Shoulder as Weapon: Slams, Butts and Grinds

In the past, those who engaged in American Frontier Rough and Tumble, scufflin’, illegal boxing, boom battle or any of the various and sundry endeavors that involved an all-in melee format that was truly no-holds-barred and no-strikes-off-the-table were intimately familiar with the concept of using the entire body as a weapon. Let’s focus on one of those weapons: the shoulder, a tool that’s often overlooked by modern martial artists.

Because of obvious range restrictions, the shoulder is part of your closed-quarters arsenal. (In deference to the origin of the term, I call it “closed quarters” in the piratical naval-melee sense. I prefer not to use the modern evolution of “close quarters.” Yeah, I’m that guy, a stickler for details.)There are three broad ways to use the shoulder in closed quarters: slams, butts and grinds. There are just two attack paths: inward and upward. First, let’s examine a drill that will enable you to find your power with your shoulder, after which we’ll traipse into specifics.


Mission No. 1 is to reverse-engineer the shoulder slam from a strike you may know inside and out: the hammer hook. For those who haven’t learned it, the technique starts when you raise your lead elbow so the arm is parallel to the floor. The elbow maintains a strict 90-degree bend that essentially locks the limb into one fused piece of bone.

Next, you hinge as you pivot on the ball of your rear foot. You fire the technique from the toes of your lead foot and turn your body as a unit to the inside. Your shoulders, chest and hips all must turn as one. The movement of the entire body drives the fused-elbow hammer hook home.

To better understand the mechanics of the move, take it to the heavy bag and knock out a few rounds. You’ll quickly see the logic of “fusing.”

Next, take a step closer to the heavy bag so you’re in range for a closed-quarters clinch. Then you can perform what’s known as the slam-the-door drill. (I find that in the beginning, omitting the punch helps seat the skill.)Think of your upper body as a door and your rear foot as the hinge. Envision “slamming the door” — your chest — by driving off the toes of your lead foot. Drive hard, slamming the door/chest with maximum viciousness. Don’t forget to use the fused-body mechanics described earlier.

Once you have slamming-the-door down pat, you’ll have a more fearsome hammer hook in your possession, along with a powerful shoulder slam should you elect to strike with your shoulder — which you should.

As I mentioned, butting with the shoulder also is performed from the closed-quarters clinch. Whereas the shoulder slam is a strike of power that travels along an inward path, the shoulder butt is a shorter, choppier shot.

Envision yourself effecting a series of quick inward pops using a relatively loose shoulder as the striking implement. Executing two or three in a row is usually ideal. Shoulder butts such as this are often used to wear down an opponent — or to set up a better striking angle or an insertion for an underhook clinch.

You also can deliver the shoulder butt along an upward angle. Keeping the same loose shoulder, you can deliver two or three good pops to aid whatever follow-up technique you wish to set up. Resist the urge to make it a power shot by extending your legs. Why? Because doing so will raise your base and render you “light,” making you vulnerable to a sweep or takedown.

Shoulder grinds are most often used by grapplers on the horizontal plane, but when your opponent is against the vertical of a fence, wall or parked car, you can use it, as well. The grind entails using your shoulder to crunch your foe’s chin, jaw and/or teeth as you wear out his body with your hands or set up his legs for a topple. You apply pressure, and the backstop prevents him from evading it.

As you can see from examining these three methods of attack, the shoulder can be a fearsome addition to your arsenal, whether it’s aimed at street defense or MMA. This brief journey into the realm of the shoulder omitted setups, follow-ups and a couple of other shoulder tools; I’ll leave those for you to discover in your training.

Mark Hatmaker’s website isextremeselfprotection.com.

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