Author Lori O’Connell has released a new book entitled “When the Fight Goes to the Ground“, exploring how jujitsu methods can be used for real self defense encounters. Notably, this book comes packaged with a DVD filled with technique examples and training drills. I had a chance to review both the book and DVD and would like to share some of my impressions.
When the Fight Goes to the Ground
First, I’d like to explain how I approached this work. My primary background is in karate and kobudo, which means the ground is not my preferred fighting range. Luckily I’ve had a chance to train with some good jujitsu and aikijujitsu people over the years so I’ve graduated just slightly beyond “floundering fish” when taken down. Additionally, I’ve never been keen on sport competition; while I believe it can ingrain a strong fighting spirit and high level of performance I also believe it can instill bad muscle memory habits that the body will fall back on during moments of stress. When this book came to my attention I was particularly interested since it filled a tactical weakness of mine (ground game) while staying focused on real self defense (not sport fighting).
As you read the rest of my review, keep this perspective in mind and use it to inform your own opinion regarding what value this book might bring to you.
What You Get in the Book
They say never judge a book by it’s cover, but how else are you going to get a first impression? When I initially picked up “When the Fight Goes to the Ground” I was quite taken by the sheer quality of construction. The paper is very thick stock and features photo gloss finish which makes each page feel substantial and allows the images to pop with clarity. This may seem like a trivial matter, but when trying to understand techniques from a few action pictures every detail counts.
Once I was done ooh-ing and ahh-ing over paper quality I actually cracked into the content. There are 18 chapters in total, but they can be broken down into two major sections:
* Section 1: Information. Ms. O’Connell explores statistics about ground fighting, good and bad ideas when grappling, and overarching strategic objectives for her self defense methods.
*Section 2: Techniques. After laying down the groundwork (pun?) Ms. O’Connell provides detailed examples for some of the most common methods of getting attacked and makes recommendations for fighting back as well as escaping.
My Thoughts on the Book
Long time readers know I rarely slam books that I don’t like, but I’m also not afraid to make a critique now and then. That being said, I really liked this work. Right from the get-go Ms. O’Connell addressed almost every nagging concern I had stemming from previous “ground game” books I’ve read. For example, if an instructor starts a book or seminar by saying “80-90% of fights go to the ground” I am immediately suspicious of their ability to do basic research. Ms. O’Connell, despite being a ground game enthusiast, makes no such unsubstantiated claims. In fact she provides some of the real research on how many fights actually do go to the ground, and the context in which those studies were conducted (ie: law enforcement).
Her candid nature continues as she explains that going to the ground and staying their isn’t necessarily the best choice when it comes to self defense. Variables like dangerous environment, multiple assailants, and more play into her self defense methods. She is also keen on striking vital points whenever possible (which warms my karate heart).
One issue I did have while reading the book is that I couldn’t grasp the intricacies of some of the techniques being demonstrated. While the pictures were high quality they couldn’t quite capture how Ms. O’Connell was shifting her weight, manipulating the opponent, and sequencing her strikes. As a non-jujitsu-ace I felt informed, but not to the point where I could put her tactics into practice for myself.
Luckily for me there were visual aids, which takes us to the second component of the review…
What You Get in the DVD
The companion DVD is a step-by-step re-creation of the tactics described in the book. Ms. O’Connell provides a brief introductory explanation and then launches directly into body movements, methods, and scenarios.
Much like in the book, the topics discussed include:
*Defense Against Standing Opponents
*Defense Against Mounted Opponents
*Applying Joint Locks
*Defense Against Joint Locks
*Defense Against Multiple Attackers
Here are a few words from the author on why she decided to create “When the Fight Goes to the Ground” and some clips from the DVD:
My Thoughts on the DVD
Making videos isn’t easy but I think Ms. O’Connell and her assistants did an admirable job. First and foremost, I was happy to see the techniques put into action. Jujitsu can be very subtle at times and requires acute control of body weight, balance, and momentum…all of which can be tough to capture via static images alone. I also enjoyed Ms. O’Connell’s presentation and execution. Many self defense DVD’s feature 200 pound ripped ex-marines whom I have a hard time identifying with. Ms. O’Connell is very fit and very capable but also the size of a normal person (like myself), so I got a lot more out of seeing her execute techniques than I would…say…a pro-level UFC fighter.
One subtle thing I liked about the DVD was the use of one tall and lanky attacker and one stockier attacker. Ms. O’Connell discusses the importance of body type in the book and then carries that concept through to the video. Watching the different challenges presented by both attackers was valuable.
“When the Fight Goes to the Ground” gets my endorsement. This is a work I intend to visit again in order to integrate some ideas and methods into my own training and teaching. If you’re looking for practical, repeatable self defense tactics for ground fighting that don’t require high level acrobatics then this might be the book for you too. When taking into consideration the extremely reasonable price point it’s tough to pass up.
