Self Defense for Grapplers

Table of Contents

There is no doubt that a good grappler will always be dangerous in a street fight and self defense scenario. We can see this in modern MMA, YouTube fight videos and in any front yard street fight but is knowing grappling or a grappling art good enough for a full on self defense situation?

The answer is yes and no as well as it is much more complicated than we think as we first must understand grappling art’s strengths and weaknesses prior to answering the question of “is grappling good for self defense”.

Grappling Martial Art Strengths for Self Defense

Grappling first and foremost teaches someone what to do in the case there is physical contact and a grip of some type that you need to defend yourself against. Grappling arts teach how to grip properly, how to break your opponent’s tough grips, how to fall properly, how to takedown and throw someone properly, how to effectively place joint locks, chokes and cranks as well as avoid these submissions from being placed on yourself. The developed fight fitness associated with grappling is also a huge benefit as people who practice grappling martial arts are generally very fit from all the training they undergo.

Front Headlock Self Defense
Front Headlock Self Defense

Probably the most relevant attribute that grappling training gives someone in a self defense situation is the fact that someone who trains a grappling art (could be Wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Sambo, Catch Wrestling and many other arts) will not be affected emotionally from the roughness of contact and scrambling for a dominant position than someone who has never grappled a day in their life. The odds of them mentally and emotionally freezing up when contact is made is less likely and thus they have a better chance of effectively defending themselves as a result.

It is the familiarity with pressure that is ultimately grappling based martial art’s biggest strength and a good reason why knowing some form of grappling is always beneficial in a street fight.

Wrestling, Judo and Sambo are also excellent as they deal with scrambling and attaining top position as well as pinning an opponent down which is great as attaining a good body position will help in being able to scan and understand situational awareness as well as give you a better chance of escaping or running away should need be. Greco Roman Wrestling is an excellent grappling art for mastering the clinch as well, which is a great attribute and skill to have in a self defense situation.

BJJ for Self Defense, Judo and Sambo also deal with fighting off of your back, an incredibly important situation to know how to deal with in a self defence situation should you find yourself on your back with someone on top wanting to deliver bodily harm to you.

Grappling Martial Art Weaknesses for Self Defense

Although Grappling skills are excellent to have in a street self defense scenario, simply relying on grappling alone is not your best bet in a real self defense situation.

Grappling has some extreme weaknesses such as how using grappling is not effective when dealing with multiple opponents, when dealing with certain types of weapons, dealing with someone who wants to poke an eye, pull hair or grabbing the groin as well as when a grappler is unable to take an opponent down in order to effectively use their grappling advantage.

Self Defense Street Fight
Self Defense Street Fight

There are certain art specific weaknesses such as we find in Sport BJJ when it comes to self defense as many sport BJJ practitioners who are training for their next competition simply lack proper takedown and striking skills that would be needed in a proper self defense situation. It can even be said that BJJ’s sporting nature and specialization are a hindrance in a street fight as most sport BJJ practitioners practice position specific training and generally start their BJJ practice matches from their knees.

Another weakness of grappling based martial arts is the lack of striking when training. There are certain cases where striking is added to their grappling practices, especially in MMA training, Combat Sambo and in the case of Gracie Jiu-jitsu combatives program, that said, in most cases grapplers simply do not practice striking and are not equipped to properly deal with an opponent who is striking and resisting.

How Can a Grappler Train Self Defense

There are several ways a grappler can train self defense and it comes down to first and foremost understanding that training for a grappling match is much different than training for self defense purposes.

There are several routes a grappler can take when wanting to train self defense, the first of which is to add another art into the mix of things and sometimes even 2 different martial arts.

We at Grapplezilla highly recommend adding a striking art, especially one that has an element of sparring as this will emotionally prepare you towards getting hit in a fight. Just as grappling emotionally prepares you for the takedown and to be smothered by someone, taking up a striking art such as Boxing or Muay Thai will help you get used to getting hit and less likely to freeze up should someone hit you hard in a street fight.

Another element to self defense is to train for certain scenarios that could happen in a self defense situation. An easy way to do this is to train in a self defense martial art that is scenario based such as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s combatives program, Krav Maga, Combat Sambo or Tony Blauer’s S.P.E.A.R System, all of these will give you the ability to prepare to deal with self defense scenarios that could happen in a real life self defense situation where your life is in danger. Of course Gracie Jiu-jitsu’s combatives program will deal with more grappling solutions and weapon defense, Krav Maga will deal with more striking solutions and self defense against weapons, Tony Blaur’s system will deal with more the anatomy of the self defense situation and Combat Sambo will address blending all ranges of combat to include striking and takedowns, all of these are great if added onto a solid grappling skill set. These four specific options we are a fan of as all of the above arts deal with contact, pressure and gross motor movement over fine motor movements when dealing with an opponent.

Some self defense systems such as Sheepdog Response which was founded by Tim Kennedy will train grappling with knives and guns in order to effectively train for such scenarios, Tim Kennedy is a BJJ black belt, a former UFC fighter and a Ranger qualified Green Beret and his viewpoint is to train realistically. This means if you re training for a BJJ tournament then practice BJJ, if you re training for an MMA fight then train MMA but if you are training for a life and death self defense situation then you must incorporate self defense specific training and this means fine tuning your grappling game regardless if on the ground or in a clinch to one that can deal with a full fledged attacked wanting to do you bodily harm.


Self Defense Against Weapons as a Grappler

Anyone and everyone will always have a challenge when facing an opponent wielding a weapon, regardless if the weapon is a knife, stick, chain or gun.

Krav Maga Expert Itay Dannenberg
Krav Maga Expert Itay Dannenberg

When facing an opponent weilding a weapon, your best chance of surviving is to run, and in the case of an opponent wielding a gun then run, stay low and take cover behind something solid.

The key for effectively using grappling on an attacker holding a weapon is to first understand the range of effectiveness of the weapon they are trying to attack you with. Once you identify the weapon, if you have a chance to identify the weapon as assaults with a weapon are often from done by surprise attack, you must understand if you have the ability to grab the limb holding the weapon or if you need to run as there is no midway, it’s go/no-go when it comes to defending against weapons using grappling.

Should you effectively be able to grab the limb of an attacker holding a weapon, the first thing you must do is make sure the attacker does not transition the weapon to their other hand in order to attack you with it. The next thing is identify your positioning and try to strike/attack the attacker if you can in a painful manner (a kick to the groin, headbutt their head, bite their hand holding the weapon, elbow to the throat, palm strike to the nose, poke their eye, forearm strike to the eyeline etc…) and then try to gain control of the weapon or try to gain full control of both of your body positions via throw, takedown or pin to a wall. 

Weapons are not a joke and the best is always to run away if you have the ability and chance to do so. That said, you should add some realistic self defense training to better prepare you for dealing with an attacker wielding a weapon.

The Legalities of Self Defense

We live in a time where self defense is not black and white and often someone can find themself on the wrong side of the law when simply defending themselves from harm. Always take into consideration that you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law when defending yourself but that said, being on the wrong side of the law is always better than being dead. A good self defense instructor will know and teach you about the legalities of defending yourself and the wrong and rights in doing so.

In Conclusion

Grappling martial arts are amazing for self defense but they are in no way perfect as they do not always cover all aspects of self defense. If you are a grappler and confident in your grappling skills, it really does not hurt to add some self defense training into your training regime, you never know when you will need it but when you do need it, you’ll sure want to have the training hours in self defense when the situation arises.


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