Tag Archives: grappling

How do I write a combat scene where the fighters are grappling without putting in excess detail. I don’t want to write out blow by blow but I also don’t want to undersell the action.

You’re going to have to figure out whether it’s standing grappling or on the ground. If it starts standing, it’s going to end on the ground. Grappling can be very dynamic, if you understand the basic thought process.

1) It’s all happening in a very tight space.

Grappling means you’ve moved past the point of punches and kicks (aka you are too close for them to work) unless we’re talking about some very specific kinds of techniques designed for work in a space with limited arm movement such as the uppercut or a knee.

At this distance, the general point is to destabilize your opponent so you can put them on the ground. (Preferably without going with them, but if you must be the one on top.) This means a fair amount of shoving, seizing of the arms, grabbing the neck, chokeholds, etc, but sequences where the two fighters are essentially just dragging each other about in an effort to get the other to lose their balance. This can mean knocking each other into walls, tables, chairs, or just maneuvering their feet.

The general assumption with grappling is that it’s all about upper body strength. It’s actually not, where you put your feet and your ability to maintain your balance so that you stay standing is far more important. You’re close enough to smell what the other person ate for breakfast, there is no room for full extension of the arms. You’re going to go round, and round.

2) We all fall down

This will not last long, however, because someone is going down and it’s going to be hard. Write them falling over.

3) Someone is going to land on top.

Ground fighting is a scramble. The one who goes down first and lands on the bottom, the one who goes down second and ends up on top has the advantage. It’s also a question of gravity and weight, weight matters a lot more on the ground than it does while standing.

180-280 pounds bearing down on your chest is a lot, 120-170 is also a lot.A 90 pound woman can hold a significant advantage over someone while sitting on them. People are heavy, if you’re on the bottom that’s essentially you trying to lift that or shake it off. Without decent training, most people don’t know how. Most people don’t know how to make their arms and legs work together on the ground, long before we get into even basic grappling techniques.

If you land on your stomach and they’re on your back then it’s over. Their weight will bear down on you, they can pin you to the ground, grab your head, slam it into the pavement, choke you out, and you can’t do a goddamn thing to stop it. You can’t really get up and crawl away, no matter how strong you are. It is, however, the first instinct to flip over onto your stomach as opposed to staying on your back. This is one of the places where natural instinct will screw you over.

Being on top can be the difference between victory and defeat, especially depending on whether the one of the bottom managed to trap them between their legs or they escaped to jump onto the stomach. If your character knows how to lock up an opponent in the guard, then fine. If you have no experience with holding someone in “the guard” (aka you wrap your legs around their waist to keep them away from you), then don’t bother really. It’s more likely whoever got on top has managed to bypass this stage.

From the position sitting on the stomach, it’s the perfect position to start wailing on the other guy. They can just hit them a metric ton or move to try to strangle them. The punches may not be that effective, but they’re going to hurt a lot. You can expect at least a broken nose if any land on the face.

One basic way to defeat this is to buck, the bottom person widens their legs, braces their feet, and jerks their hips straight up much like a reversed bucking bronco in an attempt to unseat the other person. The success of the technique will depend on how well the other person can keep their balance (and the bottom’s skill at keeping it up under pressure). Done right, the top’s body is going to come forward, the bottom grabs one or both of their arms, twists their hips, and rolls sideways into their opponent’s guard thus reversing position.

More realistically though, someone’s just going to end the grappling bout with their face getting pounded into the concrete.

That’s all assuming no one breaks anything on the way down and no one hits or lands on their head. If one goes down and the other doesn’t, then they’re just going to start kicking and stomping them.

Never go to the ground unless you have to. You’ll still end up there.

Shit happens.

You don’t have to say everything, you do have to paint a clear picture of what is happening. Move swiftly from one action to the next, keep a sense of kinetic motion going, play up the tension, make sure you know what position is a good one and what is a bad one, and manipulate your characters into them.


Hey! Love your blog. If this has been discussed, forgive me, but I was wondering if you could talk about holds that a character might employ when they do not want to fight or injure their opponent but want to stop them from attacking altogether. Also, what options might a character have for getting out of a hold? Are there other holds a character might use if they didn’t care about causing injury? Thanks!

