Ground Fighting

by Grand Master James S. Benko, Ph.D.


Most martial arts practitioners are taught how to throw someone. They are also taught how to roll and breakfall to help avoid being injured during practice. But few are taught how to defend themselves once they have been thrown to the ground.

Of course if you are knocked unconscious, severely stunned or injured when you are thrown, you may not be able to respond to any further attacks. However, if you are able to "roll" with the take-down or throw, you may be able to launch a defense from the ground. Though this part of a martial artist's training may be lacking in some areas, it is a vital part of training which should be stressed. If practical self-defense is a primary component of a student's development, then ground-fighting should be addressed on a regular basis.

Here are some factors to consider if you are thrown to the ground:

  1. Your body position.
  2. The extent of your injuries.
  3. The position of the aggressor.
  4. The intensity of the situation.
  5. The environment.
  6. The type of follow-up attack the aggressor initiates.
Let's take a look at each of these factors and how they could affect your actions.

Your body position: Have you landed on your side, on your back, or perhaps face down? Are you facing the aggressor or away from him? You only have a split second to assess your position in order to determine your options for a defensive maneuver, should the situation escalate. Develop defenses which may be used from a wide variety of positions such as facing upward, downward and to your side.

The extent of your injuries: Any injuries you may have suffered as a result of your fall could reduce your effectiveness to defend yourself. For example, if you have injured one of your arms to the point where you are unable to use it defensively, you would have to initiate a defense which employs only one arm. Be sure to work on defenses which require you to use only one arm so you will be better prepared in such a situation.

The position of the aggressor: Is the aggressor standing, kneeling, sitting of top on you, holding on to one of your arms, or have you in a hold? Practice defending yourself when the aggressor is in each of these positions as well as any additional ones you may think of. You can't assume he will always throw you or take you down the same way. You must try to prepare for as many variations of attacks as possible.

The intensity of the situation: There is a significant difference between being pushed to the ground as opposed to being thrown to the ground. Does the aggressor show intent to do you great bodily harm? Does he have a weapon? Is there more than one opponent? You should use only the amount of force necessary to defend yourself, keeping in mind that your actions should be directly proportionate to the intensity of the aggressor's attack. Do not over react, while at the same time do not use a technique which will not render you safe from further danger of attack.

The environment: What is the surrounding area like? Are you outside or inside? Is the ground snow-covered or dry? Are there objects you may be able to use to defend yourself with? Are there other people in the area which could be injured if you use a certain defense (such as throwing the opponent)? Is there room to maneuver or are you in a restricted area which may limit your ability to apply certain techniques?

The type of follow-up the attacker initiates: After considering the factors all ready mentioned, you will actually base your defense on the type of attack the aggressor launches. For example, he may try to punch you, or he may attempt to maneuver you into a joint-locking technique, or he may endeavor to apply a choke or hold. You may choose to wait until he has initiated his attack before you begin your counterattack. You could initiate your defense before he attempts to attack again, such as kicking him or manipulating him into a hold or throw. You should practice for both contingencies.


If you would like to learn more, order the DVD video featuring
Ground Fighting (Wa Ki Sul)


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Copyright 1971-2006 James S. Benko and ITA Institute.
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