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Self Defense Tip: Should You Go To The Ground In A Street Fight?

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Should you go to the ground in a street fight?

Warning graphic details here:

Recently a video was posted online of a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioner who got into a fight in the street and got stomped (for those who do not know, BJJ is a great ground fighting martial art that allows the practitioner to submit an opponent as opposed to fighting on their feet using punches and kicks). When the two guys clinched, the BJJ guy went down onto his back to attempt a submission (pulling guard is a common strategy used in competition). In a panic, the assailant started to smash the BJJ guys head into the pavement. True to his training, the BJJ guy held on and secured an armbar. The assailant started screaming, which caused onlookers to start stomping and kicking the BJJ guy until he was unconscious.

It was hard to watch that video, and I wish the BJJ guy a speedy recovery, but this is not the first video of grapplers, (BJJ/Judo/Wrestlers, etc.) getting smashed in a street fight.

This brings up a few valid questions:

  1. Is it safe to grapple in a street fight?

  2. Should you choose to go onto your back in a street fight?

  3. Why do people view ground fighting and submissions as more violent than a stand up fight?

Let's answer each one of these questions individually:

Number one: Is it safe to grapple in a street fight?

That all depends. Are you the bigger, stronger person in the fight? When I competed in no holds barred competitions (where there was no weight classes), I learned that being the smaller, lighter person put me at a disadvantage when it came to fighting on the ground. Imagine a short 135 lb. guy fighting a 265 lb. beast. That was me, and I got smashed. I couldn't take those big guys down, and when fights did go to the ground it was difficult for me to control or submit them.

Another problem. What if they have a weapon? Did you hear about the jiu-jitsu guy who got shot, or the wrestler who got stabbed, while they were grappling in a street fight? I have (I happen to personally know a couple of guys its happened to). When you are grappling it's harder to see if the guy pulls out a weapon, until its too late..

Number two: Should you choose to go onto your back in a street fight?

In a street fight, you put yourself at a disadvantage when you go to your back, because the person on top now has all the striking leverage, including: punching you, smashing you (into the ground, or nearby objects), biting you, eye gouging, etc.

Additionally, being on your back with someone on top of you, traps you there for anyone else to come over and attack you (like what happened to the BJJ guy I mentioned above).

Number three: Why do people view ground fighting and submissions as more
violent than a stand up fight?

One of the reasons BJJ is called a gentle art, is because you can end a fight without the usual bloodiness that occurs in stand up fighting (or ground and pound), and that is true. However, we as a society view "fighting" differently. Getting punched in the face is almost a right of passage with guys. Things like getting black eyes, busted noses, even getting knocked out (while dangerous), are considered normal things that happen in a fight.

On the other hand, BJJ submissions like choking someone into unconsciousness (or accidental death), breaking/dislocating someone's arm or ankle (maiming), is NOT considered gentle. As a matter of fact the courts may consider these techniques as excessive in a fight, and you may not be protected under your states self-defense laws.

So yeah, when a couple of guys outside the bar are fighting, and one of the guys starts to maim or suffocate the other guy, folks will come over and "help the victim" (hence them stomping on the BJJ guy).

So, should you go to the ground in a street fight?

Personally, I would not go to the ground in a street fight IF I can help it. And that's coming to you from a guy who's a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Self-Defense Instructor and USA Wrestling Coach with over 30 years grappling experience. There are just too many unexpected problems that can arise.

That being said, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Wrestling do have some great techniques to keep you on your feet, or to get you back up onto your feet, if you are in a street fight. But I suggest you leave the submissions on the mat.

If you're interested in learning more essential self-defense techniques and tactics, get my book, The Short Fight, on Amazon at

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Until next time, Stay Safe!

Lawrence Castanon,

Author, The Short Fight

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