In my last post, I talked about my favourite 5 stand-up strikes for self-defense, based on simplicity, ease of learning and application, and versatility, as per the tenets of my style, Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu. Today I’d like to do the same for ground defense, covering the vital targets that give the most bang for buck in terms of self-defense, all of which are covered in my newly published book, When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-jitsu Strategies and Tactics for Self-Defense.
The ground is a dangerous place to be on the street, leaving you exposed to a lot of potential dangers beyond the attacker you’re dealing with, including multiple attackers, debris on the ground, edged weapons which can be more easily used in close proximity, etc. More about the tactical disadvantages of defending from the ground. This is why the overarching goal of my book is to provide the fastest, easiest ways to get off the ground and escape safely.
Please bear in mind that these are not for competitive use (unless you cheat) and that they alone are not necessarily going to be enough to get a larger, stronger, more skilled attacker off of you in an attack. They are best used in combination with body shifting principles to give you the best defense.
1. Eyes. Almost any type of attack to the eyes causes a reaction, whether it’s as a result of pain or a reflexive flinch to protect the eyes, making them useful for creating space on the ground. I use a variety of different types of attacks, including strikes with with the thumb reinforced by your fist, straight pressure with the thumb when there is no space for a strike, scratching or flicking with the finger nails, etc. Bear in mind that the eyes are considered a dangerous target in that it could cause a permanent injury that could severely affect one’s livelihood in the long term. It is important to not only be justified in such an attack, but to be able to articulate why you did it, or at least this is the case when it comes to the Canadian criminal code. The laws are different in every area so it’s good to be familiar with them.
2. Groin. The groin is often a good target on the ground because it doesn’t take much force to cause a reaction. Even just the threat of a strike to the groin can be enough to make an attacker shift his hips away to defend. I like to use the finger whip to the testicles if there is enough space, or simply go for a “grab and squeeze” if my hands are confined. If trapped in a guard position, some people say that a skilled grappler need only control your wrists to prevent groin strikes, but that won’t prevent me from dropping an elbow down there. A lot people go on the assumption that if you can get in a good attack to the groin, you’re done. This is not necessarily the case. While some attackers will experience great pain when their groin is attacked, others may simply be good at moving to protect their groin. Still others may not even feel any pain, whether it is due to adrenaline or intoxication, causing no reaction at all. Always be prepared to follow up with other strikes and/or body shifting techniques.
3. Skull. The back of the skull is considered one of the most dangerous vital targets. There are a number of ways you can attack it on the ground, including open palm strikes, elbow strikes, and knuckle strikes (for a pain reaction only). A strong blow can stun an attacker or knock them out. With enough concussive force, it also has the potential to cause brain damage, lose their vision, go into a coma, or it could even kill them. These extremes are less likely to happen when defending yourself from the ground since you aren’t able to generate as much power when in a more prone position. That being said, you should be able to articulate and justify the need to strike this target based on the threat you faced and the circumstances surrounding it.
4. Biting. While a lot of people consider biting to be so dirty that it is beneath them, I say, “You never know what you might have to do when the chips are down.” If you’re completely overwhelmed by the size and strength of your attacker or tied up in such a way that you can’t use your arms and legs effectively, a bite can be your best friend, whether it’s done to the sensitive skin around the nipple, the under arms, the inner thighs, or anything else you can get your teeth on. I teach students to bite down sharply then shake your head from side to side while yelling/growling loudly like a rabid animal trying to tear it’s kill. The psychological effect of this can be more powerful than the actual pain. *Note: When biting bare skin, there is a chance you could break the skin and expose yourself to any communicable diseases your attacker may have. You may prefer to use a different type of attack if you have the option, but if the stakes are high and your options limited, the risk may be worth taking.
5. Knees & Shins. If you’re down on the ground while you’re attacker is still standing, the knees and shins are great targets for stopping them as they try to get close. If you land a solid kick, you can cause them great pain from either bruising their shins or injuring their knee. If timed while their foot is still mid-step, you could even cause them to lose their balance. When in this position, of course, you want to keep your legs between you and your attacker. This will likely involve body shifting as they try to get to a position in which they can either kick you in the head or mount you. I teach turtle kicks (with the toes pointing out and heel pointing in) or side kicks, depending on how your body is oriented towards the attacker.
As mentioned previously, attacks to vital targets on their own are not enough. Combining them with body shifting principles such as bridging and rolling, shrimping, etc. will give you the most well-rounded approach to help you make the most of your body to give you a better chance against bigger, stronger, attackers, even ones with grappling skills. The key is to be adaptive, to react on the fly and take opportunities as quickly as possible when they present themselves. You may have to use vital targets to create opportunities to shift your body, or you may have to shift your body to create opportunities to attack vital targets. You may have to change your target as your attacker defends. Or you may even unexpectedly find yourself in position in which you can get to your feet after a single strike, remembering that your goal is escape, not finishing a particular move.
Every self-defense scenario, whether it’s on the ground or standing, is its own entity and no one approach will work in all cases. That’s why it’s good to have options, and to find the approaches that work best for you. The goal of my ground defense book is provide a strong base in vital target attacks combined with body shifting principles, which can be adapted to suit any person’s size, body type, or previous training. More information about my ground defense book.
What are your go-to vital target attacks that have served you best for ground defense? Please share them in the comments. 🙂