Well, despite someone’s best intentions fighting pretty much always means that someone is going to get hurt, even in Martial Arts like Aikido that are supposed to specialize in ending a fight by simply defeating an opponent but leaving them uninjured. The idea is basically that if you prove yourself to be an insurmountable obstacle that they’ll give up and go away. This philosophy is very rooted in Shinto and it pretty much only works in Japan (if it works at all). For an example, you see this philosophy at play a lot in Japanese Anime with villains or anti-heroes who change sides after they are defeated by the hero.

In real life people usually aren’t that amenable. They don’t just give up and go away. A character just saying they are better, knowing they are, and showing they are isn’t necessarily going to be enough. The other character may assume that because they didn’t feel pain this time, that the character cannot cause pain. They’ll come back and try again, even in a losing proposition. They need an incentive to stop, something more than just “I’m better than you” and pain can be a very nice incentive.

So, holds. A hold means holding your opponent, so all holds have several different stages that a character can upgrade to if the person they are holding is misbehaving. There are loads and loads and loads of holds a character can use that don’t involve injuring their opponent and almost all of them can be upgraded into a broken bone, limb, or genuine choke. It’s a dual usage technique.

A character will always operate on the basis of what they know how to do, the point where they stop is ultimately up to them. Two different characters with two different outlooks can use the exact same technique to achieve very different results. Focus on what the technique could do and whether or not a character takes it there, not whether or not the technique is appropriate to the situation. Your character only has enough time to learn so many things, what they do understand how to do is the basis of how they fight. Always remember that what they want to do and what they can actually do are two different things. Also, what they want is not always up to them, a fight involves at least two people.  Another character may force the first character to hurt them, simply because they won’t stop. Situations aren’t always amenable to our desires, even when we do everything right.

There’s one more thing to consider: after they have them in the hold, what do they do next? No, really, this is an important question. They can’t escape from the situation carrying the bad guy with them. The bad guy will probably still be fighting back and may not have realized yet that they’ve been subdued, or they may be playing for time until their buddies show up. Either way, your character is still going to have to call someone like the cops. This means (if it’s a two handed hold like a headlock), they’ll have to transfer the person their holding into a single hand hold, which gives the person the opportunity to escape. They’ll have to make the 911 call and talk to the dispatcher, they’ll be distracted, again giving their opponent the opportunity to escape. Today in the US it can take the police 15 to 20 minutes to show up, if they show up at all. This is a very long time to be holding onto someone, especially if you consider that the average fight only lasts about 30 seconds. The character’s legs and arms will begin to cramp, their muscles will start to protest, their hands will be slippery from the sweat, they may lose their grip. Again, giving their opponent the opportunity to come back around at them. This time, their opponent will be much fresher than they are because (assuming their opponent still has their wrist, arm, or leg intact) they’ve actually expended less energy over the long run trying to break free of the hold than the character has expended to keep them there. Ironic, isn’t it?

Finally, the discussion of escapes. To talk about escapes from holds, we’d have to discuss technique, theory, and practical application. We don’t really have time for that in a question format. But for the moment: the easiest answer to escapes is take the path of least resistance. In a wrist grab, roll the wrist against the thumb and yank, instead of pulling against the fingers. To escape from a two handed choke: drop your chin, bring the hands up between the opponent’s two hands (inside the wrists) and push outwards. In the bear hug, drop your weight. If someone has trapped you against the wall with two hands on either side of you: duck under one arm and leave.

This is the path of least resistance. For more information on holds (before we do an article ourselves), check out the Junkyard Aikido video under our Michael Janich or Michael D Janich tag. He goes over a lot of the different principles for holds and that might help get you thinking.


Not sure if this has already been addressed, but what are some tips for fighting back when you’re on the ground and being attacked by a man? By a dog? Thanks.

Due to the nature of this question, I’m going to label this with a tw for animals and violence against them. The part about dogs is uncomfortable to talk about for most people. It’s a good question, just…uncomfortable.

First a disclaimer, since your question is unclear. This isn’t a blog designed to teach you how to fight or a self-defense blog. This is a blog designed to help authors develop better fight scenes. For “real life” you need a real, physically present teacher and practice with a partner. In a self-defense context it’s best if you have a male friend who goes with you and doesn’t mind being the punch dummy.

