training, skill, or knowledge in.

  4. Time/personal preference. Even with all of these things in place, it could be argued that time spent developing such skills and the requisite components and knowledge required to teach and practice them safely could be spent further honing a smaller number of “less aversive” skills to a higher degree. As Bruce Lee famously stated, “I fear not the man who practiced 10,000 skills once, but the one who practiced one skill 10,000 times.” Research into Motor Learning has suggested that even after 10 Million repetitions the practitioner is still improving in their skill. So it comes down to whether someone chooses to become a specialist or to become a synergist. Both approaches have merit and both have limitations. In the end it usually just comes down to personal preference and belief systems.

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I said that you should avoid certain techniques when you are in a disadvantageous position, e.g., biting when mounted. Or trying to punch your way out of a headlock when there are superior techniques that don’t involve punching a guy who is in a better position to punch you back. Also, if there is no need to resort to a certain technique because it will only serve to escalate the violence then it should be avoided. If the guy isn’t trying to eye poke you then why try and eye poke him if you don’t have to? And if you are in an advantageous position there should be no need to bite or hair pull or eye poke and could legally be seen as excessive.

I love Bruce Lee but if I was mounted on him and he tried biting me, he would end up hospitalized. And that’s only because I’m a nice guy.

Your response pretty much supports my points in my previous post. Your dismissal of the effectiveness and efficacy of such skills reminds me a lot of the attitude that many in BJJ had about Leg Locks not so long ago. Just because it’s not found within the BJJ curriculum doesn’t mean it’s not an effective technique. Now pretty much much every BJJ Academy teaches Leg Locking skills.

You lack the knowledge or skill in skill sets like biting to understand how one might effectively utilize such tactics to facilitate an escape from the Mount and are assuming a similar “specialist” mindset on the part of the person biting from the bottom (as in they are ONLY capable of biting) as you have chosen to adopt.

That’s not necessarily your fault as I hear those same sentiments from most in the BJJ/MMA instructors that I have encountered. High level skills in those areas are also hard to come by, and people who know how to effectively synergize and train them are even more rare.

Now that also doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wrong that biting someone in Mount or Punching someone who has you in a headlock couldn’t get you in trouble. If the person doing so ONLY knows how to do that skill (and not even that well), then yeah, if you are a highly skilled grappler or MMA fighter, then you are likely going to pummel that person.

But, I’m not talking about a “biting specialist”, I’m talking about a “biting synergist”. I’m talking about someone who seeks to develop all of their arsenals to the highest level possible AND more importantly learns how to synergize those Arsenal’s together to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s like a metallurgist adding together Iron, Carbon, Nickel, Magnesium, Titanium, and other metals to create different alloy steels. Each individual component can be an effective metal or mineral for specific purposes, but none of them in isolation has the combined structural properties of steel for the purposes which it is designed for.

Again, for certain purposes say Titanium might be a superior metal, just as for certain purposes Grappling/BJJ can be a superior arsenal/skill set. For instance as a bouncer, or in a situation where the level of force was on the lower end of the spectrum and the goal was restraint or control, then those skills are invaluable.

But for others, where de-escalation is not an option, maximal Force is required, and/or time is of the essence, then it’s not necessarily the best option (at least, not in isolation).

And again, I am not suggesting that BJJ doesn’t have very effective methods for escaping from bad positions or that there is anything “wrong” with choosing to put all of one’s efforts into mastering those options rather than learning other options (like biting or striking). As long as you are effective, that’s all that matters in the end.

Or as Tony Blauer puts it, “When it comes to surviving violent encounters most people are busy arguing over who’s ‘right’. Me, I’m more interested in who’s left.”

Finally, that’s about the worst misinterpretation of my Bruce Lee quote as I’ve heard. If what you got out of that quote from him was that you would beat him up if he tried to bite you while Mounted, then maybe you should take Rickson’s advice and treat your mind like a parachute; they work best when open.

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