I train in non-grappling arts. I have a reasonable amount of experience with this. However, I'm not sure how I would deal with an untrained opponent coming to grapple with me -- or someone whose training has been entirely in grappling and who therefore feels the need to grapple with me because they're uncomfortable at another range.

I've failed to walk away multiple times, and now the fight has started. How do I prevent the grappler from grappling? What drills, exercises, training can I do?

  • Something you might want to read: chirontraining.blogspot.com/2012/07/joy-of-cheating.html Jul 18, 2012 at 19:37
  • @WayneInML It is indeed a very valuable lesson.
    – Anon
    Jul 18, 2012 at 21:23
  • @WayneInML I address your "cheating" argument in my answer. There are at least two cogent counterarguments: 1) the better wrestler or striker will be better able to cheat, and 2) some styles and competitions have objectively fewer restrictions, and their practitioners are thereby less susceptible to "cheating" attacks. Jul 19, 2012 at 14:07
  • Why not state the art you train in? There are lots of art-specific ways to handle grappling and an experienced practitioner may be able to suggest something more applicable for your own experience level. Also, most importantly, I don't think a martial art exists that doesn't have some amount of grappling in it, mind you a particular school might shy away from or skip over that side of the art for sportive reasons or personal preferences of the instructor. Even predominantly striking arts like Boxing or TKD for instance have clinch & push-off techniques, or grab/punch combos that can help.
    – bcmoney
    Jul 25, 2013 at 18:06
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    "I train in non-grappling arts". You are likely mistaken. If you train in a Chinese derived martial art; karate, kung-fu, TaeKwonDo / TangSooDoo etc then your martial art does include grappling techniques. Whether you were taught them or not is down to the competence of your teacher. Apr 14, 2016 at 18:06

12 Answers 12


"Clinch happens."

Without training, people who fight very frequently end up in a clinch or on the ground. (This is common for people who train in non-sparring, non-grappling arts, too.**) It's just a natural outcome for a fight, unless you're proficient in grappling.

In most cases, one cannot stop grappling without...drum roll...grappling.


You might be supremely lucky and catch your opponent with a knee, or knock them out with a punch before they get close. It works, sure, but certainly not every time. What's the chance of throwing that knockout punch? One in ten? Twenty? Five hundred? There's good reason to take that chance, but no good reason to rely on it.

In contrast, the high-percentage options for defending takedowns--the ones that work against people very good at takedowns, pick-ups, trips, and throws--are themselves grappling:

  • A well-executed sprawl works even against good wrestlers, as Tank Abbott showed UFC fans back in the day.
  • The hip block, as learned in judo, is another fundamental. Footwork and posture learned in that art, as many other jacket wrestling styles like Sambo, is key.
  • Detailed knowledge of the techniques going to be used against you (e.g. double-legs, foot sweeps, hip throws...) is vital. Defense is contained in understanding offense.

Notice that all of these involve copious actual grappling. Whether judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, freestyle or Greco-Roman wrestling--and there's significant overlap and carryover between all of them--you'll need to learn the techniques and practice them against a fully resisting opponent in alive drilling, in-class rolling/randori/wrestling, and competition.

Opposing views

Like Einstein, let's try a thought experiment. What would it look like if we tried to train stopping the takedown without training grappling?

First, we'd be using an awful attack. It's foolish to assume that a non-grappler, totally untrained in the double-leg takedown (or whatever), could execute one as well as someone who drills it day in and day out. Your takedown defense trained on that non-grappler would be weak and untested. (Many aikido instructors recognize this as a problem, since it's common in that art to train against strikes thrown largely by non-strikers.)

Second, what would it even mean when I don't knock my opponent out while defending the takedown? He grabs my shirt, and I...am not grappling? Surely I am grappling, however poorly. I can't expect to go for the grab-defense wristlock (or the knee strike from the clinch) if I ignore the fact that he's tripping me. I'd get tossed on my head in an instant.

The point is that we don't always get to decide where the fight goes. If he gets lucky, or is faster, or catches me by surprise, guess what--I'm grappling whether I like it or not. If I don't even know the terrain of that phase of the fight, I am bound to do poorly.