I’m going to do a whole subsection devoted to ground fighting once I get through working my way through kicks. I only know most of the basic grappling moves like how to do different variations of the arm bar, triangle leg choke, ground defense, etc. But the basic gist of it is this:

1) You never want to end up on the ground in a fight.

2) Almost all fights will eventually go to the ground, so learn how to fight there.

In a ground fight, the person who is the largest and heaviest with strongest muscles has the advantage. So, larger men and larger women have a serious advantage over smaller men and smaller women. They will have the advantage, even if the smaller fighter lands on top. That’s the second thing, the fighter who takes the top position usually wins unless their opponent knows how to defend themselves (and didn’t break anything in the fall). Street fighters will often attempt to take each other to ground in an opening bid for dominance, because they’ve learned this rule: he or she who goes to the ground first and gets the top spot wins.

This is why most street fighters are idiots. The ground is the worst place to be whether you are male or female. Again, because of the gravity and weight advantage, but also because it puts the back of your head too close to the ground (that ground could be concrete).

On the ground in the real world, the first goal is to get off the ground and escape. In a fight, the person on the bottom’s first goal is to get back on top. You can do that in a fair number of ways, none of which are easy even against an opponent the same size as yourself. It takes time and training to be able to use any of them. Plus, we’d need to sit down to talk about body positioning and terminology before even broaching the subject of the useful techniques. Grappling is much more complicated than kicking.

But start by thinking about this: the average man weighs between 180-220 pounds. When standing in a fight you only take a fraction of that weight, even when they are leaning on you. When they are sitting on you, you get to take all of it. You’re not fighting their strength (though your physical strength is very important when you’re on the bottom), you’re really fighting against their weight. This is where people screw up the height and weight thing, weight relates to fighting on the ground and not so much anywhere else (unless they’ve got a few hundred pounds on you). Height matters with kicks. When we get close enough for hands, a few centimeters of difference in the arms isn’t going to be enough to matter. (Greater height and weight also give a psychological advantage to the attacker and works against the victim. But it’s mostly the intimidation factor and it’d usually what’s driving the fight because the attacker believes they’ll win.)

Grappling is about finding the path of least resistance, shifting weight, breaking bones, and, honestly, death. None of the attacks I learned are gentle, because being in that situation is dire. If grappling is something you’re interested in Jiujutsu and Judo are two good martial arts to study. Also, sign up for local self-defense courses that cover ground fighting. As for tips: don’t roll over on your stomach (oops, you want to be on your back!), you’ll get pinned and you won’t be able to fight. It’s a natural instinct to do this, but it doesn’t work.

Dogs? Okay, I just want everyone to know: I am a dog lover. I love dogs, cats, and animals of all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to remember that animals can be dangerous, whether that danger comes from a bad owner or what they’ve been trained to do, they are dangerous. So, if you don’t want to read about dogs in that context, please don’t go any further.

There aren’t any martial arts out there designed to deal with dogs. If it’s one of the smaller dogs, you won’t have much trouble. If it’s a dog like a German Shepherd or a Doberman, a dog that has been bred and trained to protect and guard someone or something? Or a Pit Bull that has been raised to fight? Oh, ouch.  So, things to remember: a dog is much faster than you, a dog has more killing power than you do, a dog has teeth, it has a better bite, it’s got better instincts, and guard dogs generally run in packs.

The best tip for fighting a dog is: don’t. Back away slowly (don’t run, like a wild animal that triggers the “prey” switch), get out of it’s territory, don’t yell but try to be authoritative. Use words like “no, bad, stop” and hope the dog was trained to understand English (and not some other language). If the animal’s handler or owner is there, then all bets at being the dominant authority are off. Also, check with your local Animal Control experts to see if they have any good advice. Dogs can be wonderful pets, but many breeds were bred for a certain kind of work and they do that work very well. Even medium sized dogs can be very dangerous in the right conditions. So, if the situation is you or the dog, my advice is pick you. Do whatever you have to and get out of there. Weapons with a longer reach, if any are available, such as a crowbar are helpful.

Starke says: wear armor, even just something like a leather jacket will be more difficult for the dog to bite through. You have to give them something to bite onto like your forearm and go at them while they are chewing on that. You will get bit, though. Whether the next step is breaking the dog’s jaw or killing it is up to the situation and the nature of the person in question. It’s a last ditch resort in either case.

I think that’s all.