T Nation

Navy SEAL on Real Martial Arts


By no means am I a black belt or any type of experience but I am simply giving my perspective. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is GREAT for anyone, if the fighting environment is controlled. Carlos and Hélio Gracie founded BJJ in South America and Hélio was known for fighting and dominating men two to three times his size. You can find his fights on the net and they are impressive.

However in my experiences thus far in life, I have been attacked in my house by the guys I was living with in Phoenix. Yes those environments were closed and no "friends" were around, but being handicapped with one functional arm left me at an obvious disadvantage. During every fight, I walked away intact and able to defend myself. In 2014 I found Krav Maga and now knowing what I do, I would never have gone down to the ground. Standing up has obvious advantages. Even the great fighters like BJ Penn try to stand up and fight. Sure those fights are awesome to watch standing but the fighters know there are advantages to standing versus being on the mat. My daughters will all take jui-jitsu and krav maga, but for me krav has been the best system.

Here is the video the thread title describes.

Navy SEAL Jocko Willink on real martial arts. Keep in mind that he is an expert in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


He makes some very good points and I agree with most of what he says.

That said, there are very different "rules of engagement" between a combat mission and civilian self defense. IME most special forces personnel are not all that knowledgeable about civilian self defense, nor are they as bad ass unarmed as most people think. Some really dedicate themselves to the civilian aspect of combat though and are indeed very good unarmed fighters too.

Just saying.

I also agree with you that in the majority of situations staying on your feet is the best option.


I tend to agree with this. The thing that special forces guys have - which most of us don't - is their willingness to engage the threat and kill it. That gives them a decided advantage in confrontations, because many (most) of us can't flip the switch like that.

But skills-wise, I suppose some are good with their hands and some are not. But SF guys - and soldiers in general - rely on their weapons, not their hands, and a lot of the work they do with their hands is predicated on the ideal of using them just long enough to get to a weapon. So it makes sense they wouldn't focus on this.


Sento: "That said, there are very different "rules of engagement" between a combat mission and civilian self defense. IME most special forces personnel are not all that knowledgeable about civilian self defense, nor are they as bad ass unarmed as most people think."

Truth: The average SF guy has around 10 to 13 years of MILITARY experience, with hardly any action in the civilian world. If they had to operate under your state laws, there would be no successful missions.Completely different worlds, and yes, some are excellent, some average, and some shit, just like the rest of the us.

Irish:"The thing that special forces guys have - which most of us don't - is their willingness to engage the threat and kill it. That gives them a decided advantage in confrontations, because many (most) of us can't flip the switch like that"

Truth: That is , in my opinion, the biggest difference between trained SF and civilians, yes, and if you ever spent any time doing this work and live, you will develop this necessary skill, however, it really is a double edged sword. Come back to the real world, and, you find yourself willing to kill someone over the most simple things . Back in civilization, better put in a mental program to keep youself out of prison.

Everytime I am home, the first thing i do after a jet lag day ,is go to the boxing gym and have the Golden Glove guys beat some sense into me, then go to the nearest dojo and ask to work out, doesn matter what style, just need the discipline to work off the edge, and save me from shooting someone for suddenly pulling up beside me on the freeway:))

IMHO: fight goes to the ground, you better have a pistol or knife, because its a death sentence. No one has time to fight on the ground during an op, kill the guy and get on with it.


Love The JRE. This is a fascinating conversation.


Whether you try to keep the fight standing or take it to the ground has a lot to do with three different things:

  1. What are your strengths? If you have trained exclusively for the ground then obviously that is where you want to take the fight...unless...

  2. If there are others around who are not friendly to you the ground is the last place you want to be. As soon as you hit the ground you might be welcomed by a few kicks from your opponents pals.

  3. Do you know your opponents strengths and weaknesses. Often in a street confrontation you will have no idea where the guy wants to take the fight. But sometimes you might have privy to that information.

Anyway, in all cases train for both the ground and standing to make sure you are ready for whatever comes your way. And to really be complete make sure you obtain a good handgun for self protection during those times that you are outnumbered and were unable to flee the area in time.

All The Best,



I also love the JRE, and this episode was predominately good. I just roll my eyes when Willink gets into the politics shit, which he tends to do frequently. I don't know if I made it all the way through this one because of what I consider to be very irritating political preaching.


I would actually say there are a few other considerations about whether taking the fight to the ground is the best course of action:

-What is your goal in the confrontation? If it is escape/"stun and run," then clearly taking it to the ground may not be your first choice. But, if it's restraint (say an unwanted party/house guest who gets belligerent, but whom you don't want to kill), then taking it to the ground is a great option (hence why LEO's generally try to take perps to the ground in order to restrain and cuff them).

-Are you winning in the current range that you are fighting in (say stand up)? Like Zeb said, unfortunately we don't get advanced notice about who we may have to defend ourselves against in real life, nor can we study hours of footage on their preferred fighting "style" and strengths and weaknesses and build a strategy specifically around defeating that opponent like sport fighters get to do. So, you might have every intention of keeping the fight standing, but should you start to lose there and realize you are outclassed, you are "up a creek" unless you can change the fight to a range which gives you an advantage. Taking things to the ground may be just the "change up" that you need to shift the tide in your favor.

