Martial arts culture is full of rivalries and dichotomies: traditional training vs. sport training, eastern arts vs. western arts, hard vs. soft. The list goes on. One rivalry, however, is one I’d eventually like to see put to rest. I’m talking about strikers vs. grapplers. In my mind, striking techniques and grappling techniques are but tools for achieving an objective. I began my martial arts training in the striking arts: Kenpo, Karate, and Taekwondo. Now I train Gracie Jiu-jitsu. Very seldom did these two different strategies meet for me in class, but now I see a little of one in the other can make a good fighter great.
Since I usually talk about the many virtues of Jiu-jitsu, I want to point out the incredible usefulness and versatility of strikes. I do agree that grappling is more appropriate for all levels of violence, since grappling techniques can be as gentle as they are effective. Strikes, however, are useful tools for opening opportunities, disrupting your opponent’s movements, and causing some quick, obvious damage. This is assuming, of course, that your opponent has become assaultive, and you are legally justified in hitting him.
Striking has so many great uses besides simply knocking someone out. One is to simply cause your opponent to move. Throwing jabs and crosses at your opponent’s face, for example, can cause him to cover his face with his hands and even change his posture, thus making him easier to approach and grapple. Mounting your opponent and striking him from above can, besides causing him to surrender, force him to raise his arms in defense, opening the way for an armbar or a shoulder lock.
Strikes can also cause your opponent to hesitate, stumble, or otherwise abandon their intended movement. Is he rushing towards you with his fist raised, ready to strike? A simple push kick to his leg or hip can stop his movement dead in its tracks, or even cause him to stumble and fall. Is he trying to grab your groin when you’ve mounted him (don’t laugh, we’re all adults here!)? A simple elbow to his face, even if it doesn’t connect, can convince him that such an exchange would not be in his favor.
I like how many things you can achieve through a little blunt force trauma. I’ve never been confident in knockout strategies. Knockouts are harder to get than most people think. As a grappler, however, I highly value any tactic that can help me close the distance with my opponent or illicit a predictable reaction from them. Though Gracie Jiu-jitsu takes up the bulk of my training, I sometimes pull out the target mitts and drill a few combos and my footwork.
Grapplers: how do you incorporate striking into your training?
Strikers: how do you incorporate grappling into your training?

  1. I also want to see this grappler VS striker rivalry be put to rest.

    I love striking, so don’t take this the wrong way. I just prefer Jiujitsu in teaching basic self defense not only because it’s more peaceful, but because of this:

    In Applied Martial Arts, the belts are white, green, red, black.

    I teach white belts about 50% Jiujitsu and takedowns, 40% weapons disarms (which include a ton of Jiujitsu techniques), and 10% striking.

    Why do I only teach 10% striking to beginners?* You may or may not agree with this, but the reason has to do with the fact that ANYBODY, regardless of martial art background (you don’t need any), can throw punches and kick standing up.

    As you call it, the “universal fight plan.”

    A couple blog posts ago you posted about the attack with that big guy breaking into a mother’s house and just beating the tar out of her. It really didn’t look like he had much martial arts experience whatsoever, as the only strikes he really threw were haymakers. There just wasn’t any evidence of martial arts experience. However, his strikes still were devastating! My point is that ANYBODY can punch.

    Now, get somebody to a blue belt in Jiujitsu (or even a two stripe white belt!) and put them on the ground with somebody with no Jiujitsu/grappling/wrestling background (which is MOST people), and they WILL HAVE NO CLUE what to do. A technical grappler can control the person on the ground in a way as to defend against strikes, put himself/herself in a dominant position where he/she can strike where he cannot, choke him out, use joint locks to snap bones…etc.

    So…I teach white belts so much ground fighting because if they can take the average guy to the ground they can be pretty safe in knowing that their opponent has a higher chance of not knowing what to do than he has of just throwing out wild punches (which may connect!) standing up.

    Even if you have the confidence that your training in striking is sufficient to win the fight, it is still a SAFER bet to take it to the ground where they most likely will be clueless. And on the ground, utilizing sweeps and positional maintenance, a grappler can STILL use strikes from any top position.

    That…and I want my students to mature enough to where I can trust them with using good judgment on when striking is appropriate, which is usually at a green belt level.

    Many martial arts schools that teach ground fighting emphasize that “going to the ground” should be a last resort. I think differently, and make my case as I explained in the previous paragraphs.

    Now, I draw the line at multiple attackers! I do not see any situation where taking the fight to the ground and committing yourself to only one of them would be advantageous. That would be a nightmare.

    So, there are exceptions, but as a general rule I teach that going to the ground is a safer bet than just exchanging punches, because your opponent will at least know how to throw haymakers standing up, thus giving him a higher chance of winning the fight than if you were to use your grappling knowledge/experience to limit his striking ability.

    Anyway, great post! It definitely goes along with my previous blog post and it clarifies the efficacy of striking, which is important to know and address, especially on a website called “Jiujitsu.” We don’t want people to get the wrong impression of us, because we are not ignorant to striking. At least not here.

    You also made this post in a way that compliments and helps mine, because I actually do not think I gave enough justice to “striking.” I mostly explained how a strictly-striking art won’t work on the ground against an experienced grappler, kind of omitting the power of striking altogether. So…thank you!

    *Note: I do have an exception when it comes to women’s self defense, where I actually teach a higher percentage of crucial strikes to the beginner.

    patrick asay

  2. I think your approach to striking sounds practical and very reasonable. You stated some good reasons for teaching it that way. One of the main reasons I would teach striking to a beginner? Because everyone’s going to do it instinctually in a fight, it’s better to begin shaping a fighter’s striking instinct early. Instead of allowing it to be the default setting when threatened, turn it into a tool for achieving simple objectives, like creating space, opening opportunities, and discouraging behavior in a controlled opponent. But there are many roads to Rome, at least in martial arts. Thanks for your insightful comment!

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