I was 11 years old when Royce Gracie dominated the first ultimate fighting championship by taking his opponents to the ground and using the positions and submissions of brazilian jiujitsu. It was couple years later that my older brother introduced me to the UFC and we both become huge fans of Royce and started sparring in our moms yoga studio. We didn’t get very far training on our own because we couldn’t figure out how to escape a guillotine choke and it simply became a matter of who would land that choke first, luckily my brother found an army ranger teaching out of his shed and we started training.
Despite having trained in Tang so Do, Aikido or Kung Fu most of my childhood that was the first time I felt like I was learning something about actual fighting. Our teacher retired after a couple of years due to other obligations and there were no other schools nearby. I continued to train with friends through the rest of my teens, and joined a Jiujitsu club in college, however I didn’t get serious about Jiujitsu again till I was 24 after when west coast fight club a straight blast gym affliate opened in Bellingham.
While I was training at WCFC I started working as bouncer as well as concentrating on their Muay Thai program and paying attention to different schools of thought in the reality based self defense world. I quickly became aware that while the Jiujitsu training I was doing was very alive and physically developmental most of the strategies did not seem like things I would want to do in a street fight. Taking someone to the ground in crowded club where the ground is hard, glass hits it regularly and your opponent might have friends to come stomp on you or might just get trampled inadvertently by the crowd seemed like a bad idea. So I started focusing on the Muay thai and standing grappling work I trained with some systema based fighters.
When I started developing the combative approach for EMP I was rooted in that same mindset, ground fighting was necessity to understand but as last resort and the primary goal should be getting off the ground.
However as I started to think more and more from a play perspective it became apparent ground grappling and ground sparring was an important place too start. My daughter loves wrestling with me and that mostly means pushing me down crawling on top of me and pushing me around or, alternatively I pin her down and tickle her, this may seem a far cry from self defense but it is a seed of self defense capacity. As children we love to play this way because it is the safest way to start developing combative ability.
Thinking from a play focused perspective it became obvious jiujitsu and other ground grappling like freestyle wrestling, and sambo are great movement practices offering huge benefits for overall movement capacity my last two seminars in philly have featured a bunch of jiujitsu athletes and they have had wonderful mobility, strength, endurance, diverse motor options and innate understanding of flow. Which speaks to the benefits of ground grappling training and the incredible complex movement development it offers while remaining relatively low impact, and safe compared to more striking based arts or even standing grappling focused arts like judo and greco roman wrestling.
While ground grappling maybe a last and least option for a self defense situation you can make a good argument it is a the range and approach to combative movement that is the most sustainable to practice hard and it provides the best starting place for developing combative abilities while minimizing risk.
So my challenge for you is to play with some wrestling on the ground today, you can just play fight like a kid or you can play some serious wrestling or jiujitsu, I always advocate starting with a playful low intensity focus and working into playing more seriously with dangerous elements like chokes and joint locks only when good movement and good training relationships are developed.
For inspiration I have always enjoyed this highlight of one of my favorite fighters Genki Sudo