I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.
I remember it was the mid-1990s, I had been practicing Kenpo Karate consistently for about a year, off and on for about nine years. A new phenomenon had swept the US at that time, and that phenomenon was called The Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was new to America. It was a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle full-contact fighting tournament with no weight divisions and included all systems of martial arts, from the mainstream to the obscure. It showcased, however, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, also commonly known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It was a form of Jiu-Jitsu developed by the world-famous Gracie family in Brazil. Their proven method of self-defense was battle-tested in bare-knuckle challenges in which the Gracie family was known to defeat opponents of different styles primarily with the use of grappling arts. However, it should be noted that many Gracie family members are also talented strikers who win fights with the use of both grappling and striking.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship, in its early days, spotlighted the talents of the young Royce Gracie. He dispatched one opponent after another with the signature method of latching onto an opponent, taking them down to the ground, and maneuvering the opponent into a choke or arm-bar. He won bout after bout with this method, taking down larger opponents and finishing them off with a submission, and many of Royce's adversaries were well-trained and even famous martial artists.
Well, it was a shock to the martial arts world. Grappling arts had been previously ignored by strikers. It was generally believed by strikers that an opponent could be finished off totally with strikes and kicks.
The Gracies often repeated the assertion that most fights end up on the ground. This assertion is disputed to this day. What is not disputed is that the Gracie family has some of the best fighters in the world and that their method is effective. It is a systematic method of understanding position and procedure. And, as stated, it is based on actual fighting.
What Did the Strikers Do?
Well, after brushing ourselves off, we adopted much of the Gracie's methods. There was protest, but everyone I knew adopted some of the Gracie's methods. And, back then, in the '90s, I was heavily involved in martial arts, so I know what martial artists were up to.
I will state that, in Kenpo, there was already a heavy grappling influence. Though, it should be stated that grappling was not the emphasis in Kenpo. But Ed Parker, founder of the method of Kenpo I practiced, was originally a Judo man, and when he first presented Kenpo to the public he was calling it Kenpo Jiu-Jitsu; it had a direct influence from Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-Jitsu, the method of Jiu-Jitsu practiced in Hawaii where Ed Parker was from. To this day, you can find many practitioners of Kenpo who are also experts in Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-Jitsu. There are locks and throws, taken directly from Jiu-Jitsu, in Kenpo. But Kenpo has always been eclectic. It makes use of whatever is available and effective and is informed of the value of strikes but is also informed of the need to understand grappling arts.
Even before the Ultimate Fighting Championship, at my Kenpo school, we were taught grappling arts, and also sparring sessions would often involve spontaneous grappling activity. In addition, our school had a good relationship with the local Dan Zan Ryu Jiu-Jitsu school, and students and instructors from the two schools often trained together and exchanged knowledge. This is in the spirit of the two schools, to be open to all forms of knowledge and to learn from each other.
It wasn't just our school adopting much of Gracie's methods. Slowly but surely, you could find more and more schools featuring Jiu-Jitsu techniques or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instruction.
The MMA Explosion
Soon the Ultimate Fighting Championship began to have competition and copy-cats. There were different venues, all featuring the same format; no-holds-barred combination striking and grappling bouts. However, as time went by, they all began to institute time limits on bouts, weight divisions, gloves, and certain rules about ground-fighting.
Also, as time went by, fighters began to specialize in Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA. This type of martial art is a combination of Jiu-Jitsu locks, throws, and chokes and kickboxing or Muay Thai kicking, striking, and punching.
It's not fringe entertainment anymore and has gone mainstream. The sport is very popular, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become a favorite martial art of martial arts enthusiasts. One thing is certain: The Gracie family brought Jiu-Jitsu to mainstream America and made it famous and popular worldwide.
The Advantages of Grappling
One of the obvious advantages of grappling is that you can maintain control of the opponent. Any realistic martial art teaches control of the opponent; it prevents him from attacking and gives you the advantage. A grappler gets a hold of the opponent and hangs on; he throws him, chokes him, locks him up. These techniques can cause great damage, dislocation, breaks, even knock-outs (if the opponent is thrown the right way). Definitely not an art to be under-estimated.
