In any kind of street combat, fighting on the ground for an extended period can put you in a world of hurt. Although grappling has proved its effectiveness in controlled environments such as the dojo and the cage, it’s very different on the street—for several reasons. First, you can grapple with only one person at a time, which means you commit yourself to a single threat. Obviously, that exposes you to any additional threats that may exist. Second, grappling occupies both your hands. If you’re a police officer carrying a gun, knife or Taser, that can pose a weapon-retention problem. While you’re using your hands to control the attacker, he can let go with one hand, remove your weapon from your belt and use it against you. (Many times I’ve overseen drills in which cops have role-played suspects and arresting officers, and the officers’ guns were removed without their knowing it way too often.) Third, grappling is not combat-efficient. It requires you to expend tremendous amounts of energy. Rolling around on the ground with an assailant for two minutes depletes far more of your reserves than engaging in a stand-up fight of the same duration—which doesn’t even take into account the fact that the average stand-up fight lasts far less than two minutes. With all that said, many law-enforcement and civilian street altercations wind up on the ground—as many as 90 percent, it’s been claimed. If you do down and choose to stay there, you run a high risk of losing should it turn out to be a multi-threat environment. For that reason, it’s essential to become familiar with anti-grappling and ground fighting techniques, as well as the most popular offensive moves, so you’ll have a better understanding of your opponent’s strategies and tactics.

Ground Fighting Tip #1: Drop the Combat Sports Mindset

The self-defense system known as Controlled FORCE is designed to fit the needs of law-enforcement officers. As such, it views ground fighting from a combat perspective instead of a sport perspective. The differences are obvious: Practitioners of martial sports like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling and judo need not worry about groin strikes, eye gouges or dynamic pressure on their joints. Their goal is to work toward a pin or submission while fending off their opponent’s “fair” techniques. In contrast, your goal in the real world is to protect your vital areas, get to your feet and neutralize the threat using any tool that’s available. The first lesson: Dump that combat sports mindset right now. Forget about those submissions. In a violent situation, your goal is to work toward an outside position to minimize your opponent’s attack zone and increase your ability to gain control of him or to disengage and change tactics. Controlled FORCE accomplishes this by teaching counterstrike drills that combine protecting techniques and disruption techniques that will prepare you to rapidly recover and regain control when a fight goes beyond the initial surprise attack. If the assailant is too close for you to use other control techniques, you can rely on hand techniques and body locks to gain an advantageous position. During Self-Defense Training: Although your main goal should be to remain standing, you must be prepared to fight on the ground. Again, your objective is not to get comfortable there but to learn effective techniques for fending off the attack, minimizing damage and getting back to your feet. Spar with that in mind.

Ground Fighting Tip #2: Employ a Collapsing Defense

Controlled FORCE advocates an approach called “collapsing defense.” If you go down, you should establish a ground-defense safety zone and keep the assailant at bay by attacking his feet and shins while he remains standing. As he closes the gap, assume an active position from which you can shift from side to side with one leg ready to kick and your free hand ready to protect your face. That orientation is intended to create distance so you can get back on your feet or transition to other defensive tools. If you’re in law enforcement, practice this while wearing a holster and training firearm so you can draw your weapon. Once you land on the ground, you must remember that your opponent can present a knife, gun or other weapon. At that point, you can use your firearm and engage him with deadly force. During Self-Defense Training: If you carry a gun, make sure you practice drawing it from a seated or grounded position. Keep the muzzle pointed away from your body. After you simulate shooting, your opponent should continue his attack in some repetitions of the drill to keep you from developing a mindset in which he always stops after being shot.

