Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Grappling is More Effective in the Ring Than in Reality

Since the introduction of Ultimate Fighting, the grappling craze has taken the martial arts community by storm. The Gracie family and their style of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has earned world-wide acclaim for the effectiveness of their grappling system in one-on-one, no holds barred competition.

The rules of UFC and MMA in general have since changed in order to get the ban imposed by various local authorities lifted. “Dirty” techniques, like groin strikes, hair pulling, striking the spine or the back of the head, etc. were thus removed and timed rounds and referee intervention were added.

The UFC ring, in either format, however, is still a controlled environment. Opponents don’t wear shoes or any kind of clothes that can be used to help or hinder him. And in the spirit of the competition, no one genuinely wants to seriously hurt or kill their opponents, as can be the case on the street.

Additionally, it doesn’t take into account various tactical disadvantages that come up in ground fighting in real self-defense situations.

This is not to say that ground defense skills aren't useful - they are. It's important to know what to do should you ever get taken to the ground against your will. Arts like Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu can teach you a great deal about how to use technique and weight distribution to your advantage.

That being said, sound knowledge of ground tactics doesn't mean that you would necessarily want to be on the ground in a real defensive situation.

Here are the six main tactical disadvantages of fighting on the ground:

1. Size Advantage. If your attacker outweighs you, he can use his extra weight to a greater advantage. Given two people of equal technique, the person who is bigger and stronger usually dominates. Moreover, size difference by a large margin diminishes the effectiveness of good technique even more so on the round than it does in a standing position.

2. Environmental Dangers. Debris strewn on the ground like broken glass, a board with a nailing sticking out, etc. can injure you as you fight.

3. Exposure to Disease. Grappling requires you to be in very close quarters for it to be effective, making you vulnerable to biting attacks and potentially puts you in contact with any open wounds your attacker may have. This increases your risk of exposure to communicable diseases.

4. Multiple Attackers. If your attacker has any friends nearby, they can easily deliver potentially fatal kicks to the most vulnerable parts of your body, particularly your head. This is a very common cause of death in street fights.

5. Edged Weapons.
By putting yourself in close quarters, you are more vulnerable to any edged weapon attacks, like knives, which may be concealed on his person.

6. Inability to use physical barriers.
When on the ground, you lose the ability to take advantage of any physical barriers the environment may offer, things you could put between you and your attacker, like chairs, cars, trash cans, etc., to help you get away.

On top of all the tactical disadvantages of fighting on the ground, the relevance of the widely touted statistic that 80-90% of fights end up on the ground is being called to question. Many people who work in security, police officers, bouncers, etc., say they’re never taken to the ground against their will.

Since the people who dispute this traditional statistic are all trained in combative arts to one degree or another, it may be more accurate to say that 80-90% of untrained fights end up on the ground and that someone with training is better able to stay on his or her feet.

Whatever about the ongoing dispute over that statistic, even if 90% of fights end up on the ground, 100% of them (or close to it) still start from a standing position.

(*The 6 tactical disadvantages of ground defense here were paraphrased from George Sylvain’s book Can-Ryu Jiu-Jitsu 2000.)


Wayne said...

Thanks for posting this. I've made these points time and time again in discussions with grapplers about why I wouldn't WANT to go to the ground in a street fight.

One additional point is "escape". A street fight is about survival. My goal is to defend against an attack in such a way that I create an easy way for me to get away.

Obviously this is a lot tougher when you're grappling. Going to the ground and locking up an opponent in an armbar still leaves you in the fight. It doesn't lend itself to quickly getting away.

I'd much prefer a quick flurry of strikes to disable an attacker, and then being able to run.

Lori O'Connell said...

Great point. I fully agree. The goal of escape is also within our training philosophy.