Five Letters Re: The Survivalist’s Guide to Martial Arts

I agree with your writer that Muay Thai and Grappling (wrestling, BJJ, etc.) are essential fighting skills. I even admit that my two black belts in traditional arts were not worth much compared to a good grappler or kick boxer.

However the idea that avoiding the ground is rule #1 is not necessarily true. A grappler can control a situation very effectively on the ground and it is often then case that you can’t avoid going to the ground in a fight. Further, people of smaller stature (women especially) who cannot run from an encounter have an advantage on the ground vs. trying to duke it out with a much stronger opponent. By getting close to your adversary to engage them on the ground their primary weapons (hands and feet) are severely degraded in effectiveness. Further, a ground fighter can quickly and more reliably dispatch an opponent in a way that trying to slug it out hoping for a knock-out can never do (have you ever tried to really knock someone out who didn’t want to be knocked out? It isn’t like television, I can assure you).

Also, the idea that ground fighting should be avoided because of broken glass on the ground, etc. is not realistic. Someone who is a skilled (or even not that skilled but just average) ground fighter knows that when/if the fight goes to the ground it’s going to be the person who doesn’t know how to grapple that’s going to be on their back getting their rear end kicked. A grappler who has spent many hours fighting from their backs, on top, etc. does not worry about going to the ground. They know how to deal with it, how to prevent it, how to reverse it and how to use it to their advantage.

Think of it this way. If you are going to fight a wrestler, who do you think is going to end up on their back on the ground? You or the guy who has spent thousands of hours training to take people down to the ground and put them on their backs? Further, you hear all the time about fighting multiple opponents on the ground is a problem. But if you can’t beat a single guy standing up, what makes you think you can beat multiples of them standing up? Bare knuckle brawling against one guy is hard. Doing it against two is incredibly difficult. Fighting three guys is just about impossible unless you are very lucky or they are incredibly inept. (See below). Fighting four or more people bare-handed? I think that’s just Hollywood stuff. You should focus on getting out of there or making sure you are carrying a gun to defend against multiple opponents.

Also being on your back is not great , but in a fight it is not necessarily bad with multiple opponents if that’s where you end up. One guy I know got tangled up with several people and was almost certainly about to get beat, but he was able to get to the ground and ended up on his back (not optimal, but it happened). He was able to hold the guy he was fighting on top of him and move back and forth using him as a shield against the others while on his back on the ground. The attacker’s friends were trying to kick and stomp but they kept kicking and stomping their own buddy and the guy I knew was able to get out of there unscathed!

In these cases of multiple attackers you want to stay on your feet and get the heck out of there. Ground fighting, ironically, gives you the best training to stay on your feet because you train so much to avoid being taken down on your opponent’s terms.

I encourage a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) style program, but avoiding the ground is not a requirement. Sometimes you have to go where the fight goes so you need both standing and grappling skills and I’d put more emphasis on grappling personally. – Craig R.


Dear Jim & Family.
Concerning the recent article, what Brick has described in his final recommendation is [essentially] Krav Maga. This is an Israeli system of self-defense, not a martial art per se, developed from the various disciplines that he mentioned and others. It is brutal, effective and efficient. My suggestion is that if you can find a school that teaches Krav, go for it first. Krav Maga Worldwide is the best place to start. Classes are for adults, but they have a version for children as well. I believe that this system is actually much more useful than mixed martial arts (MMA) training.
My whole family has been involved in this training for over two years. – Doc Gary

I would like to comment on the post “The Survivalists Guide to Martial Arts” that appeared on Saturday.

I have been a practitioner of various martial arts since I was three years old living in Japan – 41 years ago. I also have been a part-time teacher of martial arts for 15 years now. And yes, I have the “love me” wall to prove it.

The basic divide in martial arts is between “hard” styles and “soft” styles:

Hard styles are built around punching and kicking. Soft styles are built around joint locks and throws of various sorts. But, over time, and as you advance in rank, you begin to find that all hard styles incorporate soft techniques and soft styles begin to incorporate hard techniques. And in the end, the human body only moves and reacts in so many ways and so at the highest levels you find that all the arts are really the same – they just arrive there by different paths.

You also have to individually decide what is best for you to start with. If you are not going to put in hours each week working out, then a soft style is probably better for you to start with. On the other hand if you plan to put in the time (or are young and energetic) then a hard style might be good for you. I have studied both hard (Okinawan Karate, Silat, TaeKwonDo, etc.) and soft (judo, hapkido, aikido) and “balanced” (some styles teach a balance of hard and soft techniques – and while they are few and far between they are probably the most effective) styles (some of the Kung Fu styles and Kun Tao Silat). You need both in a real fight.

While I am big and relatively strong there are those that are bigger, stronger, and faster. So I need to know how to fight like a “little person.” You also need to think about the legal aftermath of using martial arts in the streets – being able to show a steady progression (or the ability to steadily progress) through the force continuum (presence, verbal commands, soft force, hard force, impact weapons, lethal force) is a big plus in the courts. Or, not every situation requires you to haul off and deck somebody.

The secondary divide is the “stand up” versus “ground” that the letter refers to. However, when I was working in Brazil for a while I had the opportunity to work-out one on one with a member of the very large extended Gracie family. His basic take was that while going to the ground does eventually happen, do everything you can to avoid it. He learned the hard way after being jumped by a gang of attackers that going to the ground might be good against one person but against multiple attackers it does not work as well. The good thing about Gracie Ju-Jitsu (GJJ) (or BJJ) is that it works standing up as well as on the ground IF you know what you are doing (and have had the right teacher).

