A lot of non-sport-related martial arts, in my experience, seem to limit ground technique to getting back to the feet in an effective and quick manner. While I don't disagree that being on your feet is preferable to being on the ground, it seems that you may still need some means of disengaging from your opponent when you're on the ground before you can stand.

As such, can the standing techniques and forms being taught regularly in the class be applied when you're on your back on the ground?

  • Not a direct answer to the question, but it's worth noting that some forms (e.g., in iaido) start from the ground. Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 22:12
  • Suwari waza, correct? I'm not aware of any from on one's back...
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 22:18
  • Yep, I don't know of any forms that start or even spend prolonged time on one's back, though I suppose one could create some (particularly two person forms). Though I generally think of "ground fighting" fairly expansively to include anything you do from the ground. Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 22:25
  • Ne waza is Judo's ground curriculum, which was adapted into and became Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu. Just for clarification. :) Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 3:29
  • @sidran32 True. I personally have no experience with the art from which ne waza was derived, if any...
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 15:40

6 Answers 6


Yes and no. The techniques you use while standing have to be modified to work from the ground. If the art you are studying does not have a ground combat set of techniques, you need to get back to a stance where your art works. You have a different set of vulnerabilities and tactical advantages than you may be used to.

Some things don't change:

  • Power comes from the hips
  • Block and counter is still important
  • The attacker may have a friend ready to pounce on you

Some things do change:

  • Center of gravity
  • Available techniques
  • Available targets

The remainder of this is written with the perspective that you don't want to remain on the ground. I realize that one of the key aspects of BJJ is the ability to fight from the ground, in practice it's really only safe when you are in a ring and there's no other opponent to worry about.

Attacker standing

You have four weapons available to you because you are on your back. However, your best bet is to keep your legs between your body and the attacker. The legs can be used to block strikes, as the attacker has to either kick or lean over to make contact. You can also use the legs to perform a modified sweep: one foot striking the knee, and the other sweeping the foot. That will allow you to get back up, or pounce on the downed attacker. NOTE: get back to a position you are used to fighting from.

  • Available targets: knee, groin, ankle
  • Available attacks: kicks, blocks, sweeps

Attacker mounting you

This is where it pays to learn a bit of Jujitsu. You have to be prepared for the hand strikes to the face, and your forearm blocks will be effective for that. However, from this point, you will likely have to use a throw taking advantage of your lower center of gravity to get the attacker off of you. It's outside the scope of what I can write here, and you will have to work with your sensei to come up the proper counters. Knee strikes are still useful in this situation.

  • Available targets: anything upper body (groin is usually too well protected in this position)
  • Available techniques: blocks, grappling, finger strikes to eyes and throat, punches

Bottom line:

You may not be able to get up until you've knocked your opponent down. I've always been taught to be aware of the guy you don't see. If you can knock the opponent down as soon as possible, and get back on your feet.

  • 2
    I would note that while you may be able to pull off striking attacks against an opponent in BJJ, this is the point of pulling guard and the clinch. It reduces the space between you and your opponent, and they limit your ability to draw power by trapping your hips and shoulders. If you trained for short power, you may be able to get some effective strikes in, but basically extending your arms or legs out towards them is essentially asking them to take your limb and break something. Be very wary. Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 3:28
  • As I mentioned, that is a situation where it pays to learn a bit of jujitsu. Unfortunately, with the limited space on stack exchange sites, I can't go into much detail with that. Long story short: don't strike unless you've disabled your opponent's ability to do so in return. Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 12:00

Kata on the Ground

When I taught karate, I used to do my various Isshinryu forms and try to find applications on the ground. I looked for sweeps in Chinto, arm-drags in Seisan, ground-and-pound in Seiunchin.

This takes a lot of time: you need to train variations of the kata on your back, on top of the opponent, sitting, and so on. There's a lot of mental play involved with dreaming up scenarios in which a particular move has a parallel on the ground.

I found this unproductive. After several years, I noticed that pointing out places where Sanchin applied to the mount didn't make my mount better.

Stop trying to jury-rig Chinese or Okinawan dances and train grappling

What did help my mount was training judo twice a week or more. What made my groundfighting better was to learn Brazilian jiu-jitsu from a Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor without regard for forms. Training even a couple months of MMA, BJJ, and judo made me dramatically better at getting to my feet from a ground-grappling situation than a year spent doing kata off my back. It turns out that all that time working my kata into groundfighting was time taken away from just improving my groundfighting.

