Groundwork. The Do’s and Dont’s of Self-Defense

Groundwork. The do’s and dont’s of self-defense

With the rise of mixed martial arts and the UFC , fighting on the floor has come to recent prominence. It’s always been there, but in the early days of mixed martial arts fighting, the Gracie family specifically showed how effective Ju-Jitsu groundwork can be.

Ju-jitsu, Judo and wrestling are arts that have advanced levels of skills designed to work on the floor. In a self-defense situation, this can be an essential skill as a high percentage of fights go to the ground. If that happens you want to have enough skill to have the advantage and not be floundering around on a concrete floor whilst being choked out or punched senseless.


Why learn to fight on the ground?

Sometimes if you are in a dominant position from a striking point of view, the common thing the other person would do is grab hold of you. With no grappling skill and no ground fighting skills, if you are dragged to the ground, you are at the same level as they are. Training to dominate the initial grappling and then the takedown is essential. This can also help you deal with a ferocious stand-up fighter if they are gaining the initiative as, to quote self-defence expert, Geoff Thompson

“…often the most frightening of opponents
in vertical fighting is an absolute mouse on the floor because he
has no experience of that range.”

Geoff Thompson

Is it safe to fight on the ground?

The plain answer is, no. It’s a very dangerous place to be because,

  • the surface you are on could have sharp objects
  • when you are fighting on the floor you are vulnerable to attacks from your assailants “friends”
  • if you are fighting more than one person and you hit the floor you are extremely vulnerable
  • uneven surfaces make control very difficult

Geoff Thompson ( again ) puts it very succinctly

“ … match fighting is a lost art that only the very
courageous seek; the enemy of today is a cowardly team fighter
who works under the umbrella of deception, and whilst you
might be capable of eating him alive on the ground it doesn’t
stop his mates kicking your face in or his girl friend stabbing
you whilst your hands are tied up with your prostrate opponent.”

Geoff Thompson: Groundfight

An example

Having said all of that, if you don’t learn to fight on the ground you are in a weak position if it does go to the floor. If your attacker has any experience you could be in serious trouble.


One of the instructors I trained with at The Combat Academy illustrated this point when he told a story of working on the door in Scotland. He was more than capable with his Karate training but said that one day when having trouble with a punter, instead of fighting with him, the man simply flipped him over and jumped on him when he was on the floor. With no experience in what to do, he said he simply floundered around whilst getting a thrashing, luckily other door staff intervened and he survived a hard lesson in all-around self-defence skills.
So the reality is, you should develop ground fighting skills as standard to make sure you are the one in control should it go to ground.

Traditional wrestling techniques are often neglected, but very useful in street ground fighting
Traditional wrestling techniques are often neglected, but very useful in street ground fighting

Common ground fighting techniques

From training with The Combat Academy, I picked up some very useful methods and a better understanding of the principles involved. But that makes me far from an expert. It’s a large field and has many different styles which include, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Wrestling, Sambo and Silat, to name a few. You should look up what might work for you whilst keeping in mind that, in general, “dirty” techniques that you might learn in Combatives training or at Urban Combatives ( gouging and biting etc. ) are not generally taught. That aside, you could argue that there are a certain set of basic techniques in ground fighting.

  • Pinning your opponent
  • Understanding the use of whole body movement to move your opponent around
  • application of choke holds to knock out your opponent
  • guard positions using the legs to move out of punching range
  • throws and take downs that you dominate
  • joint locks to immobilise your opponent
  • training to conserve energy

Lessons learnt

One of the best things I picked up during these training sessions, was understanding the principle of putting your body behind any move . The instructor would often say “don’t get involved in an arm wrestle”, meaning that if you are trying to manipulate someone who is strong and not very compliant, you simply can’t do it unless you put your weight behind the move.

Once this is coupled with speed, it makes it far easier to go into an arm lock or a chokehold as your opponent cannot entirely resist the move with your entire body weight behind it.


The other thing that was an important lesson, was finding out how exhausting it is when ground fighting. Not only are you moving every part of your body, pushing someone’s weight around, but also constantly moving to gain an advantage. Believe me, if you have never done it, it’s an eye-opener. This taught me to use more patience, knowing that an inexperienced person would blow themselves out very quickly once the adrenalin had subsided.

Some good examples

Here are a couple of good examples that show the value in learning techniques that work on the ground. Whether it’s using your body weight or some nastier stuff ( from Luke Holloway in the second video ) to take control of your assailant.

Luke Holloway..anti grappling

And to finish

Here are members of the Gracie family who do a breakdown of techniques used on the street etc.
Well worth watching as they relate the practice of their art to its use in real situations. Having chokes, defensive moves and holds that work on the ground is a vital part of any self-defense training. Nothing ever works perfectly, but, as this clip shows, it can be very very useful. As this article discusses, it’s a set of skills that are another part of the overall contemporary self-defense jigsaw.

Author: Andrew Johnson

I trained many years in Kung Fu, fought in full contact competitions and am a qualified instructor at The Combat Academy in the UK. The aim of this blog is to look at what modern self-defense training actually is and what it most probably should be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *