“Most Situations Will Go To Ground… The Mantra and the Reality,” by Nev Sagiba

“Strategic thinking embraces everything and leaves nothing out. No gaps. No holes in understanding and practice. Adaptation is the core of all survival.”

nev-sagiba-faceThe mantra of many neo-wrestlers is: “Most situations will go to ground…”

But is this the fact?

Over the years, I’ve witnessed quite a few situations, and as I recall, very few, in fact went to ground. Usually those that did were trivia between hotheads.

I recently read this statement again and I tried to recall a situation of, “things going to the ground.” Especially, the most deadly situations, nothing “went to ground”. Sure, in the dojo, groundwork is a given. I grew up on the ground. Before it got given fancy other names, Judo included newaza or ground grappling as par for the course.

Not to bag out the proponents who prefer mostly groundwork, credit where it is due. BUDO DOES INDEED BEGIN FROM THE GROUND UP. Everything does. This is a given. Agreed.

But it does not stay there! It continues and just like tree, must grow.

If you don’t know your grappling, you have not begun training anything. Groundwork is foundational, the VERY BEST ki training and essential training. If you don’t know the ground, that’s where you will likely be finished.

Don’t underestimate the ground. Animals don’t. They fear going to ground and will use every means to get up again where possible. Animals who go to ground and stay there, usually die.

For the human type being, the possibilities are endless. And so are the assumptions.

Newaza possibilities are even more infinite than standing jujutsu. Groundwork is essential. A house without foundations cannot stand and the better the foundations, the better and more stable the walls, and the roof will then sit really well. Silly people who try to put roofs up without even walls, skate on thin ice.

A “real” situation is as varied as imagination itself. There can be a vast range of implements, hand held weapons, farming tools, held carpenter tools, kitchen utensils, knives, guns, swords, spears, broken bottles, axes, machetes, an array of blunt objects.

Ground not recommended.

You do not want to “go to ground” with dogs, other animals either, whether domesticated or untamed. And very seldom will you be attacked by one single person, or animal, who is unarmed, smaller, weaker, disadvantaged or in any way cooperative on a flat empty space with padded floors and good lighting, hydration, three course meals, pillows or an arbitrator.

The ocean also, contains another deadly array of opponents including the moods of the weather. Surviving in water is another story again. Assuredly, attacks happen, or fall into water as well. For example a fight that rolls off a boat. How could that “go to ground”? It won’t. You need wind, swimming and aquatic skills.

Have you ever taken your dojo to train in any body of water; such as a river, lake or ocean. Have you ever conducted keiko in both shallow and deep water? If not, why not?

How prepared are you really?

Back to earth, grappling is indeed one essential tool of the warrior. But it is only one. So also are weapons, striking and other essential skills.

But to suggest that ground fighting is the only way to fight is a bit of a lopsided view.

Assumptions are the most dangerous of all enemies and people carry these in themselves. Usually it is the assumptions that defeat you, long before any actual incident because assumptions limit your mental flexibility.

Fighting with tools that are out of context to the situation at hand is suicidal, no matter how zealous the attempt.

Unless of course you impose the context.

The ground should be avoided. Especially if near a cliff edge, if the opponent has knives, or friends, and especially if one is a sniper.

Notwithstanding, knowing what to do on the ground is paramount. Because sometimes you may fall over. But it is not a given that you should.

Train grappling to get up. Not to stay there. Familiarize with all the ground possibilities you can. They are worthy tools.

Now that I’m older, I fear the ground a little, but only from horseback. It must be global warming or something, but coming off a horse at speed, it seems the ground is getting harder with the passing of the years.

This grappling debate is not really a circular argument. Horses for courses. If you find yourself on the ground, you will need to know what to do. Otherwise you won’t do. Opinions won’t help you. Only skill. Skill has to be practiced and needs be multifaceted. But if there’s weapons or more than one opponent, I recommend, don’t go there in the first place. Or that you get up fast. Train for this.

Ki: the mind leads the body. If you are properly trained and you can mentally see a successful result in advance, there is a likely chance it will be achieved. If your mind believes that, “things will go to ground,” then they most likely will. In most real situations this will not be advantageous.

Practice for both ground and standing and modulating for the severity of the event. Evaluate. Notice the terrain and adjust your strategic variables.

Strategic thinking embraces everything and leaves nothing out. No gaps. No holes in understanding and practice. Adaptation is the core of all survival.

Practical aiki is best learned in newaza. It enables putting the roots down solidly; it can then grow into something refined, elegant, practical and devastating.

Along with bukiwaza and atemiwaza, newaza, is another vital and essential tool in the toolbox of Aikido.

Ground grappling is not at all irrelevant, but strongly contributes to the power of good standing Aikido. But it is not the end all and be all.

Standing Aikido without a working understanding of atemi, buki and newaza will be weak.

Newaza is as old as the world, but when warriors went into real battle, they preferred to fight standing.

What makes practical Aikido so effective is that, in understanding the implications of newaza, Aikido practices to capture the drop, gravity, the ki sinkhole, at the instant when the combined mass would have gone to ground, capturing it instead as a kaeshiwaza or henkawaza, rather than simply resigning to “going to ground.”

This had its origins in the battlefield melees where, (note the length of a katana), “going to ground” would have been the last thing you ever did.

Will most situations go to ground?

They may, and then again they may not. If they do, you will need to be prepared for it. If they don’t, you will be safer from sharp things, other assailants and other things by fighting standing as much as possible. You need to dominate and finish the situation in a few seconds, not entangle for prolonged risk.

