Grappling with the Law and Black Dogs (diary entry)




Today’s double lesson finished off my client’s 10 hour course on Basic Self-Protection. The material mainly consisted of primal/combat grappling and post-fight strategies.


Grappling is not normally selected for frontline civilian defence. In a high risk situation the priority is usually not to become entangled and to create/maintain distance. However, the civilian needs supporting plans when the striking range deteriorates and anti-grappling is not a viable option. Besides, in order to be able to operate efficiently at very close range with striking or anti-grappling techniques it pays to have good foundation knowledge in grappling.


I look at grappling from a primal perspective. Going by what see in other animals, humans are hardwired to grapple one another in order to assert dominance within their group. What are the most likely moves a human being will use when they grapple? From experience and observation, most humans use unsophisticated versions of wrist-grips, trips, head-locks, bear hugs, chokes and tackles (low line takedowns) when fighting under pressure. Untrained grapplers naturally use them with varying degrees of efficiency. It is important to acknowledge their presence due to the likelihood an enemy will try to apply them and also because, if they work, it is easier to refine a natural behaviour in a student than introducing an entirely new one.


We drilled head-lock entries. The headlock is a nightmare position that so many humans dominate others with from childhood onwards. It becomes even more a problem with the addition of strikes or when this hold goes to the ground. The standing side headlock, sometimes known as a chancery, is a move most commonly associated with Freestyle Wrestling, Greco-Roman Wrestling and Catch Wrestling. The headlock on the ground was developed in Judo as the scarf-hold. Getting familiar with this movement and learning how to counter it are essential primal grappling tactics. Learning how to apply it properly also adds an important element to a defenders repertoire. I have had several incidents where students who trained with me reported on how easily they had escaped from headlocks in self-defence situations. We then moved onto the headlock takedown and then the cross-buttocks throw – a popular move found in British pugilism before it became compulsory to wear boxing gloves in matches. Prior to introducing the throw we went through break-fall training, looking at its application off safety mats.


We covered the standing guillotine and the guillotine choke from guard. I also took the opportunity to show the anaconda choke, which nicely ties up the enemy’s arm that might otherwise be open to deliver groin attacks. We also used it in conjunction with a sprawl defence against a low line takedown attempt. Having covered the arm-triangle from the position it seemed appropriate to cover the standard arm-triangle. This is quite a versatile technique that can be used as a clinching position, a straightforward takedown and as a standing or grounded choke. All of these utilisations can also be worked in a smooth and easily learnt transition that works well under pressure.


The rear naked choke/strangle was then covered in conjunction with the harness hold. We covered a simple way to transition to the back without using an arm-drag or under-hook. As always I expressed the importance of consistent and progressive compression coming from all sides.


Striking from the knee pin1

The physical side of training finished with symmetrical ground work. We worked on the knee-pin first, based on the fact that it is the only pin that allows the defender to stand. The pin can easily be scaled down as an arresting manoeuvre and scaled up as a lethal technique for life-and-death situations. The knee-pin also enables the fighter to be in a better grounded position if trying to fight off multiple enemies. We then looked at escaping pins on the ground. We covered bridging, snaking/shrimping, hip-out escapes and reversals. The guard was also briefly looked at as means for shielding against multiple enemies, for the aforementioned guillotine choke and as a transitional posture for escaping to one’s feet.


The course was rounded off with a brief review of all the soft skills discussed at the beginning and then the post-fight situation. Maintaining awareness in line with the Three Rs version of the OODA loop is essential. The “double tap” comes into play here. A survivor can and often does gets caught out by the arrival a sudden new hazard occurring after dealing with the initial threat. First aid needs to then be thought about. Injuries that haven’t been recognised during the fight must be checked and appropriate action taken. Likewise, the defender might be obligated to administer some form of first aid to the neutralised enemy. Incidents will need to be reported, bringing in legal concerns. I have listed two excellent books written by self-defence teachers with legal backgrounds. It is important to understand the law in relation to self-defence and pre-emptive striking.

Finally, we moved onto post-fight psychology. Perhaps due to our genetic wiring that pushes us to want to have a high place in a perceived tribal pecking order in order to win mating rights, many of us get eaten up by what we think we should have done in a conflict situation. Usually it happens when there has been no actual violence and the individual indulges in some metaphorical self-flagellation.

Interestingly the name that has been adopted for this particular type of post-incident trauma is “The Black Dog”. Geoff Thompson took the term from Winston Churchill who had taken it from Samuel Johnson used it to describe a more general sense of depression that follows one around like an unwanted “man’s best friend”. For the fighter, one of the most obvious types of depression is one based on his performance or lack of performance. The metaphor for The Black Dog goes back a long way into the antiquity of western psychology. As a child I was always fascinated by the ghostly legends of British hellhound known as The Black Dog and by certain regional names such as the gigantic Padfoot, the one-eyed Shuck and the screaming Trash (“trash” is also circus slang for scared). The legend has turned up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and it is also present in the Harry Potter series of books and films.

Understanding Reasonable Force by Mark Dawes

UK Self-Defence Law: A Practical Guide to Understanding the Law of Defending Yourself by Leigh Simms

Image: Sidney Paget‘s illustration of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story was inspired by a legend of ghostly black dogs in Dartmoor (Wikipedia).

Photography by Sonia Audhali Photography circ. 2006 (Jamie Clubb and Steve Male featured)

, , ,