Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Defending Against the Shoot: Sprawl or Sacrifice Throw

In my last blog post, Gi Grappling vs. No Gi Grappling, I received many questions/comments about defending against BJJ/MMA takedowns. I promised to do a detailed post on this topic, particularly about defending against the shoot in a self-defense context. So here goes.

The first way I recommend to defend against the shoot is through the use of the sprawl. When done properly, this is the best way to defend as it keeps you on your feet (or close to it) and in a dominant position. It is very important to stay off the ground in a street defense context because of the risk of environmental dangers and of the possibility that there could be multiple attackers who could kick you while the first guy keeps you occupied on the ground. More on why you should stay off the ground in a self-defense context.

Here is an intro to the sprawl care of the the TV series, The Human Weapon:

It's important to note that the sprawl is not just a matter leaning into the attacker and throwing your feet back. Done this way, an experienced attacker won't have much trouble getting under you and forcing you off your feet. To do the sprawl properly you must redirect his energy downward by dropping your hip into them, using your shoulder, chest and arms secondarily for support as well as control.

It's also important to get a good sense of timing when using the sprawl. If you do it to early, an experienced attacker could fake you out and put you in a vulnerable position. If you do it too late, they'll likely get under your weight and take you down.

Here is a video by Tito Ortiz showing some good practice methods for the sprawl:

Note that if you're using the sprawl in a submission grappling or MMA context, you have the option to grapple your opponent from the resulting dominant position you get. Or if your opponent doesn't protect his neck properly a guillotine can be applied for the submission. But in a street defense context, you want to get up from the ground as quickly as possible, so once you've sprawled, strike your attacker to create the opportunity to get free and to your feet as quickly as possible.

If you fail to do the sprawl, you're going down so your best bet is to go with the energy and reverse it to your advantage with a sacrifice throw. The one I like to use best is the tawara gaeshi (rice bale throw). Here is a video showing its application:

In this video, the instructor uses both legs, but if you first attempted a sprawl, you're likely going to have one leg forward. This isn't a problem though, as the throw can be done with a single leg. If my right leg is forward, I plant the ball of my right foot into my attacker's right hip. Alternatively, you can hook your foot under the hip at the top of the thigh.

In practice, I always try to roll up and end on top of my uke and take the mounted position, but in the context of an attack, you might not get enough control to do this. In this case, you can just loosen the grip you have on the head with your arm and try to drive the attacker's weight over you as aggressively as possible to throw the attacker as far from you as you can.

If you have any further questions, please don't hestitate to ask in the comments. Have fun trying it out!

12 comments: said...

Good post! Just the kind of videos I like to display on my Friday Video Posts.

Learning how to defend the shoot is of great importance, not just for MMA/grappling but also for street encounters. Most of the time, if a street fight is not over within 2-3 seconds some grappling usually takes place in which one person tries to take down the over. For self defence training, the sprawl is vital to learn.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori,

This is exactly what I was looking for, good work! I especially like your explanation on how to properly sprawl: one of the most common mistakes a lot of people make (myself included) is they don’t put their entire body into it, with the rather unfortunate result you’ll still end up on your back and on the street this is a very bad position to be in (not to mention getting hurt in the process). One of the major problems traditional martial-artists face these days is that they never learned how to properly attack or only to launch traditional/outdated attacks and consequently they have a hard time defending against them (the first step in learning good defense is having someone launch a proper attack, with intent, at you). This is true for strikes (boxing-strikes are almost unheard of in the traditional MA, both in defense and attack, while it should be clear to anyone with even a glancing interest in the MA they are the most effective means of hitting someone in the face with a closed fist) and for modern wrestling-type attacks (like the shoot) as well. I can honestly say only two years ago (hailing from a traditional MA-background) I would have gotten my ass kicked is someone threw even the most basic of boxing combo’s at me (the standard 1-2) since a) we never learned to deal with the jab (only a dunce attacks right away with the rear hand) and the strike we did learn to use and defend against was the oi-tsuki or advancing punch where you actually step with the back leg forward as you deliver your strike. This may have been the standard way of attacking in feudal Japan but it sure as hell isn’t the way people (even untrained ones) attack you these days. Luckily my new sensei also trains in various forms of kickboxing (competition and street-orientated like Jun-Fan and thaiboxing) and he devised a curriculum that a) contains at least the basic boxing-punches and b) successful and very effective entries against them (mostly taken from kali/silat).

