Can-Ryu Ground Defense Concepts Applied

In the past few weeks, I discussed the updated ground defense system that I developed for my style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. In my post “Fundamentals of Can-Ryu Ground Defense,” I explained how we use a combination of attacks to vital targets and body shifting manoeuvres. The body shifting was demonstrated in more detail, complete with video in my post, “Body Shifting from the Underside of a Ground Attack.” Since then I’ve had a number of readers request that I demonstrate applications in more detail through video.

In the video below, I demonstrate a few different applications of Can-ryu ground defense concepts. These applications are really only the barest surface scratch of the myriad ways our ground defense concepts can be applied. I perform them at an instructive speed with a compliant partner so you can better see what I’m doing, but in practice it can be applied more dynamically and at greater speeds with no prior knowledge of how the attacks will shift and change. For more video footage and advice on ground defense, check out my new book, When the Fight Goes to the Ground. Enjoy!

Comments (17)

17 thoughts on “Can-Ryu Ground Defense Concepts Applied

  1. Excellent video: good technique, very pragmatic and concise explanation. I especially liked the reverse scarfhold, this is new to me so it was very interesting. It’s obvious your area of expertise is ground-defense, if it were at all possible I’d consider training under you. I do have a question though: with the mount & wristcontrol, don’t you use a little too much force to get out of it? Obviously the hipmovement was good in creating space but it seemed you were pushing him off you with mostly armstrength which wouldn’t be easy against a resisting, stronger opponent. What I was taught is to move your arms in a circle (unbalancing him forward), then grab his wrists and perform something of a tenshin-nage (pull one wrist toward your hip while pushing your other hand towards his head). What do you think of this? I know you probably have a million things to do and I shouldn’t be imposing like this but if I could make one more request it would be for a video with some live sparring, applying the concepts and preliminary exercises you showed earlier. It would make for a nice ending to the series, don’t you think?



    PS: you don’t pull your groin-strikes, do you? (lol) Kinda reminds me of my sensei: he usually strikes or kicks first (fairly hard too), then asks you if you’re wearing your groin-protector. Never a dull moment…

  2. Thanks for the kudos, guys. 🙂 Yes, he was wearing a cup. Everyone in my dojo wears cups.

    Zara, as for your question about the wrist control from mount, I am familiar with the method you're referring to. There are a couple of problems with that traditional method. First of all, you have to drop your guard to do it. If the person is only focused on doing the one hold and not changing things as you resist, it can work well, but if they simply let go when they feel your resistance your arms are now down and your head is prone to ground and pound.
    And once your arms are down by your sides like that, it's very easy for the person to pin your arms down with their legs. Then you wouldn't even be able to raise your hands when he starts raining down punches on your head.

    By using shrimping, you gradually bring your arms in. The main force that is used is in the legs and hips when bridging to drive his weight up off your wrists in brief spurts which you exploit to move your hands in to your chest. If the attacker is smart, he'll let go to change his attack when he senses your resistance. And when he does, your arms are there to protect you if he starts punching. You can then try to pin one of his arms while you off-balance him by bridging. If he isn't smart and insists on holding on, then once you've worked your wrists up to your chest it's very easy to bridge and roll him, especially if he doesn't let go.

    When you add the realism of a live attacker that changes his attacks as necessary it makes a lot more sense to keep your arms up for protection.

    As a more "live" demonstration, I'll see what I can do. 🙂

  3. I see your point, obviously your technique has merit over the old one. I’ll ask my sensei when I see him but I’m sure he’ll agree with you or suggest something similar. This is why it’s a good thing to mix the dynamics of sports-grappling with a self-defense orientated, pragmatic mindset. Something you’ve obviously taken to heart. My sensei takes the same approach towards ground-defense, that’s why he trains regularly in shooto (basically a combination of judo, wrestling, BJJ, thaiboxing and sambo). Since shooto is a style that combines grappling with punching on the ground it quickly becomes clear what you can get away with and what will result in a beating. Last week we’ve been working on a drill about defending punches while mounted (one of the worst positions to be in on the ground, as you’ll agree) and it involves using a combination of head movement, parries and fingerstrikes to the throat and the eyes, followed by grabbing the biceps and pulling him to the side. After that you’d hit him in the ear repeatedly and bridge to get him off you. I was quite impressed with this approach (as I was with your demonstration): it’s quick, efficient and allows for variation and response to the attacker’s change of strategy. This is what I’m looking for in my martial arts and self-defense training and with enough practice behind your belt at the very least it will give you a fighting chance against a grappler.

