Going to the Ground Is a Poor Strategy

I stumbled across the site of Don Rearic, who has a great post on reality, survival, and grappling. I’ve posted a large chunk of it here. There is a lot of interesting material on his site, which is well worth a visit.

Read the next-to-last paragraph for some interesting context on the old adage, “Most fights go to the ground.”


· While you may be able to control the person you are fighting, you cannot control the possibility that he will have a weapon you did not know he had until it is too late.

· While you may be able to control the person you are fighting, you cannot control the possibility or presence of multiple attackers, people other than him that might help him.

· While you may be able to control the person you are fighting, you may not be able to control the environment and who lands on what.

This will be incredibly unpopular with some people; I know that before I say it, yet I feel it has to be said. I know some people consider loyalty to system, style or teacher is paramount. I’m not trying to change you or even reach you. If you think what you are doing is the thing to do, by all means, do it. This is my opinion based on what I have observed. It is a warning to people getting involved in some systems and styles, people who are looking for a method of Self-protection.

Two more things to consider

1. Most people who are killed in streetfights by being punched in the face or head are not killed by the strike; their head impacting the ground kills them. I have observed this for a very long time in newspaper and other, local, news stories. I wish I had some online source to direct you to in order to “prove” it, but it is a reality that I have watched play out in the news time and time again.

2. In cases where multiple attackers are concerned and someone is beaten to the point they are in critical condition, or beaten to death, invariably, it ends up on the ground with the attackers kicking the person to death, etc. That being the case, the reality of the situation, why would you want to do half of the attacker’s job for them and favor the ground to begin with?

Going to ground is not an “advantage” on the street or Battlefield, this is where the clear difference is seen between Sporting and Combative.

This is where we see the Point of Demarcation between “Survival Arts” and “Sporting Arts.” The words, “Martial Arts” have been whored out to the point you don’t know what you are getting into anymore. It might be Sport, Spiritual, Cultural or Survival Oriented. Very few have several of the components at once, but they do exist.

So, to those that train to go to the ground to get some sort of “advantage” over an attacker because you think it is cool and you believe the hype, hey! You might just win! But what if you are fighting someone who does not play around? What happens when that folding knife, pocket screwdriver or boxcutter comes out that you never knew existed? It’s not going to be like sparring or a demo where everyone gathers around and they all know for the most part this is now shifting to the “Knife Defense” portion of class.

No, you’re going to feel it in most cases before you ever see it because smart, violent people don’t let you see anything, you’re already bleeding and maybe dying in some cases, before you even realize what happened. Understand that it is a myth that everyone will threaten you with a weapon before they use it on you. Especially if they are losing because you are more skilled than they are and you are actively beating them or humiliating them. Understand what I am saying, a common boxcutter that can be found everywhere, a little bit larger than a stick of chewing gum, can kill you. Understand, precisely, what I am saying…if you can feel your pulse, a boxcutter with intense pressure from the attacker, can sever that vessel. In general, if the pulse can be felt, you can cut the vessel with a very small but sharp knife.

Same thing holds true for the attacker having a concealed handgun that you did not know about. It is hard to get the “advantage” when you’re shot three times crossways through the thoracic cavity before you even knew what happened.

On the ground, you are vulnerable to weapons you did not know the attacker had to begin with. You are vulnerable to multiple attackers, the guy you are fighting, and he might have friends, relatives or associates that you don’t know about. Perhaps someone will just come up and kick you in that thick head of yours because they want to get a hit in and you’re there and you’re not supposed to be in that neighborhood. You know what I mean? There won’t be any opportunity for cool sporting movements when your head is punted like a juiced up NFL Player would boot the pigskin during the Super Bowl.

And, like it or not, even if you are crazy enough to say, “I’ll fight on broken glass!” Or perhaps you are nutty enough to claim; “I don’t care if you gouge one of my eyes out!” You’re not tracking properly on the concept of survival; you’re stuck in the game! Life is not a game, the street is not a game and the battlefield is not a game.

The Unforgiving Environment

I have been in areas where the ground was littered with used syringes, broken bottles of Night Train and Mad Dog 20/20, busted chunks of brick and cinderblock. Shattered and discarded heavy lumber with and without nails sticking out of it, used car parts like intake manifolds, water pumps and transmissions. All sorts of sharp, jagged and dangerous objects.

Fire Hydrants, curbs, cars, trashcans, all of these things can damage you and the only thing the grappling gods have to offer in response is, “Well, I want to let him land on that stuff…then I’ll land on top of him!”

Well, if your mindset is “grappling,” that’s what you are going to do, except you might not be in control like you think you will be. You might be the guy landing on that shit and be the one that gets damaged by it.

Certain people in the Military are giving BJJ and Variants of it a whole new audience and a whole new life now that interest in the UFC has waned. Now, some sectors of the Military are embracing grappling as a viable method of Combatives. This is not Combatives; it’s a sporting method.

