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What is it about grappling?


Rick Fryer posted a good comment on my last post. He reminded us that you don’t want to grapple with a guy who has a knife. I agree. Of course you don’t want to grapple with (or even be near) a knife guy. The guy in the video says that. The idea of teaching to defend against a knife is nearly ludicrous because you can’t afford to screw around with knife guys. It’s such a good weapon it makes virtually anyone mortally dangerous.
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But the point that the guy in the video made that was so interesting to me was that there is something about grappling that seems to bring out the warrior spirit in people. They are not teaching soldiers to grapple; they are explicitly involved in fostering the warrior spirit in these soldiers. This is because, as he puts it, we don’t win wars by grappling, but we win wars by being warriors (my paraphrase).
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So, what is it about grappling that fosters the warrior spirit?
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Grappling instills a willingness to get down and dirty and closely involved with things that inspire primal terror (i.e. being immobilized and choked, being dominated and forced to submit, being in peril of broken joints, the possibility of grappling with a guy who might have a knife, having your every action make your situation worse, impending total anaerobic fatigue, etc...)
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It is this willingness to engage the enemy even under conditions of terror that defines courage, and grappling instills this ethic better (in my opinion) than stand-up fighting styles because the student of stand-up fighting is allowed to hold out the illusion that it might just be possible to achieve a nice, clean, hands-down victory. It is this stand-offishness, this unwillingness to dirty oneself for the cause that seems antithetical to the warrior spirit.
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This seems to me the basis (besides friendly competitiveness) of why Marines and Army guys ridicule Air Force and Navy guys. Marines and Army are stereotyped (or maybe archetyped) as the guys that are willing to get dirty to win a war, while the Flyboys and Navy guys are portrayed as stand-back, technological fighters or as bus-drivers for the real warriors. Well, in this world of advancing technology, it is easy for the Marines and Army to develop this same creeping stand-offishness and lose part of the warrior spirit. Has anyone seen, for example, the Newsweek some years back about the new generation of electrically-fired rifle that will shoot timed, exploding bullets around corners?. So it seems the Marines and Army have instituted this jujitsu grappling training to nurture that old-style jarhead/grunt ethic of willingness to engage in the mud.
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And that is what I think the guy in the video is talking about that makes the video so interesting to me.

12 comments:

  1. ...the illusion that it might just be possible to achieve a nice, clean, hands-down victory.

    Hmmm. I don't know how illusory that is, having achieved just those sorts of victories, usually via a good, hard shot to the solar plexus, and on at least one occasion, via a butt-stroke to the chin during bayonet practice.

    Personally, I think it is unwise to draw too clear a distinction between grappling and striking. The one works with and reinforces the other, and vice versa. When I see systems that are all, or close all, about either one or the other, I can't help but think that those are incomplete systems. Nor do I think I'm terribly alone in this. I think that is the kind of thinking that has led to so many hybrid systems, like Wado Ryu (Shotokan + Jujutsu) & Hapkido (tae kyon + aikijutsu), and so many of the variants of American Kenpo, more and more of which are incorporating grappling techniques into their arsenals.

    How many people do you know who have black belts in both karate and judo? I'm sure that there are more than a few. The sheer numbers of such people, I think, constitute a sort of collective recognition that a well-rounded unarmed fighter will use both striking and grappling as needed, rather than seeing them as necessarily disparate disciplines.

    Of course, having read the post very rapidly indeed, I suppose it is possible that I missed its main thrust! If so, I apologize.

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  2. Pro-grappling arguments are mostly straw-man types; grappling's main problem is not effectiveness and most martial artists know that. As you've shown in your blog, people have been grappling for thousands of years.

    If you want every martial arts school to own up to the effectiveness of grappling, it's not going to happen. No matter how many pros it has, grappling comes with big cons.

    I'd like to see the numbers on grappling schools that lose students because the students lack the endurance, don't have the joint strength, or dislike the closed-in feel.

    There are other unspeakables too: personality and atmosphere. MMA, for example, is no TMA environment where students practice respect, patience, bowing, etc. - it's not uncommon to hear crude language, locker-room humor, and be immersed in the "versus everyone" mentality.

    The MMA schools around here tend to hemorrhage strong, humble students for this reason. They have an extremely powerful fighting art but the learning environment couldn't be worse, because they have no interest in humanity.

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  3. Anonymous, you bring up a lot of good stuff to think about. I'd sure like to read some more of your thoughts on these topics.

    Dan, what do you think are the relative merits of trying to learn a 'complete' martial art, like the old kitoryu, or maybe the ancient okinawan stuff you're doing vs. getting some number of years of experience in (for instance) modern karate, sport judo, and aiki and hoping that they come to some sort of integrated fusion state like Dojo Rat talks about in some of his posts a while back?