I could rely on hail-Mary eye-pokes and knees to the groin. However, nothing stops my opponent from throwing those back at me. Plus, the better grappler is going to be better at executing those dirty techniques, since he'll be on top, or choking me, or at least have a better idea of where we are and what matters. So that sounds like a bad idea.

Third, who do I trust for grappling technique? The boxer, who hasn't faced more than a half-dozen takedowns in his life...or the Samboista, who has a mean ankle pick and has competed numerous times (even if only at the local level) against people skilled at throwing, pinning, and controlling the grappling phase of the fight? I'd prefer to learn from the Sambo guy.

Final thoughts

So we've concluded that we should go to a painter to get our house painted, instead of the plumber. Great. But which painter?

Wrestling, playing judo, training Sambo or BJJ or Greco or any other grappling-only option is good. That's important to gain a base in the fundamentals. However, it might be optimal to train MMA, san da/san shou, or another art where grappling is integrated with striking. Note, however, that best results will always be obtained with schools that train hard: sparring or wrestling every class, and entering competitions at least a few times a year.

Tim Cartmell's Ground Proofing DVD, developed with the express purpose of giving non-grapplers the minimum grappling skills and drills necessary to prevent, control, and exit the ground fight, might be a great fit. Tim is a second-degree BJJ black belt, as well as lineage holder in multiple traditional Chinese martial arts and a champion several times over in both BJJ and knockdown kung fu tournaments.

** As happened to two prominent Wing Chunners, Emin Boztepe and William Cheung:

He was struggling like a wounded mule because he had no countering technique against the headlock. Because of the slipperiness of the floor and my shoes, I was sliding around like I was on roller skates. At that time, I started slipping, and then he fell as well. He was more or less lying on top of me. Then he was sitting on my stomach, and tried to throw a few punches


Great question.

Think of all the categories of fighting as different spokes on a wheel. If you are equally poor in all categories, your wheel is small, and you may move smoothly, but you won't move far, at least not quickly. If you are completely missing spokes, these are points at which your wheel falters, and you have a rougher ride. Which is better? To have no skill, then, and to ride smoothly only on an axle, or to have unequal skills and shudder and skip every few feet?

So long as you think of yourself as Not X (in this case, not a grappler), you will continue to have a weakness to X. In numerous other questions about fitness, I've responded the same way: To improve at X, do X. If you need to be better against grapplers, train against grapplers.

The flaw here is thinking that being a great grappler makes up for everything else; this is equally as fictitious and dangerous of a mindset. If you can grapple, your effective range is inside striking range. Striking is what you do to maintain that range.

Be well rounded. Train in everything you can because you have a love of martial arts, and you will improve. Train only in selected categories, and you will continue to have a rough ride. My view, however, is that even a rough ride is a good one if you get there in one piece.


Unfortunately for you, unlike grappling which can be used without any striking ability to neutralise striking, there's no way to use striking to neutralise grappling. The only way to deal with a grappler is if you can grapple yourself.

If your focus is on avoiding getting taken down, you can train a takedown centric art. Judo would be the most likely one that's nearby for you to train. Unfortunately Judo's got very little in the way of standing back up once you've been taken down, but being able to take the other guy down first while you're still standing fits with your goals. You can also just work on standing up as quick as possible when you get taken down in randori, make it a habit.

San Shou might also be available to train where you are, particularly as a component of a CMA school. You can set your strategy to work on striking, and you'll learn how to deal with takedowns and clinches that you wouldn't otherwise learn. Knowing how to do a takedown or a clinch well will help you defend against it. Also, like Judo, getting in the habit of standing up right away after a takedown will help.

Ideally, you'd want to train American Folkstyle wrestling, but outside of US high schools that usually isn't available. The reason American Folkstyle wrestling is the ideal style to train is the emphasis on standing back up - unlike Freestyle, Folkstyle scores escapes and standing back up. It also scores holding top position for a minute, so you not only train and learn how to stand up, you train to stand up against a guy who's trained to hold you down.

If there's a Freestyle or Greco-Roman club where you are, you could train in a Folkstyle manner by heavily emphasising sit outs and not waiting for the ref to stand you up. It's not always encouraged by coaches if they're too heavily focused on scoring and avoiding being scored on, but as far as a personal style goes, particularly if you get it to work, they won't complain.

