Let's work with the following assumptions:

  1. I have good awareness of the area

  2. I have good mobility: the floor is not slippery, and my shoes work, and I have room to move

  3. I need to avoid grappling in this particular situation (let's say my life depends on it)

  4. I don't have any weapons that change my range (whether ranged weapons or long weapons like a staff)

  5. I don't need to win this, I need to get away

  6. It is currently impossible for me to run away right now - but I'll be able to if I can just fend off that one opponent

I'm in a situation where someone wants to grapple with me. They might be rushing head-first, or running at me, or simply trying to clinch -- in any case, their goal is to get a hold of me and not let go.

It is vital that this not happen. If it happens, I'm dead. Imagine the guy has two friends with knives.

What techniques can I use to slip his grasp? What can I do to move out of the way? What strikes may be effective (e.g. kicking at one of his knees to disrupt his equilibrium and momentum) in this situation?

  • 2
    Don't be there :) Seriously though this is why I got involved with Tony Blauer and his SPEAR system. We actually practice techniques where someone is coming in to grab/tackle you and make sure you gain control of the situation. Commented Jul 18, 2012 at 17:21
  • 2
    I think this is a good question in some ways, and @Trevoke has tried to limit the range of answers by providing some assumptions. A lot of people here are behaving as though the question is impossible to answer. It's not. The question is simply, "what can I do to avoid a grappling situation, especially a rear choke?" Seeing as this is something any grappler would be doing all the time in sparring, I don't see why it can't be relatively straightforwardly answered. Even if the best answer is "get them in a rear choke first."
    – jhsowter
    Commented Jul 20, 2012 at 2:19

10 Answers 10


Just a shortie (declaimer: I am not very much into martial arts, unfortunately).

Throw something at his face: knife, keys, wallet, jacket, stone. That is, I claim you always have some kind of weapon that changes your range.

If you remain there, what do you win? You spend time fighting, he spends time fighting, but his friends are free to surround you.

Again, these are thought experiments. No grip on reality whatsoever.


@WayneInML is right... This is the "40 ninja in trees armed with automatic weapons and a nuclear device" question – you can always provide enough circumstances to counter an argument.

The only sure-fire, 100% reliable way to survive is to not be there. Don't engage idiots, listen to that oh-so-obnoxious sub-conscious of yours that tells you walking down that dark alley is a bad idea, don't flash money in public, and when in doubt control your environment to discourage confrontation (entering a busy shop, for instance).

If you had "good awareness of the area", you wouldn't be in that position. You get into these positions by ignoring basic fear signals that your body sends out to keep you safe.

In any position, do what you've been trained to do and use your best judgment. If you need to do better, train against it. Anything else is supposition.

So you want to know what to do? Set up the scenario. Be critical in training so that you can be effective in real life. Tell yourself at what point the scenario becomes unlikely. Train with good partners who want you to help them as well. Look at the fight from each POV. Then improve.

Control your environment – Are you in a small alley? An office? A large parking lot? A refinery out of some Jason Statham movie? What's around you? How do walls present or absent change your tactics? What do different lengths of knives change? What happens if the attacker suddenly changes?

You're going to get hit, you're going to get hurt. Suffer and improve. Otherwise, you're just making worthless assumptions.


Good Luck

If your not-getting-stabbed plan relies on your not-engaging-in-any-form-of-clinch, then I'd hire a combat medic to follow you around, because chances are you're going to have some stab wounds.

  1. We don't always get to choose where the fight goes. Our sprawl might fail, we might get caught by surprise, our knee or punch or debilitating nerve strike might miss. (In fact, the evidence points to these methods failing more often than not.)
  2. The corollary to this is that often the best way to avoid being thrown, taken to the ground, or dominated in the clinch and beaten senseless is to train groundwork and the clinch extensively. The clinch happens. People fall to the ground. Wouldn't you rather be the guy who is very familiar with ground grappling, instead of the guy relying on it never happening?

