Staying on Your Feet During A Fight

Written by Adam Scholl from Scholl Security Group.  Adam is a former FBI and USMS Task Force Officer. Adam has worked for the U.S. DoD as a fieldcraft instructor and currently works in the private security sector. He is also a Renzo Gracie BJJ Black Belt and a Krav Maga Black belt.

We’ve all heard the old stories from the Gracie Jiu Jitsu family that revolve around the idea that 100% of all fights go to the ground, but having worked in nightclubs for over 20 years in addition to all of my time in law enforcement, private security and government service I can tell you emphatically that has not been my experience.

Yes learning how to fight on the ground is important, in fact I think its important enough that I spent almost 15 years earning a black belt in BJJ and still train to this day.

There is a big difference however between learning how to fight on the ground, and learning how to prevent yourself from being taken to the ground. To this day I still hear many BJJ coaches advocate for intentionally going to the ground in a fight and while I think there are some times where that may be a sound strategy, those times are few and far between.

Real fights typically involve more than one bad guy and they involve a variety of variables that we cannon control. Time, place, environment, tools or weapons present, multiple assailants etc just to name a few.

The focus of todays discussion will be preventing yourself from being taken to the ground because once you are on the ground with more than one assailant who may or may not be armed with a weapon, the situation gets exponentially more difficult to deal with.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ is a fantastic skill and will help you to overcome such a situation, but BJJ focuses on one-on-one application and most BJJ schools have focused on ground fighting to the exclusion of standup. Some schools are incorporating defense against weapons but very few are addressing the presence of multiple assailants.

For these reasons I would advocate going to the ground as a last resort rather than a primary strategy.

Staying upright and mobile allows us additional courses of action that being stuck on the ground does not. Stability and mobility are your friend in a fight, and yes if you go to the ground you should have training in how to address that problem, but no we shouldn’t just put ourselves there voluntarily.

I look at personal defense very much the same as I look at protection others. In the world of close protection we protect clients with concentric rings of security. The outer most ring could be a fence or a wall working inward to a locked interior door or safe room. For personal protection I look at the outer most ring as your verbal agility working inward to your striking range and then grappling range and finally the ground. Allowing adversaries to penetrate ranges without having earned such penetration is very rarely a sound strategy in my opinion. Part of that process involves keeping the adversary at bay and preventing them from establishing grips on your body which will allow them to take you to the ground. Today we are going to examine some basic skills, drills and concepts to prevent yourself from being taken to the ground.

BJJ does a good job of dealing with preventing takedowns, but the two arts that really excel in this world are Wrestling and Judo. If you really want to improve your takedown defenses my recommendation would be to study both under the tutelage of qualified coaches.

Both arts teach a variety of techniques aimed at preventing you from being taken to the ground against your will while one focuses on dealing with threats associated with various grips to include clothing, they have many similarities in principle and application. The techniques and skills discussed in this article will only be enhanced by the end users athleticism and training in grappling such as Wrestling, Judo, BJJ and Sambo.

Foundational Principles of Preventing the Takedown:

Writing about specific techniques or skills to prevent a takedown is challenging. It is more important to understand key concepts and how to apply them. Controlling the reactionary gap is one of the first key concepts we need to understand. The reactionary gap is the space between you and the adversary.

The closer this space is, the less time you have to react to an adversary’s aggressive movements. The greater this space, the more time you have to react.

Unfortunately for us most conflicts start between one and two arms distance. This means that our reactionary gap is typically very small to start.

In a conflict, one strategy I like to use is to keep our hands above our waists and in front of our bodies. An individual could do this by casually grooming their face or politely folding their hands around their belly button.

Our hands are kept between us and the attacker, allowing us to use them quicker in the event of a strike or takedown attempt by the attacker. In addition, we can use our hands to “fence” an opponent by displaying our palms towards them while resting our elbows on our rib cage. In this position, coined by British martial arts legend Geoff Thompson, we can demonstrate a non-violent, non-confrontational posture toward our adversaries while also protecting our center line and preparing to be offensive. For purposes of todays discussion this position also allows us to have our hands at about head or shoulder level which would allow us to use our hands to frame on the adversary should they attempt to tackle us.

When you frame, you create space between yourself and your adversary by putting parts of your body between you and them. Framing from the fence can be done by moving your body slightly to one side of the attacker and placing the arm closet to his/her neck with your wrist bone alone the throat. The framing elbow should be outside of 90 degrees, where we are stronger. By placing your wrist bone on their throat, you make it more difficult for the attacker to drive forward. Additionally, it is important to lower your center of gravity, widen your base, and get your hips away from those of the attacker. This sprawl like movement makes it very difficult for the attacker to wrap their arms around you and establish control of your upper body. Once the frame is in place and the body is low and wide with hips away from the attacker, you must attempt to get off of the train tracks. If you stay directly in front of the attacker, you will have to use extreme strength to prevent the takedown.  A simpler strategy is to circle away from the arm that is framing on the neck This allows you to get off the train tracks and either attack the attacker from a favorable angle, or exit to safety.

