This is a topic that is always on my mind because for the average Krav Maga practitioner the ground can be a confusing topic. Most good, instructors and schools should be teaching to never intentionally go to the ground. On the street, or in self defense applications the ground is one of the worst places you can possibly end up. It is one of the worst places because, the ground is hard and can be used as a weapon, your attacker/opponent may have a weapon or may have friends. This means, that by being on the ground you have limited mobility and thus reduce the chances of successfully avoiding a weapon attack or an attack from multiple assailants. Not to mention, the extremely complex and detailed nature of ground fighting makes staying on the ground, simply, a bad idea.

I often hear, follow the 5 second rule, which says that you should never spend more than 5 seconds on the ground. This is an excellent rule to follow. However what if you cannot get up from the ground in 5 seconds? What then?

I often hear, even very high level Krav Maga practitioners saying things like this, “well it doesn’t matter what he knows if I cannot get up, I will bite, scratch, kick, hit and do whatever it takes. I will go for his groin, his eyes and his throat and he will let go and I will get up.” While the mentality of this is absolutely true, as in Krav Maga, when in doubt be more aggressive, hit harder and do more than your opponent so that you increase your chances of escape, the reality is this may not always work.

To people like this, I often ask. How much do you spend on ground training? All too often the answer is not that much, because we don’t want to stay on the ground. This means, that many, even high level Krav Maga practitioners, instructors and school owners are not experts in ground fighting and honestly, do not always know what they are talking about.

I often follow this up with the question, have you ever rolled, or done ground sparring with a BJJ black belt or world champion? Usually the answer is no. My response is always, “Well I have! And let me tell you, if you have 0 ground game, trust me, they WILL rag doll you and do whatever they want with you!”

The response I  usually get is, “well I can just strike, and they do not train in that do they?” This is a very true statement, but guess what, they can strike too on the street. In addition, who’s to say they do not also train some formed of striking. If they even have a base, in striking, their ability to put you were ever they want may simply be too overwhelming for someone with little to no ground training. In fact, you may not even get a chance to strike because they might have already broken your arm, leg or choked you out.

From what I have seen out there, the lack of ground training for Krav Maga practitioners, is shameful. I say this, because whenever the ground portion of even Instructor courses comes up, I see maybe one or two individuals actually look like they know what they are doing, while the rest look like fish out of water. Not even understanding how to properly bridge, or Shrimp as a Krav Maga instructor tells me a lot about the quality of your instruction.

The intention behind this, “we do not go to the ground, so we do not need to train the ground” is a good one. But it is ignoring the reality that the grappling arts, wrestling, BJJ and now Judo again, because of Ronda Rousey are ever more popular. Which mean, more and more people are trained in these styles which in turn increases the chances of you having to deal with such an individual in a self defense scenario.

So what does this mean for Krav Maga?

Recently, I went on a five day training camp in Hawaii for BJJ, with West Coast Martial Arts under BJJ black belt Don Whitefield. He arranged the camp and brought arguably, the top BJJ black belt woman Luanna Alziguir to come teach us. Let me tell you this was quite the experience, and Luanna’s skill as a grappler is out of this world. She is currently 29 and has been training since she was 9. She has numerous world titles at almost all the major grappling tournaments.

Jonathan Fader observing Luanna Alzuguir and Scott Scott Boudreau demonstrate the fine points of BJJ
Jonathan Fader observing Luanna Alzuguir and Scott Boudreau demonstrate the fine points of BJJ

Here is a woman that regularly trains with some of the biggest and best male grapplers in the world and can hold her own against them even though they are much bigger, stronger and faster.

As a Krav Maga practitioner I came to the camp with a different perspective than most. While yes, I wanted to improve my BJJ skills, I also wanted to know how the best in the world practice BJJ so that I can take that and apply it to Krav Maga.

So what did I learn?

Control your body positioning, Control your opponent through pressure and use pain compliance to get them to do what you want!

For me, whether Luanna realizes it or not, she is applying Krav principles to her BJJ.

That last one, Pain compliance was a big one. In Krav Maga, when we fight we must constantly disrupt their mental processing (Pressure), we must constantly off balance our opponents (Controlling the opponents positioning) and we must cause pain!

This is how she successful beats individuals bigger and stronger than her. And believe me she can do it and make it look beautiful. I watched her easily toss around male black belts who out weight her by as much as 50-100 pounds.

So when I say, there are individuals out there who’s ground skills are so good that you might not have a chance to hit them in the goin or eyes, I mean it!

So how do we take this knowledge and apply it to teaching Krav Maga?

This came up as one of my students, who had been training in another country asked me. At my old school we started to train ground fighting right away, so how come you do not teach it until later on?