The same goes for kicks: in the old days we were taught to stay motionless and just catch the kick when it came at you (in case of a roundhouse) and execute a throw. This maybe a feasible option against the karate-type roundhouse (which is retracted right away) but if you try it against the thai mid-kick you’ll either take it in the ribs or got knocked off-balance since it’s not retracted but travels all the way through the target. Again: if someone had attacked me thai-style back in the day I would have been defeated, even if I had considerably more training than him (thank god for sensei and my good judgment in leaving my old club to go train with him).

Anyway: back to the topic. Another piece of advice I liked is to always be on the look-out for feints. While you’d think this would be obvious for anyone with experience it really isn’t, especially not in traditional training. The way techniques are usually taught is a fully committed attack followed by a fully committed defense: this may work well against inexperienced opponents but (as you pointed out) an experienced guy will mess with your mind and try to make you think he’ll go for a shoot while doing something else or compromise your balance (by making you commit) to render you more vulnerable to other attacks. Truly: this is advice that deserves to put on a board in the dojo and in a way it goes to the heart of the MA (mind games, strategy, the void and actuality Sun-Tzu speaks of).


Anonymous said...

The sacrifice-throw is a rather traditional technique that is usually discarded as difficult (which it is: it is an advanced class of techniques usually reserved for blue or brown belt or sometimes even higher), useless or even dangerous. While it is true using this type of throw requires superior timing, technique and tactical insight it also offers you a way out of trouble when your balance has been or is being taken. When you’re already going to the ground (your sprawl or distancing failed) the only thing you can do is to use his forward momentum, roll up into a ball and catapult your opponent over you and into the air. This is surprisingly effective since there is actually very little he can do about it: when he shoots in he will be fully committed and all his weight will be driving forward, there is no way he’ll be able to slow down (cfr. Newton’s first law, also known as the law of inertia) and regain his balance, especially not when you actually add your own strength to his and reinforce his forward motion. Truly an outstanding example of the ju-principle of suppleness and non-resistance and an excellent tool when you’re fighting superior opposition (in terms of weight, strength…). However I do have a problem with the way this technique is usually taught: a lot people actually teach this technique in response to an attack it was not designed for (i.d a non-committed attack, a simple grab or after an atemi): when his balance is not taken, when he’s not trying to take yours and when he’s leaning backwards it is not the time to try a sacrifice-throw! Most of the time it’ll simply not work and you’ll end up on the ground with him standing (you just traded a neutral position for an inferior one) or since he doesn’t have the necessary forward motion for the throw to work he’ll be able to fall on top of you, either causing damage or ending up in the mount. Either way you’re pretty much screwed. I blame judo for this attacking mindset (a lot of ju-jutsu sensei also studied judo), but that is another matter entirely.

Since you so graciously invited us to pick your brain and throw in some questions, here’s one: what would be your suggestions for a follow-up to a successful sprawl? I’m presuming in MMA you’d take the back mount but I am curious how you’d handle it in a self-defense context. One last question for good measure: we’re taught to block his attempt to shoot with the forearm (while throwing one leg back), secure a hold on his shirt and then to knee followed-up with ude-garami. Do you think this is a feasible option against a trained grappler or not?

Very insightful article and a great selection of video’s to illustrate. This may very well be one of your best posts to date. Keep up the good work!


Lori O'Connell said...

Thanks for your question and kind comments, Zara. In a self-defense context, simplicity is always best (or at least that's what we teach). Whatever will end the fight fastest, being mindful of whatever self-defense laws exist in your country.

Personally, if I'm up against a skilled grappler, I would try to avoid grappling and just get off the ground and away. In this context, knee or elbow strikes are the simplest, most effective way to create an opportunity to get up and away quickly.

Anonymous said...

Very useful information, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I agree: simplicity really is the key to successful self-defense since it’s in accordance with Murphy’s law (what can go wrong will go wrong at some point) and general common-sense (in a high-stress situation you do not have the luxury of reflection so there’s generally no room for fancy, complicated stuff). However: by that same token a lot, if not the majority, of ju-jutsu techniques become redundant. If it’s much simpler (and thus safer) to punch someone in the nose why you should you even try to use a wristlock to take him down? The best techniques for self-defense (maximum effect on the opponent, minimum amount of training-time necessary to master them) are elbows, knees, a simple forward kick and the right cross: if you couple these with a few basic escapes and parries you’re covered as far as self-defense is concerned. Locks take years of training before they become an effective weapon and even then they can be somewhat of a liability (an experienced opponent may give you trouble, some people can take an immense amount of pain or are very flexible), in a couple of hours you can teach someone how to knock a human-being unconscious with an elbow-strike. I’m not saying ju-jutsu can’t be effective (I know it can, from my own experience), I am saying it takes a long time to become proficient (I’ve been training for over 8 years and only now am I beginning to feel confident about my locks and transition-skills, even then it’s reassuring I also have decent boxing-skills and a few nifty tricks from kali) and what are you to do if you get attacked in the meantime? Ju-jutsu is a very cool and deeply fascinating art but it’s not primarily a self-defense system, at least not without major modification.

