Importance of ground fighting

if we read the historical accounts of famous fights on the battlefield, it generally ends when one fighter got knocked off his horse. At which time, with all the armor, he cannot get up or move around quickly. At this time several small, ordinary soldiers quickly set upon him, throws a net/lasso on him, and hog tie him. Onward the great warrior goes to the gallows.

Here’s where some common sense helps in giving us the proper perspective:

1. Martial art, throughout history, is mostly weapons art. As general Qi Ji Guang states, empty hand art is to prepare the body for the more advanced weapons training. We say more advanced because weapons are primarily judged by how deadly it is. Weapons skills are simpler – the only thing a blade can do is cut, but it is way more deadly than fists. Everyone appreciates how dangerous it is to face someone with small knife right? Well, the battlefield is way more dangerous than that, with everyone armed with all manners of weapons that smash, cut, flies, etc. It doesn’t matter how great you are, if you are emptyhanded, you are in the most serious trouble. Exhibit A: Cheng Ting Hua.

So, empty hand martial art is just a small subset of what we call martial art. And throughout history, in terms of actual use when deadly force is required, plays a very minor role.

2. In anything that’s sufficient complex, whether it’s martial art, health/fitness, software development, there is no “one best thing/way” for every application/situation. If you ask, what is the best gun? An expert will ask you “what are you using it for: fighting on battlefield, in a commercial plane against terrorists, home defense, hunting, what type of target…” There is no one best weapon for everything. But people want simple answers: tell me one best food to eat, one best exercise to do, one best martial art to learn… But real world situations are complex, there is no one best thing. No one thing can be perfect in all aspects.

So there is no such thing as the ‘ultimate weapon’. Empty hand martial art skill is like any other type of weapon, its utility is judged by the context of its use. It’s good in a small subset of situations, not so in most situations.

3. Think about the days before modern firearms are perfected. In China, Japan, the west, etc. Why is groundfighting not developed to high level until very recently? Necessity is mother of invention right? We’ve all been to museums where we were astounded by the sheer variety of weapons invented throughout history. The Japanese lived for the most part on the ground when indoors, how come they invented those hundreds of technique for drawing the sword while indoors, but not so much for groundfighting?

So why did groundfighting become so develop in recent years? Well, applying what we know above, what is the context? The context is modern combat sports. From the early history of UFC we know modern societies cannot tolerate real fighting – they are simply too brutal. So severe limits are always put on the type of strike you can do, and the target you can hit. And where does this fight take place? In a small, confined area with perfectly flat, smooth, safe surface. Lastly, as with other times in history, it’s very hard to train many of the striking techniques realistically because of the potential damage they can cause. But for the most part, in grappling you have more control, you can practice like you fight. For these and many other reasons, grappling skills, and specifically ground grappling skills, become very important for the type of fights professional fighters today find themselves in.

Here, the necessity comes from the specific context of sports/entertainment, not desert battlefield of Iraq, Afghanistan. Why did Shuai Jaio become so developed? Because it was instrumental in one Manchu emperor’s rise to power, and became one of the primary source of entertainment for generations of emperors. Why does other empty hand skills develop in China during that time? Because of males of the entire ruling ethnic group spent 3 centuries living on comfortable government pension, and had to find some outlet to satisfy their warrior instinct. What happened to jujutsu in Brazil is not without historical precedents.

So ground fighting is a small subset, a very specialized skill within empty hand fighting skill, which in turn is a small subset, very specialized skill in all of martial art.

4. Today, if we just want to achieve the goals these ancient skills are design for: to save your life in war, crime fighting, etc, we need to spend most of our time practicing weapon skills using today’s weapons. For long distance weapon, you would not use spear, you would use rifle with bayonet. For close distance, you would not use broadsword, you would use pistol, etc. Today it’s obvious spears and broadswords are obsolete, so most of us when we say we practice martial art, we don’t include them. So we have two anomalies here: today when we say martial art, martial art = traditional/pre-firearm martial art. Furthermore, martial art = unarmed traditional/pre-firearm martial art.

We need to know our definition of martial art, in terms of real world goals it’s supposed to achieve, is not what the real world at large considers martial art, either in the past, or present. We are practicing outdated methods for reasons other than the purpose these weapons were originally designed for.

5. The world may have changed, but our basic biological impulses have not. Traditionally maleness is characterized by strength. What is strength for? For 99.9999% of human history, we lived under very primitive conditions. It’s only in the last two hundred years we had any power-assist technology. For hundreds of thousands of years, being the strongest meant being the best hunter, the best farmer, etc. The goal is gathering resource for survival. Judging by that goal, who is the alpha male today, Bill Gates, or Michael Jordan? The effete hedge-fund managers from Connecticut, or the many great baseball, football players coming out of Pennsylvania coal country? Of course it’s people like Bill Gates. But our biological instincts run deep, we never think Bill Gates is macho. Similarly, in this machine, information age, every man still wants to be thought of by other men, women as someone who can fight well with nothing but his own body. In this age, what’s the significance of being the strongest human weight lifter, or the best empty hand fighter?

So we need to be aware of empty hand fighting skill’s greatly exaggerated importance in the human psyche.  Knowing all of this, what type of skills should we practice, how much time should we allocate to each? It all depends on our training goal, which leads to the key point:  if someone wants to spend most of his time practicing ground fighting skills, who are we to say they are wasting their time (how is our training more ‘useful’ in that regard). But that person, like us, should have a clear-eyed view of the actual importance, the strengths and weaknesses of that type of skill, in the overall scheme of things. They shouldn’t think ground fighting skill is “one best skill”, appropriate in all situations, that it represent the totality of martial art, or that the best practitioners of that skill can be considered “elite fighters” in the same sense as F-22 fighter pilots, when judged by the context of world we actually live in today.


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