Grappling is a martial art that consists of grabbing, holding, pinning, locking, choking, etc., while on the ground. Grapplers may start standing and use some standing grappling techniques, but they quickly go to ground and mostly grapple there. As with any other martial art, to be an expert at grappling, you must study and train in grappling as a separate martial art.
In taekwondo, to attempt to kick or punch an opponent, you execute the technique and quickly withdraw the leg or arm used in the attack. The attack may miss, may be blocked, or may hit its target. Either way, you are quickly back into your guard position and ready to try another technique. This is not the case in grappling. In grappling, every part of your body may be grabbed and used against you and, instead of standing, you are fighting in an unfamiliar place to humans, on the ground. Every time you attempt a technique in grappling, it may lead to your being pinned and incapacitated. You must fully commit yourself to every technique you attempt or it will surely fail. In addition, if it fails, you will have to fight yourself out of the situation before you may get back to your original guard position.
In grappling, even if you are fighting an inexperienced opponent, you constantly must deal with the opponent's mass and muscular strength. Think about how difficult it is to control a struggling two-year-old child, and then imagine trying to control a two-year-old child that is six-feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. Grappling is a very physically demanding martial art. You are in constant physical contact with your opponent. You are grabbing, pulling, pushing, and squeezing the opponent, and constantly dealing with the opponent's body.
Just with many other martial arts, grappling has a sport version and a combat version. There are numerous styles of sport grappling, such as wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu, judo, and submission grappling. While the techniques of sport grappling may be used for self-defense, they were not designed for this use; they were designed for competition. Even in brutal no-holds-barred competitions, the fights are under controlled conditions with specific rules so the competitors are able to compete on another day.
Combat grappling is not concerned with competition. Its goal is to win a ground battle as efficiently and effectively as possible. Therefore, its practitioners are usually limited to military, law enforcement, and protective agencies, although, as with other combat arts, there are many students of combat grappling who have never been in, and probably will never be in, a combat situation. Combat grappling focuses its training more on principles than techniques. Rather than teaching and practicing individual techniques, as in sport grappling, combat grappling teaches the principles how joint locking, strangulation, and knockout techniques work and then trains in applying the principles to different situations. Instead of trying to achieve a particular technique, combat grapplers just go with the flow of the struggle and apply grappling principles whenever the opportunity presents itself. Combat grappling also stresses punches, kicks, and deadly techniques. A limitation of combat grappling is that, even though deadly principles are learned, they cannot be fully practiced or used in competition because the opponent may be injured.
In taekwondo training and competition, grappling is not used so learning sport grappling is not of much use. However, in a self-defense situation, taekwondo students may find themselves having to fight on the ground, so they should learn some basic combat grappling techniques. These techniques may be learned by attending seminars on combat ground fighting, training at a taekwondo school that also offers combat grappling, training with a taekwondo instructor with experience in combat grappling, training with a combat grappling student, or simple using books and videos to learn simple techniques and then practicing with a fellow taekwondo student.
GraTo grapple or not to grapple, that is the question
On November 12, 1993, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship was held in Denver, Colorado. This no holds barred (NHB) tournament was the first of a series of events that changed the public perception of the martial arts forever. Over the next decade, this type of fighting evolved into a style of fighting that is now called mixed martial arts (MMA).
The more times people see something, the more they are apt to believe it is true. Due to the popularity of UFC type matches and their proliferation on television, the public has now been indoctrinated into believing that MMA fighting is the best type of fighting for self-defense.
However, this perception is a result of the hype put forth by promoters of UFC style fighting; it is not based upon fact. MMA fighting, like other types of modern sports, is a strictly controlled way of fighting with rules to help prevent serious injury. Some of the rules include:
- Weight classes
- Time limits and rounds
- Approved gloves
- Stoppage when opponent is unable to protect him or herself
- Mandatory drug testing
- No biting
- No head butting or kicking a downed opponent
- No knees to the head of a downed opponent
- No “fish hooking” of the mouth or nose
- No downward point of the elbow strikes
- No strikes to the spine or the back of the head
- No groin or throat strikes
- No eye gouging
- No small joint manipulation
As a result of these rules, two specific sports martial arts styles became the ones favored by competitors: muay thai, used for its stand-up punching and kicking, and Brazilian jujitsu, used for its grappling techniques. Thus, these two arts are the primary arts that make up the mixed martial arts. Since both arts had already been optimized for ring competition before NHB style fighting became popular, it made it even easier to adapt their techniques to NHB type ring or cage fighting. By tailoring the rules and techniques used in MMA to these two arts, the practitioners of other arts were practically shutout of the competitions.
Due to the popularity, of the NHB matches, martial arts schools began tailoring their programs to fit the MMA type fighting so they could make more money, just as they had during the kung fu craze of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Now, in the 2000’s, the public believes that MMA fighting is the best type of fighting for self-defense.