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  4. Oh, and Dan, I especially liked this video of a 'nice, clean, hands-down victory' that you posted a while back.

    http://friedpie.blogspot.com/2007/08/okay-this-is-illustrative.html

    But I still think that not only is that sort of thing kind of an anomaly in the world of 'probable real-world fights' (whatever those are) but I think that to train to expect a clean victory, to depend upon a clean victory is dangerous.

    How might that fight in that video been different if the trained guy's first shot had been slightly less well timed or slightly less well placed or just less lucky. It's hard to tell how KSW dude might have done against the pimp, but I'd predict it'd get messy quickly. and by messy, I mean outside the realm of comfort of a lot of modern karate practitioners.

    That doesn't necessarily make grappling better or karate worse, but I think overall, grappling systems tend to develop that warrior willingness to engage the enemy in nasty, crazy, uncomfortable, unpredictable situations better than most _modern_ karate that I've seen.

    And Anonymous, I dont _think_ I'm trying to set up a straw man to sell grappling. I have nothing invested in selling grappling as better than karate. I love practicing both of them. These are just my observations based on that video I posted.

    Your mileage might vary and my opinions could surely change...

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  5. Good Point!

    If the intent of the training is to instill the "Warrior Spirit" into the soldiers, then I have to agree - BJJ is an excellent choice. (Although I still have reservations about it's overall effectiveness on the battlefield.)

    I also agree with you concerning the fact that there seems to be 'something' about grappling that brings out the warrior instinct in people.

    Is it the brute strength of one fighter pitted against another?

    Is it the savagery of scraping and clawing on the ground?

    The sheer struggle for breath while trying to escape a well-placed choke hold? Or the viciousness of being the person doing the choking?

    Certainly, there is 'something' about grappling that calls back to a more savage and primitive relm of our human survival.

    However, that being said, there's also a strong warrior instinct needed to stand in the center of a ring and trade punches or kicks with another fighter.

    I'm not talking about dancing around, shooting feints and quick jabs at your opponent, but rather standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out. Taking bone-crunching punches to the body, while you swing back with all of your might!

    Stand up fighting may represent a different type of 'energy' in fighting, but I believe that it can be equally 'down-and-dirty.'

    Respectfully,

    Rick

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  6. ...what do you think are the relative merits of trying to learn a 'complete' martial art, like the old kitoryu, or maybe the ancient okinawan stuff you're doing vs. getting some number of years of experience in (for instance) modern karate, sport judo, and aiki and hoping that they come to some sort of integrated fusion state like Dojo Rat talks about in some of his posts a while back?

    To be realistic, it sometimes comes down to what is available. Let's face facts: in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there is precisely one guy teaching the system I train in. He is sick and does not teach publicly. So what are the handful of other interested people in the area to do (even if they knew of his existence)? I can only see a few recourses: study two or more systems, or resign yourself to the fact that you can only do one, and pick the one you like best. In Tulsa, if I had to make such a choice and had the time to do both, I'd probably join the Tulsa Shotokan Club and the Tulsa Aikido Club.

    The main difference, as far as I can tell with my limited knowledge, between studying the older, more comprehensive systems and trying to, shall we say, "reverse-engineer" a more comprehensive personal system is that--in my opinion--in the older systems' techniques it is not so easy to draw clear lines between striking and grappling. Applied technique tends to be both/and rather than either/or. The lines of integration are smoother, you cannot easily tell where the one ends and the other begins. In Naihanchi Shodan (the foundational kata of our system), you see this kind of thing over and over: a leg-lock executed simultaneously with a below-the-belt strike, neither of which might be completely effective on its own, but together, swift and nastily effective; wrist locks that pull a person forward, putting his weight on the forward leg, executed with a simultaneous stomp kick to the knee (ouch!), the one technique assuming the other for its complete effectiveness, etc., etc.

    Whatever else one might think of George Dillman, his famous "Strike a point to lock a joint, lock a joint to strike a point" is not too bad a summary. That assumption, to my mind, seems to be built into the older systems, whereas in trying to reintegrate techniques from more modern systems, practitioners are kind of stuck having to reinvent the wheel.

    Again, most of the time, there seems to be little choice in the matter. Most people just don't have the older systems readily available, and frankly, given the very small interest in them, I don't think the situation will ever change.

    When I first met my instructor, he was teaching in the parks and recreation system and had, counting me, only five students. Shortly after that, I got married and stayed out for twenty years (it's been weird!), and all of his other students, save one, eventually dropped out or moved. Life happens. Eventually, his congenital pulmonary problems caught up with him, and he and his lone student ('til my oldest son and I hooked back up with him) were meeting in his home dojo. That is where the four of us meet now.

    I only bring up that history to point out that the man was teaching this system publicly for the better part of twenty years, and flatly, hardly anybody was interested. The local Taekwon-do schools, though, even though what they teach is extremely primitive in comparison, thrive. If people in those schools want a more comprehensive skill-set, they have little choice but to try to pick up grappling somewhere else and try to perform the integration of the two skill-sets themselves. Not a task I'd envy.