    As to the cup: I support your policy of always wearing it, for both men and women. In our dojo it’s mandatory for men (not officially but when you get kicked in the balls without any warning you’d better be wearing one) but nor for women. To me this somewhat hinders training since it forces you to hit besides the groin or stop short and this might lead to bad habits which could cost you in a real confrontation. There’s a girl in our club, somewhat younger than me, who keeps insisting hitting a woman in the groin is not dangerous and will not result in great pain. We tend to use a lot of groin-attacks in our training and quite regularly she says it wouldn’t inhibit her ability to continue fighting. To this I reply that a) it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever have to fight a woman so it’s quite irrelevant and b) even though I clearly don’t have any personal experience I’m still quite sure it’ll hurt since this area contains quite a lot of nerve-endings (if it hadn’t the human race would have died out long ago) and there’s always the pubic bone which can be damaged when struck hard enough. The last time she mentioned this I got quite fed up and I suggested a little experiment to settle the matter once and for all. All of a sudden she’s all indignant and acts offended. Women… In the martial arts, as in science, the experimental method is or at least should be the rule: if you’re wondering whether something works or not you try it and it will quickly become clear if it could be effective or not. For problems that can’t be decided by trail-and-error use common sense and/or anatomical knowledge: if a bodypart is structurally weak it’ll be damaged easily, any area with nerve-clusters can illicit a pain-response if struck or pressed correctly. What baffled me at first is that she’s a med-student (second year), go figure… Either’s she’s very gullible or she’s yanking my chain. Either way she’s not on my list of favourite training-partners.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your next post.


  4. I can tell you Zara, that being struck in the groin as a woman, does in fact hurt. A light strike doesn't have much effect like it does on a man, but a solid strike or kick to the groin does hurt… A LOT! I once kicked a woman in the groin with moderate force thinking that she was wearing a groin protector. She wasn't wearing one after all. She fell to the ground in extreme pain and later her husband (who also trains at the club) said that their doctor told her that she couldn't have sex for 3 weeks. She said that it still hurt through out the healing process as it was severely bruised.

    I have been hit in the groin hard without my protector on and while I didn't get as strong a hit as my friend did, it was enough to drop me all the same when I wasn't expecting it.

    You can quote me on this. If a woman isn't getting hurt when struck to the groin it's because her ukes are likely being understandably cautious and holding back. This is bad for training because if your uke is being tentative in one place they will likely carry that mentality through to every other place. This results in a watered down form of training that is no good to anyone. That's why I make it mandatory for everyone, men and women, to wear groin protectors.

  5. I will quote you on that. 3 weeks without sex, poor guy… I take it he didn’t really like you all that much during that time (lol). Nah, I’m an ass but not that much of an ass. Must have been a very unpleasant experience for her. Injuries are actually quite common in the martial arts, especially minor ones… I can’t count the number of times I went home after training with a bruise, a scrape, a cut or a sprained muscle. To me it’s not a big deal as long as people aren’t intentionally trying to hurt you (if they do I won’t be pulling my punches or loosening my locks too) and the result is not permanent. No pain, no gain. Last week I got hit with a stick on the knuckle of my right forefinger, it turned all blue and I couldn’t fully close my fist for days… Sensei and I were working on some stick-drills I have to know for the test and since that went well he suggested some friendly sparring, only with real sticks instead of soft ones. Naturally I was quite apprehensive about this since a) I know little about escrima (besides the empty hand aspect) since I don’t train in it regularly and b) I really disliked the idea of a solid stick making contact with my head. He kept taunting me to step in and do the blocks we had practiced but of course he was way too quick and unpredictable (striking from angles we didn’t cover yet) but since I didn’t want to lose face I did… He faked me, I stepped in with the block and he hit my hand. Perfect technique, nothing bad to say about that but still, you don’t do that to a relative novice in an art you’ve been practicing intensively for 4 years. His justification: “you must develop the spirit of a warrior and learn to endure pain”. Yeah right, sadastic bastard (lol).

