And one of the things that ‘martial art’ means is being able to defend against punches.
And one of the most important places to defend punches from is when you’re on the bottom, in the guard.
Why the Guard?
On the ground it’s relatively easy to defend against strikes when you’re on top and in a dominant position.
If you’re on top then your opponent’s strikes will lack reach and power, plus anything that he tries to do you can do back to him ten times worse. In this situation you don’t need to worry too much about getting hit (still watch out for knives, needles, guns and other weapons though!).
But when the tables are turned, when you’re on the bottom and your opponent is over top of you, that’s when things get dangerous in a hurry!
Now he’s got all the power in the world thanks to gravity and the ability to rotate his body effectively. A heavy punch from the top position can end the fight instantly!
I discussed reach and power generation more thoroughly in the article called “Why the Mount is So Devastating in a Streetfight.
So the bottom position in a fight sucks.
But if you can’t reverse the position or get back to your feet then your best option from the bottom is to put your opponent into your guard.
In the guard you at least have a fighting chance – you’re not in a dominant position, sure, but here at least you can use your arms and your legs in coordination against your opponent. If you know what you’re doing then the guard is your best chance for survival on the bottom.
You’ve gone from definitely losing the fight to being roughly equal with your opponent.
Punch Defense from the Guard
Now the self defense guard is a deep topic – my friend Elliott Bayev and I recently produced a 4+ hour tutorial on the self defense guard. In that instructional we cover over 40 different techniques to deal with punches, kicks, standing opponents, kneeling opponents, etc.
Techniques on their own are great, but simply knowing a bunch of moves isn’t enough.
Knowledge without implementation is just book learning: it’s a good start but not sufficient. There’s nothing like the instant feedback of getting punched in the head to tell you that you’re doing something wrong!
When you want to make your techniques functional in real life it’s important to drill them against progressively increasing levels of resistance (the 5 levels of resistance are covered in this article here).
So you need to drill the moves from your guard, including your punch defense techniques, against increasing levels of resistance.
A Punch Defense Drill
In the video below you’ll see a very powerful (and street applicable) drill.
You’ll need 3 things:
- boxing gloves, bag gloves, or MMA gloves if you’re feeling brave
- a mouthguard
- an old T shirt that can get torn up.
The core of the drill is to put your opponent in your guard and defend while he tries to punch you. Typically you’ll do this drill from the closed guard but you can do it from other forms of guard too.
One of the most important things you can do to stay safe from punches is to break his posture. If he’s bent over and unable to straight up then his punches will be much weaker and it’ll be much easier for you to control his arms.
Breaking posture without the BJJ gi on is quite tough – in a sweaty environment without cloth to grab.
What makes this particular drill different is that you’re going to use your opponent’s T shirt to control his body, break his posture, and jerk him off balance.
Now you DON’T want to grab the T shirt anywhere – it’ll just rip instantly.
Instead break his posture down, gather the material at the back of his shirt together (from the hem of the shirt to the neck) so you form a nice, solid handle right behind his neck.
Now insert your cross hand and get a solid grip on this manufactured handle. This is essentially a variation of the ‘cross collar grip’ that gets used in gi-based BJJ all the time.
I could go on and on about the techniques themselves, but the bottom line is that if you watch the video below and then go and try it out with a (sane) training partner you’ll figure it out very quickly.
Check it out the video below, and see if you can figure out how I snuck in the collar choke at about 2:00!
As I said, experience is a great teacher. There’s nothing like getting a punch or two to the noggin to sort out sloppy technique!
And once you become comfortable controlling your opponent and blocking all his punches from here you can use that same handle to set up your chokes, armlocks and sweeps, just like in BJJ class.
Turning the thin and delicate fabric of a shirt into a solid hand with which you can dominate your opponent is a trick that every self defense student should know!
More Self Defense Techniques from the Guard
If you want to take your self defense guard to the next level then check out the instructional I did with BJJ black belt Elliott Bayev.
It’s more than 4 hours and 40 techniques of high-percentage material that will allow you to start on the bottom in a real fight and still come out the victor.