On Grappling – Marc MacYoung


I have taken extreme flak from people about my views on grappling.

I have four basic standards about groundfighting:

  1. Submission fighting is to be used only on people who you want to control and *NOT* injure (e.g. a drunk friend OR someone you are trying to arrest).
  2. Those circumstances are NOT self-defense scenarios
  3. If it is NOT your job to control someone and you end up on the groundagainst someone trying to seriously hurt you, you’ve either screwed up or he got the drop on you.
  4. Given point three, get up immediately. Do NOT stay there and try to ‘win.’

Those points are based on a lot of experience with violence. Including situations where you ARE trying to maim the other person — and he’s going for the same. The only thing between you and a trip to the hospital is the effectiveness of what you do. It is also based on many years of experience applying professional use of force (when it WAS my job to control people on the fight)

We’re talking violence in live-fire situations against people who were trying to hurt me. Not the glorified ideal of violence. Not the fantasy. Not the basis of so much fear. Nor the never ending training loop to ‘prepare’ for a situation that never happens. I’m also not talking about the safety of a ring or under the auspices of sports fighting. I’m talking live-fire situations and in places where multiple opponents and weapons were very much how violence happened. And if you tried submission fighting in those circumstances you’d end up being dog meat.

Having said this, Does this mean I am against grappling?

Does it mean I don’t think it’s worth learning?

Does this mean I am inexperienced on the ground?


Grappling is a fine tool. It is, in fact, a GREAT tool — for certain jobs. And for those jobs there is absolutely NO better tool.

However, grappling is NOT the ultimate tool. Nor is it a wunder-tool that works for every situation.

Those statements should be self-evident. But, when I talk about the limits of grappling, that’s when — instead of explaining why I’m wrong about what I’m saying — the personal attacks start up.

What is especially common are the claims that I’m a coward — who should not be listened to — because I do not step into the ring with professional and semi-professional athletes. This, the true believers claim is ‘proof’ that what I say about the limitations of grappling OUTSIDE the ring is wrong. Never mind the personal attacks and insults, take a look at their proof.

In case you missed the hole in that logic: They want to prove me wrong about the limitations of grappling outside the ring by having me step into the ring. That’s what’s called ‘circular reasoning'(1).

As long as they limit their standards of ‘proof’ to the ring, their dogma that grappling has universal application is never proven wrong. That’s because they never step outside of circumstances (sports fighting) where it works great.

What they lack is a different test. They’ve run the exact same test 5,000 times and it always come back positive. By limiting themselves to the ring as proof, they are just running the same test 5001 times.

Regardless of their one-sided proofs (like I said, they conveniently ignore nobody wanting to step into an alley with me and five friends) that doesn’tmean I don’t have a lot of experience with ground fighting and using grappling to control someone. I do have a lot of experience with ground fighting. That is why I DON’T dismiss the value of grappling … I just say there are limits.

Those experiences — including watching a guy get “stomped” by upwards of twenty people while on the ground — makes me a little leery about the myth of universal applicability of grappling in so-called “real” fights. And yes, my attitudes about grappling are backed up by my personal groundfighting experiences. A MMA shoot/tackle is warm and fuzzy in comparison to some of the nasty stuff I’ve had pulled (and pulled) on the way to the ground in conflicts. Conflicts where the goal was to physically injure someone. These include numerous times on the ground where eye gouges, head butts, biting, knees and elbows — by both sidesended the grappling part of the fight.

When you gouge out someone’s eyeball, they aren’t real hot-and-bothered to say wrapped up with you. And yes, I have been kicked by an on-looker while trying to restrain someone. While I have missed the having a chair smashed over my head while down there, I have seen it happen. This damage is over and above if something wasn’t broken, cracked or crushed on landing — which experienced streetfighters attempt to develop on the way to the ground.

I cannot say this enough I’m NOT against grappling. But no matter how many times I say this some Kool-Aid drinker will STILL be convinced that I’m badmouthing grappling because I don’t believe you can knock bullets out of the air with your dick using it.