Generally though, any indigenous wrestling style (and I'm pretty sure every country has one, so you should be able to find something where you live) will help. If the training focuses on taking the opponent down and maintaining top position, it'll give you the skills you need to be able to fight off a grappler.

Also, lift weights. Strength is always beneficial, especially with something you're not skilled in. Of course a very skilled grappler can overcome a strength advantage (assuming he has a sufficient level of relative strength himself), but it's always harder and takes longer to make anything work against a strong opponent than a weak opponent, so it will give you more opportunity to stand up and get away.

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    I found eye jabs, throat strikes, and kicking to break a knee a good way as a striker to take the fight out of a grappler. Jul 18, 2012 at 17:18
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    Unless you actually break the knee, just kicking at it won't do anything, and even if you do, it's got to be broken badly. I've finished a fight with a subluxed knee cap, using grappling, and it didn't impede my progress in the least. I've also taken eye gouges and throat strikes, and neither did anything. If you're too crappy at striking that you can't land a knockout, you're screwed, and if you're good enough, you're better just trying to go for the elusive one hit KO.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 19:22
  • You don't need to knockout, stunning or severe pain can work too. If I stun someone for a second that sets up another chance for strikes, them getting stuck in an OODA loop, etc. In your case when you had your sublexed knee, was this a fight for your life or one with rules? Context does make a difference. Jul 18, 2012 at 19:37
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    You do need a knockout, and pain only works on wimps. I've been hit hard enough that I had fish legs, and I dropped to the ground. I still got the takedown and mount. Context makes a difference, sure, but not to the extent you believe. In general, training and fighting MMA with skilled opponents is far more challenging than fighting on the street. I work as a bouncer, no rules in the bar or on the sidewalk. It doesn't change, I always get the clinch, and it's always way easier.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 19:43
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    I've also stopped fights with words. Anything is within the realm of possibility, but a persistent grappler won't be stopped without grappling, or a rare knocked out cold strike before a clinch can be established. I prefer not to rely on any assumed rules while I'm working, and my caution, awareness and control at various pre-fight and post-fight stages have served me well.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 20:04

Train in grappling.

Sorry, but a grappler will almost always win out against a non-grappler. Just ask just about any TKD student who's sparred a BJJ student. Or, for that matter, the evolution of MMA and the UFC when Gracie and other grapplers won time and time again for several years, until people started adding it into their styles.

The thing about grappling is that even untrained fighters will instinctively try some amount of grappling by going for things like headlocks or tackles. You can try to avoid that, but more often than not, the fight will end up on the ground. Try to avoid doing so, and use the skills you have to keep them from taking you down, but if you don't train in grappling, once they take you down, you have no tools to change things.

If you can't train specifically in a grappling art, then at least learn about mounts and guards, and how to escape them. Even if you just learn that much and how to get back to your feet, you'll be a lot better off than someone who's only trained to avoid getting taken down in the first place.

As for how to avoid the takedown, learn to dodge. Unless you're a big guy, chances are, the person you're fighting will be your size or larger, meaning you will very likely not be able to straight defend against them if they connect with you, and you really won't be able defend yourself with sheer muscle if they're trained in any way, as once they get their hands on you, they'll have a dozen or so ways of taking your feet out from under you, most of which requiring very little effort (let's have fun with science!). However, if they can't touch you, they can't take you down.

(A side note, in light of the comments my answer has spawned - I'm of the opinion that the more rounded your training is, the better off you'll be in a real-world situation. Both striking and grappling have their strengths and weaknesses, and not all situations will have the exact same circumstances, but most will have some of both. However, if you're only trained in one area, your odds of success in a fight once the other is employed decrease dramatically. Just like you'd be screwed as a striker if you get taken down, you'll also be screwed as a grappler if you don't know how to anticipate and handle strikes.

