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Counter-Grappling & Specious Tactics by Mark Hatmaker

What do I do if I guy had me in this hold?”

“What do I do if the guy knows jujitsu?”

“What do if a guy is a good wrestler?”

Combat Arts Instructors get these kinds of questions all the time. The question usually has a simple formulation with the interrogator not quite aware yet [due to inexperience] that they have posited quite a vast open-ended query.

The inexperienced questioner is never at fault for questions along these lines.

Here’s where the quibble begins [in Mark’s mind.]

Any answer along the lines of: “Well, all you have to do is just…”

The implication that there is a simplistic answer to a large physical endeavor shows a good deal of short-sightedness or a staggering amount of hubris.

We never succumb to such simplistic answers to encompassing questions in other physical domains.

For example, if our naïve interlocuter asks “What if I’m playing football and he has the ball?”


You immediately would want to start corralling that question down with your own series of counter-questions: “Who’s playing? What’s your position? What down is it? What quarter of the game are we in?” Ad nauseum.

And if someone asked that same question on a sports call-in show: “What if I’m playing football and he has the ball?”

And you heard someone answer “Well, all you have to do is just…”

You would know immediately that the person answering is new to the planet earth or at the very least the game of football.

Back to the titled topic.

Counter-Grappling involves so many factors, when hit with the question “What do I do if…” you’ve got to home in on exactly what is needed in the exact circumstance.

For example, if we home in on “I’m caught in a crushing cross-body ride, what do I do?”

Now, we’re getting a bit closer to a cogent answer, but even here we need to know is the rider a “Low-Rider,” a “High-Rider” a “Centerline Rider”?

Do they own the cross-face? Do they own the underhook?

Are they running knees, outriggers or hip-cuts?

Without this information my answer to the “I’m caught in a crushing cross-body ride, what do I do?” is bulls*#@.

The backbone of Counter-Grappling presumes at least a good baseline knowledge of what grappling is.

And yet…some practitioners of combat arts/sciences want to skip a good understanding of the game.

I find this curious domain-specific thinking.

One would never assume that one could do well against, say a boxer or Thai boxer without having any striking experience.

We see that that would be ludicrous, one must have some knowledge of the “technology” of the game/domain we are seeking to thwart.

Knife defensive tacticians well understand that to have a snowball’s chance in hell of defending against the knife that one must train the blade itself to a good baseline competence to even begin garnering an appreciation for what the blade can do and then, and only then, can the counter-blade concepts began as an overlay to the practitioners own blade-experience.

Counter-Blade strategy in a vacuum where one never uses a blade would be insanity.

It is akin to “All you have to do is…”

That “all you have to do is advice” in counter-grappling usually take some form of bottom-side buzzsaw, that is, utilizing the bite, the gouge, the rip, the tear, hair-pulling, groin-seizing all conducted from the under-side of the grappler.

This simplistic, wishful buzzsaw then, in theory, spurs the befuddled and blind-sided grappler to give up their superior position and fall prey to the manifestly awesome striking ability of the formerly down and out individual.

Well, and do I even need to say this, but that is some constricted, contorted and fantastical thinking for many reasons. 

Let’s address two here.

Reason One-Let’s go back to our feet where many who pose counter-grappling advice are more comfy. Let’s assume you are engaged in a straight up boxing match, and let’s also assume that you are the superior boxer with legit sweet skills.

Now, let’s say our opponent in this hypothetical match doesn’t like how she’s on the bitter-end of this engagement so she ups the ante and starts adding some stink outside the boxing vocabulary. An elbow here, a knee there, that sort of thing.

Again, assuming this match is for all the marbles, do you, the superior boxer, fold up your tent and go home because this inferior opponent bedazzled and befuddled you with their reach for the dirt? 

Does all your drilled-for timing, distance, footwork, evasion, power, finesse disappear because of a minor expansion of the arsenal?

I didn’t think so, you are now free to use all your superior skills with the addition of an enhanced and vicious arsenal making your superior game deadly.

The opponent’s switch to dirt didn’t negate you, it enabled and empowered you.

Reason Two-By this same bit of thinking, are we to assume that if we are facing someone powerful and skillful enough to take us to the ground against our will and have their way with us, are we to assume that if we go for the bite or the gouge their game is suddenly riddled with holes and negated?

Not by a longshot. That same superior grappler who put you on your ass and kept you there is now informed by your grab for the dirt. The game becomes “Oh, we’re playing this way” and just as with the superior boxer who was allowed to add more grit, the grappler who adds more grit is gonna be grittier and nastier and the bottom-player will wish the game were back in the sedate world of mere holding you down and having the life squeezed out of you.

If an “All you gotta do” counter-grappling enthusiast doubts this, try this simple but safe[ish] test.

Glove up and allow a grappler to slap you to the mat and hold you down. Now you go to work with punches, hammer fists, round-knuckles open-handed slaps but…

Allow the grappler the same gloved-up privilege. See where that gets you.

And if you were to think to yourself, “Well, yeah that’s with gloves, if I were to…” 

Sure, go ahead, repeat the test but allow the grappler the same privilege.

As below, so above.

Bet the above.

[For more Rough& Tumble history, Indigenous Ability hacks, and for pragmatic applications of old school tactics historically accurate and viciously verified see our RAW Subscription Service.]


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