Ground Fighting Tip #3: Regain Control

If the assailant breaches your defenses and gets close enough to start throwing punches, you can integrate skills taught in Controlled FORCE’s counterstrike drills. If he becomes frustrated with your defenses and tries to stand up to overtake you, use leverage techniques to shift his momentum so you can maneuver into a dominant position. If he manages to defeat all your preliminary defenses, you’re in a fight for your life. You must focus on regaining a position of advantage and re-establishing situational control. During Self-Defense Training: Make sure your ground-fighting drills start with you in a bad position. That forces you to switch into survival mode. Controlled FORCE teaches a drill in which you start on the ground while your opponent grabs your holstered weapon. You have 30 seconds to retain your side arm and gain a position of advantage. After 30 seconds, a second attacker jumps in. After another 30 seconds, a third attacker joins the melee. The drill drives home the importance of getting to your feet as quickly as possible. Don’t focus on grappling with one opponent, or you’ll pay the price.

Ground Fighting Tip #4: Protect Your Face

To further enhance your ground survivability, devise drills that place you in the worst possible predicament—for example, you’re mounted and your foe is working toward an even better position. Your first mission should be to prevent him from landing a blow to your face. Constantly move your head and use your arms as barriers in front of your face. At the same time, continue moving your body, especially your hips, to keep him off-balance. During Self-Defense Training: Lie on your back and have your partner straddle you in the mount with one knee off the ground. The drill begins the moment he drops his other knee—that way, you won’t program yourself to feel comfortable when you’re mounted. He then initiates a series of punches aimed at your face. (If he’s not wearing boxing gloves, make sure he knows that he’s supposed to miss, but also be sure you’re on a mat so he doesn’t break his hand if he hits the floor.) While moving and protecting your head, scoot your body upward (in the direction of your head) and squirm from side to side as if you’re doing side abdominal crunches. The movement will force him to focus on trying to keep his balance instead of bashing in your face.

Ground Fighting Tip #5: Get to Your Feet

Your next step in a fight is to get your attacker off you—preferably by bucking him off with your hips. If he’s experienced at ground fighting, the task might prove difficult, in which case a groin strike can distract him long enough to break his balance. Once he’s displaced, get back to your feet and transition to better tools such as head strikes or a weapon. During Self-Defense Training:Start with your partner mounted on you. After you protect your face and move up and side to side, thrust your hips upward at a 45-degree angle toward either of your shoulders. Avoid bucking him in the direction of your head because he might end up with his knees in your armpits, which can pin your arms in a useless position. If you buck him partway off and he braces himself by posting an arm, wrap the limb with your arm and trap his ankle with your foot. Then roll him in the direction of the trap. You’re now in position to apply a Controlled FORCE Mechanical Advantage Control Hold and roll him off. All the MACH techniques are designed to function in a variety of positions, which means there are fewer techniques you must learn. Even though he’s been thrown off, you might find yourself in his guard. Don’t stop moving. Unleash a series of groin strikes and pry his legs apart with your elbows digging into his inner thighs, then scramble to your feet. During Self-Defense Training: Make sure you do this drill—and all the others—while wearing your duty belt and a holstered training firearm. Otherwise, you run the risk of creeping back toward sport training. Instruct your partner to go for your gun when the opportunity presents itself. If possible, arrange for another partner to serve as a second attacker.

Ground Fighting Tip #6: Prepare for Stress

Adding stressors can make any training more realistic. A stressor is a condition that has the potential to distract or limit you, thus making the drills more challenging. They include:
  • Training on gravel, in a stairwell or in a narrow hallway
  • Doing calisthenics or a 15-second sprint beforehand to simulate a foot pursuit
  • Partially obscuring your vision with a blindfold or goggles covered with tape
  • Turning down the lights to simulate a night fight.
The bottom line is to keep the drills as realistic and challenging as possible so you’ll be better prepared to deal with an altercation that goes to the ground. Short review: The concepts that must be hammered into your brain are the need to protect yourself, the benefits of constantly moving, the need to retain your weapon and the urgency of getting back to your feet. (Tony Cortina is a Southern California-based combatives instructor and law-enforcement officer with 14 years of experience, 10 of which have been with his unit’s SWAT team.)
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: or go to

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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