Have you ever asked yourself why Aikido does not have any groundfighting techniques? Itís quite a strange situation when you start to think about it. Isnít it a bit suspicious that Aikido includes throws without any way of following up the throws with holds? Itís especially confusing because in the other grappling arts like Judo, BJJ and wrestling, every single takedown has natural follow up techniques like pins, arm locks and chokeholds. Imagine if wrestlers went to the trouble of tackling their opponents, only to allow them to stand up and attack again? Would that make sense? Doesnít it make sense to follow-up the advantage gained from putting an opponent down, by applying various holds to subdue him? Isnít it reasonable to follow up a throw with a hold instead of allowing him to get up and attack freely again?
The lack of ground fighting techniques in Aikido is very problematic because ground fighting really does happen all the time. Anybody who has watched the mixed martial arts tournaments knows that a lack of ground fighting skills is such a major weakness, that it spells defeat for anyone lacking the basic skills. None of the fighters in these tournaments would dare to step in the ring without well-developed ground fighting skills. They have learned the lessons from previous fighters who were smashed or easily defeated because they were unable to defend themselves once the fight hit the mat. The fighters who ignored or refused to accept the need for mat work skills, literally paid with their own blood for their arrogance.
An important question to ask is why do people fall down so often? Why is it so hard to avoid mat work? Mat work or ground fighting happens very often because our balance is naturally unstable. Regardless of how powerful or large a person may be, if you grab one of their legs and run into them, they will stumble around off balance and fall down. So, instead of asking why does it happen so much, try to understand that it is only with effort that we manage to stay on two feet. To see this for yourself, I suggest watching a collegiate wrestling match. In these contests, the two fighters often are able to take each other down ten to fifteen times within three minutes. In other words, even a fighter highly trained and skilled at defending against tackles is unable to prevent successful tackles. In fact, it is so hard to stop tackles that they manage to knock each other down every ten seconds to twenty seconds on average!
It is important to remember that three of the most common street fighting tactics are the tackle, punching at the face and headlocks. So, two of the three most common attacks are wrestling based attacks. One serious concern with these kinds of wrestling attacks is that they work even when done badly. For example, you may be able to strike an opponent in the face with force. But, to protect himself against further strikes, the opponent will follow his natural instincts to prevent further strikes. He will grab onto your body wherever he can, usually at the waist or legs. As he rushes forward, even if he stumbles, he may grab at your knees. When grabbed around the legs or waist by a rushing opponent, it is very hard to avoid a fall. In other words, the unpredictable nature of fighting leads to ground fighting. The other fighter wasnít trained or practiced in tackles. He was just following his instincts to grab onto you to stop the strikes.
People instinctively grab onto each other whenever they fight for real. This kind of reaction is very close to an inborn instinct. Watch the boxers when they get hurt. Watch the hockey players when they fight. Watch the Muay Thai fighters when they get injured. Watch the mixed martial arts fighters. When one fighter gets hurt, he instinctively reaches out to grab his opponent in any way he can. Itís not a trained reaction. Itís a protective reaction.
Imagine that you are in a fight and have managed to throw your adversary with Irimi Nage. But, as the opponent falls, he grabs your arm and pulls you off balance and you stumble down with him. Lacking any training in groundwork, you are at a big disadvantage. Or, instead, you go to throw with Irimi Nage and the opponent spins with you and grabs you around the waist. After a brief tussle, both of you fall to the floor. Now what? Once again, you are at a big disadvantage. Or, the opponent simply charges forward grabs your legs and tackles you down. Once again, you are stuck on the floor with almost no preparation.
While it is true that Aikido practice includes a few arm locks and a few wrist turns to force an opponent face down, this does not even begin to cover the basic techniques of ground fighting. Should we not ask ourselves why Aikido fails to include practice in basic ground fighting? I donít mean to suggest that Aikido should include techniques for EVERY possible situation like BJJ. But, there are a dozen or so basic ground fighting skills, which EVERY martial artist should know. This would include things like escaping and using the standard ground fighting holds. It would include countering and properly applying chokeholds from behind an opponent and from in front of the opponent. And of course, basic skills like applying arm locks when pinned on oneís back can literally be a lifesaving technique. In other words, if we are studying a defensive martial art, where are all of the DEFENSIVE groundwork techniques? The situation seems especially odd because Aikido does have these kinds of techniques for handling standing attacks.
As I have explained before, I accidentally created Short Range Aikido because I needed to test out and develop aikido techniques against strikes and against true resistance. One area I have not discussed much are the unique techniques Iíve come across of using Aikido pins and turnovers against resistance. The normal methods taught in Aikido are based on pain and a very upright posture. But, in Judo and BJJ, I had learned that it was necessary to have one knee near or on the opponent to control him. Since I had been practicing these arts in addition to wrestling mat work for years, it only made sense to me that I should follow up my Aikido techniques with effective mat work techniques. It simply never made sense to me to allow an opponent to get up if I had just thrown them down.