As for my UFC reference, which seems to have ruffled some feathers - I don't believe that tournaments are a great indication of "real world fighting." I do, however, feel UFC and other MMA-style fights (and the Gracie-era fights, specifically) beautifully expose the shortcomings of striking-only fighting when a grappler enters the scene. Bearing in mind that MMA and the UFC are about as close to a real fight (in terms of what's allowed and what isn't) as tournament fighting can get, it provides a pretty good analytical environment for such questions as this. Consider this - if the reigning UFC champions, who have trained for years and tested their skill (and beat) everyone, or nearly everyone, they've faced, can get repeatedly dethroned by up and coming fighters, solely because the champions have no grappling training, how can a striking-only student, even at Shodan level, expect to fare any better? In a real fight, you don't have the luxury of knowing whether your opponent is trained, so you might get lucky and have someone that's not trained at all, which you can easily dodge and avoid until you knock him out, or you could get unlucky and get taken down before you know what hit you, and be done because you have no way to get back up.

The key takeaway from my answer is that in order to defend against grappling, you have to know how to grapple yourself. Even if you favor striking and live by the "don't take the fight to the ground in the first place", you don't always have that option, and if you have no grappling training, once you're down, you're done. If you have at least enough training to get out of a grappling position, then you have a way of controlling the fight and bringing it back to your favor.)

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    I disagree with a grappler will almost always win against a striker. Depends on how several factors as to who will win. For example a well placed knee does wonders to prevent someone shooting in for a take down. Jul 17, 2012 at 20:30
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    Wow. Did no one here watch the first five UFCs? This is a great answer. "Almost always" is pretty accurate. The enormous wealth of boxing/kickboxing/TKD/kyokushin challenge matches against BJJ have solved that one pretty thoroughly. Jul 17, 2012 at 21:04
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    If you think that "boxing/kickboxing/TKD/kyokushin challenge matches" are representative of "combat" or "fighting" then there's already a problem. Jul 17, 2012 at 21:14
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    @DavidH.Clements They're as close to evidence as we get in most training, and despite their shortcomings as evidence, I think it silly to try to deny the problem that they expose in a striking-only training program. Jul 17, 2012 at 21:26
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    @bcmoney When asked about a hypothetical fight against Royce, Mike Tyson replied, "It doesn’t matter. If I hit him with a good punch, OK, but if he gets hold of me and in a position I’m not familiar with, I’m not going to win the fight. I would have to be equipped with grappling skills as well. Gracie changed the whole game around. To be involved in this kind of fight, you have to know that style right off the bat." Jan 15, 2014 at 12:36

From my experience, the most important part is to retract your strikes fast and not leave any limbs where your opponent can grab them. This is especially true for kicks, since you will probably have faster reactions if someone tries grabbing an arm than a leg. Even when ground fighting, one of the biggest mistakes to make is leaving an arm extended where your opponent can get a handle on it.

You can also practice keeping your kicks low - a high kick is more likely to be grabbed and used against you.

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    That isn't going to help, they're not going to try to grab your arms or legs, they're going to grab your body, and you can't keep your hips or shoulders retracted.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 17, 2012 at 22:48
  • That said, it is still good advice, just not for the stated purpose. Retracting your punches quickly is good for avoiding striking counter attacks.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 4:37
  • Robin, that's very true, but they have to move in to grab your body, which means more opportunities for defense or counters, which are much easier to pull off if your limbs are retracted too. Jul 18, 2012 at 18:58

Poke eyes, squeeze balls, stab with knife etc.

Are you sparring? Then sure, if you want to be able to grapple back you need to learn how to.

But if this is real life then there are no rules - only openings and defence. Wrestling would be a horrible way to take on someone with a knife. Punching and kicking would be a horrible way to take on grappling. Arm yourself with the superior ability and the superior tool (weapon+techniques).

If someone wants to grapple with you, you might get at most one attack (or several while being grappled). If that isn't sufficient to win, you are using inferior tools, and if you win it is only luck.


I've found Tony Blauer and his SPEAR system (disclosure: I am a PDR coach in with Blauer Tactical Systems) to be great at helping a striker deal with a grappler. You need to intercept the attack and have the tools to help keep the fight standing and remember that if you do go to the ground not to be a shitty grappler, which many strikers become. You still have your striking skills so learn how to use them from the ground.

I agree with learning some basics ground fighting, especially on how to disrupt the other person's balance to gain an edge. You could also check out Tony's DVD that deals with this very topic.


