A lot of self proclaimed self defence experts will emphatically and categorically tell you to “never, ever go to the ground in a streetfight.” But no single strategy works in every situation, and anyone telling you to always do something, or never do something, is automatically wrong.
The truth is that you may well be forced to use your grappling skills in a self defense context.
I’ve added my own opinionated take on the situation to the ‘BJJ for Self Defence’ series on Youtube. It’s called Five Reasons to Grapple in a Streetfight.
I think the video is pretty cool, but if you want the expanded form of the argument in written form, here it is…
Reason #1: He May Take You Down
The chances that someone will try to take you to the ground have never been higher.
The dominant mode of combat within a culture changes over time. Fifty years ago every tough guy in North America wanted to be John Wayne; a fair fight meant standing toe-to-toe and trading haymakers. Kicking someone with your feet was considered to be girly, unfair, and fighting ‘dirty’.
Then Bruce Lee burst onto the scene in the 70’s, changing everything. Suddenly those ‘girly’ kicks were considered to be the hottest thing going, and everybody was kung-fu fighting. But taking somebody down, sitting on their chest, and punching them in the head was still considered to be dirty and was outside the repertoire of most people.
Then the Gracies and the UFC come along in the 90’s… Everything changes again. Takedowns? Clinching? Chokes? Armlocks? Ground and pound? Suddenly these tactics have entered the public consciousness and become the default way of fighting. As I discussed in my interview with Burton Richardson, even people who’ve never trained a day in their lives will now try and use the submissions they’ve seen on TV.
Like it or not, MMA has now become the dominant form of unarmed combat in this society, and that means that it’s becoming much more likely that someone will take you to the ground in a streetlight situation. You may not want to take the fight to the ground, but you only get one vote. Your opponent also gets a say in the matter, and may hit you with a Hail Mary double leg takedown if things aren’t going his way.
What a lot of the ‘never ever grapple’ people don’t realise is that takedown defence and the specific ways to get back to your feet from the ground are both… wait for it… grappling techniques!
The irony is that only grappling training gives you the skills to avoid an unwanted grappling situation.
Reason #2: You May Be Getting Beat Up
What if you’re determined NOT to go to the ground, but the other guy is just better than you at punching and kicking? What if you’re getting your ass handed to you on your feet?
What do professional boxers do when they get tired of getting hit in the head? These consummate strikers close the distance and clinch to nullify the other guy’s punches. This reactive grappling is just human nature, so the chances are pretty good that you’ll instinctively latch onto your opponent and clinch with him if you end up getting pummelled.
And as soon as you’re in the clinch then the odds of going to the ground at least just doubled. Either from a trip or a throw, or just from slipping and falling in the melee.
The only question is whether A) you enter into the clinch technically and in a way that minimises the damage you take, or B) in an untrained way which might mean you take some good hard shots before you actually manage to latch onto your opponent.
Reason #3: He Might Be A Lot Bigger Than You
Yes, yes, yes: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” But clever quotes from Mark Twain notwithstanding, size does matter in a fight.
But I believe that size is a relatively bigger advantage for strikers than it is for grapplers.
A skilled smaller grappler can control and defeat a much bigger opponent on the ground more easily than a skilled striker can knock out a bigger, stronger opponent.
The key word here is ‘skilled.’
If you don’t know how to grapple then don’t tackle someone much bigger than yourself and expect to magically end up on top in a great position.
But if you have good ground skills, and you know which techniques work against bigger, stronger opponents, and you use the element of surprise, then taking that behemoth to the ground might just be your best option in a street fight
Reason #4: You Might Need to Control Him, Not Beat Him Up
You’re at a family BBQ, and Uncle Barry has had too much to drink (again). He gets in your face, shoves you, then takes a swing at you.
The urban combatives experts would have you headbutt Uncle Barry and then follow up with an overwhelming barrage of eye gouges, knees to the groin, curb stomps, Patrick Swayze style throat rips, and your patented five point palm exploding heart technique.
But if you do that then you probably won’t be invited back to any more BBQs…
The point I’m trying to make is that lethal force isn’t always appropriate.
I don’t have an Uncle named Barry, but a few years ago I got involved with restraining a thief that my neighbours and I caught in the act. The only problem was that it was New Year’s Eve and we ended up waiting for over forty minutes the police to arrive.
The thief was about 50 years old and 140 lbs soaking wet (meth is a hell of drug). He spent the entire time being belligerent, aggressive, abusive, and continually trying to get me to hit him. I believe he was hoping to goad me into an assault, possibly so that he could then charge me with violence and/or collect damages somehow.
The wait was irritating and frustrating. But beating the s*** out of him would have been inappropriate and would have opened me up to criminal charges.
Sometimes you just need to hold someone down until the cops get there. And that’s a lot easier to do on the ground than on your feet. Just have someone watching your back so that your face doesn’t get punted by a buddy of the guy you’re restraining.
Reason #5: You Might Need to Choke the Bastard Out
There are a lot of drugs that increase pain tolerance to unbelievable degrees. Police reports abound with stories of criminals high on PCP or methamphetamine taking multiple bullets and still being able to function.
If they can take bullet wounds and keep on functioning then your jump spinning hook kick better be REALLY sharp to knock them out.
The most reliable way to stop someone who out of their minds on drugs is an elephant gun. But assuming that you accidentally left your large calibre rifle at home, the next most reliable way to nullify an attacker with ultra-high pain tolerance is to put him to sleep with a choke.
It doesn’t matter how tough he is, if there’s no blood going to his brain then he’s going to nighty night. And a properly applied rear naked choke can put someone out in 5 to 10 seconds.
The rear naked choke is THE most important submission for self defence. You can even apply it standing up; in fact, if you yank him backwards off his feet while you remain standing you amplify the effectiveness of the choke because of the ‘hangman’ effect.
But against a really big guy a standing RNC might not be powerful enough to put him out. The very best leverage for this choke comes from having your hooks in and having your opponent on the ground.
To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, You may not be interested in the ground, but the ground is interested in you.