Anti-Grappling is Just Grappling

As noted in my answer to the training-oriented version of this question, there are a couple points of folly in trying to arrange one's training around the sole goal of never hugging an opponent:

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 no good reason to take that chance.

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.

Ergo, the best option for avoiding the clinch, or fighting on the ground, is highly dependent on what methods your opponent uses (osotogari? fireman's carry? arm-drag?) and their tactics for entering the clinch (a shot from outside? punching and grabbing? crashing into a clinch?). Most likely, the defense to that will involve a heaping dose of grappling.

100% No-Clinch Guarantee

A small minority of takedown defense strategies do avoid the clinch entirely. They should not be relied on as a defense of last resort, since like all methods, there is a strong chance of failure.

If you're able to apply an Anderson Silva- or Jose Aldo-style approach of flawless pivoting footwork and counter knees, with a great deal of work devoted to freeing one's legs from half-materialized holds and the "fence"-style semi-sprawl, you have a chance of not getting stuck in the clinch. Even in that best-case-scenario, however, you're probably going to get stuck grappling for at least a moment.

Basing an entire training regimen around such an approach would be a bad idea, since even the best in the world at this method get stuck in a clinch or on the ground. People who succeed with this method are also excellent ground and clinch technicians.


@stslavik's answer hit it on the money, but I wanted to give my two cents, alongside his.

I know you didn't use these words, but basically, there's no real "anti-grappling" that isn't, truthfully, just grappling. I have a couple things that I'd like to recommend if you want to avoid being put in a grappling situation, though:

1) As @stslavik said, avoid getting in the confrontation in the first place. This is something we all should do, anyway. While we train how to fight, it doesn't give us a right to go out and pick them. On the contrary, we should be acting as peacekeepers. In the ring is another story, of course, though.

2) Assuming the fight is unavoidable, then make sure your trained technique is solid. Mistakes easily lead to off-balancing, which easily lead to being thrown/pushed over/tripped, and once you're on the ground, unless there's distance, you will likely be mounted and find yourself in a grappling situation. This should be something that, unless you're learning how to fight from the ground, all styles should teach. This doesn't mean "do this to counter a shoot", but how to stand, move, parry, and strike without providing an opening (or giving as small of one as possible) or losing your balance. It also means knowing how to control the distance with your opponent (especially emphasized in TKD, for instance).

This will probably be effective enough for most people. Unless you plan on fighting in the ring against people who you know will be very proficient and experienced in grappling their opponents, you will more than likely find yourself fighting more unskilled opponents. In these situations, it's most likely that lack of technique, not superior technique, will be the cause of a grappling situation. From what I can tell, an unskilled fighter will quickly default to sloppy wrestling and pushing when their strikes become ineffective (which is also likely). Even among seasoned fighters, if they are primarily strikers, they will still start to do basic grappling as they get tired or if their technique is otherwise sloppy (see the clinch, often featured in professional Boxing matches).

3) If you feel that your current training isn't adequate for controlling the distance, or you believe that it may be inevitable that you will end up on the ground (maybe you're worried about facing against a Judo or BJJ practitioner), you will have to learn how to grapple. This means finding a wrestling, judo, jujutsu, or some other school that has a grappling curriculum and training in it. This, however, is something that I would only recommend for those who are comfortable with their current style and have enough experience in it that the new training wouldn't confuse them.

Basically, there's no real sure-fire way to avoid a grappling situation without actually grappling. Outside of close range, whether someone is closing towards you with intent to grapple or strike doesn't create a lot of difference in how they come at you. Their limbs must still enter your space, which means you can still control distance or parry their incoming attacks as you would a striker. This is why I say to make sure your current training is solid. If a grappler can get inside and take you down, you probably would have also gotten hit by a striker in a similar situation. But once they actually start grappling you, you will not be able to counter without some knowledge and training in grappling techniques, yourself.