By looking carefully at the principles behind the arm locks and pins of Aikido, I began to realize there were several missing pieces. I tried the Aikido turnovers against my Judo partners and the techniques failed at first because of the overly upright posture and the grips I was using. I started to add in judo principles of controlling the opponent with pins and body position instead of using painful wrist turnovers. This made all the difference. I quickly found ways to apply modified judo mat work and Aikido pins, which did not require that I lay down on the mat. I continued exploring things and found ways to modify several pinning techniques so that I could use them against skilled ground fighters. It seemed only natural to me that Aikido should include the effective techniques I had been practicing for years in Judo, BJJ and wrestling. I took several BJJ arm lock positions and modified them to fit with what is done in Aikido. It worked so well that it was surprising.
Another reason that Aikido should include groundfighting techniques is that this group of techniques works against ANY sized opponent. Once a person is held on the ground, they are unable to use the power and length of their arms. So, mat work is the great equalizer against larger opponents. Held on the ground in a weaker position, even the largest of opponentís can be forced to surrender.
However, if a person does not understand ground fighting they are in serious danger. This means, when a person is unskilled at ground fighting, they can very easily be choked, or held down and struck repeatedly in the face. When a fight falls to the ground, one of the fighters is going to get a huge advantage. If a fight stays on the feet, it is not likely that anyone will be seriously injured because one fighter can run or stumble away. But, when a fight lands on the ground, the fighter on top may choose to viciously beat or even kill his opponent. The problem is that the positional advantage of being on top of a person is so great that the person on the bottom will be helpless to stop the beating.
Two of the most important areas of ground fighting to understand are chokes and arm locks. Chokeholds and arm locks have been tested in thousands of tournaments and repeatedly proven to work against even the most powerful and skillful of fighters. Chokeholds are probably the most effective techniques in all of the martial arts. Yet, they are also the most humane because the opponent suffers no injury. Certainly it is far better to use a chokehold to force an opponent to stop fighting than to break their wrist with a wristlock. Chokeholds achieve the Aikido ideal of ending a fight without injuring the opponent in any way. Chokeholds truly embody the spirit of aikido, yet they are not included in aikido practice. Now, isnít that a serious contradiction? Also, unlike wristlocks, which can easily cause serious injury, chokeholds have been proven to be safe to practice against resistance.
Basic arm locks are another group of defensive techniques that are important to study. It is important to understand that arm locks work best when used defensively. For example, a standard Judo arm lock (juji-gatame) was used repeatedly to beat Kevin Jackson in several mixed martial arts contests. Kevin Jackson is an Olympic gold medallist and is one of the most powerful and skillful wrestlers ever produced by America. But, he made the common mistake of grabbing his opponent at the throat to hold him down for striking. By extending his arm, Kevin had left his arm wide open for an arm lock. The fight was over within seconds.
Now think hard about that fact. Kevin Jacksonís speed and power are beyond that of most trained athletes. He has proven himself against the best of the best around the globe. He has repeatedly wiped out the most powerful and most skillful wrestlers on the planet. Yet, in several mixed martial arts tournaments, fighters far less skillful and less powerful than him quickly defeated him because of a few simple arm lock techniques. Isnít that an amazing thing? This same (juji-gatame) technique is responsible for a majority of victories in Judo contests and in BJJ contests. Doesnít it make sense to include this and other powerful and proven arm-locking techniques in Aikido too?
Weíve seen that groundfighting is one of the most important areas of realistic combat to understand and practice because it happens unexpectedly and frequently. Weíve also seen that groundfighting is so powerful that it can allow a smaller weaker practitioner to easily overcome a far larger and stronger opponent. We have looked at how many other arts have added groundwork to their practices. Lastly, weíve seen that groundwork offers an Aikidoka the means to achieve his goal of overcoming an enemy without injury and without excessive effort. Isnít it time to seriously look at blending in groundwork techniques? Groundwork is a much more natural addition that any kind of weapons training like sword and staff fighting. Lastly, ground fighting is far safer and more practical to practice than sword work or staff work.
In my past articles I have pointed out how basic boxing skills and basic clinching techniques are vitally important and sensible additions to Aikido. Here, Iíve discussed how naturally groundfighting fits with Aikido. I have included all of these additional arts in my practice of Short Range Aikido. By blending the basics of these arts with my Aikido techniques, I have found that it has opened many new and exciting doors of development. As always, I suggest you look at what makes sense and judge things for yourself. Please donít take my word or anyone elseís word for what makes sense and what is real.
This is my last article until the Aiki Expo. Iím looking forward to meeting any interested practitioners in person.