T Nation

Striking vs. Grappling?


I'm sorry if this has been done to death but I'd just like to see what the consensus, if any, on this issue is. Not being a martial artist, I'm likely not in the know regarding the fine details of the debate and the following are potentially erroneous views I have picked up over the years of reading and listening.

This one argument I've sometimes seen pop up in discussions of MMA and fighting is that pure grappling is inherently superior or advantageous relative to striking. In other words, a grappler will usually beat a striker.

Having watched some of these old and new BJJ hype videos, I can sort of see where they are coming from. The Gracies' and your average trained-in-BJJ guy seemed to be dominating a lot of black belts and related experts of striking without taking a glancing blow, with a few exceptions. A counter-argument I had in mind was that, in the case of the Gracies at least, we're talking about the cream of that art and a lot of the failed challengers were relative nobodies, though no doubt somewhat skilled but not hailed as the grandmasters of their respective art or such.

Another thing I notice is just about every MMA match seems to go to the ground in a relative instant. It seems as if it's almost impossible to keep the bum rusher (sorry if that is a degrading expression) at bay by simple punches or kicks, despite their speed, yet that is precisely what some traditional arts prescribe as take-down defenses.
It is also alleged that in a real fight up to tens of punches may be traded without much damage (which makes the 'one strike, one kill' philosophies of some TMA ridiculous) and so it seems logical to think that, as such, the striker would face a tough obstacle having to keep a distance all the time and not being able to deliver a knock-out strike, and the grappler could effectively dominate soon as he stepped in and closed the gap; it being almost impossible for the striker to fight off the grappler once grappling distance was established.

An argument I've also seen and find harder to understand is that grappling would be a superior form of self-defence, particularly for the smaller people and women. I think the problem with this argument is that striking is ultimately more simple and easier to learn than grappling is, and a physically superior opponent can be hurt within a second with one attack. Even some of the supposed effective or even 'kill' moves of non barred striking, such as eye and throat attacks, seem fanciful. I've never heard of a case of a woman (or too many men for that matter) effectively striking and escaping an attacker with that sort of attacks. So all of this 'striking for the layperson's defense' stuff is not that proven either, but it at least does have a certain success ratio. Women have escaped attackers with groin attacks or perhaps a lucky elbow in the jaw but almost never by wrestling a far larger man to the ground and then submitting him. I can see how it might happen if they put ages into training it, but you can become succesful at anything by learning it for ages and spending a lifetime is not economical.


Oh fuck me.

Read this. Carefully. Then let me know what you think. He says it better than I can.



In the context of MMA, yes a grappler is usually at a direct advantage to a striker with no ground experience, or more importantly, takedown defense.

In the context of real violence, no, being on the ground is a terrible place to be.


I'm 25 and I believe I read that interview in my teens. Thanks for responding but I'm still waiting for more answers to my questions.


yeah....MMA is kind of in a weird place, because they are a ton of world-class grapplers competing, but only a handful of strikers with comparable skill level. and in MMA, which is a sport, wrestling bridges the gap between striking and groundfighting better than anything else.

realistically, hitting the ground and having to worry about glass, multiple attackers, etc is gonna be a no-no. we discussed this a while back (hence irish's reaction) and kind of agreed that a base in boxing and judo will give one a lot of the skills need in a street fight.

this does not include nental training, wespon, etc. though....


another couple anecdotes i just thought about...

-one of my buddies trains BJJ at the same club i do. he mentioned doing some occasional striking, to keep from getting too used to grappling only in case he needs BJJ for self-defense. while i think it's a good idea to be more well-rounded, i don't think he will need it too much.

1)he's a really, calm level-headed guy who doesn't talk shit, has a good job and is a former paratrooper 2)it's really hard to get knocked out by one punch, but pretty easy to get taken down 3) he's gonna use BJJ to either keep the dude from hitting him, or to get him down so he can escape. obviously there are a million variables in any self-defense situation, but i think he's one of those guys that won't end up in a lot of dumb situations, who is also the type of guy who won't let his ego rule the situation.