And that's the goal, right? To improve ourselves? To me, the point of training is to improve martial skills, not to discover more places to "plug in" a move from some two-hundred-year-old Okinawan dance. Getting better at grappling is training, it's hard work, it's sparring and technique and drilling. Doing kata on your back, looking for connections and making moves up because they sound like a good idea in your head, is make-believe. It's a dry gi at the end of practice.

Get a judo nidan or BJJ purple belt before working kata off your back

Most judoka, in the absence of an injury that forces them to focus on kata prematurely, start working on katame no kata (the Form of Holding, judo's two-man groundfighting kata) around shodan or nidan. That seems like an appropriate prerequisite to achieve before worrying about whether your Shotokan kata or Tai Chi form or whatever has any relevance to the guard or side control. If you're doing BJJ instead, wait until purple belt or so. Until then it's without a doubt a worse use of your time than just learning how to grapple without spazzing out. Once you're legitimately skilled at groundfighting on its own, you'll naturally start to see parallels to your stand-up. (And you won't make naive false parallels.)

I'd go further and assert that the entire project of playing "what scenario does this move from kata work for" is a fool's errand. Forms are meant to have straightforward applications that your teacher shows you and you drill until they are useful. Doing kata as a fantasy endeavor does not make one a better fighter. Stop doing kata on your back and join a judo, SAMBO, or BJJ school.

  • It was studying САМБО in the first place that made me consider it. I think improving martial skills is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. I'm all for the "quick" approach of filling your training gaps with specialized training, but going back and understanding how you're really not doing anything different is good too.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 21:52
  • 1
    @stslavik About "going back"--that's why I recommended getting substantial experience before playing with kata-on-the-back. In my experience most people advocating "do kata from your back" can't grapple and are looking for ways to avoid the hard work of learning to grapple, or feigning expertise in an art they're unfamiliar with by drawing weak parallels. I'm not saying that's the case with you, but I think it's important to keep in mind when giving advice. Commented May 14, 2013 at 23:12
  • Only the last paragraph is meaningful. The rest is opinionated ranting.
    – Anon
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 23:23
  • @DaveLiepmann May I recommend using headers that reflect this better? I was led astray.
    – Anon
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 23:30
  • chuckle I meant make it more obvious that you are talking about your path, instead of making it more obvious which part of your opinions we should focus on.
    – Anon
    Commented May 15, 2013 at 2:35

Berin Loritsch has a good answer, but I wanted to add something here as well, as one who primarily has trained in standup martial arts, but also had spent some time training Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu in an MMA gym as well.

If you are on the ground and primarily train an art that emphasizes standing techniques, and are engaged against someone whose art has them primarily train while fighting on the ground, they will by default have an advantage due to their specialty. While you can, and it should encouraged, to train your techniques so that you may use them in as many situations as possible, which may include on your back on the ground, your element is fighting while standing. Try to keep the fight standing as much as possible. There, if your opponent is not as trained in standing fighting as you, you will have an advantage.

It also is good to mention that while an art may emphasize standing techniques, often they may incorporate or include some ground techniques as well. This may not be as common, depending on the origin of your art or its purpose (for instance, Judo has a very strong tradition of ground techniques, but Savate probably won't). If your style includes some ground techniques, you already have an baseline from where you may expand or experiment (of course, with a partner who knows what he's doing, and not in isolation). Cross-training in different styles also can be encouraged, if you are experienced enough.

From my experience, my kung fu training was primarily stand up. However, we had a few techniques that had us on the ground, as well as a "laying stance", in which we were on the ground on our back. The techniques that I was exposed to was limited, but there was a small variety. They mainly were concerned with being able to get back up quickly to fight. When I trained for several months in Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu, I found, to my delight, that the ground techniques I learned in kung fu translated very well to BJJ ground use. For example, the "laying stance" that I trained was very close, with some slight modification, to open guard. While my kung fu training only had limited help with situations focused on fighting on the ground, it allowed a very easy transition into the techniques that Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu trains you for ground fighting.

