THE MYTH OF GRAPPLING FOR SELF-DEFENSE
THE MYTH OF GRAPPLING FOR SELF-DEFENSE
For the past few decades, a controversy of sorts has waged in the martial arts world with regard to the effectiveness of grappling skills for self-defense. While no one would argue that there are some effective techniques within the grappling arts, the problem arises when discussing exactly what is effective and what is not.
We're addressing this because there are many common misconceptions out there especially since we also teach a version of ground-fighting or what we call "Modified Native American Ground Fighting Concepts" that is based on dynamic, explosive movements utilizing the legs and feet and designed to crush and destroy the enemy should you find yourself in such a dangerously vulnerable position on the ground in a fight for your life.
This is a totally different methodology of fighting from the ground and has nothing in common with the type of ground-grappling popularized in sport fighting.
First of all, grappling is as old as man himself and is one of the first recognized forms of competition dating back thousands of years. Even in the Bible in Genesis Chapter 32: Verses 22-32 (KJV), we see that Jacob “wrestled all night until daybreak” with an angel disguised as a man.
Truth be told, outside of neck manipulations, neck breaks or as we like to refer to them “finishing moves”, grappling has little to nothing to offer when it comes to actual life and death self-defense.
There are many techniques and forms of grappling, but the main one that has entered into the popular lexicon is what is sometimes referred to as “ground-grappling” which is more akin to judo or western wrestling. This is the main thing I want to discuss because this is where all the confusion lies.
Grappling as taught today (or more accurately ground-grappling) is “pure sport” where there are rules to protect the fighters and no matter how tough a sport it is it is still a sport none the less. Those who think otherwise deceive their own souls.
However, the perception of its effectiveness I believe in this day and age also has to do with how our culture has evolved over the years. If you went back 70 or 80 years and you asked the average person what you should study if you wanted to learn self-defense they would probably tell you Boxing even though this was disproven by LtCol William Fairbairn when teaching hand-to-hand combat during WWII (Steiner, 2010).
Well today you have a whole generation of people, men and women alike, who have been brought up with MMA who would consider this kind of talk “sacrilege” if you dared question the grappling orthodoxy. Even many action movies today have an element of grappling in them.
It was the same when I was growing up. It started with (ironically) Judo, then Kung Fu / Karate, followed by JKD, then (good Lord) “Ninja Mania”, then Kick Boxing, Akido then ground-grappling/MMA.
What is different today, is that none of the previous crazes had the luxury of social media which allows its fan base to connect with other like-minded folks instantly on a worldwide basis. Thus the sustained popularity of MMA.
Let’s face it: the other reality is that in the vast majority of fights (especially when we are young) people are not trying to kill each other. So say you have a guy and he, while growing up, has a school yard fight over some macho nonsense in which he employs (whether trained or not) MMA ground-grappling techniques. More than likely (especially if victorious) it will only serve to reinforce the perception that ground-grappling is king in a fight, even for those looking on.
So we get it however, just because something is the popular “group think” of the day doesn’t make it so. Remember conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. The whole mentality is just one big “self-licking Ice Cream Cone” that uses its own flawed assumptions to validate its own perceptions.
90% to 95% Percent of Fights Go to the Ground?
Over 20 years ago, in their effort to promote Gracie Jujitsu, Rorion Gracie publicized a statistic to promote ground-grappling by stating that 90% - 95% percent of fights go to the ground. While a number of articles over the years have asserted that he had actually been saying this before the UFC even started it wouldn’t be until later on that he would cite an LAPD study to validate his statement.
During those first two decades, the 90% quote was tossed around so much that it took on a life of its own and became accepted as a fact by the average martial artist, and in particular by the BJJ or MMA practitioners. Again, even today in some quarters if you questioned this “fact”, you’re labeled a stupid traditionalist who doesn’t know what real fighting is. Unfortunately, there are some problems with that quote.
The study Rorion used to validate his previous statements, was an ASLET (American Society of Law Enforcement Training) report that was referenced by Sergeant Greg Dossey, Sergeant John Sommers, and Officer Steve Uhrig of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) during a 1997 training seminar on the use of force.
However, like the “Tueller Drill 21' ft Rule” as published by Dennis Tueller, Salt Lake City PD in a 1983 SWAT Magazine article, the quoted ASLET study as I will show, is a perfect illustration of how a little knowledge, especially if misunderstood or misrepresented and used out of context, can take on a potentially dangerous life of its own.
In 1991, Sergeant Dossey, an exercise physiologist with the LAPD, completed a comparative study of use of force incidents reported by LAPD for the year 1988. Sergeant Dossey looked at all 5,617 use of force incident narratives written by officers in 1988.