This control gives you time. And it gives you contact. You can feel what your opponent is doing. You need both time and sensitivity to be successful in a fight. Without time, you are getting hit, tackled, submitted. Without sensitivity, it's just a guessing game, and you can easily lose a guessing game.
There is also the possibility of ending a fight without too much damage to either fighter. To end a fight with a submission means you've ended it before someone gets hurt. They tap out before the joint is dislocated before the choke incapacitates them. With striking arts, by definition, the victory goes to the one who does the most damage, the one who incapacitates the opponent.
The Advantages of Striking
Striking is quick. It also takes less energy than grappling with someone. A kick, well-placed, could completely incapacitate an aggressor; a round-house kick to the nerve in the thigh could make that leg collapse and go numb. A well-placed kick to the head is a knockout. Many of you have seen Mike Tyson hit someone with a brutal hook punch to the face. Those punches put people out instantly. Energy is conserved, and the fight is over quickly. You don't want to waste time and energy in a real fight. The more time it takes to finish the fight, the more chance there is for you to get hurt. The more energy expended, the greater the chances you will be exhausted and unable to fight.
The other rather obvious difference between striking arts and grappling arts is the ability to deal with multiple opponents. Simply put, you do not want to be tied up with one person too long if you are dealing with more than one person. While you are tied up with one, his friend is punching you or worse.
It is prudent to dispatch or escape from multiple opponents as quickly as possible.
There are different ways to deal with multiple opponents, but getting tied up with just one of them for an extended period of time is not one of them.
Why You Need Both
The fight definitely could end up on the ground. Then what do you do? Someone definitely could end up grabbing you, in which case you will definitely want to have grappling knowledge, and you will want to have practiced grappling techniques.
You never know when you might need to finish the fight quickly with no time to waste. A fast and hard strike, punch or kick can get the job done quickly, and it's very necessary if you are dealing with multiple attackers who you need to deal with quickly and consecutively and simultaneously.
Well, we all should have known it a long time ago. For self-defense purposes, we need to know how to grapple and strike.
Jason on November 07, 2019:
Tired of people saying jujitsu is great on the street, hope your opponent doesn't have friends!!
Ben Simmons on June 20, 2019:
Very well written, informative and useful article!
I have only studied or practiced martial arts for a total of 7 months. I sincerely regret not staying the course, as I benefited greatly from the Shorin ryu, Shaolin wu shu gung fu, & Wing chun that I briefly studied.
Ken Curtis on June 11, 2019:
There isn't a martial that is effective against multiple attackers. You and others continually promote this fallacy that somehow, striking arts will save your ass against more than one oppenent.
The only thing that will...maybe...is if you have some sort of firearm.
Bill on May 28, 2019:
Pessure testing and hard physical training makes a big difference. I trained many years in M.A. including kenpo. We were fanatical not the typical 2 to 3 times a week practitioner. People have jobs, families an other obligations. Studios were mostly set up for this grouo. Rent, insurance, utilities all cost money. Even BJJ schools now fill that pinch. Students at the first Gracie schools work their butts off and training was very physical. The weak quit or found something easier. Kenpo schools had many belts so you walways felt you were advancing. Good marketing. Gracie Schools it was common to be a white belt for a year. Hence we have blue belts beating black belts of other styles. Boxing is another example of turn over because people just dont like getting punched in the face. I know a prominate Kenpo Blackbelt that always said Kenpo already has it all. He was an exseption to the rule as he was an effective fighter but still got busted up by a low level BJJ opponet at a friendly throwdown. Changed his attitude which is a credit to him. Ive heard people who, in my opinion would have a tuff time in a fight with a moderatly savvy fighter say i wont go to the ground jusr incase i have to fight multiple opponents. Dont get me wrong, i love tradtioal arts an trained right they can be very effective and there is a place for the hobbiest who trains in the hope this stuff will work. Something is better than nothing.