To me it’s appropriate for highly trained individuals, for humanitarian self-defense (do the minimum amount of damage, restrain the attacker) in low to medium threat situations and as a means of self-expression and mental and moral cultivation. The way people fight in the 21th century is not same as the conditions in feudal Japan: ju-jutsu evolved as a means of unarmed combat in a very specific context. Back then weapons were everywhere and rarely was a fight initiated or conducted without some kind of weapon (even if it was just a small knife, shuriken or handheld stick), professional warriors and bandits alike fought with razor-sharp swords or similar objects and fighting unarmed was only a secondary skill-set and a last-ditch means of survival. In battle people would have worn at least some kind of body-armor and it just doesn’t make sense to attempt to strike an armored adversary since it simply will not be effective, hence the locking, throwing and strangulation techniques. In battle if you lost your weapon your only means of survival (quarter was rarely given and if you survived the battle itself more than likely you would have been forced to commit sepukku anyway) was to grapple with the opponent and take him to the ground where you could draw a knife and slit his throat, break his neck or strangle him. Nowadays people do not wear armor, striking-arts and skills have been developed a lot further than what was known and practiced in the old days and most importantly: most people do not have the time to learn these complex skills in a relatively short amount of time (training two to three times a week is nothing compared to 5, 6 hours of training-time a day), this is why I say pure, traditional ju-jutsu is not the answer for someone who’s looking to learn to defend him or herself in the most efficient manner possible. Thit is what I’m planning to do when I get to a decent skill-level and start teaching on my own: first give them a grounding in simple striking-skills and krav-maga (as soon as I find the time and a decent club I will start training krav, it’s a great complement to ju-jutsu and one of the best self-defense systems available today), only then can you start to teach the beautiful, complex and intricate stuff like locking and all the rest.


Anonymous said...

On another note: last Friday I spent some time training with a wrestler (he came by to check out our class) and boy was it an eye-opener. This guy (his background was Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling) was strong, efficient and fast beyond belief. When a trained grappler grabs you, you only have a split-second to drop into a deep stance or initiate some other counter-maneuver or he will drop you hard and fast. While I was trying to perform a standard takedown in response to a bear hug from the back he just blocked it, instinctively I threw an elbow which connected with his shin (lightly, it was only training after all) but still, he might as well have thrown me. Wrestlers are dangerous opponents and this taught me not to be sloppy in defense and to immediately hook the leg as soon as you feel you’re being lifted. In another case (bear hug from the front this time) I was too slow to react and he picked me up, again purely on instinct (I’ve never trained this specifically) I put my thumbs onto his eyes and hooked his legs, he was forced to let me go. He was quite impressed with my response but I’m sure if we were to spar I would have gotten my ass kicked (he has quite a lot of experience in competition). Next time I’m teaching (most likely this Friday) I’ll be sure to stress this danger and the appropriate response, born from experience and pure necessity lol), in any case we need to inject a little more realism and pressure into our takedown-defenses and I’m glad I learned this painlessly instead of the hard way. What I did notice was that he was unusually sensitive to locking: apparently strong, bulky guys are more vulnerable and generally stiffer in the joints than regular or slim builds. This is corroborated by a friend of mine (a police-officer who works in a pretty rough neighborhood in Brussels): the people he was having trouble with arresting were always slim, flexible types, never the bulky ones.

In any case I hope this guy (forget to ask for his name) is interested in training with us again: I like to train with a wide variety of people (different backgrounds, build, attitude, experience) and he was eager, knowledgeable (he gave me a few pointers on how wrestlers do certain takedowns) and had the right attitude toward training. We’ll see.


Anonymous said...

How would you be able to tell he's planning to go for a shoot (if that's even possible) and how is it usually set up in MMA?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at could post it.


Lori O'Connell said...

Hi Jack,

Thanks for commenting. I'm not sure what happened to the original video I had posted here, but I've reposted the one with tawara gaeshi video in the post for you. Thanks for letting me know that it wasn't up there any more.


Anonymous said...

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