Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lessons learned from wrestling (or how to catch a cobra)

I come from a wrestling family.  Both my older brothers were outstanding wrestlers.  Hell, even my sister Kay pinned me routinely through Jr. High.  I started wrestling in 2nd grade.  I wrestled for 10 years until I dislocated my knee (for the 3rd time) my senior year of high school. 



I wish I could say that I have never been pinned.  But I was…all too often.  However, it’s like that old Aerosmith song – sometimes you need to lose to learn how to win.  

I think if you ask any wrestler or any Judoka who lost via oasekomi that there was a point that they mentally gave up and allowed themselves to be pinned.  If you have never been there you may not be able to understand it.  If you have been there (and are honest with yourselves) you understand it but it is hard to articulate it to others. 

When you are stuck it is very frustrating.  You give every thing you have to get that guy off you but you can’t and you gas out, and you can’t breathe, and you just want it to be over.  It is at that point that a part of your brain has to decide to continue fighting or end the pain, effort, embarrassment and just give up.  The ref’s hand will hit the mat and it will all be over.  Better luck next time



In comparison have you ever been punched?  Maybe you were goofing with a buddy and things got too serious.  Maybe it was a straight up meet me after school behind the rock (that’s where kids from Mankato West fought, and smoked, and sometimes both) toe to toe fist fight.  If you have been punched did it make you want to stop fighting?  Or, did it piss you off and make you want to fight back harder?

I remember getting into a fight in 8th grade at a church lock in.  Kid threw a pillow at me and hit me in the eye.  It made my eyes tear up and he made fun of me for crying.  So we squared off and he punched me right in that same eye.  The punch gave me a black eye.  Was that the end of the fight?  Hell no!  Now I was PISSED.  I shot a double leg (my specialty) he tried to get up and turned over.  I threw in my hooks and beat the back of his skull with my fists like a bongo drum until the Pastor pulled me off of him.  I’m not saying I invented ground and pound, I’m just saying J


So in summary from my youthful experience, being pinned resulted in an eventual mental impulse which encouraged me to give up.  Being struck resulted in an urge to resist and fight back.

If your goal is to control another human being why would you use techniques that encourage the resistance of that control?


To control someone you must close distance.  A sniper can end a confrontation from 100’s of yards away, but they can’t take anyone into custody.

For the purpose of control let’s replace the term striking with impact drive.  The purpose is to help me close distance so I can control the subject, not to inflict damage or punish the subject. 

Think of a stiff arm in football.  The goal is to deliver force into the opposing player to achieve your goal, not an outlet for your anger, or to make an example out of the other guy.  The biomechanics for a jab and a stiff arm are the same.  Their purpose and the effect they have on the other party are vastly different.


To make this point Jimerfield Sensei asks how to you catch a Cobra?
In case you don’t know here is a video

The charmer closed distance (as safely as possible) and pinned the snakes head to the ground.

Impact drives are an excellent tool for operators to close distance as safely as possible to pin a control subject to the ground.

But Kasey, you’ve written don’t go to the ground several times on your blog!!!

Yes, yes I have.

I don’t want this to be read as cart blanch approval for going to the ground.  I hate it when BJJ schools advocate throwing yourself on your back and leisurely taking your time for a tap.  There is a difference between ground work, and battleground work.  A few simple rules of thumb:
  • don’t go to the ground if you don’t have to
  • know what to do if you do have to
  • be able to asses the environment /  get back up ( battleground work) as circumstances dictate

There is a historical reason why Judo spends so much time on throws (and less on ground work / ne waza). The ideal of a perfect Ippon, Ippon is if I throw you cleanly the fight is over, just like a knock out in boxing.  Because in combat if I put you on the ground I would stomp on you until you died.  So Judoka trained on putting the enemy on the ground first then worked on controlling them.

So stay off the ground.

However to control someone who does not want to be controlled you need to immobilize them.  There may not be a wall or car hood available, but the ground always is.


Cops have to take resistive subjects to the ground.  This is the source of the 99.9% of all fights end on the ground statistic that BJJ guys like to bandy about.

 LAPD did a statistical analysis of all use of force incidents. 


Yes that is a high percentage; it’s high because the polling data comes from law enforcement that ended violent conflict with cuffing.

100% of my SWAT calls end on the ground in cuffing.  That does not mean I ram a door, grab a subject, “pull guard” and do my best omaplata.

Battleground work:
Not for sport.  The only rules are state use of force statutes, and the moral / ethical boundaries you set for yourself (bad guys don’t follow rules that’s why they are bad)

You need to immobilize someone before you can cuff them (or effectively control them if you are not a LEO). 

Even the finest motor skill joint lock from the most granola eating, tree hugging Aikido school is exponentially more powerful when the opponent is trapped against the ground and all your energy (physics) is being delivered into the joint you are locking. 

In my humble opinion this is the only place pressure point controls work.