    I do have a few more questions about the video: for one when he pulls you in he could do the exact same technique on you as you did on him (the old thumb to the eye). Obviously not many people practice this but it is a real risk and I wonder if there’s something that can be done to minimize this danger. Perhaps it would be better if you went inside his arms to reach the face as opposed to on the outside? The thumb to the eye in response to the head grab & pulling guard is something we do too… Works surprisingly well against a standing thai-clinch too: basically you swim in just as in a standard defense but as a little twist you wipe the eye as you go. After that you’ve basically won the fight (very few people are willing and able to continue a fight after such pain and disorientation) and there are so many possible follow-ups… My personal favourite is an elbow to the face (hammer & anvil principle with one hand supporting his neck and pulling it towards you while the elbow travels forward) and possibly a knee to the groin after that. Good thing I don’t have to change tactics when fighting a woman 

    As to the reverse scarf hold escape: as you rightly pointed out it is one of the worst positions you could find yourself in (very difficult to escape) and I’m not sure what else could be done to counter this but the problem with the turtling is that (in keeping with your dynamic concept of a live attacker) the moment you post your elbows he could just release the headlock and start pounding the side of your head. This would in effect make it impossible to go for the groin and it’d be difficult to defend punches in that very awkward and vulnerable position. What’s your take on this?


    PS: I do know it’s far easier to critize than it is to provide solutions yourself, obviously I still think the techniques you demonstrated are very good (I’m quite sure they’ll work in the great majority of cases and in a fight nothing is guaranteed) but I’m always trying to learn and find new ways to improve upon existing techniques.

  6. Yes, Zara. You're right in that the person who is pulling me down in guard could theoretically go for the eyes right back. But this isn't such a big deal for several reasons. 1) Most people who train in BJJ/MMA don't learn these types of tactics because they're not allowed in their sports. But even if they do know of them, 2) they are trying to hold you in to prevent you from posturing up and raining blows down on them. If they go for your eyes, they're giving you the opportunity to posture up. We WANT them to let go of us so we can get back to our feet so if they let go and go for the eyes, that will give us that opportunity.

    As for the scarf hold when you're on your belly, being struck on the head is a danger no matter what you do, so you have to take whatever opportunity you can to get off your stomach so you can better defend yourself. The body is designed for forward locomotion, which is why being on your stomach like that is one of the most dangerous places to be in a ground attack. The best way to use your forward locomotion to your advantage in that position is to get either your forearms or your knees under you so you can push off the ground and turn over.

    Being hit in the side of the head isn't the worst thing in the world, especially when he's holding you in tight like that. It's hard to get a lot of force without letting go and creating more space. Even if he does get a solid hit in, it would hurt his knuckles as much as my skull if not more so if he's not wearing any hand protection. In ground defense, you do need to be prepared for the possibility of taking a few hits and mentally dealing with that, especially when you're in a disadvantaged position.

    That being said, you do have to avoid being hit in the back of the head because it has much more potential for damage. The best way to minimize this risk is just find a way to flip over and get your hands up.

    I can't tell you what I would do in every possible ground defense situation. "What ifs" are just a fact of training. I teach a wide variety of targets and body shifting techniques and if you know them like you know the back of your hand, you can usually find some way out. Every situation is different which is why I don't advocate learning a single set of moves for each one.

    As for your situation with your Sensei with the Escrima, I don't approve of taking license like that in a way that has real potential to hurt someone. You have to give them the skills first so they can practice them and even then you have to slow things down to give the student an opportunity to practice. You really don't get much out of being a beating bag. We all take pain in our training, but that situation doesn't say much about your Sensei's own warrior spirit. But we all have lapses in judgment from time to time. I'm sure it was an isolated incident and not a regular thing he does or else you wouldn't have stayed with him as long as you have.

  7. While it’s true not many people learn these tactics (which I said verbatim in my previous post) in fighting people easily revert back to an animal mentality of attacking everything they can get reach or get a hold of. It’s very easy to flick your thumb in someone’s eye (even by mistake) when you’re holding them in a clinchhold and you don’t need to let go first, this is a technique from the Filipino MA and it’s highly effective. Basically if he did that you wouldn’t have a chance to sit back up (not without taking serious damage in the process), that is why I suggested it might be better to go on the inside of his arms since it allows you to create some space between his hands and your head.