To the true believer, I’m the Anti-Christ because I talk about where youshouldn’t try to use it. Like I said, it’s a GREAT tool for the proper circumstances. And in those circumstances there is nothing better. There are circumstances where it is absolutely the LAST thing you want to do.

What I am against is the marketing and advertising that tells people it is applicable in every kind of violence.

If you buy into this propaganda, if you believe that you can handle any kind of violent situation because you’ve been trained to fight at multiple ranges …then you WILL get killed or injured the first time you mix up with someone who ISN’T there to fight you.

But that isn’t what this page is about, what it is about is: Should you cross train?

The answer is “Yes.” Here is why…

Why IS grappling effective?
In his book The High Crusade Poul Anderson speculated on what would happen if an advanced alien species attempted to conquer earth immediately after the Crusades. The premise of the book was that these aliens had become extremely adept at long-range, artillery-type warfare. They were shocked and confused when the knights, instead of hanging back and attempting to do battle at a distance, charged them and over-ran their positions. This simple, savage strategy worked only because the aliens had lost the ability to effectively fight at close quarters.

The success of grappling in the early Ultimate Fighting Championships is due, in a large part, to the failure of sports-based martial arts in the West. Ever since the introduction of gloved boxing, sport fighting has moved away from the old “bare knuckle/London rules” form. That kind of pugilism was designed to prevent clinches, headbutts, purring and a whole host of other vicious in-close tricks associated with their version of grappling. The addition of padded gloves prevented many of these moves. And in time, sport fighting became a “sniping” game. Opponents do not rush each other, but hang back and exchanged blows and kicks from a distance.

And in doing so, they forgot that an opponent could charge in and take them down.

Wrestling and grappling are very popular sporting events in South America, however. “Brazilian” Jujitsu matches are events. These fighters hadn’t forgotten about charging in — but it was still a sport. And that means it had events, rules, weight division, safety equipment and organizations to give ranks, belts and titles.

In the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, Northern Hemisphere fighters were just run over. Like the aliens in Anderson’s book, they had forgotten that this kind of fighting even existed. And if you’ve forgotten something exists you won’t have the vaguest idea how to counter it.

People flocked to the Gracie Jujitsu Academy(s), other so-called “Brazilian” Jujitsu  schools and Val Tudo institutes to fill this hole in their training. And this is a good thing, as knowing how to grapple is a useful skill.

You will notice, however, their reputation made, the Gracies withdrew from the later UFC events. We can safely assume that by that time, Northern Hemisphere fighters had begun to watch tapes, study their moves to discover ways to counter … what had, at first, flummoxed them. A point proven by the fact that later UFC champs had names like Shamrock and Severson instead of Gracie.

In short, both the shock — and the new — had worn off and people once again remembered that grappling was an issue to be dealt with.

This is not to disparage the Gracies, they are fine athletes and, in their time, they ruled the ring. But, as they introduced a new and evolutionary change to sports fighting, other people have continued to evolve and introduce new developments — including ways to counter their changes. Thus is the cycle of the martial arts, they is always changing and evolving to meet “new” influences. And thus were ‘born’ mixed martial arts.

It is never static, it is always changing. And sometimes what is “new” is something that is actually old, but left behind because people had found a counter way back then. Often until the counter is “rediscovered” this will create the latest fad in martial arts training.

What we are basically saying here is that grappling is extremely effective in a sport competition. It is tailor made to function in an environment where death or crippling of your opponent is NOT the goal.

Where doesn’t submission fighting  work?
While it is important to know how to keep your head when you go to the ground, let’s start by saying that if groundfighting was all that effective, armies would lie down when they fought. As a matter of fact, they wouldn’t carry weapons, instead they’d use submission holds and mounting positions to defeat the other army’s soldiers.

Since that is not the case, we must assume that grappling  is not as universally effective as its proponents would claim.(2)

To truly understand where submission fighting doesn’t work, we must understand where it does work. (And I will admit, it works spectacularly).

  1. In a one-on-one confrontation
  2. In an open, but limited, space
  3. On padded, clear surfaces
  4. Without weapons
  5. With rules
  6. When people aren’t trying to kill each other

In other words, in a sporting event.