The answer is simple, you must first fear and respect the ground before you can properly learn it.

We have noticed that if you teach ground stuff to early, people have a tendency to get to comfortable. I have personally seen this when students start to take BJJ and then when sparring pull guard because they do not like getting hit in the face. (A reason fights often go to the ground on the street.)

Of course, when this happens we immediately tell everyone to dog pile the individual who pulled guard because in Krav Maga, WE DO NOT INTENTIONALLY GO TO THE GROUND!!!

But, once our students have had it drilled into their heads DO NOT go to the ground, then we begin to teach them ground techniques and takedowns.

The argument against this, is, I need to know everything now so you should teach it all from the beginning. To this I say, if you want to really become proficient at ground fighting, you MUST supplement your Krav Maga training with BJJ, Judo or wrestling.

The reason for the separation is very important to understand, and that reason is mentality.

When teaching ground material in a Krav Maga class, the focus always is and will be, get to a better position, do damage to your opponent, get up and escape as fast as possible. So when we teach in a Krav Maga class that is our focus. We also teach the non Krav Maga take downs, not with the intention that our students will ever attempt them, but so they understand the nature of the attacks so they can properly defend against them should someone ever attempt them against them. However, any class where we are teaching non-Krav Maga techniques for the purpose of education, we constantly say, “Remember, this is not Krav Maga but you must understand the techniques that can be used against you.” This is done, so there is no confusion from the students. (It happens)

Due to this mentality difference, as in grappling it is usually about position and points, it can be difficult to teach ground fighting properly.

In our opinion if you want to be proficient at both Krav Maga and ground fighting, there really must be a separation. Because if you think you are taking Krav Maga, but really you spend an entire week working on guard escapes, then you are actually learning BJJ and it is easy for individuals to forget that their goal is to get out and up, and not to simply pass their guard.

How do I know when my grappling training is good enough to apply to Krav Maga?

When I first started training BJJ to supplement my Krav Maga, I started taking an open matt class. This meant that there wasn’t so much a curriculum, more like a gauntlet of Purple, Brown and Black belts showing me how pathetic I was on the ground.

We would do 5 minute rounds, where each individual would take turns submitting me, 5-10 and sometimes even 15 times in each round. After a few months of this, I quickly learned what NOT TO DO! Where not to put my hands, where not put my hips. I also learned better body awareness than ever before. I could feel what attack they were trying to do and how I needed to move to stop them. I got to the point where, if these fights had been tournaments they would have won, because they out positioned me but the fact was they could no longer easily submit me.

For me this is a skill I kept and to this day am often complemented by high level practitioners for my ability to block attacks. This is how you should think, for grappling training when you are supplementing for Krav Maga.

It is not about, how good a point fighter you are, how good you are at maintaining position or how good you are at submitting your opponents. But rather, do you know enough, to block their attacks so that you can successfully apply Krav Maga to get out of this situation.

Even to this day, if I roll with a world champion or a black belt and they cannot submit me in the allotted time then to me as a Krav Maga practitioner, teacher and school owner,  I am happy. This tells me, that so long as I can stop them for 10 seconds, 30 seconds a minute, I will have the time I need to apply my Krav Maga and escape to safety. But I only know I can, because I have trained. Had I ever gotten into a self defense scenario against one of these individuals previously, they would have taken me down, passed my guard, controlled me and beat my face in.

This is why it is important to train and understand the ground. This is why you must understand the appropriate mentality to ground training. And this is why you must also train in a manner and with a mentality that only benefits you as a Krav Maga practitioner.

Train with the best, not so you can beat them but so you can defend against them long enough to survive!

So to summarize everything:

  • Do not think that because, as Krav Maga Practitioners, we should not learn ground techniques because we avoid the ground
  • When learning ground techniques in Krav Maga, you must understand the Krav Maga mentality and application. You must have it drilled in your head, prior to getting comfortable, that we do not ever go to the ground if we can help it. And remember, Get into a better position, cause them pain, and get up as fast as you can creating distance for the escape.
  • It is a good idea, to separate ground only classes and NOT call them Krav Maga
  • Learning proper, and modern ground techniques is best done from a qualified GROUND expert (A Krav Maga Expert does not always mean a Ground expert)
  • You should at least once in your life, roll with a Black Belt, or Champion level grappler to understand what can really happen
  • When training grappling to supplement Krav Maga, enter with the mentality that you want to learn to defend yourself and IF you happen to get good offensively then consider it a bonus!
  • NEVER EVER EVER underestimate an opponent because of their size, because they might be a grappling champion and no matter how good you’re striking, may choke you out before you even have a chance to blink!

Written by: Jonathan Fader