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    +1, but I feel we underestimate the possibility of encountering someone with a season or two of casual HS wrestling back when they were younger. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 21:56
  • @DaveLiepmann I never met someone with such experience (my highschool didn't even have a wrestling team). So you may have a point. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 22:13

Kick him in the groin or knock him out! Or you could side-step and attack at the same time.

But realistically you have to be fairly lucky to stop someone from closing in on you if they want to grapple with you. If you are lucky you'll get one or two shots in as he jumps you, if that doesn't take him out you'll have to start grappling to stop him from taking you down.


Obviously the best answer is to not get into such a position. But, if you do, you've got a few options, depending how the attacker is trying to "grapple" with you, are they going for a thai style clinch? an wrestling over/under clinch? straight for a double leg?

A couple options:

  1. If they are charging at you with some good momentum, you can use a judo through like sasae tsuri komi ashi. This throw uses their momentum, and redirection, along with a foot sweep/block to take them down. I'm sure there are plenty of aikido techniques to use in this situation as well.

  2. If you have absolutely no throwing experience, option one is going to be tricky, so you'll be better of striking. In the long range, a stick Jab/cross punch right to the nose is a wonderful deterrent. It'll slow down their momentum, maybe break their nose, and likely make their eyes water, which is a distraction, and may cause their sight to be blurred a bit. a teep, or push kick, or front kick, depending on which art your taking it from, to various targets is also a decent deterrent. Some good targets are: face (if your flexible), sternum, solar plexus, groin.

  3. If they are to close already for the throws or longer range striking you've got to use your close range attacks. Knees are amazing for stopping someone shooting in for a double. also elbows. For the knees, aim for the solar plexus. For the elbows, right where the jaw and ear meet, or temples are nice targets.

  4. If they already have a hold of you, there are a bunch of japanese jiu jitsu techniques you could use, depending on how they have you. this video covers one options: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35bTxFZo0YM not one i've learned personally, but it seems reasonably sound. Since this isn't a jiu jitsu lesson forum, I won't fill this will a wall of text describing a single technique.

  • 1 I like, 2 is better than doing nothing, but not something I'd want to rely on, 3 knees are highly overrated for stopping a takedown unless you already have a solid Thai Clinch (which counts as passivity in wrestling, and isn't half bad for delaying a takedown itself), 4 I'd be wary of trying without testing on someone with thick forearms and great grip strength who will not let go unless they have no choice.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 18:00
  • a well placed knee to the head is a deadly weapon, ask aoiki: youtube.com/watch?v=lDYCLThJebw I agree #4, with that specific technique isn't great, but there are some good options to escaping collar grips and chokes from the front.
    – Patricia
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 18:54
  • 1
    a well placed knee to the head can in some instances KO someone attempting a takedown, but far more often than not, the takedown is completed. just ask eddie alvarez (vs Chandler and Aoki 1) or Joachim Hansen (koed Imanari with a knee but got subbed by Aoki twice, Kawajiri once, decisioned by Bibiano, and clearly couldn't finish Ishida either)
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 19:34
  • 1
    it's true. nothing works 100% of the time.
    – Patricia
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 19:55

As a boxer who went into mixed martial arts, I would say your best option once conflict is unavoidable is a simple stiff but uncommitted jab, and of course counter-take-down techniques such as a stiff arm or sprawl.

In the end you will either be able to run after a jab and a shove, or in your scenario, you're dead.

  • 1
    If you don't wrestle, your sprawl won't be good enough. I also don't see how an uncommitted jab would deter anyone from clinching given that hard punches encourage boxers to clinch.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 7:04
  • 1
    Jabs keep you in your guard keep you protected and if you don't fully commit your wait able to move backwards and to the side of an oncoming opponent. The only option as the attacker is to slip, take, attempt some type of arm control or shoot. If you connect you remain able to step up move to the side and flee.
    – rerun
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 12:45
  • 1
    @RobinAshe Re: sprawl won't be good enough – What is "good enough"? If I've trained in wrestling since high school, will my sprawl be "good enough" against an olympic competitor? Any level of capability is subjective.
    – stslavik
    Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 15:36
  • 3
    @stslavik There's a significant difference between a sprawl attempted by someone who has never trained wrestling or wrestled, and a technically correct sprawl (executed by someone who has trained wrestling and has wrestled) which is simply countered or overpowered by higher-level wrestling. Even if you reject the qualitative difference, there's a straightforward quantitative one: there's an enormous gulf between untrained and some training, and another between trained and successful in competition, and another between successful in competition and successful in elite competition. Commented Jul 19, 2012 at 17:38