We can also say that it works under *very* limited conditions in a so-called ‘real’ fight. But it has to be a very specific kind of confrontation. In fact, the term ‘submission fighting’ IS a perfect choice of words. Grappling is GREAT for when your goals in a conflict are
a) to not injure your opponent
b) to restrain and control someone from further misconduct.

Are these good goals for most violent incidents? You betcha! That’s because most incidents of violence are NOT about self-defense, they are instead about establishing social order. But you can’t rely on ALL altercations being of this self-limiting, non-destructive type.

Unfortunately, although less so these days, a huge part of the marketing of grappling is to promote its usability in all kinds of violence. This is not only just not true, but it is a dangerous misconception.

So let’s look at the elements, or more specifically the issues that *will* undermine submission fighting’s effectiveness.

Multiple opponents – Trouble most often runs in packs. If you don’t plan to face multiple opponents, you are not really training for self defense. Seldom will a friend watch another friend be defeated without making at least a token effort to join help. That is human nature, and ignoring it is a dangerous mistake — especially since a friend’s help can often be in the form of a bottle or a rock. Since you are involved on the ground in a one-on-one contest with all your limbs engaged and limited mobility you are vulnerable to a second attack from above. There is also the issue — in less reputable locations — of spectators joining in and kicking you both … just for the fun of it.

In a not so open space, e.g. furniture, curbs and other people – While the floor work itself may not take a lot of room, going down usually does. Objects such as tables, chairs and bystanders pose chances of serious injury if you fall onto them — especially if you have someone else’s body weight driving you there.

In a truly open space – Since “grappling” made it’s name in the UFC, we need to look at the circumstances of that event. You will see in many of the take downs that the “victim” had run out of room when it came to backing up. He was trapped against the “ropes.” It’s amazing how hard it is to catch someone, much less take them down, who has lots of room to backpedal or dodge.

Asphalt, rocks, bottles, etc. – Many “going to the ground” techniques are designed to work on pads, mats and smooth floors. Seldom do these conditions exist outside the dojo. A slap fall on asphalt will not only tear up your hand, but it can result in a shattered bones. Hitting concrete with another person landing on top of you is a painful — often fight stopping — experience. Now you may think “that is the idea,” but that is assuming that you are controlling the fall. A cagey fighter might not let you land on top of him, and that makes it as much your problem as his. Then there is the issue of bottles and glasses that you might land on. While you might at first think, “there aren’t glasses/bottles/etc laying on the floor of the bar,” that’s under normal conditions, but if someone tackles you and you run into another person or tip over a table, those items can and will be knocked to the ground at the same speed as you.

Without weapons – This is even more dangerous misconception than assuming that you will only be fighting one person at a time. Once weapons come into play, it is no longer fighting, it’s combat. The ground is the absolute *last* place you want to be with an armed opponent. Under those circumstances, all your so-called “advantage” turns against you because you cannot escape or avoid a weapon attack fast enough when you are on the ground.

Rules – Although the UFC was touted as “no rules,” or more specifically “no holds barred,” many of the more nasty and brutal moves were banned. Until you have endured these moves, it is easy to assume that you can “tough them out.” Experience proves differently. Many of these techniques are so savage that people don’t believe others would stoop so low — and are therefore unprepared to handle them. This utterly undermines the assertion of many grapplers that “Well, we can do them too!”

It isn’t a matter of  doing it “too” it is a matter of who does it first —  as many of these moves are fight stoppers.

Not trying to kill each other – Grappling is probably best understood as “dominating” your opponent. It is used to subdue and force him to submit. In terms of “fighting” hat is a social function, it is not, however, combat. In combat, you are not trying to prove anything, you are not trying to force compliance. You are trying to kill him before he kills you. There are severe psychological differences in intent. And you fight totally differently. A fight with a drunken friend that you are trying to control (or prove he is out of line) is not the same as some evil bastard coming at you with intent to kill you. The same standards apply to the difference between fighting and self-defense.

