Friday, July 10, 2009

Thoughts on Grappling

I've been a grappling enthusiast for the last 12 years and I would like to share some thoughts on the matter. At the time of this writing (2009), I hold a 1st Dan in Kempo Jujitsu (now in 2011 I hold my 2nd Dan)and I encourage grappling in all training programs. I've trained in many different styles in my life, but the ones that truly spoke to me were methods such as Sambo, Wrestling, Judo and other grappling systems. I remember being a very cocky and immature student learning how to escape a guard for the first time and thinking to myself "what kind of weird style is this?" I continued on reluctantly and it was when I got into my first bar fight that everything changed. I clearly recall landing a nice straight on his chin and I thought that I had just landed the greatest knockout ever. Unfortunately, he had some more left in him. The hit rocked him and, as a fear response, he ducked his head and lunged at me. He couldn't afford to take another hit so he shot in to take me down, much like when a boxer seeks the clinch to avoid getting knocked down. The night ended bad. As I lay there sprawled on my back watching boots crash down on me, I thought to myself: "I wish I knew what to do down here other than cover up..." That's when I really started to understand that fights finish on the ground. From play fighting to self-defense, grappling is a part of our survival instincts.

At it simplest, grappling trains cardio and endurance like nothing else! Before any martial training (and during) I was involved in team sports from when I was five. My sports of interest were soccer, football and rugby...all running sports. Cardio was always very important and we trained it in as many grueling variations as possible. None of that mattered when I went to my first Jujitsu class. Lungs on fire, muscles cramping and mental panic ensued and I realized that I had a lot of work to do. There's no better feeling than rolling with someone and beating your time. A good, evenly matched sparring session can lead to some of the most satisfying breakthroughs. Along with improving endurance, grappling leaves you with a good, healthy and rewarding experience in your training.

Rule out Striking
My Sensei Kevin Secours often goes to great length to ingrain us with "distance permits striking". This is an important rule. It's one thing to just say it and think that this will stay with you under pressure, it's quite another to properly train it. When someone is pushed to the point beyond thinking, whether it's due to fatigue or injury, the concepts that are most trained as survival methods will kick in. In a defense setting, the ability to invade someone else's space can quickly change an aggressor into a victim. It goes far beyond just being more comfortable with grappling. It's an entire psychological invasion of an attacker and gives the defender control in a violent crisis.

Restraint Tactics
Years later, I became very comfortable with grappling. It was now a strong part of my game, so to speak. I quickly grew out of the bar fighting scene, for obvious reasons, but I still wanted to test myself. Private security opportunities started to come up and I pursued that line of work for a number of years. I noticed right away that being familiar with grappling and submission techniques gave me an edge. It wasn't only just being a better grappler that helped, but being more comfortable than most of the other guys on my team to know how to enter and take down someone who's acting aggressive and aiming to hit anyone who comes near. Although grappling for the purpose of restraint was quite different than sport submission, I still felt like I had an edge on most.

It's Natural
For the most part we see grappling in some form or another all over the place. Lions teach their cubs how to defend themselves by rolling around with them. Kids are always grabbing onto each other for some fun wrestling. I've even read that tickling a child is a parent's way of teaching the child to protect it's space. Because the child is laughing, the parent is comfortable poking the child. For the person on the receiving end, there's a panic-like response taking place, despite the smiling and the laughing. We want to be close, for good or for bad. Fights usually start on the feet, but they almost always end on the ground. So whether you use grappling training for conditioning, sport competition or professional work, I highly recommend incorporating it into your life. Nothing will teach you how to move better and understand your healthy limits than trying to control someone else's!

**For a more in-depth exploration on grappling and what it means for our natural instincts in the modern world, check out "Primal Power" and "Primal Power 2" by Kevin Secours. For more info visit