Just remember, it does not take much skill for one person, or two, to hold you down while the others sharpen their katana calmly, before killing.

Know what to do on the ground to get off the ground as fast as possible and then avoid the ground using every means possible. It may be a paradox that understanding groundwork can be used to avoid “going to ground,” but it is so.

And there are a panoply of skills available, both armed and unarmed for this.

They can all be deployed with Aiki. Aikido, when properly understood and practiced correctly, capitalizes on the forces of mass, energy, space, time and gravity to maximize advantage in every way possible.

This is the origin of the Aikido techniques. The deployment of our most ancient friend and ally to remain standing: Gravity.

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5s Comments

  1. One of the wonderful things of our age is the security camera. You can take a look at any number of real fights that have been recorded. I find them reassuring. There are a few central principles of physical engagement, timing, distance and center line (the shortest distance between opponents). Few real fights as recorded show much appreciation of any of them. Based on the videos I’ve watched I would expect a lot of stiff, powerful roundhouse/yokomen type strikes preceded by either a jab or grab. A common grab is a hair-pull and a common response is to bend over, covering up to minimize the abuse that will follow (often kicks at that stage). I am confident that my aikido would give me an advantage in that type of situation.

    Of course the real basic comes earlier. Situational awareness. That not-so-well-known warrior/strategist, Boyd, summed up fighting from the perspective of a fighter pilot: observe – orient – decide – act. The one who can go through the cycle appropriately and faster wins. The MiG was a better fighter plane in many respects, but the Saber had better visibility and a better gun sight and our pilots had more hours of flight time. Superior training, superior visibility, and easier marksmanship gave a favorable kill ratio over Korea. If you take your training seriously you should have a similar advantage.

    I keep coming back to aviation because I consider aikido ukemi to be related. In aviation our attacking style would be “boom and zoom”. Get your shot and get out preserving as much momentum/energy as possible and making a difficult target on your way. So rather than taking a hit, get out. We do that all the time with kokyu ho and kokyu nage. Once upon a time Terry Dobson was demonstrating a kokyu throw. I asked him why I should fall when I really wasn’t off balance. At the time my short ribs were in range of his next move, an atemi. He told me he didn’t want to show me the reason.

    Now, it’s difficult enough to have nage waza come spontaneously, let alone kaeshi waza. Here’s a real challenge – get your ukemi to come spontaneously in an undefiined/contested context.

  2. “Ki: The mind leads the body.”

    I appreciate this post and your previous post about tenkan, Sagiba-Sensei. Let me be refreshingly (if not typically 🙂 ) brief.

    I’ve been in two street fights. Neither of which went to ground and Aikido training saved me. But many, many more arguments and disagreements that I’ve been in also stayed upright. I think that de-escalation methods like those taught by the Crisis Prevention Institute are ENORMOUSLY effective and actually utilize many principles similar to those Aikido teaches like “muteiko” and “aiki-age” or “musubi.” I’ve certainly used them in public service more than nikyo!

    Hopefully law enforcement entities will get larger training budgets in the years to come so that they can benefit from this sort of training also. I demonstrated some of the techniques for my Dad, an ex-cop, and he said that it reminded him of the kind of things he saw 20-year-veterans say to citizens on the street. One would hope that a good cop would not have to wait 20 years to learn verbal muteiko!

    One other thing: I think that it’s worth mentioning that there may be a socio- and ethno-cultural element to whether or not fights go to ground in addition to a training element. As an African-American, I’ve seen fights within and between different cultures and economic backgrounds. Some have a tendency to go to ground more than others, I would guess, because of different lived experiences and exposures. Therefore, I agree with you! The idea of “Going to Ground First!” is likely not the soundest idea in most situations. Especially when, like I mentioned before, there are so many other possibilities. In this YouTube clip, one of the Gracies,–whose grandfather and grand-uncle practically invented modern prizefighting on the ground–demonstrates another way to stay upright when things get physical by managing distance and balance (starting at about minute 6):


    Okay, maybe not so brief after all! 🙂

  3. I have yet to see an aikido practitioner gain any advantage whatsoever standing or on the ground when up against a bjj/judo guy or even a wrestler. And please don’t quote the legends of O-Sensei beating em all. LOL

  4. Since we are talking about real life fighting, don’t forget, that the criminal element has a plan. The innocent victim, was not consulted, about that plan.

    The adrenalin level, of that criminal, is far greater, than the low adrenalin level, of the victim. The ideal criminal strategy, is to strike someone on the back of the neck, thus rendering them, either unconscious or disabled.

    First, do you practice instinctive blindsided attacks ? When on the ground, while having your valuables removed, how is your Aikido ?

  5. This article has the strong undertone of countering the argumelnt and theory that most real fights between two people ground as made famous by both the Ju Jitsu and Judo Champion Mitsuyo Maeda (Conde Coma) and later the Gracie Family through the Gracie Challenge during the 1940s through the 1990s. However, the word Ju Jitsu only appears in the meta tags and not in the article. Again only the undertone and reference of what you call neo-wrestling and fancy names.

    Many times your experience in Aikido helps open many doors for future training experience. In studying and practicing other styles of Ju Jutsu, it’s up to you to widen the scope of your eyes once you walk through those doors.

    Yet, you argue that ground work is valid. And than move on the say you no longer like the ground because you’re getting older, you ride horses and one day you may be fighting and fall off a boat in the water. With all this being said you further your connection with Grappling to the finer points of Aikido. From the opening sentence, I saw where your article was heading and to the end I feel missed the points of Ju Jutsu in your practice of Aikido to have such a biased towards grappling arts for self-realization and or self-preservation.

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