If you’re a regular reader, you already know that my focus in the martial arts is primarily self-defense oriented. That being said, I do enjoy training skills that are more oriented towards competition, like ground grappling skills. Because so many people do it, I can’t afford ignore this phenomenon as a self-defense instructor. You have to learn what they do so you can better understand how to defend against it.
A visiting Shorinji Kan Shodan asked me for tips on improving his ability to complete a submission when doing ground grappling. I like these kinds of questions because it gives me the chance to focus on fine tuning the overall approach rather than just demonstrating the basic application. These days, anyone can piece together how to do submissions from the myriad submission grappling videos all over the Web, but this doesn’t teach you the finer points that helps you actually complete these moves against a live, resisting opponent. Ultimately, it all boils down to 3 basics. (more…)
One of the things that is very much appreciated by students of the martial arts is how regular training not only makes you good at the martial art you’re studying, it also has a way of making people better at other physical pursuits. One aspect of this comes from the way martial arts helps you to integrate your entire body into your movements for maximum power and efficiency. Whether you’re throwing a punch, applying a joint lock, batting a baseball or throwing a football, there are three things you can do to help integrate your entire body.
1. Initiate Movement from the Hip. When you initiate any techniques with hip rotation, it allows you to coordinate the power of your lower and upper body for more efficient, more powerful movements. When throwing a punch, for example, if you initiate the punch with the rotation of your hips, it allows you to engage the muscles of your leg, core, upper back and shoulder muscles. When you start your movement from the hips, all the muscle energy of these body parts can be coordinated. The energy then travels up through the body and materializing into your punch, much like a whip. See The Difference between Fine and Gross Motor Striking Skills Part 2 for details.
2. Stay Loose. For your body to be used like a whip, it must be loose and supple. Think of how a whip works. It flexes all the way up the length of the whip so the energy can travel through and explode out the end. If there is any stiffness in the whip at any point, the energy would stop dead at that point. This is also true of the body. If you’re throwing a punch, and you’re stiff in the shoulders, for example, it won’t matter how well you use your hips. The energy would get caught up within the stiffness of the shoulders, preventing you from using your whole body. You must therefore stay relaxed and loose so the energy can travel.
3. Breathe Strategically. Your breath is a good way to both focus your movements and relax your body. By initiating your breath from deep within your core from the diaphragm or from the Hara/Tanden area, it helps you maximize the use of your core muscles. Breathing out also helps release tension in the body, allowing energy to flow freely. You can do all this by timing your breath with your punch, initiating your breath as your engage your hips and completing your breath as you make contact.
By using these 3 principles effectively, you’ll see a big difference in how much power you can generate and how much more effortless it will feel. These principles can also be used to improve joint locks, breakfalls and throws, though it’s easier to describe when it comes to strikes.
When people first take up Jiu-jitsu, they find the idea of willingly letting someone “beat you up” a little odd. They don’t know whether the idea in being an uke is to be a difficult, resisting attacker to make the applications “more realistic” or whether they should be trying to make it easier for their partners by going to the ground actively for them. As with most things, the secret to being a good uke is somewhere in between.
When your training partner is just starting out, you shouldn’t offer much in the way of “active” resistance as an uke. Attacks that you make on your partner should be slower and done with less intensity so your partner can focus more on learning the defensive techniques without being put under too much pressure.
As a student gains more experience, you can increase the speed and intensity. When your partner strikes you as their uke, protect yourself in a way that won’t interfere with the person’s training. Turn your chin away for strikes around the head/neck area. Breathe out and tense your abdominal muscles when receiving a strike around the midsection. When receiving a strike to the groin, trust in your groin protector and in your partner who will do the strike in a controlled fashion.
When someone is taking you to the ground, try to stay relaxed and focused on doing a proper breakfall to protect yourself. Don’t go to the ground prematurely (i.e. before your partner has properly taken your balance). But don’t actively fight being taken to the ground. In our style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, we use strikes to weaken, distract and/or off-balance a person. If the person lands their strike in the proper location, the throw or takedown comes much more easily when done with real power. You must pretend a little, knowing that as long as the strike was on target, your partner should have been theoretically been able to set you up for the takedown. The reason for this is that it is simply not safe to practice on your partners with full power when connecting on target. Only use active resistance against throws when it is the purpose of the exercise.
