Anti-Grappling Tactics (diary entry)




Today’s double lesson consisted of the seventh and eighth hours of my client’s basic course on self-protection. The lesson was begun with a series of relevant movement exercises, using transitioning and striking, and finished with an anti-grappling pressure test from various positions.


Previously we had moved to the threshold of anti-grappling tactics. Our over-arching strategy for a frontline civilian counter-assault is to get back into a strong striking position. Striking is the default trained method for dealing most high risk assault situations. This is due to the fact that it minimises risk of entanglement. As with First Aid, time is an undeniably important factor when dealing with a crisis. The longer an individual is engaged in a violent situation the more likely he risks serious injury or death. Striking, by its nature, can maintain distance whilst keeping the enemy on the back foot. Being in this sort of position allows the defender to best facilitate their escape and to be better prepared for dealing with additional enemies that might join the assault. Throwing a large volume of percussive trauma towards an enemy puts him into a defensive position where he will be more likely to try to cover than grapple or use a weapon. Grappling is a last resort option in high risk situations.


Anti-grappling is a term applied to tactics used immediately counter a grappling attack and to return the defender back to a productive striking range. Some of these tactics will have a basis in grappling and I would always recommend a rudimentary understanding of grappling to strengthen positioning throughout anti-grappling training. Besides, having some experience grappling is good to strengthen mental resolve when a stronger person gets hold.


We began the technical part of the lesson with a complete revision of what was covered in the previous six hours of training. This included reminders on conflict prevention, avoidance and general attitude leading up to the fence and pre-emptive striking. This flowed into incidental combinations, clearing and striking around obstacles, offline striking, moving through postures, recovering and short-range natural weapons.

eye gouge standing

With this material confirmed, we addressed anti-grappling. Reinforcing the importance of defaulting back to striking, my client dealt with striking whilst being gripped. This exercise is usually performed with the coach wearing a single focus mitt whilst gripping with the other hand. Here the client strikes the target whilst being pulled and pushed in different directions. He learns to continue striking whilst having one hand trapped, being head-locked and tripped.


Next we looked at fighting off a full-on clinch. Here the defender is pinned in some way with the enemy holding him in some form of body-lock (usually a bear hug). This brings in support techniques like the eye gouge, which offer the defender a purchase on the enemy’s head to move him into striking range and the added bonus of temporally blinding him. The eye gouge was then coupled with short-range striking weapons – head-butts and elbow strikes – before moving back onto the default hand striking tactics. This is just a suggested incidental combination, using the most logical tools available within the gaps provided. However, there are many variables.


The head-butt was then isolated. This technique is often mistakenly executed as a whiplash. This is not very practical at close-range as it requires more room to move, telegraphs the action and requires the defender to take their eyes of their target. It might work fine for other animals such as giraffe or even goats, but humans tend to head-butt one another more effectively using a short ramming action executed with a stiff neck. Target area should be anywhere on the head below the ridge of the eyebrow and the striking area should be anywhere on the head above the ridge of the eyebrow. The head can be driven from the side, from the front and also using the back of the head. Head-butts should be used sparingly. Some people effectively use them as long-range pre-emptive striking techniques. I have used and seen the technique used with a negative fence. Nevertheless, I would argue that from a general point of view the head-butt’s place in self-protection is at very close-range and as supporting anti-grappling technique. It works best within a clinch to create space. Other problems with head-butts include the risk of concussing one’s self. The hardness of a skull, one can comfortably theorise, was evolved more to protect a human’s head than to be used a weapon. This is despite the fact that there are not traditional methods of combat that specialise in head-butting.


On a similar note, evolution has not looked favourable upon human biting either. Humans have relatively weak jaws and less destructive teeth compared to virtually all other primates. I advise on rat-biting or dog-biting methods, which work at very close-range. The idea is that you inflict a rapid succession of bites that are more likely to get an enemy to move away thus providing sufficient room for more effective natural weapons to come into play. Sinking one’s teeth deep into an enemy might seem like a more effective way to bite, producing more damaging results, but in all likelihood their pain receptors will switch off and they might counter by tightening their grip and bringing other weapons onto the biter.



The eye gouge or the bite should not be considered to be considered guaranteed fight stoppers. No technique is, but there is an inclination to view “dirty” moves as a go-to magic method. It comes from a flawed line of reasoning and an inadequate frame of reference.  The former postulates that because a technique is banned from combat sports it must be superior to those permitted in competition. This can be quickly dismissed by the simple fact that far fewer people will have been killed or permanently disabled by eye gouges and bites than they will have been from receiving hand strikes to the head or strangulation.


The latter comes from our primal fear of losing our most treasured sense, sight, from an eye gouge and from our innate fear of being bitten. Teeth are displayed by all primates and many carnivorous mammals to warn off enemies or rivals. By the time we reach adulthood these ancient genetic fears, passed down to us from long before the dawn of humans, have probably been reinforced through various incidents in our lives. At some point we will have caught something in our eye or been bitten. These incidents might have been isolated occurrences unrelated to interpersonal violence with another human, but still triggered our flight response. Likewise, they might have occurred in any number of childhood skirmishes with siblings and/or playmates, usually resulting in the end of said non-lethal fight. However, in reality pain and fear of disfigurement can be blocked out in the frenzy of a lethal fight. The defender cannot rely on the idea that his enemy will be a rational human being. After all, the premise adopted in self-defence is that the defender is acting within the confines of the law and acting as rationally as possible. Therefore, the enemy is an offender who could have any number of irrational motivations to be violent. Alcohol, various mind-altering substances, mental/psychological disorders and/or stress hormone chemicals alone can have a massive effect on the way an individual responds to pain and damage. It is a common story that an individual notices the extent of their injuries after an incident.


Next we covered finger-locks, which are executed in explosive fashion rather than a means for control and restraint. The object here is not lock up an enemy, but inflict trauma quickly in order get back into striking range and/or escape. This overlapped our training into primal/combat grappling, a topic for next lesson.


Photography by Charlotte Von Bulow-Quirk for “Mordred’s Victory and Martial Mutterings” (published in 2014) and the upcoming “Bullshitsu and the Fight to Make Martial Arts Work”.

, , , , , , , ,