    As to the scarfhold: point taken but getting hit in the side of the head certainly isn’t without danger. Surely if he’s stupid enough to hit the upper part of your skull then what you said applies and he will hurt himself but if he’s not a dimwit and he aims for the temple (which after all is only covered by mere millimeters of bone) it’ll be game over. That being said I recognize there isn’t much you can do at that point and it would indeed be in your best interest to move and create space to get into a better position.

    My sensei’s an honourable and just teacher and a personal friend of mine, what I said about the sadism was in jest and I’m still man enough to stand up to him if needed. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hit so hard, accidents do happen (a few weeks back I semi-accidentily gave him a knee in the tailbone when he wouldn’t budge during groundsparring) & a certain amount of punishment (on the condition it’s not willfully inflicted) during training is actually a good thing since it’ll toughen you up and make you acquainted with what it feels like to get hit or be in pain. My conviction in the matter is that you should avoid fights at all costs but if you must fight it’s guaranteed to be a serious matter and you must win, this means I’m presuming you can’t afford to lose and you’ll still have to carry on after a bloody nose or worse. A while ago we had an interesting discussion about what it means to fully absorb a style and he said it basically means letting the spirit of its founder or your teacher run through you. When you’re on the receiving end of his techniques you feel what he feels and with what intention, intensity and emotion he fights, this means enduring pain and running risks but it’s worth it and the way to perfection is through hardship and strife. When you’re training in the martial arts you’re supposed to be trained as a warrior (or fighter if that word is objectionable to some), to me this means you’re able and willing to fight effectively and courageously not just be a good technician or a decent human-being. That’s at least my opinion and my sensei’s, an opinion rooted in tradition and common-sense.

    I hope it’s clear from all this I’m not a ‘what if’ monkey: I don’t ask questions just to make myself look knowledgeable or interesting, I’m all too aware of the difficulty of the matter and I’m not one for cheap criticism. I stated this clearly in my post scriptum and I’m obviously not a beginner or layman.


  8. Zara, I'm not sure how you can strike to the eyes without at least loosing up or at least shifting the clinch. A proper clinch involves a gable grip with your palms clapsed. And if a person starts shifting the clinch to get closer to you eyes, you can also bring your own hand up to protect eyes, while simultaneously going for his eyes with the other hand. A BJJ-er with any skill will usually try to keep their elbows in because the structure is stronger. A clinch in Muay Thai uses the same principles. So even if you wanted to work your arms in, if they are using these types of tactics, you may not have the option.

    This is the trouble with trying to communicate all these subtleties. Everything on the ground moves very fast and changes quickly. It's difficult to see, know or expect every aspect of what the attacker is doing or could be doing. If you are following a good set of principles and become skilled at using them in improvised ways these things take care of themselves.

    Btw, I meant no offense by what I said about your Sensei. The way you explained it may have made it sound worse than intended.

  9. A clinch, whether it’s on the ground or standing isn’t instantly tight, first you need a grip and then you close the noose. In that, albeit short, window of time you can insert an arm and go for the eyes. This is a strategy called sen no sen meaning to counter the exact same moment the enemy initiates his attack (simultaneous attack & defense) as opposed to go no sen (reacting to the enemy’s attack, first defense then counterattack). When the clinch is fully applied then you’re right: it will be difficult to do this and you’re forced to go outside. However, going outside is slower (the shortest distance between two points is still a straight line) and if his intention is to flick his thumb in your eyes then he’ll be much quicker than you and he’ll most likely have won the fight. Apparantly to you this isn’t a problem and if you’re fighting a sportsgrappler than it probably isn’t but I’d rather not take chances. In a fight there aren’t any rules and I’d rather overestimate my opponent’s skill than underestimate it. Naturally in the thick of it you improvise and not everything will go by the book (“no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy”, at least according to Clausewitz) but you could at least make the techniques you’re burning into your system as good and fool-proof as they can possibly be.

