Grappling is one of the best self-defense techniques to learn for applying skills beyond the four corners of the gym and into a real-world street fight or other encounter. Martial Artist and Instructor Matt Bryers opened his gym and structured his classes based around this idea, that certain techniques—like grappling—can and should be adapted for those who want to be able to defend themselves in a serious conflict. Bryers’ insights are extracted from the full Ground Grappling for Close Quarters Combat course, available from the Science of Skill online store.
Is grappling a realistic technique for the streets? More than most people imagine, says Matt Bryers, owner of and instructor at the Jiu-Jitsu and Strength Academy (JSA) in Cromwell, Connecticut. “People get confused, they think grappling is only ground fighting, but as soon as I close the distance, as soon as I’m in, I could put my hands on you, we’re in grappling range,” he explains.
Most of street fighting is “pure grappling” says Bryers, who only threw two or three real punches while working nine years in the club industry—no stranger to fights and skirmishes. Look at any type of real street fight videos, says Bryers, and you “can’t help but get into that range.”
Not that kicks and punch strikes shouldn’t be practiced for form and strength, but close-quarters combat rarely allows for such big moves. It’s under-assessed, says Bryers, and students who want to learn to defend themselves on the streets need to understand the dynamics of grappling. “You need to feel it. You need to develop that sensitivity. It’s not just ground fighting. You have to really be effective standing, too,” he says. In other words, it’s not all about take downs—a well-rounded set of defense tactics includes knowing how to control an opponent standing in grappling range, how to enter that range and protect yourself, and how to immediately go on the offensive once you’re in that range.
Bryers doesn’t believe that modern BJJ teaches the reality of self defense any longer, throwing out the ‘grappling self defense’ part and mostly focusing on the martial art side. This was a motivator for Bryers to open his own school, offering both practices for different types of students: those who just want to have fun while training hard and learn a great martial art, and those who want to develop realistic and applicable self-defense skills. “We address the weapons. We address the defense against multiple constraints and attacks and sneak attacks and grabs. That’s a real fight”, he says.
Self-defense is not just a concern for the younger, under-30 crowd who might still have the taste for ego-laden street fights in their mouths, but also something that older men, particularly those with families, also think about; they want to be able to defend both their families and themselves from harm’s way. In this sense, it’s not about going offensive (and it shouldn’t be in the first place); it’s about going on the defensive when someone’s stepped into your safe ‘imaginary bubble’, as Bryers calls it. This is when you need to be able to quickly take-in a number of factors almost instantly, including closing distance, whether your attacker is defending or coming with a punch.
This is also the instant when you need to close that distance and get into grappling range, and this also requires knowing your natural strengths and potential vulnerabilities. For example, Bryers says, “I’m a taller person and I’m fighting a shorter person. They crash into close that distance in a safe defensive matter. I’m taller and a lot of times…a head lock control will show up. I need to have a series of simple, effective techniques that can hit from that position.”
Byers’ favorite move is the Osoto Gari or Outside Leg Reap, one that’s often taught to Judo or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu white belts. It’s a common but essential move in grappling and close-range combat situations, and one that Bryers says can be learned in under 10 minutes just by watching a video. Of course, if you’re in a situation where you’re fighting a much bigger and stronger attacker, this move is probably not going to be as useful. “Give him a couple of shots so that the throw shows up easily and I can control him easier. I’m not trying to go strength on strength. I’m leveling the playing field if I’m a smaller person,” he advises.
Another reality, says Bryers, is that particularly in a situation where there’s more than one person around, you don’t want to get to the ground unless you’re forced. Be aware of your body and of the other person’s state of mind and physical stance; if you can simply trip a drunk person who’s trying to pick a fight, and then kneel or place a standing foot and go in for a quick “hammer hit” or similar move, then you can still maintain a 160-degree awareness for any other attackers, says Bryers.
Whatever defensive moves you choose in a street fight, the ultimate idea is “stay simple to be more effective…the take downs or techniques you use can’t be these long combinations. It has to be quick, easy to learn and that makes sense that you can pull off on anybody,” says Bryers. Finding a great school and instructor that integrates these skills into its martial arts program can be the best way to learn and perfect the skills and mindset that can help you, should you ever find yourself in a real street fight.
About Matt Bryers: Matt Byers is Owner of the Jiu-Jitsu and Strength Academy (JSA), as well as a TRITAC-Jitsu Instructor & TRITAC-Unarmed Instructor. He is a is a Soul Fighters Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, a 3rd degree Kobukai Ju-Jitsu Blackbelt, co-founder of the TRITAC-Jitsu System and TRITAC-Unarmed Instructor. He has been training Jiu-Jitsu, Combative Martial Arts, TRITAC-Martial Arts, Defence Lab: DNA Fight Science, wrestling, submission grappling, and many other martial arts for over 20 years.
Image credit: New Albany Defense
Coach Daniel is the founder and head publisher at Science of Skill, LLC. A martial arts black belt and self defense instructor, Dan has spent years training with and interviewing some of the world's best self protection experts. His passion lies in encouraging others to train smart and to improve the skills that make them safer and stronger.
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