-What environment is the fight happening in? If there is broken glass all over the ground, then taking it to the ground is probably not where you want to be. If you're on an ice however it's going to significantly decrease your mobility and stability thus making your striking a lot less effective, so taking it to the ground might be a good option.

-What is the likelihood of weapons entering the fray? If the opponent already has a weapon drawn, then your priority should be to escape, so taking it to the ground is generally not what you want to do. If you suspect they might be armed but haven't actually accessed the weapon yet, then it would depend on how well trained you are at dealing with weapon defense/prevention on the ground. Even most BJJ programs place very little emphasis on this aspect of ground fighting, but it's very important if your focus is real world self defense. Even then though, generally minimizing "timeframe and entanglement" should be the goal unless there are extenuating circumstances which dictate otherwise.


This is something that pops into my mind every now and then. What can be done to optimise striking on a slippery surface?


I never been there, but if I get unfriendly on ice right now: get space, and don't step in, even how tempting it is. Chances are the moment I start moving my weight around I fall flat on my face (arse is more likely) and have a guy all over. Or even worse, start stumbling around and have my adversary take a free swing at me when chances are I fall into his strike/have no footing to absorb impact.

The plan would be, take as much distance as possible, wait for him moving in (if you have to wait around for that), and hope all the bad things that can happen when moving around on slippery ground happen to him.


Short of either bracing your rear leg again a solid object (edge of a rink, tree, curb, etc...) or wearing crampons you just aren't going to be able to generate that much power with distance striking on a really slippery surface like ice. Short range elbows from a clinch (where you can at least anchor onto your target a pull them into the strike) are probably going to be your best bet standing.

This would be one instance where taking the fight to the ground (where stability will be increased and you can more easily use gravity to your advantage) would probably provide the best striking options and assuming it's not a multiple opponent scenario could be a good option.


There are some valid points to this article, since, we are discussing SF training and CQB arts. The article deals with the problems with the physical selection of SF, however, the mental aspect was not discussed and this is the most important aspect of surviving the training.



Was just browsing threads…forgive the intrusion but I felt like commenting.

I sooooo agree that if it goes to the ground you better have a pistol or knife.

Personally, with medical issues present, I’m legal to apply lethal force under attack and pray that if ever necessary, that force is applied before it has a chance to go to the ground.

Also saw some stuff about “operating in a civilian environment.” When you say operating, do you mean as LE/Security or pure civilian? If LE/Security, the rules of engagement are obviously different is why I ask. “Only necessary force” applies.

For my non-LE ass, I’d choose to use deadly force, overwhelmingly if needed, to thwart an attack on my family or myself. By “overwhelming” I don’t mean keep firing after a guy is down, but that I’ll fire or slice until there’s no question an attacker is finished, then scan and address other attackers since scumbags usually do bad stuff in sets of 2 or more.

My apologies if the comments are unwelcome. I carry almost the whole time I’m dressed, have done more than the required training with not only handgun but legal, I teach people how to shoot & carry concealed, and have a passion for the defense of the 2nd & our nation, so hopefully this isn’t an “intrusion.”

Ya all take care!


Yes, if we are talking about an op, then you’ve got to be able to kill your enemies quickly and as efficiently as possible. There are methods of Unarmed combat that can achieve this fairly quickly, but they certainly take much more training and skill than killing someone with a knife or firearm. Still best to train Unarmed ground fighting skills (even if it’s focused on “quick finish/kill” tactics rather than long drawn out “grappling” skills) and not need it than the other way around though.


The bit that gets me about these debates about groundfighting and ‘real fights’, is the assumption that you’re going to have a choice about whether you’re taking it to the ground or not. If you (are stupid enough and) are going to have real fights, you are going to end up on the ground a certain amount of the time, and you’re going to need to know what to do there, if only so that you can get up again. I’m suspicious of the often-bandied-around figures about the percentage of ‘real fights’ that go to the ground, because the percentage seems to change from person to person, and I can’t see how such a figure could be arrived at. Fights tend to happen outside bars after closing time and in combat zones and other unsafe environments- environments in which it is not wise to wander around with a clipboard. On the other hand, I’ve seen quite a few fights go to the ground, and seen quite a few sweeps and throws in sparring in a martial arts context, and incompetence there will put you at your opponent’s mercy.


Real fights are not controlled like they are in a closed environment like in the octagon, obviously. People gravitate towards their strongest art form when fighting in real life or in a controlled environment. Octagon fighting is not a perfect parallel to real life because there are obvious differences. However like I said in my original post, there are some fighters who are down right really, really challenging to take down. Can it happen? Yes because no fighting style is perfect. However people like BJ Penn or Georges St-Pierre are inspirational because of how they can stand up relentlessly. The recorded fights simply prove that not one person is perfect when fighting and they help opponents learn how to beat each other. Penn was top dog for a long time though.

My original point in this thread was to share my thoughts and hear what other people’s views are. When it comes to having a “choice” of where I go, you can bet I will try my hardest of where I go. People have strengths and they gravitate there. The last fight I was in ended when I picked him up with one arm and fell on top of him. The fight ended right there. If he would have fought further, his wind pipe would have been crushed. Did I egg him on in any way? He probably thinks so but I know I never fell for his childish behavior. He grabbed my back to start a fight that he wouldn’t even partake in.

Just for your information, I have spent a few years in a gym sparring before I was hurt in '05 and a couple of years in a gym after my serious wreck. None of my fights took place anywhere near a bar, I know I was stone cold sober every single time and I am pretty sure the other guys were too. Your assertions are wrong in just my experiences. Sure some fights might take place where alcohol is consumed, but far from “tend to happen.” People just have liquid courage at those places. I really tried hard to avoid drinking at bars for that reason along with price also playing a role ; ) I cannot speak for combat zones because I have been blessed to have never had a reason to be in places like those. My deepest respect goes out to the people who fight in places like that. I literally cannot imagine.


I think you’re in danger of missing the point of what I said. My point, in the instance of fights happening in dangerous places, was that the statistics that are commonly quoted about a certain percentage of fights going to the ground are inherently unreliable because it is not wise to wonder around places where fights are happening with a clipboard, not because people are drinking alchohol. The essence of the argument is that these statements are, generally speaking, full of shit.

As for trying to determine where the fight goes, yes of course you are going to try and play to your strengths- the emphasis here being on ‘try’. A fight involves two people, and the other guy is going to be playing to his strengths too.


This is proof that “this media” has its limits in what can be expressed.

Are all fights going to stay where you want them? Does real life ever stick to a game plan? Can anyone even predict the future? No, on all three counts.

In my time on this earth, I have been attack more than I want to admit. Something they all had in common, they all perceived an advantage their skill, my disability, maybe my arrogance, etcetera. I am blessed to say they were wrong in every single advantage they perceived.

Would all of these fights have happened in the recent past, I conceal carry everyday for your information I honestly believe and hope the threats would never even known I even carried. Have I grown maturity wise? I sure hope so, otherwise I should only plan on seeing my family from jail if any threat ever presents them/selves.

I live in a smaller city with plans to move out to the sticks after enough funds are saved. So that should be on my side ; )


People use what they know… and what works for them. Is BJJ effective? Undoubtedly! Is it the most effective in real world applications? I don’t think so. I would lean towards something that isn’t so heavily focused on sport… Krav Maga, Hopkido, Nimpo, or (my favorite) traditional Japanese Jujutsu. Read: something that emphasizes unsportsmanlike fighting techniques (i.e. small joint manipulation, eye gouging, etc). I don’t know about you… but after spending 20 years in the martial arts (competitive kick boxer, 3rd dan jujutsu)… if someone attacked me, I would much rather snap their wrist off, or punch them in the adam’s apple than roll around on the ground with them. I mean, even if you’re proficient, it sounds like a good way to get your head kicked in by your opponent’s buddy. Don’t misinterpret… I’m not dogging BJJ at all. It’s a fantastic hobby, and a hell of a lot better than knowing nothing (or mini mall Karate/TKD)… but when I’m teaching my daughter to defend herself, it’s not going to be my preferred method.


I think part of the problem is the word ‘fight’ itself. To me a ‘fight’ has 2 willing participants who go at it until one comes out on top. Sparring/sport fighting don’t count. I would say that far more often than not when there is a ‘fight’ of this sort, alcohol and/or drugs is a factor for one if not both of the combatants. Sane, sober people generally don’t choose to fight each other. I strongly suggest you don’t get in fights. It’s stupid. Generally speaking, the loser goes in the ambulance, the winner goes in the police car.

In the absence outside interference or specific training to the contrary (such as boxing) these will often end up on the ground. If you have seen any number of bar fights you can see this in action. No clipboards, purely anecdotal observations as a bouncer/security worker and later as an LEO.

Personal protection (e.g. fending off a violent attack of which you want no part) is not the same animal. Here the goal is usually to disrupt the threat create distance and escape, or as Sento puts it, stun and run. Here, the ground is not your first choice. That said you may end up there, so you best be able to survive if you end up there.

Establishing control is a whole other thing. Occasionally I hear cops talking about getting into fights. Very rarely are these actual fights in my mind. It’s taking an uncooperative person into custody. Often you need to punch/kick/knee/lock them to get this done. It may look and feel a lot like being in a fight and you can definitely get hurt or killed in the process (especially given that at least one of you has a gun) but it’s still not very often a straight up fight per se.

I find that this shit almost always ends up on the ground. BJJ principles can be both helpful and harmful, depending on the situation (e.g. in a cell block vs on a nightclub dance floor). It seems the same handful of super basic techniques will get used again and again.

All that said, I like bjj a lot, but it’s not the end all as there is no end all.