So how do you get there?
  • Close distance safely / unbalance
  • Gross motor skill high percentage (with in policy) take down
  • Tactical pin / hold down (osae komi waza)

So what do I mean by a tactical pin?
Any pin that allows me to deliver all my weight through the control subject and also allows me to:
  • Keep my head up scanning / assessing
  • Quickly transition back to standing address additional threats
  • Access my weapons
  • Keeps my hands free for
·                           Cuffing
·                           Transition to other weapons
·                           Kansetsu waza
·                           Shime waza

All One on One Control Tactics end this way, but the best example is the thigh lock


(that’s me getting my ass kicked)


On that last video you heard Jimerfield Sensei speak about an adrenal dump.  That works as a nice transition to the judicious use of battleground work.

Abuse of ground work is as detrimental to controlling a subject as the misuse of strikes.  If you are reading this because you are a LEO that already trains on a regular basis, that is great.  I wish more people trained in martial arts.  Next time you go to the Dojo look around.  I’ll bet the majority of other students are upper middle class men between 25 – 40 years old.  Now look at your arrest statistics, especially those encounters with actively resisting subjects.  Different demographic?  Where am I going with this?  Is this my plea for “social justice”?

My point is that the people LEOs arrest the most often are those on the fringe of society and in low socioeconomic classes.  They are distinctly different than your training buddies at the Dojo.  The stuff that works at the Dojo on your buddies works differently on the street on society’s fringe members.

As a rule of thumb drinking and use of recreational pharmaceuticals is usually discouraged before class.  So when I throw a lock or a choke on a guy the signal that - ouch this sucks, the cognitive process of what do I need to do to stop this from sucking, and the tap out ( sign of surrender) happens very quickly.

That is why biomechanical control (pinning) first is so important.  When the control subject can’t move due to physics not pain compliance it doesn’t matter whether he can feel pain or not.  Physics are physics no matter how drunk, drugged, determined, or deranged they are.  From there you can use pain to encourage compliance.  But you have to realize that that the pain message and figuring out that cooperation = end of pain will take longer and you have to allow them to comply.

On this point Marc MacYoung told me to quote him directly so I quote “Kasey, the return trip to good behavior is always free”  You can see this clearly in the Thigh lock video.  You can add and release pressure as needed to gain compliance.

Also in street culture (like battle field Judo) going to the ground equals death.  If you are arresting anyone, but especially members of the fringe you have to make that trip back to good behavior free.  If you continue to crank up the pain they will figure no matter what I do he is gong to kill me.  My only recourse is to fight back as if my life depended on it.  There is the adrenal dump Jimerfield addressed.



In social violence there are terms of surrender.  If you violate those terms be prepared to fight for your life.  Social violence occurs between two equals (or near enough) If you continue to fight him you are sending the signal that you believe him to be on the same level as you reinforcing his will to fight.  You are sending the signal that he stands a chance.  You are a professional he shouldn’t stand a chance in hell against you. 

The best explanation of zanshin I have ever heard is that zanshin is like a cat playing with a mouse.  The cat just batted the mouse but it watches it prepared to bat it down again.  The guy you pinned knows you are the cat.  You don’t need to prove you are the cat to anyone.  You want the fight to end?  Give the mouse a face saving out.  No one wants to be a bitch (no wrestler wants to be a fish – someone who flops on their back and gets pinned) but they do want the pin to end.  Let them end it gracefully.  “Hey man you’re a tough guy I don’t want to fight you put you hands behind you back”.  Or as Rory uses “Thank you for not fighting me, I know you could have put up a hell of a fight.  I’m glad you didn’t”

Remember a professional's job is to control violent people.  The goal is efficiency.  If your actions are not leading to that goal but are punishing the violent for being bad, that is assault.  Any asshole can commit assault.  Professionals get the job done.

So now you know and knowing is ½ the battle.  Let’s go catch some Cobras


  1. Awesome post!!!!
    I never stop to find it amazing how easy one can control someone 2 or 3 X their size using the head control you are describing.
    These control practices should be used so much more then they are. It would save on a lot of violence out there. But then I guess common sense does not always prevail in society. And it goes back to your previous post about SD being taught so only guys 18-25 can actually use it properly and turn it into an arrogant "I need to validate my skills" contest.
    You rock!!!

  2. Kasey,

    I just found your blog on a recommendation from jc. I've read your last two posts and am quite impressed. You are touching on a lot of the points I've been struggling with, trying to shift the mind set of my co-workers. I'm also happy to hear someone else pointing out that stats for where fights end up are mainly collected from those groups who deliberately control people to the ground.

    I've all the respect in the world for talented BJJ players out there, but the recent shift to concentrate mainly on ground work for law enforcement has many issues, and is often unrealistic for street work, especially for those in uniform, wearing a big duty belt.

    I've also been doing a series on knife survival which is focusing on the most likely form of attack that your average person (or law enforcement) might face from the most likely type of attacker.

    I enjoyed your article on Krav as well. I went to a knife defense seminar once, and while it was fantastic in many ways, it was all about carving people up and using multiple fatal stabs and slices. I felt this was a bit irresponsible as the seminar ignored getting away and that whole "killing another person issue".

    Anyway, thanks for the bang on material. I'll be back.

  3. "There may not be a wall or car hood available, but the ground always is." - I just imagined cops in space with laser guns, and no floor to pin anyone one after you said that... It made me laugh.

    Good information :)

  4. @ Elias - Just like the old Muppet Show "Pigssss Innnnn Spaaaacccceeeeee"