The key concepts that were executed this technique were:

  • Maintain control of the reactionary gap by utilizing a fence
  • Frame on the neck with the wrist bone and elbow at our outside 90 degrees
  • Lower your center of gravity
  • Widen your base
  • Get your hips away from his/her hips immediately
  • Getting off the train tracks.

The above mentioned concepts can be applied from a variety of different angles and scenarios and when done correctly will significantly decrease the likelihood of the attacker completing a successful takedown/tackle.

When an attacker is so fast on their entry that we are not able to establish a fence or frame, we may utilize what is known as a sprawl. A sprawl involves shooting our hips away from our attacker while simultaneously dropping our chest over the opponents head or upper back in a last ditch attempt to prevent them from completing the takedown. Once an attacker has locked their hands around your waistline and begun to suck your hips into theirs, it is very difficult to prevent the takedown form being completed. Sprawls, when done correctly and at the earliest opportunity, are an excellent last ditch effort to prevent a takedown by the attacker. You can also push down on the back of the adversary’s head to push the face towards the ground if you cannot use your arms during your sprawl. This will help compromise the strength of their takedown. If you plan to sprawl, make sure your belt buckle faces the floor as hip position explosiveness can directly affect your success.

Attacks From Behind:

Despite what most martial arts schools would have you believe, there are situations where executing the right defense in a timely manner is so unlikely that it isn’t worth advocating a specific technique. Due to the element of surprise and your inability to react quickly enough, you are much more likely to be taken down when attacked from the rear. High level wrestlers and grapplers may be the exception to this rule due to countless hours of training to defend takedowns from a variety of angles and positions, but for the rest of us, getting tackled from the rear almost always leads to falling. Conceptually, however, the fundamentals remain the same if we want to defend against such a takedown. We will need to lower our center of gravity and widen our base while getting our hips away from the attacker. During this time, we should bring both hands to the attacker’s grip and attack their fingers in order to dismantle that grip. Once the hands have separated or our hips have been pushed away from the attacker’s, we need to turn towards the attacker so we can deploy all of our weapons. Human beings are woefully unequipped to defend themselves from behind. Getting our hips facing the attacker as soon as possible will allow us to utilize our other weapons (knees, elbows, and other strikes) and try our grappling solutions.


We do a lot of things very well naturally to protect ourselves, but falling is not one of them. In most cases, when we fall, we reach out to catch ourselves, causing greater damage to a wrist, elbow, or shoulder. We also fail to protect our head and while falling damage to the head can end the fight immediately. I would encourage everyone to practice falling in a matted space while putting the emphasis on protecting your head on the way down. If we lose consciousness or worse from hitting a curb, car, or hard surface on our way down, everything else is irrelevant. The head can be protected in a variety of ways but a simple cover on one or both sides while tucking the chin will protect both the back and sides of the head and minimize the damage any impact might do.

Getting Back to Your Feet:

Once we have fallen or been taken to the ground we should work to get back to our feet ASAP. The longer you stay on the ground in a real violent encounter, the greater you are exposed and the greater potential for others to enter the equation. Working in the bar business I have been involved with a number of fights where I was on the ground dealing with one problem while being stomped by many others. This is not the place you want to be and your ability to defend yourself against multiple assailants is greatly diminished on the ground, as is your general level of awareness due to lack of line of sight issues that can arise. For all these reasons and others, I would advocate you get to your feet at the earliest opportunity. If you are unable to get to your feet right away, do the best you can to keep the adversary in front of you by keeping your boots between you and them.  This concept of “boots between” allows us to use our legs which are longer and stronger than our arms, to help us solve this problem and earn the opportunity to stand. Once you have kicked and created some space or time, get yourself back to your feet as soon as possible. The BJJ technical get up is a great model to use for how to get to your feet. Basically in involves guarding your head with your left hand while simultaneously planting your left foot close to your but, and your right hand on the floor and using your right hand and left foot to lift your but off of the ground and fold your right leg underneath your body so you can come to standing while still keeping the adversary in front of you and not compromising your awareness. Plenty of videos on this technique can be found on YouTube.

In summary I would like to reaffirm my position that there are very few scenarios in which I think it makes sense for you to intentionally go to the ground. Maintaining stability and mobility while trying to earn the opportunity to escape is a much more sound strategy in my opinion and based on my experience. Maintaining a fence and some control of the reactionary gap can assist you in preventing the takedown. Practicing with coaches who train in Wrestling, Judo and BJJ is also time well spent. If you do however find yourself on the ground I would think of it like touching a hot stove. Don’t stay there and do what you can to get yourself back to your feet as soon as possible so that you can earn the opportunity to escape the conflict. That being said, it is often much more difficult that’s that and that is where training in BJJ is invaluable. There’s simply no substitute for mat time so get out and train!


If you’re in the Hatfield PA area, go train with Adam at

For at-home stand-up fight training that integrates with shooting, check out




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1 Comment

  • rod vanzeller

    Reply Reply April 10, 2023

    dead men go to the ground.

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