    As to that situation with my sensei: I merely stated what happened, nothing more and nothing less. I still think what he did was unwise and quite unsafe but if I thought he was dangerous or irresponsible clearly I wouldn’t train under him. I’m not in the least offended, why should I?


    PS: as to your question; your strike the eyes going in or you shift your hand slightly to rake the thumb across while maintaining a firm grip with your other hand. In the situation described (you’re in his guard and he’s trying to avoid your strikes by pulling you down) he can very easily blind you either with a direct attack or after/during a grab. That is why I try to avoid letting his hands anywhere near my face, the emphasis being on trying as he’s obviously going to be active and has a will and a mind of his own.

  10. Honestly Zara, when I'm doing actual applied ground defense, not just demonstrating, I try to prevent the person from getting holds like that before they're actually applied, but for demonstrative purposes I let my attacker grab me in that video I did for the blog. And as far as ground defense goes, it's more important to stop the attacker before he gets on top of you or before he has his hold fully applied. That being said, you may not always get to do this for whatever reason so you have to train to get out of holds after they're fully applied as well.

    We teach a combination of both approaches, but the focus of the video was more on defenses against grabs after they're fully applied. If I had been defending myself for real, I would have struck him in the groin before he even got the chance to grab my head. Or if I failed to do that I would have slammed my elbow down into my attacker when he first grabbed my head and pulled me in, using the force of his pull to add to my blow. But like I said, there are so many aspects to what I teach, I was only demonstrating a few possible applications.

    We also do defenses a standing attacker while we are on the ground, dealing with them as they try to kick us in the head or get on top of us. This is something else I would like to show on here some time. So much to do so little time! Sigh.

    Thanks for the description of that attack to the eyes by the way. It's definitely something to be wary of and another good reason to create as much distance as possible when in a ground defense situation.

  11. Nice video – practical and realistic techniques! If only I lived on the West Coast.

    I see you've authored a book too. I may have to get my hands on it and write a review!


  12. Hey BSM! Thanks for your kind comments and for posting my video on your blog. I structured my ground defense system to make it as easy as possible to learn and apply, no matter what size you are. I'll be posting more detailed information about it here and there on my blog if you're interested. 🙂

  13. I don’t doubt your competence or the comprehensiveness of your program. If I thought you were full of it I wouldn’t visit your blog at all and I do realize one short video doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the matter (it’s still only a demonstration). I just got the feeling you weren’t really taking me seriously, all I did was initiate a discussion and share my thoughts on the matter and I do think I made some good points. Points you were a bit too eager to dismiss, at least at first.

    Anyway, I’m a big believer in three main principles when it comes to self-defense, be it on the ground or standing.

    1) Instant reaction: you should train yourself to immediately and instinctively react to his every attack. Everything he does you counter right away, you don’t wait for him to complete his attack and if you can preempt it all the better.

    2) Decisive action: everything you do should be aimed at resolving the situation asap (no wasted movement or half-assed counterattacks). The ideal should be to down the opponent with one blow, failing that you should be ready to continue to press your attack, breaking down his defenses and doing cumulative damage as you go. You must win at all costs.

    3) Layered defense: Murphy’s law states that what can go wrong will go wrong and at the most inopportune moment, therefore you should be prepared to switch to other techniques or tactics when your initial ones failed and you should train to defend yourself in all conceivable situations.

    A forth one, though not technical in nature as the previous three, would be the principle of pacifism. Even though you’re trained in the martial arts and thus the effective use of physical force you should try to avoid getting into fights, never initiate violence and always remember violence is the last resort. A fight avoided is a fight won.

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the principles involved in JJ and fighting in general. I’m compiling lists, both for general self-defense (awareness, instant reaction, decisive action and so on) and for specific topics like knife or gun defense or the legality of self-defense. Both to summarize the knowledge I’ve acquired for myself and as guidelines for future students. What principles would you recommend for groundfighting or self-defense on the ground? I’ve got a general idea (the first rule being you shouldn’t go the ground if you can help it) but I would like to hear your opinion on the subject.



  14. Thanks for your insights as always, Zara. I agree with those three main principles you listed as well as your fourth one. I'll put up my own list of ground defense principles for you in my next post.

  15. Thanks for the video; I have used some of those ground defense techniques before and they are extremely effective.

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