-one of my other buddies trains hapkido. he's said that he's unsure about his techniques, since a lot of the throws/locks he does he can't train full speed, since it will cause breaks. i think he's a little unrealistic, because without training nearly full-speed, he won't really have full confidence if it'll work or not. however, 1) he's also a pretty normal family guy who's a former Ranger and 2) has a strong base in BJJ and boxing, and is also about 6"00 200#

i think for these guys, grappling works fine for them as a self-defense strategy. both are calm dudes that don't do stupid shit, have extensive weapons training and currently train in martial arts. i don't see either thinking a slugging match is a good idea, and since we're all buddies, all hang out with a bunch of cops and soldiers who all know how to fight and carry guns, and really won't fight without realizing the gravity of the situation.

in writing this, i think i realize most people that train for self-defense are typically the guys that don't need it....


If you have a better striker than grappler, the striker may win. If you have a better grappler than striker, the grappler may win. I say 'may' because there are too many variables to be definitive. Is it one-on-one? Multiple attackers? Liquor involved? Was there a cheap shot? Who's having a better day? Situations where self defense is required is rarely a fair fight...

And I'd agree with the last line of CBM's above post... guys training it usually don't need it.


I'm having trouble determining exactly what you're asking.

For MMA sport purposes, generally, the most successful fighters have a strong (like NCAA campionship strong) wrestling background, or more rarely, abu dhabi level jiu jitsu skills or olympic level kodokan judo. In any case, they can control when they go to the ground, with whom, and in what position. Even some of the most successful "strikers" in MMA (eg Chuck Lidel) have a very strong wrestling background.

At the lower levels, however, a lack of striking ability can be fatal. Go watch some local promotions in your hometown. An amateur boxer with no kicking ability, let alone any real grappling experience, can clean up. This is because the level of grappling is not high enough to overcome his footwork and punching ability. Yes, a high level striker would dominate him, but anyone who has developed the ability to shoot past the hands and footwork of even a club level boxer is probably not fighting for free at the YMCA. Now give that boxer enough cross train in muay thai to throw knees in the clinch, teach him how to shoot and stuff a takedown, and he becomes a knockout artist against guys who have yet to learn how to keep their chin tucked while they fight.

In the "streetz," you never want to be on the ground. If you think you want to go to the ground, see above. Your best defense is therefore a combination of skills that allow you to put the other guy on the ground without going there yourself. Clinch fighting is essential. Dirty fighting is required. The guy who is willing and able to strike first and hard, and only do so when he is 100% certain he has the upper hand, is the guy who is going to walk away. Most of the real fights I've been in were over before one guy knew there was a fight going on. Either someone was on the ground bleeding, or I was looking over the sights of a .40 cal telling someone to go the fuck home.


Most of MMA is currently dominated by grapplers. I'd go so far as to say that there are very few high-level, world-class strikers in MMA at the moment. The unified rules favor grapplers though, so take it for what it's worth.

This: http://www.mma-core.com/videos/_UFC_123_Mike_Lullo_vs_Edson_Barboza?vid=10014397

is one of my favorite UFC fights in recent memory, where you see a real striker just dominate a grappler, but, as you can see, he still needs to know enough grappling to be able to defend the take-down, and survive and stand back up when he can't.


bruce lee


Brock Lesnar > Bruce Lee


Comic con ninja kid > Brock Lesnar


You are really looking at this the wrong way. The best self defense is having skills at all ranges of fighting. It is not an either or choice both have their place. Striking can be decisive in a way that grappling just can't match. A strike can take an oponent out in an instant. To forego that ability with the intention that you are only going to wrestle instead is assinine.

The Gracies have done good in their challenges. But if you watch the videos they do eat some shots getting their opponents down where they can work their Jiu Jitsu on them. There are people out there who you would not want to eat even one shot from and it's not always apparent just from looking at them. There is some validity to the Gracies being the cream of the crop in their art against opponents who were not equally skillful at their art.

But another factor to be considered is how their gameplan is going to work against multiple opponents, not a one on one honorable match. If you are on your feet you have mobility which you can use to keep your opponents from concentrating their efforts on you all at the same time. If you can keep moving while picking off opponents your odds are going to improve as you take people out.

It's not a rational plan to think you can grapple multiple opponents to the ground. You can take one down but you'll be tied up with him as his boys mob up on you. So you shouldn't plan on doing that. Now having said that I'll also say that if despite your best efforts you get taken down, if you can finish that guy off quick you might be able to get back up. So if you have the grappling skills it could save your ass.

I wouldn't say that anything is fool proof. But knees, eyes and throat are very effective. I've used and suffered through two out of the three and I have injured my knee before. They work and they can go a long way towards evening out a size and conditioning discrepency.


Good post.