If you know where groundfighting is effective, you can then deduce where it isn’t safe — and why.

Don’t fight his fight
Staying in a ground fight with a grappler is guaranteed to get your ass kicked.

It is where his fighting style is designed to work best. He has the home field advantage, and all the moves that will trap you. On top of that most “grapplers” are in mighty fine physical condition. The longer you stay on the ground with a grappler, the more chances you give him to use these tactical advantage against you.

This is where my first two rules regarding grappling come into effect.

If you couldn’t stop or avoid the rush, you weren’t in control of your long-range weapons. Lack of control can be directly traced to a lack of understanding about those very tools. You didn’t control the range, nor did you understand those things that could have saved you from being taken down (structure and mobility). These elements while critical in a real fight, are not needed or understood in sport fighting — where a ref will separate you if you clinch. But those issues are a massive can of worms and is beyond the scope of this Web site. What I can say is, most often, the error wasn’t in what you did per se, but rather in your training. If your instructor doesn’t know it, there is no way he could teach you.

What I can tell you, is that the second rule applies in spades. You need to get out of the grappler’s preferred range. Even if the person you are fighting is not a grappler, the “get-up” rule still applies due to danger from his friends and vicious on-lookers.

To this end, I heartily recommend you inflict some kind of intense and savage pain. While he is reeling from it, you use the opportunity to scramble back up to your feet. That is going to be your only window of opportunity. This is significantly different than trying to fight your way out of the situation. If you attempt to fight through his tactics, you will be defeated. Remember, these are his strengths, contesting them is not going to work unless you are a superior grappler. Your safest strategy is *not* to play his game. Get back to where your strengths are.

When to use grappling
The purpose of submission  fighting is to subdue an opponent and establish dominance. It is my heartfelt opinion that there are only two reasonable applications for grappling skills. And within these parameters, it is wonderful.

Those are:
1) When you don’t want to hurt the guy
2) If it’s your job to restrain and control someone

1) Not hurting your opponent – You friend is drunk and out of control. Because he is your friend, you don’t want to snap him like a matchstick. Or it is some stupid, college-aged kid who is trying to impress people by picking a fight with you. In a nice restaurant, some asshole swung on you because you didn’t back down or give into his unreasonable demands. These low-level threats are not situations where you want to gouge out somebody’s eye or snap his neck. It is neither warranted, nor legally justified to use an extreme level of force.

This is where grappling utterly shines. You can control and dominate such an opponent, and, if the police show up, you can easily justify your use of force.

2) It’s your job to use control tactics in protection of property or others –When everyone is doing the smart thing and running away, it is your job to do the stupid thing of charging into the conflict. Then yes. You do need to know how to handle yourself on the ground. You do need to know control and restraint tactics. Usually, however, your job will also have very specific standards for use of force and restraint tactics. You will need to be well versed in departmentally approved defensive tactics, control holds and use of force continuums. Additional training in grappling is a wonderful adjunct to this training.

These two conditions provide the optimum application of submission fighting.

However, when you have several sociopathic gangbangers coming at you, a knife-wielding mugger threatening your life or are in a large, unruly crowd, you *don’t* want to try to grapple. In fact, you don’t even want to try to fight. Escape should be your number one priority. Charging in and wrestling him to the ground, doesn’t conform to the definition of escape.

When not to use grappling
Basically don’t use it in a “self-defense” situation.

You are not there to engage an opponent. You are not there to fight an opponent. In a self-defense situation you are seeking to protect your life or prevent “grievous bodily injury” to yourself. That is not time to be thinking about fighting, you need to concern yourself more with getting the hell out of there and to safety. Most legitimate self-defense situations are not single adversary or without weapons.

Even if it is a one-on-one situation, a basic problem arises if you are attempting to subdue someone in a self-defense situation: After you have him in a nice submission hold, how are you going to get to the phone to call the police? This is just one of the problems that arises out of not knowing the difference between self-defense and fighting, much less the difference between martial arts and fighting..

