Why learn to defend yourself on the ground?

How often do fights end up on the ground in a real self defense situation? 

There is a saying that 90% of fights end up on the ground. I believe this is a myth (but I'm happy to be corrected if somebody can point to a scientific study).

However, enough fights do result in going to the ground so it would be foolish not to prepare for this. Therefore Krav Maga has plenty of techniques in the syllabus to: protect against falls; to defend against common ground attacks; and defend ourselves on ground vs standing attacker(s).

As with most things, Krav Maga "borrows" and adapts techniques and knowledge from other systems such as BJJ, MMA, Judo, Wrestling.  Where our approach is different is that we avoid fighting on the ground if possible, and if we do end up on the ground then our aim is to get up as quickly as possible rather than try to “submit” the opponent. Firstly lets discuss the good reasons why we want to avoid fighting on the ground, and then what we do in Krav Maga if we do:

Why to avoid fighting on the ground?

1. The ground may injure you!

Ground or throwing based martial arts such as BJJ, MMA, Wrestling, Judo are taught on nice foam mats which has been designed to protect our feet, knees, hands, body, and head from taking unnecessary punishment, thereby protecting us from all kinds of injury.

By contrast real self defense situations can occur anywhere… e.g., pavement, with rocks, glass, and other random items that can pierce, cut or bruise us, etc.  Imagine now if you were to go to the pavement outside your house, roll around a bit and see how it feel on your body. Then imagine somebody is on you, trying to punch you, kick you, or you are trying to defend kicks and stomps from standing attacker(s)!

2. There may be more than one attacker

Arm bars, headlocks, triangles, omoplatas, etc all look super cool when they work. However, it takes years of practice to be able to pull these off consistently in a competitive situation.  In a street situation the attacker is likely to also be attacking you with strikes also and might even have a weapon such as a knife so would be even more difficult.  MMA would prepare you for the strikes but not the weapon attack.

More importantly, if you are overcoming an attacker and his standing friend kicks you in the head, its game over. If you are grappling someone on the ground, you will be fully engaged with that person and you lose all situational awareness. That means you are FULLY open to an additional attacker(s). There are no rules to prevent others from joining in.

We have to assume there is more than one attacker, so the longer we are wrestling with one on the ground, the higher chance there is that standing attacker(s) will join in. Tactically we have much better chances of defending ourselves when we are standing (even if that means running away).

3. Size matters a lot and you’ll tire fast

There is a reason that sport competitions in BJJ, MMA, Wrestling, Judo have weight grades... a bigger, stronger person has a massive advantage. Moreover, even if you are of similar size and strength to your opponent, ground fighting is extremely tiring. Unless you are extremely skilled you will have a much better chance of defending yourself standing against a larger and/or stronger attacker.  The Krav Maga system has been developed to be practical and effective for people of all sizes and strengths so teaching a smaller person to engage a larger person on the ground would not be tactically optimal.

Krav Maga Ground Fighting & Defensive Techniques

So here’s a quick summary of some of the techniques you will learn in Krav Maga for ground fighting…

  • ​Avoiding being "taken down" to the ground
  •  Breakfalls and rolls to minimise impact of falling
  • Defending against standing attacker(s) trying to strike you
  • Defending against an attacker who is on you on the ground
  • Getting up quickly

1. Learn to protect yourself as you fall or are wrestled to the ground

Firstly how did we end up on the ground? Some of our basic ground techniques involve rolls and breakfalls to prevent injury when transitioning from standing to ground if we are pushed, fall, thrown or wrestled. If we are proficient here we can avoid injury as we fall and also quickly transition to counterattacking.

Combat sports such as BJJ, MMA and Judo teach falls but again they are onto mats. We learn onto normal surfaces and have modified the falls and breakfalls as such.

2. Learn releases vs common attacks when attacker is on the ground also

Our syllabus includes defenses against attackers on the ground and we have defenses against all common attacks. These include the MMA type attacks such as headlocks, strikes, etc, as well as the more malicious attacks such as chokes or knife attacks.

Where Krav Maga defenses differ from MMA or BJJ is that (as with standing defenses), we target vulnerable points (eyes, groin, etc). These do not depend on size or strength, thereby allowing a small woman to defend against a large male attacker, for example, overcoming the issue of the bigger, stronger attacker.

Our objective is to counter attack, get separation from the attacker and get to our feet as quickly as possible. We are not interested in making a submission on the ground.

3.  Learn to defend yourself on the ground against standing attacker(s)

In cases where we have fallen (pushed, tripped of been thrown) the attacker(s) is standing and we are on the ground by ourselves. We learn defenses to protect ourselves against standing attacker(s) who may be trying to kick, stomp, strike or grab us. At the very least it is essential to protect ourselves from strikes to our head, groin and organs.

4.  Get to Your Feet Quickly and Safely

Regardless of the initial situation (1,2,3 above), our objective is to get back to our feet as quickly as possible. We have specific techniques so that we can do this efficiently and defend ourselves as we are getting up.

Krav Maga Technique: Defending against a kick when you are on the ground

Krav Maga Technique: Defending against a knife attack when you are on the ground

In Summary

  • Avoid trouble/  fighting if possible
  • If you end up in a fight... Stay on your feet if possible
  • If you go to the ground... defend yourself and quickly and get back to your feet defensively
  • Do what it takes (within the law) to take away the attackers ability and or willingness to attack you further

About the Author

Aaron is head instructor of Krav Maga Global - Auckland.  He learned Krav Maga in Europe and Israel under Eyal Yanilov and was awarded rank of Expert Level 1 in Israel in 2015.  He has taught Krav Maga since 2010 in UK and New Zealand.

Aaron also leaned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the reknown Carlson Gracie club in London for 5-years.

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