One of the hardest things you can hit someone with, or be hit with, is the entire planet. Whether the covering at your particular locale at the time happens to be asphalt, concrete, grass, or just plain old dirt, there is something distinctly unforgiving about the earth when your (comparatively) soft body runs into it. Add to that the tendency of many humans to either land in such a way that their body hits first, followed shortly thereafter (in a violent, whipping fashion) by their skull, or to try to break their fall by posting with an unfortunate appendage, which is then injured in the process and doesn’t do what they intended anyway. We see this in football, in funny YouTube clips of home video mishaps, and we all experienced it in various skinned knees and elbows throughout childhood. Falling and injuring a hip is even a significant health risk for the elderly…but what does this have to do with self-defense?
I would argue that the misconception of how common this problem is when a physical altercation occurs is one of the biggest weaknesses in so-called “self-defense” instruction today. This includes much of what passes for “Women’s self-defense” classes, or the many YouTube videos on the topic out there, and also encapsulates a lot of material that is marketed as more “combative” in nature, whose target audience is supposedly very concerned with reality when it comes to the physicality of what happens in fights.
Let me be blunt about two things real quick, and then flesh out some ideas from there: 1) Unless you have trained in a very specific environment, it is probably a lot easier than you think to pick you up and slam you on your skull, and 2) If that happens to you, it is quite likely you will be rendered unable to defend yourself, which means you are rolling the dice on what an attacker chooses to do next.
Sound scary? Well, it can be sobering for sure. Now…let me back up and preemptively state that everything I am writing about in this post is based on the presupposition that a physical altercation is taking place. I am not addressing tactics of prevention, verbal de-escalation, initiation of force, legal considerations, none of that. I am simply isolating the physical considerations.
Those considerations add up to this-very commonly, what is taught as the primary focus in a clinching or grabbing type of scenario will get you promptly slammed on the deck, and the highest probability outcome of that is that you will be seriously injured or at a significant disadvantage.
So what exactly am I talking about? Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some examples and start talking specifics. Before we get into “combative” style instruction (I will treat this as a broad general category), let’s start with Women’s Self-defense (WSD). Ever seen any videos suggesting some sort of heel stomp, eye poke, head-butt or ear slap, or maybe a backwards kick to the groin once she’s lifted into the air?
Let’s take a look at how quickly these sorts of things transpire in real life. Below this paragraph, I have a link to a video of a young lady who has, among other things, a very poor understanding of tactics and strategy. But, she also has been blessed with a large measure of luck because she actually survives this ride relatively unscathed considering some of the results we will see later. None of those points are the subject of this conversation, though, just pay attention to how much time there is once her target decides to initiate a grab around her torso (you can start about 30 seconds into the video if you want). See if there is ample opportunity to recall the details of a WSD seminar and put them to use. See if you think she has leverage to pull off any sort of lock or strike or “move” in retaliation.
Here is our first educational link:
Did you notice what happened there? Did you see an opportunity for a slick, fight-ending strike that she could slip in on her attacker? If not, why not? If she wanted to launch any sort of response what would she have to regain first? What was her main problem to solve?
One of the most basic things that has to happen if someone gets ahold of you is that you have to get your base arranged properly. This will primarily have to do with hip movement-specifically, getting your hips down, and creating distance between your hips and theirs. In positions that resemble what wrestlers call a “double leg” takedown, this kind of response is referred to as a “sprawl”, and in the more bear-hug-looking attacks, which we would generally call the family of “body lock takedowns” the response will still involve a level change and retraction of the hips, along with various turning motions, frames, arm positions, etc. but the bottom line is that without immediately reacting by addressing the problem of base, you run the risk of taking a violent, dangerous ride.
This takes timing and it takes practice, even against mediocre opponents. All the other intricacies and “cool move” details are irrelevant if you don’t have clear understanding and good habits formed based on this priority. This is where I part ways with so many of the more “combative” videos I see, whether they are meant to instruct for empty hand self-defense, or to show weapon retention, defense or offense, too often it is very clear that the instructors are simply not spending much time dealing with true resistance or else they would know that the real priorities are simpler, you just have to put a lot more work into them. To illustrate these points, here is a video showing a very simple ending to an altercation that one of the parties thought was going to be considerably more complex:
It appears that the moment of the clinch has not been a part of this person’s training landscape very often. The priorities are wrong, and the uncomfortable result of misunderstanding in this case was instant unconsciousness from a cold tile floor. Same guy would be much, much harder to take down with a little bit of training that was based on a more realistic understanding of how fights happen. If you get pulled up off your base immediately like that, you’re going to get tossed with ease.
Now let’s talk about an area in which MMA training offers a very specific strength. In the preceding paragraph I mentioned two commonalities to maintaining your base so that you don’t take a ride-both included moving your hips back. I also mentioned moving at angle, and that is definitely good, but let’s stay with the sprawling idea for the moment. There will often come a time where you can’t just move your hips back because you run into some solid object in the environment (wall, vehicle, etc.), and this is exactly the problem that MMA athletes encounter when an opponent runs them into the cage wall.
Working off the cage is an art unto itself with specific goals and drills, and I think any good self-defense training should spend some time familiarizing students with this. Also, as always, you have to put in time working it to be good at it-you won’t just magically remember things when the excrement hits the cooling device. So, am I just selling MMA training? Do we have real world examples of this being practical? I’m glad you asked! And yes, we do!
Check out the belligerent fellow in the following video to see how much of a detriment it can be to get run into a solid object and lose control of your hips-in this case it is an instant fight-ender, all because his reactions are poor. Lucky for him, it’s the good guy doing the “rendering unconscious” because this situation could go terribly wrong if his opponent had bad intentions.
Now, that’s a knockout! I told you the planet hits hard.
In summary, there are many more videos I could show to make these points, but the best way for anyone to understand them is to go get some training themselves so that they have their own experience to inform them. I would encourage you to do just that. Having misinformed ideas about what you would like to happen if you were ever in a self-defense situation might feel good, but it can be dangerous if you’re ever called upon to take action in reality.
Regardless, I think those of us who have a more accurate understanding of that reality have a responsibility to speak about it in a way that (hopefully) is interesting, informative, or fuels the curiosity of those who might want to seek further training.
Go work on your clinch!