When someone is practicing applying a lock, don’t use your strength to resist the application. If your partner knows proper technique and they fight through your resistance, your strength may give out quite suddenly and then you have all that extra force being put into your joint, which could easily result in an injury. If you’re free grappling with your partner, resistance is expected because that is the point of the exercise, but then in that case neither of you are playing the role of uke, so it’s a different situation entirely.
Have fun and play safe everyone!
I was recently asked what my general rules that I apply to all ground defense (for street application as opposed to sport). It’s pretty straight forward. I’ve laid them out in this post.
Rule #1: Protect your head and neck. If an attacker is trying to immobilize their victim and eliminate their defensive capabilities, the most dangerous targets are the head and neck. While defending from the ground, the forearms should be kept up close to the head (when possible) to protect it and the chin should be tucked with the shoulders raised to prevent strangulation.
Rule #2: Keep your elbows and knees tucked close. On the ground, an attacker will try to immobilize your limbs to keep you from fighting back. When your arms are straight and spread out away from your body, they are easier to control. If your attacker knows joint lock submissions, they will more easily be able to apply them too. Keeping your elbows tucked close to your body prevents this and also allows you to use them to protect your head and neck. Keeping your knees bent allows you to kick out and hides your kicking reach.
Rule #3: Create and use space. When defending from the ground, the more space you have the better. This is particularly important when your attacker has the size/strength advantage. Space opens up more defensive options. Use whatever attacks to vulnerable targets you can, in combination with whatever body shifting you can manage to create more space. Then use the extra space to apply more powerful defenses. Another good use of space is to try and ward off an attacker with kicks and takedowns from the ground before they get on top of you.
Rule #4: Watch out for other hazards. The ground can present a number of hazards that you need to watch out for as you defend yourself. The attacker may produce and use a concealed weapon. If you see them reach back for something, assume it is a weapon and take the necessary measures to defend yourself. You also have to watch out for environmental hazards like glass or other debris/obstacles on the ground that could cause you harm.
Rule 5: Get off the ground! The ground is a dangerous place to be (See my article on the dangers of ground defense). You greatly increase your ability to protect yourself and escape by getting off the ground as soon as you have the opportunity to safely do so. As such, all defenses should end with the student getting back to their feet.
For more information about practical, street-oriented ground defense, check out Lori O’Connell Sensei’s book, When the Fight Goes to the Ground.
Being a smaller woman, I have naturally attracted a few students who are smaller in stature. One of the things they like about training at my Vancouver Jiu-jitsu dojo is the fact that they can relate to me physically. They see me throwing and applying joint locks/ submissions on much larger people and it’s easier to imagine that they too can do these things. That being said, when you start out as a smaller individual with no martial arts experience, the challenges can seem insurmountable at first.
When starting out, bigger people usually have less trouble because what they lack in technique, they make up for using strength. Then, with practice and good instruction, they will make adjustments to eventually do it without relying on their strength (in theory). Smaller people don’t have this luxury when training with bigger people. They often struggle to perform the same techniques and naturally get frustrated when they can’t do them as easily.
What I often suggest in these cases is for smaller people to try out techniques that are more challenging on people closer to their size at first. That way they can develop the feel for the technical details (i.e. stance, footwork, weight transfer, leverage, balance, momentum, etc). Once the person develops that ‘feel’ or at least a sense of it, it then becomes easier to apply it on a bigger training partner.
And if you happen to be a smaller, struggling martial artist, fear not. It gets easier. In fact, you’ll have the advantage over the bigger students in the long run. Since you can’t rely on strength for shortcomings in technique, you will develop stronger technique in less time than it takes a person who continually uses strength to make things work. If throwing poses you more difficulties, check out my blog post How to Throw Big When You’re Small.