The typical Battlefield environment is even worse than the street. With blasted out tree trunks/stumps and all manner of wrecked equipment, some people in the Military actually think going to the ground is not only viable, but also a great idea. Again, people are not tracking.

What really becomes a perversity is the concept of MOUT, Military Operations in Urban Terrain. With all of the aforementioned debris lying on the ground and the added element of blasted out chunks of concrete with rebar protruding from it, glass everywhere, steel “I” beams and twisted wreckage…you name it and it will exist in an urban environment that has been bombed or shelled. Yet, these sport adherents insist grappling is not only viable, but also preferred. It’s a particular bit of insanity that strikes the “True Believer.” I’m a True Believer in survival and not much of anything else.

Even if you know how to fall and even if you manage to land on your enemy, you may still be severely injured in a streetfight by the environment… But on a Battlefield with all of this garbage on the ground? Good grief, these people are shameless in their promotion of a “solution” to the “problem” of Combatives Training being “unpopular” with the Soldiers!

These Combatives Programs defy logic. Even the Gracies are fond of saying, “More than one? Get a gun!” This seems to be lost on the Military proponents of grappling in that environment.

What you need to know

So, does grappling have a place in Self-defense and Modern, Military Combatives? Yes it does! It always has and it always will. The difference being, you do not plan to go to ground nor do you train to go to ground. You train and make contingency plans for those times when, for whatever reason, you will be taken to ground by force. It’s really that simple. Any Self-defense or Military Combatives Program should be geared toward competency not in “grappling” but in knowing enough to get back on your feet where the “advantage” really is. There is no “advantage” to being on the ground because incredibly skilled athletes can demonstrate the “advantage” in a sporting environment that has rules, a forgiving surface, no multiple attackers and no possibility of hidden weapons…

By all means, learn how to counter, escape and counterattack from those positions! Do not, however, embrace the grappling mindset, it’s a killer in the real world and the fact that some people have used it and succeeded won’t make much difference when you encounter something they never did, like two more guys exiting a car, and you get killed.

I think everyone knows the often cited, “Most fights end up on the ground” is a statement not of fact, but taken out of context from a Los Angeles Police Department Study they conducted about how fights progressed with their Officers apprehending Suspects. Most aggressive people have to be taken to the prone position to be handcuffed; this is where that interesting statistic came from. Not from fights in general.

You are not apprehending anyone as a Private Citizen, you must survive and you must survive with as little damage as possible and grappling is not the recipe for that to become a reality.


4 Responses to “Going to the Ground Is a Poor Strategy”

  1. I find a lot of ignorance out there when dealing with the idea of BJJ and self-defense.

    I have all the respect in the world for the skill and athleticism of BJJ, and just because they know BJJ doesn’t mean that they don’t also know how to fight a good stand up game.

    It is usually the cyber warriors who often parrot the idea that most fights go to the ground and then suggest that all you need is BJJ to win the fight. Like all martial arts, the dojo and the tournaments are nothing like the street: no rules, no referees, no picking how many attacker, no picking the time of the fight, or the condition you will be in when the fight occurs (got the flu? got a dislocated shoulder? got crutches? got your baby with you?).

    In self-defense you DO NOT fight on the ground, you get UP from the ground.

    If you want good self-defense skills you need to practice outside. yesterday in the October chill I was sparing outside on grass and dirt areas of a baseball diamond kicking with shoes on and getting kicked by shoes. Some martial artists get their black belts or several black belts without so much as one day of training in real clothes on outside surfaces.

  2. James,

    I like your idea of thinking of having a kid with you. This is real life, yet something many people don’t think about. I know it’s often not on my mind as I train.

    I like the krav maga scenario when you train how to rescue another person who is being attacked. This is another example of a real-life scenario many martial artists overlook.

  3. Grappling while standing or on the floor can be very bad to a man defending himself against violence if done improperly. Techniques have a time and a place. The Thai Plumb, side body, a double leg take down are just some positions which can end up getting you horrifically mauled in actual combat. Imagine if a man has a knife and decides to stick it in you while you grab his head…not a good situation.

    Considering some good positions from BJJ would be guard work, standing passing, knee on belly, and attacking the turtle. Why? You are STANDING OVER your opponent, strike with gravity helping, he has no control over you, and you can disengage at will. For standing, a single arm clinch demonstrated by Donnie B may help you divert an attack or control a situation. An axe hand for forearm blast to the face while securing the a limb is another good option. Finally, a russian style single arm tie can work very well with proper head positioning. 2 arms on one legs you control the offending limb and perform throws and submissions while standing or while the opponent is grounded.

    Ideally, people need to consider isolating the threat while grappling while having the ability to disengage.

  4. That article made me more enemies online than I ever cared to have. It and other commentaries like it have created untold amounts of grief in my life. Yes, I wrote it. 😎

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