Years ago I was in a sore spot in my martial arts career. I had been practicing Songahm taekwondo in some form or another for about 8 years (I later switched to Kukki Taekwondo). But I had more of an interest in karate and in the absence of much formal education in that art I resorted to books and videos. I had had a year of kung fu and a year of Tracy Kenpo. No matter how hard I trained, I had little ability to gauge my technique level. I had a lot of knowledge but I was still formulating my technical base and martial philosophy. At that time, I thought grappling on the ground was dumb. I thought my skills would keep me on my feet if anyone tried to take me.
At a beach camp I was talking with a friend about different martial arts techniques and the subject of takedown prevention came up. Despite my ignorance of grappling, my idea was right — sprawl backwards and get heavy on top of him to work. It’s a technique I learned in kenpo, but the version I learned there was more hard strikes to the neck and spine than it was putting weight on the back. So it had holes in it as far as effectiveness, and it relied on the application of potentially lethal force to make it work.
Some wrestler guy (friend of my friend’s I guess) was listening in. He stepped forward, bent over, and said “show me” as he reached for my legs. I stepped back and said I couldn’t, but since he was going slowly I didn’t think he was going to take me down because he wanted me to demonstrate. Well once he had grabbed me he took me down and put me into side control. I had no idea what do and couldn’t move. It was then that I tried to use some vital point strikes. They didn’t work. All he did was tense up or shift himself. Finally I just lay there shrugging at my friend, aggravated, embarrassed.
Looking back he was actually a sloppy wrestler. He pinned me so well because he was a lot bigger than me. At one point he tried something and left too much space and even without ground skill I was able to get up. I pushed down on his face with one hand and cocked my fist with the other. I probably could have clocked him pretty good at that point but I didn’t. He took me down again and all the same stuff happened over again until my friend got in and broke it up.
My friend helped me up and smiled. He said I should stick with my speed and strikes because grappling wasn’t my thing. I was humiliated, livid. I resolved right then to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or some ground fighting style. In just a matter of minutes, I learned that grappling was a huge threat and that vital strikes don’t work like magic in a real scuffle.
Fast forward another 6 years or so. I’m just now starting BJJ because I was never near or able to afford any BJJ or grappling gyms. I’ve been doing it for about 4 months now, and love it. I’m even pretty good at it for a beginner according to my instructor and classmates.
All strikers should learn the ground game. If the UFC and the Gracie Challenges have proved anything, it’s that those proficient at ground fighting are able to take you down at will regardless of skill. If you miss one kick or one punch you are done if you don’t know anything more than strikes. Once there you are like a baby in gymnastics competition: helpless, lost, and woefully ill-equipped.
So don’t tell me about all your anti-grappling techniques. If you even think you don’t need even a basic understanding of grappling to defend against it, then I know for a fact you’ve never fought against a grappler and you live in a fantasy kung fu movie.
Since starting BJJ I’ve learned how to escape that side control position easy. I’ve learned how to get someone sitting on my stomach/chest off easy. I’ve learned how to fight off my back if I have to. I’ve learned how to stand up properly if I have to. I’ve learned how to properly execute such bread and butter attacks as Americana arm locks, arm bars, triangle chokes, and rear naked chokes. I’ve learned how to reverse bad positions. I’ve learned how to escape some bad positions.
The list goes on and on. The level of proficiency that you develop in these skills gives you a tremendous amount of confidence in dealing with them in a real fight whether you want to fight on the ground or not — and that is priceless. But if you want to use grappling, the constant trial-by-fire type of full contact sparring of most grappling styles toughens you and makes you proficient in these skills quickly. Perhaps you feel like you’re terrible at the dojo. But against the average guy with no training or someone with little training everything is suddenly much easier. Combine it with your established striking skills and you will be ten times better as a fighter than you were before. Not to mention well-rounded!
So get out and do it. You’re already grounded in your main style as a striker. So add some skills! Get good at everything! Don’t get caught with your pants down like I did and look like a fool!
If you’re interested, look for qualified instructors in these martial arts: Brazilian/Gracie Jiu Jitsu, 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, Sambo, Hayastan, Catch Wrestling, Combat Submission Wrestling, and Judo. Judo has less of an emphasis on ground fighting as the other arts, but it’s better than nothing and the standing grappling game is a phenomenal skill to have.