In the end, each style has its own emphasis and specialty. No one style is the end-all and be-all of all aspects of fighting. You can adapt some techniques for use on the ground, but ultimately, they are not always going to be sufficient when up against someone trained in ground fighting. Of course, if you want to try and train these techniques specifically against ground opponents, it is best to, at some point, train them in sparring against someone who is skilled in ground fighting.


They can. The fundamentals of any technique can be brought back to leverage.

Your balance point isn't a foot or two anymore, it's your back. And, more precisely, a small area of your back, depending on, for instance, where your shoulders and hips are. And you may even have a foot or two, or an elbow, in there as well. There's a lot of flux there, which makes much of the work fairly subtle.

Your points of leverage are, well, just like standing, usually bits of body around the joints.

The balance point(s) of your opponent will be, well, wherever his weight ends up. Hips/feet, hand..

So the question can become, how do you translate the mobility and balance points of standing/stepping techniques to the mobility and balance points of, for lack of a better word, wriggling techniques?

Thankfully, the hips can still be used fairly effectively, since the center of gravity and all movement should still be there.

This cuts off most techniques where you raise your hips off the ground - but this is rarely a good idea anyway.

With this basis, effective study can be made.


Applying standing techniques while your back is on the ground is not a good idea. For this answer, I will assume everyone is unarmed.

Do not fight from your back

You almost never want to fight from your back, even from a grappling perspective. Even fighting from a guard position is generally not from the back. You prefer a sitting position or transition through a position you are on your back to achieve a position where you are on top.

Hitting using your hands while lying on your back is not effective. Take, for example, the basic front punch. The front punch developed by kata generally depends upon stance and hip rotation for power. If you are on your back and your opponent has weight on you, the movement of your hips or shoulders is inhibited, and your power is not going to transfer effectively. Without this, you are hitting only with your arm, which is annoying but will not stop anyone close to your size.

Hitting vital points as a method of escape from your back is also a flawed strategy. The person on top can also hit vital points, and they are in a much better position to do so.

If you have space to effectively kick someone, then you also have space to get up.

If someone has mounted you, blocking punches to your face is another losing strategy. You may be able to block a few, but the opponent on top will wail on you faster than you can keep up.

So what should you do?

Get off your back. If someone is on top of you, the simplest technique for getting out is to hit them with your hips, which is called bridging or bucking. The bridge should create enough space for you to get off your back and improve your position to where something can be effective. The bridge is not a strike that will injure someone.

Note that bridging is not an effective standing technique; there is no reason while standing to try to arch yourself to hit your opponent with your hips because this will disrupt your balance, and you have many other weapons (punches, elbows, etc.) available to you. I do not see how you would arrive at this technique starting from an effective standing technique.


Short answer. Yes.

Longer answer. There are entire martial arts/combat sports which are designed for exactly this situation. By attempting to use standing techniques on the ground you are basically re-inventing the wheel from a position of inexperience, i.e. probably badly. As such, this answer agrees with @daveliepmann.

The drill sequences you find in kata can be taken directly from the kata and practised with an uke with little to no modification. However as with any drill, it's really not the point to simply use it exactly as is. Usually there are underlying principles which are being taught by executing the drill.

examples. get off line; get behind the opponent's attack. Immobilize him. Attack the limbs that he gives you. etc etc.

The principles can be applied in any environment, standing or on the ground. However because they are primarily standing techniques (almost all of the ones I've come across) there are additional constraints not there when standing and there are certainly additional principles which are inherent to fighting on the ground that the standing drills cannot teach.

So get some experience in ground fighting from other experienced ground fighters.

p.s. I don't believe the statistics given that 90% of fights end up on the ground. They were taken from police records where trained officers deliberately took (untrained) suspects down to restrain them.

Anecdotally (So take it for what it's worth. Getting hold of good numbers is almost impossible in this area. I would like to get hold of sources of good information) speaking to door staff and other security personnel who regularly deal with violence, the percentage of unarmed fights where one of the combatants ends up on the ground is high, but it's most commonly the less trained one. The percentage where both end up on the ground is much lower.

Where both combatants are trained, you are in the realm of duels. 1 vs 1 fighting, usually with rules. This is an entirely different environment from casual violence and ending up on the ground is extremely common.

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