My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense

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.

My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense - Biting

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.

My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense - Skull

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.

 My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense Biting

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.

My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense: Knees and Shins

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. 🙂

*All the above photos were taken by photographer Glenn Chow.
Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “My Top 5 Favourite Vital Target Attacks for Ground Defense

  1. It’s clear the number of viable targets is quite limited due to the lack of space on the ground and the resulting loss of momentum coupled with the inability to use one’s whole body in the strike (at least when on the bottom). I use all of the above with the exception of biting: this could work but I’d use it only as a last resort when all else has failed. Plus I don’t really see how this could be trained unless you’re willing to strap pieces of meat to your body.

    One technique you didn’t mention is knees: if you can shift your hips away from the attacker they pack quite a whallop and are great for creating space. Of course I agree techniques should be combined with body movement and basing escape strategies solely on strikes is rather silly. Still in a real fight I’d much rather be trained in elementary escapes coupled with dirty tactics than in BJJ or the like which is pretty much geared towards fair-play and usually involves equally sized opponents, not to mention it’s way too technical (it takes ages to learn how to make an armbar or a choke work in a non-compliant setting, especially if strikes aren’t allowed) and will instill in you an attitude that the ground is your friend and you should finish the fight there. On the mats or in the ring this is a very viable strategy (provided he’s not better at it than you), in the street it most definitely is not. Except maybe in very specific, favourable conditions: a duel-like setting with people literally watching your back and ready to intervene to protect you should others step in. Which sounds more like fightclub than a streetfight.

    1. Despite our many differences of opinion, you and I are pretty spot on in our opinions on ground defense. You are going to appreciate the contents of my book based on what you’ve said here (if you buy it). Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      1. I do believe over the years we’ve agreed on far more things than not and I’m assuming the (main) purpose of this blog is to generate discussion (depending on opposite opinions) since this is the way to growth of knowledge and understanding: du choc des opinions jaillit la vérité. I’ll never make claims to knowing everything (this would be quite delusional) and I’m always willing to listen to those who are knowledgeable in their field but I’m not going to conform to other people’s ideas without a good reason. Those who lack the sceptic’s attitude will always fall victim to cheap tricks and pseudo-experts and they’ll probably never learn to think for themselves instead of blindly following others. This attitude of critical thinking is far too often lacking (in martial arts as in other aspects of life) and while it’s not a garantee you’ll arrive at sound ideas and workable solutions at least it’ll improve the odds.

        Your book and DVD certainly sound interesting although, given the goal and the concepts behind it, I’m sure much of it will be quite similar to what I practice already. Still even if you only pick up one small detail or improvement on a known technique it’s worth it and you’re one step closer to mastery. In that respect I can say I already have learned from you so I’d like to express my gratitude for that.

  2. Good stuff Lori. I am actually a big fan of biting and find it highly underrated. We have done it since we were babies and it is a natural reaction that doesn’t need to be trained. I like adding a growl to it for the psychological effect it has on the attacker. Many teach that one should be worried about HIV by biting, but when you are in life and death scenario, the brain is not thinking clearly enough to process that. Besides you are biting, not eating! Lol

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