That being said, in a true SHTF situation you will find yourself prone a lot in a fight (nobody comes to a fight without a gun these days …) and this is where knowing ground fighting comes in handy. (That being said, the longer you can stay up and mobile the better off you will be in a gun fight.)

So in the final analysis, study a blend or a mix of arts – hard and soft, standing and on the ground – in order to get the most out of your training. While I have my personal favorites, after teaching martial arts for so long I can say that the style has to fit the student, and not the other way around. Keep a balance, and find a good, open minded teacher. – Hugh D


Hello Jim,
Regarding The Survivalist’s Guide to Martial Arts by “Brick”, I agree with most of Brick’s comments. In terms of choosing a style or gym/dojo, I would say that the particular style is not very important. Rather, it’s important that you train with [what Matt Thornton terms] “aliveness”. That is, as much as possible of the training time should be allocated to sparring or otherwise training with resistance, “force on force”.

While I prefer MMA training, I think that any style in which there is a lot of live training will serve the trainee well. Conversely any style in which there is little live training is a waste of time.

For purposes of self defense, I would much rather train at a Tae Kwon Do or Karate school and spar a lot, than to train at a MMA gym and never spar. You see this a lot with women who take non-sparring kickboxing classes and think that this prepares them to fight. It does not, even if they are learning legitimate techniques taught by a world champion. Also for self defense, I would rather train at the karate school where they spar a lot, versus some ‘reality based self defense’ class where they spend all their time practicing eye gouges and groin strikes and rarely spar.

The most important things in being able to fight in any style are:
– Keeping your breathing under control, even when under pressure
– Maintaining appropriate posture at all times(e.g. for striking, you want to keep your hands up, chin tucked, shoulders shrugged, and never put your head down or look away even when getting hit in the face)
– Being able to keep your balance and maintain appropriate distance even when there is an attacker trying to throw you off balance and moving in and out.
– Applying techniques with appropriate timing. If the opponent makes himself vulnerable somehow, usually the window of opportunity to exploit the error is very small.
– Having a certain amount of toughness and ability to ignore pain and discomfort. For example, most people who have never been punched in the stomach will drop both of their hands to cover their stomach, leaving their head wide open.

These things are only developed through hours of training with live resistance. It’s worth noting that you can train grappling styles like Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, or wrestling at 100% resistance every training session, since there is no striking and the chance of injury is low.

A good video clip on this subject is: Matt Thornton on Aliveness – Drew in California


Mr. Rawles,
I agree with most of what Brick has to say about the various arts. He left out my art of choice though, which is the filipino stick and knife arts. [Also known as Filipino Martial Arts (FMA).]
These are variously known as escrima, kali, or arnis, depending on where in the islands a particular style originated from, and are distinguished from most arts by starting you out with a weapon. Most of the techniques you learn in these arts (I’ll call them kali), are applicable to both sticks and knives, and to a lesser extent to empty-handed fighting.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you can circumvent sidearm carry laws with a knife. In my state at least, knives are actually more strictly regulated than guns. But it does mean you can effectively use a variety of everyday objects to protect yourself against someone who, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they just forgot to read the knife laws before robbing you.

Okay readers, thinking exercise time: How many everyday objects can you think of that have the same approximate handling characteristics of a knife or a short stick?

Start with actual knives and move quickly to, swords, nightsticks, batons, ordinary sticks, half pool cues, traumatically shortened pool cues, glass bottles, baseball bats, hammers, small crowbars, flashlights, e-tools, damn near any wrench, screw-driver, hammer, chisel, or small gardening implement, metal tub ed ball-point pens, stout umbrellas, tire irons, etc etc etc.

Add some styles for quarter staff sized sticks and axe shaped objects, and maybe a touch of training on using flexible objects like whips, belts, and garrotes, and it will be hard to think of a situation where you can’t find something you know how to bash someone with. Beware though that this will give you the ability to instantly escalate the level of violence in any situation, and may look bad in a court of law. It will also let you carry many innocuous objects that you can be proven to be trained to use, even in weapons free zones. This can also look bad. I would not advise advertising that you study this stuff (or really any art).

You should also not neglect to study forms of unarmed striking and grappling/locking/breaking, but most decent Kali schools incorporate that as well, often by teaching Kali in conjunction with other arts.

Finally I will say I have been impressed with the simplicity of Kali to learn, and the practical mindedness of the students and masters of it that I have met. This will depend on the school though. If a school for Kali, Arnis, or Escrima (all basically the same thing) can’t be found in your area, you might also look into Silat (from indonesia) which is related, or into wing chun or muay thai, both of which have a lot of similar motions and mentality–or so I’ve been told.

One last observation is that if you follow the advice of the author and look at Muay Thai, be sure you’re getting the real deal, and not American kickboxing, which is the watered down for American competition version. In fact, try to stay away from anything geared towards sporting competition, but look for something that does have lots of contact sparring. You need to learn how to hit and get hit, and how to fight through moderate pain or shock. John McCain suggests that people should familiarize themselves with pain before they have to endure it for real, and for once I agree with him completely.

As always, hope it helps. I’m no expert, and YMMV, so take it with a grain of salt and do your own research and experimentation. No art will do you any good if you don’t like it well enough to practice. – JJ in North Carolina