According to the report,
“During 1988, there were 316,525 arrests made by LAPD… Of the 5,617 reports examined, only 2,031 incidents contained a sufficient level of aggressive resistance by the suspect toward the officer to qualify as an altercation.”
According to Chris Leblanc, “Going to the Ground: Lessons from Law Enforcement” in the Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives 2007,
“Unfortunately, I have yet to see a single source within the martial arts community -- affiliated with the Gracies or otherwise -- that accurately cites the actual study, or that does not either accept the statistics (or repudiate them) almost wholesale. If the constantly repeated Internet forum discussions and ‘letters to the editor’ to various trade magazines are any indication, the topic has actually become an emotional argument for some. That argument usually finds those who practice Brazilian jujitsu or a similar system with a strong ground fighting component supporting the stats, and those who practice an art with minimal or no ground grappling denying their relevance.”
In any event the report concluded: “Nearly two thirds of the 1988 altercations studied (62%) ended with the officer and subject on the ground with the officer applying a joint lock and handcuffing the subject.”
What grapplers don’t say or in most cases probably don’t know, is that this statistic is based on “police arrests” and not two private citizens fighting each other, and that the police were trained to take a subject to the ground during an arrest, being that it is easier to restrain a person there with fewer injuries to the subject being restrained.
In other words, while it could be argued that the statement in the most "lawyerly" fashion is “mostly correct”, namely that fights (with the police, another fact conveniently left out by the ground-grappling community) often went to the ground (which is a far cry from 90% to 95%), whether the opponents wanted it to or not, it is because the police officers took them there.
So, basically the act of taking an assailant to the ground is done to protect them "for their own safety", and not the police officers'!
Think about that!
So if true, according to the police, why would you want to learn something that is safer for your attacker if you employ it against them, than you? It just doesn't make sense, but that's what the ground-grappling community, whether they know it or not, is advocating.
I can assure you that with The Modified Native American Ground Fighting we teach, there is nothing "safe" about it for a criminal assailant.
My point is, just because people in law enforcement employ many techniques that come from the grappling arts does not make it viable for a person fighting for their life. Remember police officers are required by law and policy to “stop” an attacker so control through nonlethal means is a required skill. However, you and I as private citizens are under no obligation to control an attacker.
As a matter of fact, in many cases when police officers are often injured it is usually in the act of taking an assailant to the ground in an attempt to control them. Many lower back injuries have resulted from law enforcement officers subduing an assailant because they grappled them to the ground. Again the reason police officers often go to the ground with assailants is because the police are the ones who put them there.
I've personally seen how this misuse of statistics in the martial arts by the ground-grappling community has also seeped into the military as well and is not only disingenuous, but it creates in the mind of the general public that this is true of “all altercations” whether they involve law enforcement or not. Which is exactly the impression they wanted to create.
What is the old expression? “Figures don’t lie but liars figure…”
This is where the faulty, even dangerous thinking comes in. As we like to say, a real fight is CHAOS where anything goes. As a result the very notion one would want to engage with an enraged attacker or even worse multiple attackers and try to perform some sort of complex grappling move or technique is foolish at best. Also, rolling around on a mat is far different than rolling around on concrete or asphalt.
Not only does the very act of going to the ground expose you to a number of openings on your body such as the back of the head, neck and other vitals where you can be struck and killed, but how does that square if there are weapons produced?
True once weapons are produced any form of hand-to-hand combat is difficult to pull off, but of all of the skills, grappling has the least chance of success.
Final thought on the 90% to 95% “myth”, because no matter what we say here there will still be those who cling to this falsehood. Let’s assume it is true. If so, then what do people think happens in the 5% to 10% that do not go to the ground? Maybe they kill them? Who knows...but my question for the 90% to 95% crowd is how do you know that you’re not dealing with the 5% to 10% that will attempt to kill you? The answer is you don’t!
In a real fight your sword has to prevail so why unnecessarily place yourself at an obvious disadvantage?
What the Masters of Close Combat Had To Say
In “The Great Myth Of Groundgrappling Supremacy” (2010), Bradley J. Steiner, President, International Combat Martial Arts Federation, discusses the fallacy of confusing competitive sport Jiu-Jitsu with reality. He cites the pioneers of modern Combatives, all men who had seen real combat and had real fighting experience in deadly situations (you can read the whole thing here). Below are just some of their thoughts on the matter:
“ …no holds or locks on the ground are demonstrated. The reason for this is:
(a) THIS IS WAR: your object is to kill or dispose of your opponent as quickly as possible ...