Your framing is a little off. It's not "How can I avoid a grappling situation?" as much as "How do I control when and where I'm in the grappling situation?"

To be a bit more clear - if the person rushes you and you grab their arm, hook outside and spin them a bit at the shoulder to where you're almost at their back - you're grappling. But you're in control, and could push them off, drag them down, or a number of other options. (If, as in your example, two other guys are coming with weapons, you can use this guy as a shield for a moment to assess your options, or push him into one or both of his friends.)

In other words, you've used a bit of grappling but you're not at a disadvantage and you can control when you get OUT of the grappling situation. The point is, that you want to avoid getting controlled and/or losing your mobility.

The path to being able to do this is to train some grappling. There's many techniques which are about either slipping a grab or getting the control so that you can exit at will or push/drag the opponent leaving them knocked down or at a disadvantage. If you're training a non-sport method, this should include strikes and quick twists/breaks to create injuries on your opponent as well.


KISS, Keep it simple stupid... Your question is in regards to range, specifically avoiding the trapping and grappling range, which leaves kicks and strikes. The best strikes to develop muscle memory, and accuracy, on are eye strikes and ear claps. These take everybody out regardless of size! That's why they're not allowed in MMA sports. You want to blind them and make them lose balance and coordination.
For an ear slap, you want to "cup" your hand, like a relaxed spear hand. Your trying to pop the enemies ear drum, and disable their balance. Use a two hand clap, if you have no hesitation on killing the enemy, it's your call and consequences. For an eye strike, you'll want to train for speed, and accuracy. That means, pushups on your finger tips, hanging a small paper target from the ceiling, the height of your enemy, and practice making a pop sound white striking the paper with an eye strike, which is a "V" with your index and middle fingers. Make the paper target smaller and smaller as you get better. You'll have to train with the mind set of life or death, put the situation in your head, and see your enemy in your mind eye. Then practice on that hanging piece of paper, at different angles, and at different levels of muscle fatigue, for accuracy!


One of the very nice things about people who want to take you down is that they're usually very frank and honest about it. There's very little dilly-dallying going on.

This means the energy coming in your direction is very clear, and all of its variations are, well, just variations on the same theme. Whether the opponent is just running into you or applying a slightly more complex method involving splitting your limbs, there's very little trickery going on. The trickery happens when they have succeeded to make contact and the prey tries to resist - that's where their game begins.

In addition, it also means the rhythm is usually fairly obvious (it could be the rhythm of the steps they're taking towards you, or a much quicker rhythm if they are highly skilled, but again, it's not hidden).

So you know where they are, where they're going, how fast they're going and, with reasonable accuracy, how quickly they'll be able to readjust and recalibrate when you make changes.

That is an awful lot of information just handed to you on a platter. The next thing to do is to give them what they think they want. Make light contact with their arms so they can zero in on the feeling of the contact. The effect you're looking for is just enough contact/push that they feel resistance, but not enough that you're pushing back. You don't want to commit your center to this move - just trick them into thinking they have access to your center.

Once they have this, you can essentially direct them where to go while stepping off where YOU want to be. Once they're past the critical point, just give them a shove and run the hell away.

Is this answer simplistic? Maybe a little bit. Still, all variations will basically come from that, whether you need to go down, up, left, right, circle around the arms or do other things to stay away from the grappling range. Variations will depend on the skill of the person trying to grab you. And, of course, the question is somewhat simplistic, too.


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