Class 2014-02-17: Defense for Standing

defenseThis class starts the series on defense.  I like to describe defense as a temporary solution that becomes a launching pad for advancing your position.  It could be an attack, or an escape, or a transition.  A good defense gives you time to evaluate your situation and make a plan for what to do next. 

Basic Starting Posture

Every fight starts on the feet.  It may be a self defense situation, or it may be competition.  For a sport oriented start, your best bet is to adopt a wrestling stance.  I’ve observed that wrestlers have a natural advantage during the standing phase.  Against Judo, a wrestler has the advantage of his hips being lower than the Judo player.  This makes many Judo entries harder to execute.  Against a typical Jiu-Jitsu player, the wrestler has better mobility and a better stance for getting a takedown.  No matter how many people tell you to go out and pull guard, it’s a bad habit that will work against you, especially if you harbor any notion that sport jiu-jitsu is applicable to street self defense.  If I am in a self defense situation, I want to protect myself and get a takedown as quickly as possible.

So for the first technique, we adopt an offensive wrestling stance.  This is characterized by a staggered stance with weight evenly distributed between your feet.  Your head is upright and hips are low.  Ideally your back hand should be able to touch the floor.

If your opponent tries to push your head down, keep your posture and let your hips drop to absorb the pressure.  If you allow your posture to be broken, your opponent is very likely going to put their shoulders over your head and keep you there while they start a guillotine attempt.  Keep you head up!


This is grappling, boys and girls.  That means getting your hands on someone and using that grip to control them.  You want grips, but you don’t want someone to establish grips on you.  When competing in a gi, a lapel grip is one of the first control points many people try to establish.  Every grip is dangerous, and acts as a stumbling block to your goals.  A good Judo player will stiff arm you as you attempt to take a shot and easily defend your attempts to close the distance.  There are several different styles of grip break, but they all share the characteristic of controlling the hand and popping the hand away from the lapel.

The grip break covered in this class is a favorite of mine.  It’s simple, effective, and employs a lot of force on your opponents hand.  The cupping motion provides the pressure, while squeezing the hand both vertically with finger strength and horizontally with arm strength helps weaken their grip.  The video doesn’t cover the pressure on the fingers, but any time you have someone grabbing your clothing, wrapping your fingers around their knuckles and squeezing the fingers against each other weakens the grip.  This is useful for any grip your opponent gets on you.

Every grip break is also an opportunity to establish your own control.  A good tactic is to take the hand that was just gripping you and force it across your opponents body.  This puts your opponent in a position that is vulnerable to takedowns, and it puts them on the defensive.

Establishing Base for Self Defense

Many self defense techniques start with establishing base.  This puts you in a stable posture that makes you difficult to move and control.  The demonstration of this defensive posture is a body grab from behind.  As you lower your hips to establish base, you will naturally break the posture of your attacker, and you will make yourself much harder to pick up.  This is something that everyone should feel the difference between no base and base as you try to pick up someone else.

Once you have established base and made yourself hard to get your feet off the ground, you can start your counters to their control.  In this instance, you take advantage of the attackers intent to use the body grab and you lock a kimura grip on one of their arms.  Ideally, you should be aiming to lock onto the bottom arm, but in practice, once you get your grip, and you maintain base, you’ll find that you have some time to work the grip break.

Getting good base is always a good idea in a self defense scenario.  For women’s self defense, getting base and leaning away from pulling or pushing into a push while maintaining base makes it hard for an attacker to control a woman and force her to a secluded area for an assault.

Collar Tie

Now we swing our focus back to sport oriented jiu-jitsu where a wrestler’s oriented collar tie is used.  If your opponent has trouble getting grips on your lapel or sleeve, they may elect to grab on to the back of your neck.  Resist the urge to return the move.  You’ll likely end up in a stalemate since you are now locked in with your opponent and nobody has the advantage.  This isn’t to say that a good wrestler can’t turn this position into something good, but it’s like the 50/50 guard.  In inexperienced hands, it ends up being a stall position.

Treat the collar tie as another threat and instead of accepting it, try to duck under the arm and go for a side profile where you have many different options for taking the fight to the ground, as well as a handful of submission options.

Remember Emily Kwok’s words: “My tie or no tie”.  Words to live by when you are in a match.


There’s a recurring theme here, and it will be apparent in the following classes as well.  Any control that someone gets on you should be considered dangerous.  Strip that control before attempting to advance your position.  Another recurring theme is posture.  It’s a somewhat generic term, but in the abstract sense, getting your hips low to the ground and keeping your head above your hips makes you hard to control and move.  There are so many different scenarios I can think of where my goal is to get my opponents hips off the floor and, even better, above their shoulders.  Since that is my goal as an attacker, your goal for defense should be to keep your hips low and your head up.  “Butt down, head up!” was yelled to me countless times when I was a white belt.  It was generally instruction for posture when I was in someone’s guard, but the advice is generally applicable and the more you keep that phrase in mind, the more successful your defense will be.

A good defense is the foundation of a good offense, especially in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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