3 keys to an effective ground fighting program

Injury fears, liability management and public perception are just some of the hurdles to overcome


Instituting something new and progressive like a “ground fighting” program can seem like a momentous undertaking.

Balancing the who and what of training, with the injury potential of students, liability management, use of force policy and procedure, and in some cases, public perception, are all sticking points that can quickly stall the process.

Here are three steps to help you begin the process:

The basis of your new program need only consist of a few skills that address the most likely scenarios to be encountered by your students, such as avoiding the ground with a good sprawl.
The basis of your new program need only consist of a few skills that address the most likely scenarios to be encountered by your students, such as avoiding the ground with a good sprawl. (Jerrod Hardy)

1. Keep it simple

The basis of your new program need only consist of a few skills that address the most likely scenarios to be encountered by your students:

  • Avoiding the ground with a good sprawl. 
  • Getting off the ground with a basic mount escape. 
  • Weapon retention on the ground with a same side grab. 

If your initial program can offer these three skills, along with the training time to get your students proficient in them, you will have a solid base to add on to later.

2. Train smartly

Stretching is an important part of any warm-up.
Stretching is an important part of any warm-up. (Jerrod Hardy)

One of the major hurdles to starting a ground fighting program is the perception that substantial injuries occur during training. You must coach smartly to avoid this becoming a reality. 

Begin each class with a warmup to activate the muscle groups and body movements necessary for the techniques you will be teaching. Closely monitor partners for size differences, pre-existing injuries and physical fitness levels prior to the drills. 

Incorporating shadow drills, which are frequently used in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, mixed martial arts, wrestling, and boxing, is a great way to get the physical and mental reps without the worry of partners injuring each other.

3. Fighting becomes tactics

This may seem like a simple play on words, but its sets the tone for the expectations of the course and students in training and the lens from which others outside the program will view it.  

Fighting has a couple of accepted definitions in our realm: 

  • A sport with rounds, rules, weight classes, referee, etc., which is most certainly not the case for our profession.
  • A street fight or disturbance in which participants are acting irrationally based on emotions and not making decisions they most likely would make in other circumstances.

Neither of these behaviors or outcomes are what we seek as results of our training.

We are training tactics that just happen to take place during an encounter on the ground. Our students must evaluate the effectiveness of their use of force and make conscious and controlled decisions to escalate or de-escalate force depending on the subject’s response. A loss of emotional control or reacting out of anger would be unacceptable outcomes for our students. Thus, we are training tactics not fighting!

We want to see students execute the techniques for proficiency but also under the added stress of elevated heart rate that accompanies real-world applications. Ground tactics also include the decision-making process of what comes next and allow us to see the students transition effectively or ineffectively. If it’s the latter, we get the opportunity to correct the errors in the safety of the training room and reinforce the behaviors we want to see applied on the streets.

NEXT: Video: How to escape ground fights

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