    ...grappling systems tend to develop that warrior willingness to engage the enemy in nasty, crazy, uncomfortable, unpredictable situations better than most _modern_ karate that I've seen.

    No dispute there. But then, modern karate was not developed to be a fighting art. As Funakoshi, God rest his soul, said bluntly, emphasis mine: "The ultimate goal of karate-do lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of character of its participants."

    Well, Sorry, Mr. Funakoshi, Sir, but some of us ol' rednecks remain mighty darn concerned about such mundane matters as victory and defeat.

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  7. >No dispute there. But then, modern karate was not developed to be a fighting art.

    Exactly - I think this represents the fork in the road that divides a lot of TMA people from full-on-warrior types.

    The most impressive martial arts demonstration I ever saw included some drills for *verbal* assault defense, and watching a 13-year-old student do the drills, I thought, "I would put my kids through that program in a heartbeat; I don't care how well-rounded the physical end is." In fact I think it was a TKD school.

    Fighting cannot exist in a vacuum. There are so many external factors at work that I'm surprised there isn't more focus on well-rounded systems that include conditioning, flexibility, striking, grappling, verbal confrontations, citizenship, respect, and so on.

    But...my guess is that people interested in this type of well-rounded experience are willing to forego grappling in favor of some of the stronger character principles, so they end up at a TMA school studying striking-only or throws-and-locks-only.

    At my karate school, almost all of the senior students have grappling experience, but most say they are too old for it anymore. Watching them study "limited" karate so diligently has taught me a thing or two about the wisdom of avoiding perfectionism.

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  8. "At my karate school, almost all of the senior students have grappling experience, but most say they are too old for it anymore. Watching them study "limited" karate so diligently has taught me a thing or two about the wisdom of avoiding perfectionism."

    Now that's a great point, Anonymous. Everyone has only so much time to study something, so you usually have to choose some limited variety of something (not to mention the limited availability that Dan mentioned).

    It's also interesting that you say your higher-ups used to do grappling but chose striking because they weren't strong enough for grappling anymore. That is the same thing that a lot of my higher-ups said about the aikido and judo that we do. They couldn't sustain the kick-punch punishment and stay viable in self-defense so they got into judo and from there, into aikido

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  9. >That is the same thing that a lot of my higher-ups said about the aikido and judo that we do.

    I should clarify: At this Karate school, you do no sparring unless you attend a sparring class once a week. It's different from other schools I've studied at. So these old guys are basically doing drills, kata, some weapons (bo/sai/tsunfoa) and very, very light contact bunkai sessions.

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  10. This post, and the comments that followed, are an excellent discussion. (In fact, I hope you don't mind, but I quoted some of it in a post on my own blog.)

    I think it illustrates one of the challenges inherent in studying aikido: in other arts, you are forced to come to grips with the fact that you are in physical danger. An incorrect or ill-timed response, in these arts, results in you getting hit, or pinned, or whatever. In aikido, however, you can easily avoid the physical danger by finding uke's who are all-to-willing to attack without resistance. This is because, I think, we study aikido in order to see how we can handle a situation before the punch lands or the hold takes place.

    I'm fortunate that I have several senior students in my dojo who, when we're working out, do everything they can to take me down. It's forced me to find at least a bit of that courage you speak of. I'm no warrior by any means, but I do my best to ensure I have an accurate assessment of my capabilities.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

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  11. Dave, thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. It's a good thing you bring up - it's uke's job to provide a simulation of real danger. A lot of times they don't. They just give the appearances of posing a real threat - and this is not just in aikido - it happens in karate too often.

    here's an experiment. I haven't tried it yet, but I bet I know how it will turn out. go do a youtube search for "one step sparring" and check out some of the videos. I bet it will be easy to find a lot of them in which there's no way in hell uke could have ever hit tori. watch the spacings and angles. I'll go try this too and maybe we can hook up and compare notes on the next post or so.

    Anyway, thanks for the link on your blog - and you should advertise your excellent blog here. Hey, Everybody, Go check out ...
    http://aikithoughts.wordpress.com/

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  12. Ha, funny you mention one-step sparring. In fact, most of the setups, like the famous step-through punch, just aren't going to happen.

    Most striking systems have some equivalent to one-step, and in a Kung-Fu system I studied, our sifu *constantly* chided us if our attacks seemed weak or badly-aimed.

    I tend to get into the same trouble with wrestling-type moves when doing freestyle sparring - I'll "go to the ground" and not give too much resistance rather than acting serious, because hey, this isn't a grappling system, right? Then of course I get a long lecture on how I should have been going at it. :-/

    It is hard to focus on that stuff, though...right now I'm studying two arts, trying to still practice a third...and by the time I get to one-step-type stuff, I know I'm going to miss a few. I do try to stagger my timing when I'm the tori though :-)

    I thought this one was *really* fun to watch though...regardless of reality and all that fluff ;-)

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=aPKV52TSDyY

    (I want that gasping audience member to come to all of my tests)

    Great blog, btw.

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