(b) Once on the ground, you are more vulnerable to attack ...
... It is, therefore, obvious that you should concentrate on remaining on your feet.”
--William Ewart Fairbairn (from GET TOUGH!/ALL-IN FIGHTING)
“Avoid, if at all possible, going to the ground with your adversary.”
--Col Rex Applegate, Kill Or Get Killed
“Stay on your feet,”
--Col Anthony J. Drexel Biddle
Special Note: Biddle’s protégé, John Styers (famous author of the USMC “bible” of close combat, Cold Steel) similarly disdained any use of groundwork (save kicking or stomping a downed enemy). Charlie Nelson, one of the writer’s own beloved teachers, was Styers’ bunkmate in WWII, and was also a student of Biddle. Charlie thought groundfighting was anathema to effective and reliable real combat efficiency. (Steiner, 2010)
According to Prof Steiner,
“NOW here are some interesting and fascinating points to observe:
Every single one of those incomparable masters of practical, all-in fighting and close combat was PRIMARILY A GRAPPLER/GROUNDFIGHTER in his own fundamental and experiential orientation; yet, when pressed to develop methods for actual combat, EACH ONE DISCARDED GROUNDGRAPPLING and taught a repertoire of vicious, direct skills BASED UPON BLOWS of the hands, feet, elbows, head, knees, and fingers! Every single one.”
Why We Do What We Do The Way We Do It
Guided Chaos is “The Study and Practice of Universal Movement with a Martial Application”. We are not for or against any art or system because truthfully, we don’t care. We’re only concerned with the type of dynamic movement associated with real life and death confrontations. We don’t pretend to know everything but what we will not do is lie to people by telling them something works in a given situation when we know it will not.
Grappling is excellent for fitness and excellent for sport. Many of us still follow the UFC, Strike Force etc. but we also like Boxing, Kick Boxing, Basketball and Football as well. All sports, all great, all entertaining but they are not suited and never will be for real fighting especially for your life. The only thing we owe people is the truth and what they do with it is up to them. We make no apologies for it.
Real fights are fast, unpredictable and ferocious in which anything goes; violent assailants do not respect rules and have no qualms of gouging eyes, striking throats, stomping or kicking to the head, biting and a whole host of other things. They’re not superhuman nor just because they have the capacity to be evil does it make them any braver than anyone else, they just don’t care.
Many practitioners of Guided Chaos have served in both law enforcement and the military with lots of street experience as well as combat experience so we understand what is practical and what is not.
When I was still in the military during my combat deployments wearing 50 lbs. of gear at times, body armor, helmet you name it, the idea of grappling on the ground with some al-Qaeda or Taliban thug if my rifle or pistol was inaccessible was not on my list of options.
More importantly many practitioners of Guided Chaos have a wide variety of martial arts experience in the grappling arts be it Judo, JiuJitsu, Aki JiuJitsu, Brazilian JiuJitsu, Akido, wrestling and hold Black Belts in these systems as well as other martial systems too numerous to mention.
Many of us have taught these grappling arts and in some cases continue to do so to this day so we are not ignorant of these techniques and methods as some think. I have students who coach wrestling and I wrestled all through high school and still enjoy going to matches at my old school. My point is this stuff is not news to us.
Along these lines think of this: as of this writing, Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In fact, there are more reported homicides in Brazil that any other country with an average of nearly 60,000 homicides per year (the United States averages around 16,000) with Sao Paulo being one of the most dangerous cities on the planet yet in the heart of that city we actually have an instructor, who is also versed in Brazilian JiuJistu, yet teaches Guided Chaos. It was this understanding of how real attacks happen that started his journey to finally find the art of Guided Chaos. I think this man knows what he’s talking about.
The point is that grappling and especially ground-grappling is not designed for the reality of street combat or any other for that matter. These are two worlds that will never meet and if you believe so then we are not talking about the same thing.
The point is while it is a violent sport, ground-grappling is not self-defense never has been and never will be and has no place in the world of self-defense.
Hopefully the information on this page has enlightened you on the realities of ground-grappling while not intended to be an all-encompassing treatise on the matter it was my intention to bring a better understanding that this is a “myth” created out of whole cloth that’s built on a foundation of sand.
It is a myth and a perception that has been created by those who stand much to gain in perpetrating this on an unsuspecting public.
Believe what you will… choose well.
LtCol Al Ridenhour, USMC (ret)
Senior Master Instructor
GUIDED CHAOS' MODIFIED NATIVE AMERICAN GROUND FIGHTING