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    I'm always skeptical of claims like this, although thank you for your disclaimer. Have you tested it against an actual grappler, rather than someone trained in Blauer's system who happens to attempt to grapple?
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 18, 2012 at 4:35
  • I've used it to gain space where I can make a counter move, even from the ground. Main issue I find in training when not using protective gear is that strikers like myself are usually not allowed to hit full force, training partners tend to not like that. Best way I found at looking at this tactic is how Tony himself describes it. It is a tool to allow me to get to the other tools in my toolbox Jul 18, 2012 at 17:13

There's this funny modern thing - the division between grappling or not grappling. For combative situations, you hit, you grab, you twist, you throw - you do anything that works. Historically, fighting arts had both (and weapons).

So, ok, here you are, you've gotten mostly training in striking. You want to learn some grappling. You don't need to do a lot of grappling, but you need to have some basics. Basics can at least let you get someone off of you, or enough space to get some knees, elbows, etc. in.

Important things for striking focused arts:

  1. Practice close range strikes. Practice them on your back. Practice them when one of your arms or legs is grappled and you're off balance. Practice them when you're in a headlock. etc.

  2. Practice enough grappling to deal with clinches, shoots for your body/legs, headlocks and chokes.

  3. Practice using strikes WITH grappling. It's a lot easier to hit someone and get force in when you can control how they can or can't move around.

  4. Practice going from striking to grappling - entries, defenses, etc.


I would recommend training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it's as simple as that. By training in BJJ up to blue belt level you will know how to keep safe and survive in locks and submissions, keep the fight off the ground and learn how to get off the ground if you are taken down or thrown. Although most people haven't trained in grappling they still know how to perform a head lock or strangle etc. By training BJJ you will know how to defend these types of attacks along with many more.


Biting. If it's a real-world situation, anything goes. Bite his finger off. poke him in the eye. Scramble the eggs. Fish-hook his mouth. Choke him. punch him on the nose. Headbutt him. Twist his nipple. Make it really unpleasant to be close to you.

The chances of facing a highly-trained opponent on the street (or at a bar) is very slim, so you'll probably gain the upper hand simply by damaging an eye or a nose.

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    A stupid comment by someone who has most likely never done grappling. This comment is stupid considering the words "twist his nipple" are included.
    – Funky
    Jan 9, 2014 at 14:24
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    And yet what I suggested is very effective. The mind boggles. Jan 9, 2014 at 14:42
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    Ok, think about this....what if the guy who has grappling skills decides to use eye gauging too? It's going to be a pretty bad day if someone has mount on you and is gauging your eyes out. But then again....as you said....you could "twist the nipple". I'll have to try that in the next competition I'm in.
    – Funky
    Jan 9, 2014 at 14:50
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    @JuannStrauss If you have no experience in the situation, you might consider deferring to those who do. (You say what you suggest is very effective--how do you know that?) Eye gouging someone who is on top of you is a pretty bad idea if they have even the first clue about how to wrestle. Jan 9, 2014 at 15:16
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    Maybe you should look into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and see what the mount position is and educate yourself.
    – Funky
    Jan 9, 2014 at 15:16

Oh, MMA... grappling is the last place you want to be. Grappling is commitment to a singular engagement. In other words, grappling is a commitment to a singular opponent, when in real life, there will likely, or at least possibly, be multiple opponents. 'Mobility is effective','Commitment is failure'. Cadence is the method that will stop a grappler. They 'shoot' and you step back. In the end, everything comes down to distance. If you deny your opponent the ability of closing the 'gap', you control the engagement.

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    Even the best non-grappling fighters tend to get screwed up by grappling. And it's because they simply don't recognize the situation and therefore don't have any understanding of what to do in it. It's all how you train, not the style. If you want to prevent someone from grappling you, taking you to the ground, etc., then you have to be comfortable with that situation. You get comfortable with it by specifically training in it. Simply saying "step back and control the distance" isn't enough. Reality doesn't often work out nicely like you want it to. You will get caught. Then what? Sep 16, 2014 at 3:59
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    If grappling is so bad, why wouldn't you train it so you're not completely helpless when your "just step back" approach fails, as any technique inevitably does? Sep 16, 2014 at 13:40

I don't know any human that gets a mighty chop to the side of the throat and doesn't come crashing down. Or a smashing elbow to the chest, lights out, good night grappling. This is real life street fighting style.

Grappling is a very nice art but for street fighting i dont think so its only made for the ring and for the soft mats because it has rules the street doesnt period ........

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