Finding Comfort in Grappling

Cover image by Samuel Castro

Growing up, my Dad made sure I was involved in martial arts at an early age. As I got older, he would even train me himself at the house, either in the backyard or the patio. One day, we were training, and we kept going over various takedowns, and close quarters locks and submissions. We had always covered these types of techniques so I asked him, when we were going to go over boxing, so I could learn to knock people out?

He stopped and looked at me; He said “Son, anyone can throw a punch, man, woman, kid, anybody. Besides, you already know how to punch”. I was a bit skeptical, so to further prove his point he said, “Go ahead throw a cross”, I did, “Throw a hook”, I did. My Dad said, “see you already know how to do those things, a baby comes out of the womb knowing how to hit someone, it’s instinctive”. Of course, there are nuances to the striking arts that separate rank amateurs from trained fighters, but in the end everyone knows how to punch.

What my Dad went on to explain to me forever shaped who I am as a martial artist. He explained that every fight, no matter where, professional or street, ended up in a grappling situation. Being a teen at the time, I immediately felt the need to challenge such a bold statement. But as I looked and studied various forms of combat, I discovered he was right.

In a boxing match when the fighter’s lockup and have to be separated that’s a grappling situation, when Thai boxers clinch that’s a grappling situation, and lastly when a police officer goes to cuff someone or simply to frisk someone, that’s a grappling situation. In law enforcement we are almost constantly in grappling range when dealing with the public, and suspects.

I say all that, to say that grappling should be a staple in your martial arts training regimen. Especially if you work in law enforcement, where we have up close and personal encounters with people on a daily basis. Most academies today recognize this fact and teach basic ground concepts while cadets are in training. Still, many Officers never continue their training outside of the academy to keep up their skills. Most people, Officers included, aren’t comfortable fighting in “ground zero”, aka grappling range. This is a huge risk for those working in law enforcement, where we are required to work in that range daily.

Aside from every day arrest situations, have you ever noticed how most high stress / resisting situations end up with an Officer telling the suspect to get on the ground. That is because the ground is where a suspect has the least advantage, they have limited mobility, limited access to weapons etc. But once the suspect is on the ground then what? The suspect isn’t going to handcuff themselves. At some point an Officer, or Officers, are going to have to go to the ground and secure them. Don’t let the fact that as Officers we primarily have superior manpower in these situations lull you into a since of false security. Things have still been known to go bad, even when Officers have a suspect out numbered 2/3:1.

That close, weapons on your duty belt are hard to access, and if pulled give the suspect the ability and distance to take them from you. Punches and kicks will be extremely limited in effectiveness as well, particularly if you are under the suspect punching from your back. Ground zero is the home of elbows and knees, takedowns, throws and locks. Its dirty, grueling, and the best way to establish control over your subject, often with little damage to yourself or the resisting party.

If you’ve never had an expert grappler on top of you, while they pinned you to the ground your missing out. It’s a memorable experience for sure. Grappling is not only the great equalizer, allowing for people of smaller statures to out maneuver and control larger opponents; but it’s also one of the most humbling experiences you can imagine. You are constantly but in bad positions, situations where you can’t breathe, can’t see, and you’re forced to think your way out. Grappling, I feel is a great mindset trainer for law enforcement as well, allowing you to think through problems under high stress and fatigue. Any training is better than no training, that’s a given, but I implore you to swing by your local grappling gym and try a free class. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy the workout and comraderie.