And while we are on the subject, it’s probably not the best idea to use it in a fight either.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but there are serious legal consequences about fighting. What’s worse is, even if the other guy “started it ,” if your actions “go over the top” abpit what a “reasonable” person would consider “self-defense” you are in deep trouble. While it may be acceptable to do a knee mount and strike a downed opponent in the ring, sitting on someone’s chest and jack-hammering his head off off the concrete isn’t going to pass for anybody’s definition of “self-defense.” In many states, a choke hold is considered use of lethal force.

You’re going to be in some deep legal trouble if you use your hardcore, kick-ass grappling techniques on someone and they suffer serious injury. Which is really likely if you are sitting on his chest punching him.

Should you learn floorfighting?

In fact, not learning how to function on the ground is foolish. While I flat out disagree with the contention that “80 percent of all fights end up on the ground,” that doesn’t mean that they don’t go there. You do need at least a little training about what to do down there.

BTW, the 80% go to the ground slogan  was a marketing spin. While there was a legitimate study by the LAPD’s Sgt.Greg Dossey on what happens during conflict, it was specifically for LEOs and pertaining to their operating conditions — namely arrest and control situations. Dossey’s study found that about 47% of arrests where the perp resisted ended up with one or both on the ground before cuffing. Realistically, as any officer can tell you, to cuff a resisting perp. You need to pin them against a base, either the ground, a car, the wall or even another officer. You have to do this before you can successfully cuff the perp. This is about as well known to officers as the fact that the sun comes up in the East. It’s a daily problem to them. As such, it not only meets, but often exceeds the 80% number.

In fact, it could be summed up “As 95% all cuffing of resisting perps require use of some kind of base” and be totally accurate. Even at 47%, Dossey’s findings were enough to get grappling introduced into arrest and control tactic training. In fact, the man’s groundbreaking work totally changed the direction of training and arrest technique. He deserves great credit for a great advancements in officer safety and more humane arrest techniques. However the Gracies, their organizations and the grappling world expanded the original 47% of arrests where “one or both” go to the ground to “ALL” fights. This is simply NOT true. But a lie repeated enough is eventually believed as the truth. The number is not now, nor has it ever been valid across the board. Although I feel the reason Gracie trained players can make that claim with some level of accuracy  is because they “take” their fights there. They make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. So in their training halls, the MMA ring and in their fights it is true. It is not, however, universally true.(3)

Enough altercations *do* go to the ground that it is important to know how to function there, For both to get over the freak-out-effect of hitting the deck and being able to function down there until you can safely get up. Just don’t get caught up in the fantasy of thinking it is the ultimate fighting system.


1)  Circular arguing (or reasoning) is supporting a premise WITH the premise rather than external facts or information This is especially common when the source of the premise is used as the source of authority/truth. Circular reasoning is a problem because the claim is made on grounds that cannot be accepted as true because those grounds are what are in dispute. For example, ‘grappling works in the streets because it works in mixed martial arts matches’ is a circular argument Nobody is arguing that it works in MMA, the question does it work OUTSIDE of the MMA ring or training hall? And under what circumstances does it/does it not work?

2) Yes, that is an extreme, but when someone makes a unsupportable blanket statement the fastest way to point out the flaw in the logic is to take the generalization beyond where it works for the proponent. A generalization can still sound logical to the uninformed. That is because it operates within a small and carefully controlled set of definitions and circumstances. Taking the same logic and extending it to a gross generalization, like I just did, however, reveals that it isn’t logical or reasonable at all. That is because it is now viewed in a larger context and against other significant issues.

3) In case you’re wondering how I know this, it’s because I know and have dealt with Sgt Greg Dossey regarding knife threats to officers. We spoke about his findings and how he created his study. I have attended and spoken at the LAPD’s Citizen Advisory Panel On Use of Force  Panel. A panel that the Gracies were also on. Before moving onto greener pastures, Greg Dossey created the LAPD’s arrest and control training program. Even now among training officers he is a living legend. A few years ago at a gathering where I now live, I manage to get a tour for visiting officers of the local PD. The lieutenant in charge of officer training gushed about how Greg’s work had been instrumental in the development of their new training policies.

Leave a Reply