When the Fight Goes to the Ground
Lately I’ve been studying two works by Rory Miller, a highly experienced martial artist and corrections officer. I say ‘study’ because simply reading the material wouldn’t result in any long term benefit. Miller takes decades of experience inside law enforcement and applies it to the civilian world. The information is important enough to warrant the kind of serious focus one might expend in the dojo.
|Click To Learn More||Click to Learn More|
It is a traditional martial artist’s responsibility to differentiate between the timeless aspects of an art and the timely. The human body has not changed significantly since the beginning of recorded history. As such, the brilliant individuals that developed effective classical arts should still be heeded carefully. Of course, the tools and environment in which man lives has been changing constantly. Therefore, it requires an adaptive mindset to adjust and improve with the times.
Think of it this way – gunpowder may be old, but efficient and concealable hand guns certainly are not. Furthermore, law enforcement ‘back in the day’ was often as complex as chopping off a limb or tossing someone in a dungeon for X amount of years. Nowadays, law enforcement is a little more subtle.
Training and Teaching with the Law in Mind
It’s often said (accurately) that martial arts training should consist of simple, repeatable tactics that can work under high levels of stress. As such, clouding the mind with complicated thoughts of lawsuits and use-of-force specifics may end up leading to tragedy. On the other hand, in the modern world even the most obvious cases of self defense can lead to extensive jail time, loss of job, and utter disaster for individuals and families.
It turns out martial arts for life protection is a little more complicated than we all would hope.
Even more thought provoking than training with the law in mind is teaching with the law in mind. After all, instructors only see their students for a few hours each week. Is it up to the sensei to focus on technique and leave the law study outside the dojo? Is it even ethical to try to define the moral line where self defense should be used as opposed to staying hands off for legal purposes?
Addressing Tough Force Questions
Balancing the law and effective self defense can be extremely difficult. Most of the time martial artists have to come to a personal conclusion about when and where they will use force, and to what extent (control, pain, damage, death). Unfortunately, coming to a personal conclusion is not necessarily the same as coming to an informed conclusion. That’s where Rory Miller comes in. He provides a foundation of information that helps demystify legal factors of force and gives the reader tools to quickly navigate murky situations, even when the best possible outcome is the death of another human.
These two books, “Force Decisions” and “Scaling Force“, are not necessarily a pair. By that I mean they can be read separately with no sense of lacking. However, I found reading them in close succession to be informative and useful.
“Force Decisions” is set up in the following manner:
* Training – Explaining how police officers are trained and what they are taught when it comes to force on the job.
* Checks and Balances – Describing what happens to an officer if his/her behavior is called into question.
* Experience – Exploring how on-the-job incidences come to inform and enhance an officer’s ability to use appropriate force.
* About You – Explaining how to take the lessons from law enforcement and apply them to citizen life.
Throughout the book the author provides a series of ‘hard truths’ which help readers understand the conundrums they may encounter when thinking about force seriously.
“Scaling Force” is more focused yet also more extensive. In “Force Decisions” Rory Miller touches upon the levels of force officers have at their disposal and the circumstances in which they might use it. “Scaling Force” takes that concept of a force continuum and explores each and every phase in detail, adding the thoughts and experiences of Lawrence Kane as well.
“Scaling Force” is set up in the following manner:
* Intro to Violence – Describing common scenarios and mental states in which violence occurs.
* Level 1 Presence – Using authority, body language, etc to de-escalate and control.
* Level 2 Voice – Using tone, volume, etc to dominate or dictate a conversation.
* Level 3 Touch – Using non-damaging physical contact to calm, direct, or distract.
* Level 4 Control – Using technique to restrain or control a violent situation.
* Level 5 Less Lethal – Using strikes, bone breaks, sprains, etc to eliminate a violent threat.
* Level 6 Lethal – Using lethal force to eliminate a deadly threat.
One of the most important concepts stressed in the book is the lack of clarity or linearity in which the force continuum is used. Activating the right level at the right moment is a combination of situational awareness, training, and wisdom (ie knowledge applied in real life to optimal effect). If that sounds difficult, trust that it is. One might be tempted to forget all this and just go with the old saying: ‘I’d rather be judged by twelve than buried by six’…but with resources available like these books relying solely on that mindset is lazy rather than courageous.
Few things are as critical yet as glossed over as footwork. With proper footwork the body can be moved in an efficient way while maintaining balance, creating driving power for strikes, providing hip availability for throws, and more.
Kata attempts to teach us about footwork, but it's easy to get caught up with what the hands are doing and simply bring the feet along for the ride. In fact, the effectiveness of bunkai can be made or broken depending on how the body orients to the opponent. Discovering some of the more effective applications in kata requires careful attention to body movement.
Ultimately there are only a few ways for the body to get from A to B, but an infinite amount of subtle ways to improve that process. One important concept in karate is known as "diamond stepping", which allows for removal of target, aggression, defense, momentum swing, and balance. In total it allows a practitioner to use virtually all the tools available to a karateka during a combative engagement. Interestingly, this very same concept shows up in other styles as well, going as far back as the Bubishi itself.
Diamond Stepping in Action
The following video shows how you can integrate the diamond step concept into your training. It will also demonstrate a series of techniques from different styles, including Okinawa Kenpo, Aikijujutsu, Motobu Udundi, Kobudo, and more. The goal is to demonstrate how a fundamentally sound concept can be pervasive throughout many different styles. As a bonus, at the end of the video I practice some freestyle randori type of techniques, allowing students to attack me in an unscripted way and seeing what kind of defenses come out of it.