While grappling may be effective under some circumstances, it is not appropriate under other circumstances. Most real fights seldom go to the ground; they usually end before ground fighting would ever occur
MMA proponents say that most fights eventually will go to ground. While this is true in UFC style matches, since the rules and the ring environment are conducive to ground fighting, it is not true in most situations where ordinary people may need to defend themselves. The “ground” in MMA fights is a clean, smooth, padded, and cushioned ring that has no obstacles in it, other than the referee. The real world “ground” has curbs, pavement, rocks, broken glass and bottles, cans, posts, walls, stairs, railings, furniture, etc. In addition, on the streets, most attacks will be by multiple attackers and there will be no referees.
Some think that techniques used in the UFC are used because they are the most effective. The truth is that UFC fighters are professionals, they fight for a living. To make a living, they must fight regularly, so they must stay healthy. Techniques that are deadly or are more likely to cause serious injuries are forbidden. However, for self-defense, these are precisely the techniques you need to know and be able to use.
When you watch UFC type punching and kicking, most of the techniques look wild and sloppy, as if none of the fighters had ever trained in the traditional martial arts. This is usually the case; most began their training in MMA, and the ones who have had traditional training lose most of what they learned due to now only training in MMA techniques; and, since the trainers usually have only trained in MMA techniques, it stands to reason they only teach MMA techniques.
In a one-on-one contest between two people, grappling can certainly be effective. In these types of contests, the fight usually starts with the fighters standing and using punches and kicking. Grapplers are effective while standing and can hold their own; however, if the fight goes to the ground they will probably prevail. In stand up martial arts, such as taekwondo or boxing, the fighters mutually agree to stand apart and throw techniques at each other; they do not train in clinching or ground fighting, so, when it occurs, they do not know what to do. In a stand up versus grappler match up, the stand up fighter should attack unmercifully, going for a knockout with every attack. The grappler should cover, go for the clinch, and then take the opponent to the ground.
Just as other styles of martial arts have their limitations, MMA techniques also have limitations, such as:
- Not very effective against more than one opponent
- Not very effective against an armed attacker
- Not very effective in a normal street environment
- Submission type techniques are not effective against opponents with an unnaturally high pain threshold due to the effects of alcohol or drugs
- Many grappling techniques are not effective when used against an opponent with a significant height, weight, or strength advantage
You can have your attacker in an arm bar, a leg lock, or a choke and be ready to finish him or her, when you suddenly realize that there is a knife sticking in your side and piercing your kidney. At that moment, you realize that you will never realize anything again—ever.
For police officers, grappling may be a better choice when dealing with offenders. In this case, grappling does not necessarily mean going to the ground, it means using stand up locks, chokes, and controlling techniques. Standing back and slugging it out with offenders is bad for several reasons:
- It takes too long. The offender gets more time to formulate an escape plan or to find a weapon. The officer may not be physically fit enough for a sustained fight.
- While using stand-off techniques, the officer's actions are more exposed to public view, such as to video recording. Standup grappling is more effective and permits an officer to gain control of the situation more quickly.
- It looks better. When viewed by the public, grappling techniques do not appear as violent and excessive as do punching and kicking techniques.
- Grappling helps limit the confrontation to a small area. A stand up slug-out may move the officer away from his or her support network, such as vehicle, radio, other officers, etc.
- Stand up grappling allows an officer to use the offender as a shield against other attackers. When using stand-off fighting, the officer is vulnerable to attacks by other attackers. The same is true for ground grappling; on the ground, the officer is vulnerable to kicks from other offenders.
In attempted rape situations, a woman should not take the fight to the ground since that is where the attacker wants to be. The woman should stay back, kick, punch, and escape as soon as possible. Since attackers are trying to get their victims to the ground, women should be trained in ground fighting so they may protect themselves and escape from hold-downs, but women are vulnerable on the ground against strong attackers. Ground fighting should be limited to just techniques that permit the woman to get back to her feet and run away.
When facing multiple attackers, do not to go to ground with an attacker. You will be vulnerable to life-threatening kicks from the other attackers.
In crowded or cramped places, grappling may be more effective but stay off the ground, since your movements on the ground are limited in these situations. If on the ground, fight from the bottom since the crowd will assume the one on top is the attacker. If they decide to intervene, they will go for the one they think is the attacker.
Master Ricardo Murgel, former coach of the Brazil National Jiujutsu team and now a world renown combat jujitsu Instructor, emphatically states that he will avoid going to the ground at all costs in a street situation. If you are not skilled in grappling, you should avoid it. However, sometimes you do not have a choice. In these cases, you should know some basic grappling techniques so you may defend against the grappling, escape, and get back to what you know best. Do not avoid training in grappling; instead, learn all you can.
Traditional martial arts were developed for combat or actual self-defense situations, while MMA was developed for NHB type sport fighting. This not to say that grappling is not needed in your self-defense training. In a real situation, if a real fight goes to the ground, you need to know how to defend yourself, escape, and then use the opportunity to run away.