If someone gets behind you and puts you in a rear bearhug then you have to take defensive action right away!
That’s because getting picked up and slammed on your head is one of the worst-case scenarios in a confrontation. It’s one thing to get punched in the face is bad, but getting hit in the head by a pavement-covered planet is much worse.
Here’s a video I put out with 5 techniques to counter the rear bearhug, with a special emphasis on not getting slammed into unconsciousness
0:30 – Don’t let him get behind you
1:01 – Break the grip, hand in pocket, spin out
1:36 – Hook his legs with one or both of your legs
2:15 – Put your hands on the floor and Granby roll
3:00 – Put your hands on the floor, grab an ankle, and sit
Let’s dive a little deeper into why being in the rear bear hug is such a dangerous situation…
The Suplex in Wrestling
Freestyle, collegiate and Greco-Roman wrestlers love slamming people too, especially with suplexes. These arts use belly to belly suplexes, gutwrench suplexes, belly to back suplexes, and front headlock suplexes all the time!
If you let a wrestler get to your back then there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going for a ride with a nasty ending.
It might take a lot of training to stop a skilled wrestler from taking you down, but if you follow the guidelines I covered in the video at the top of this article then at least it will probably hurt less.
The Suplex in Pro Wrestling
The suplex is a staple pro-wrestling move. Nothing is more impressive than 300 lb people throwing each other around.
There are a TON of different suplexes in this art, however barring a massive size and skill disparity most of them won’t work against a resisting opponent.
Now it’s true that you’re unlikely to fight a pro wrestler, but pro-wrestling is one of the ways the average Joe gets his information about fighting…
Even if your opponent can’t pull off a wheelbarrow suplex, a tiger suplex, or a superplex off the top rope, then him having just watched pro-wrestling will still have given the idea that picking someone up and slamming them into the sidewalk is a good way to end a fight. So you have to deal with it before that happens!
Suplexes and Slams in MMA
I’m beginning to belabor the point but many MMA fights have been finished with suplexes and other slams.
The first fight-ending slam I saw in MMA was when Frank Shamrock KO’d Igor Zinoviev in UFC 16 back in 1998, but there have been many MMA slam finishes since, mostly from the guard and the rear bearhug position.
Once again, you need an immediate answer to this situation!
How Not to Get Slammed from the Rear Bearhug
Let’s take break down 5 of the best defenses to getting caught in a rear bearhug for you…
1, Don’t Let Your Opponent Get Behind You
In some ways defending the rear bearhug is a lot like that old joke…
Patient: “Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this…”
Doctor: “Stop doing that!”
So part of getting out of the rear bearhug is to not get caught in it in the first place!
The most basic answer for the bearhug is to develop the pummelling skills to avoid giving your opponent the armdrags, slidebys and duckunders to your back in the first place.
Often this is a question of denying him a good grip and/or snagging a quick control as he’s going to your back so that you can rotate and face him again.
To make this instinctive requires live pummelling and clinch work on your feet where you try to get a dominant position on your partner and he tries to get one on you without actually finishing the takedowns. After he’s taken your back a few times you’ll develop an absolute allergy to anyone trying to get behind you.
One of the most popular and commonly taught ways to take back is with the armdrag. It’s popular for a reason: the armdrag is an amazing tool in grappling and I’d go as far as to say that the armdrag to rear naked choke is one of the most important techniques in self defense.
So you should learn how to use it offensively AND how to counter it!
One of the simplest ways to counter the armdrag is with a “crosschop” – as your opponent starts to pull your arm out of place you insert your other hand between your two bodies and chop his chest or his shoulder. This blocks his forward progress and allows you to get back into a good position.
2, Break the Grip, Hand in Back Pocket, Spin Out
As we discussed earlier, the bearhug and belly to back suplex are staples in wrestling. So it stands to reason that wrestling has some pretty good defenses against these same attacks. Let’s look at one of them…
If your opponent gets behind you and links his hands then look down and see which of his hands is on top.
Now insert your thumbs behind the wrist of his top hand and walk your hips forward while pushing his arm down. The force of your hips moving against the strength of his fingers, combined with you pushing his arm down into an anatomically weaker position will often allow you to break his grip apart.
Now comes the dangerous part: both of his arms are now free and you don’t want him to latch onto your neck with a choke, your upper body with a seatbelt grip, or just refasten his bearhug grip. So take the hand that you’re controlling and move it behind you. I call this ‘putting his hand into your pocket.’
Now spin in the direction of his stuffed hand and turn to face him. Don’t let him get to your back again.
3, Hook His Legs with One or Both of Your Legs
Now things are getting dire. He’s got to your back. You weren’t able to break his grip. And he’s beginning to lift you off the ground.
You don’t have great options at this point, but you do have a way to make a bad situation slightly less terrible.
The moment that he starts to lift you off the ground take one or both of your legs and snake them around one or both of his legs. Use your insteps to hook onto his legs like you’re in the guard (even though you’re facing away from him).
By connecting your lower body to his lower body it makes it much harder for him to hoist you up into the air. At worst he’ll get you about a foot off the ground and then fall over on you, which is much better than getting thrown onto your head.
This isn’t a perfect technique but it’s making the best of a bad situation. Do this and you’ll end up in hospital less often.
4, Put Your Hands on the Floor and Granby Roll
Most of the time when someone has the rear bearhug on you he’s going to want to pull you backwards and hoist you up. By putting all your weight forward you make it harder for him to do so.
When he gets his bodylock lean forward, put your hands on the ground and your feet back. Now it’s harder for him to lift you up, although you do need to be careful that he doesn’t jump onto your back, get his hooks in.
Now cross-step your legs and then roll across your shoulders to break his grip, get your feet between him and you, and re-establish the guard.
This movement is known as a Granby roll in wrestling and sometimes as a tornado roll in jiu-jitsu. In either case it’s essentially a sideways shoulder roll (click here for a breakdown of the Granby roll movement).
A very similar finish from the hands on the floor position is to tuck your head to the inside, control the legs, and somersault forward into a rolling kneebar.
5, Put Your Hands on the Floor, Grab Ankle, Sit on Thigh
Here’s one more escape from the rear bearhug position. It’s one of those old-school self defense techniques that actually works if you pressure test it in sparring.
From the weight-forward-hands-on-the-ground position reach back between your legs and grab one of his ankles. Now pull up on his ankle while sitting down on his thigh. This turns his leg into a great big lever to take him to the ground.
Try to stay on your feet as he falls so you can run away, stomp his groin, and/or turn and face him. In certain situations you might be justified for going for a leglock as he falls, but you’d better be sure that he’s not packing a knife or a gun.
I’ve used this exact move in sparring when someone has gotten behind me and I’ve typically had two outcomes: the takedown works or your opponent sees it coming and lets go of his grip. Both of which are good outcomes!
5 Ways to Get Behind Your Opponent in a Fight
If you get behind someone you can hit them, choke them or take them down at will. And in that position he has very few offensive options that he can use against you.
This article and video below breaks down 5 of the best ways to get behind your opponent in a real life situation, plus gives you a few ideas of what you can do from there.
4 Ways to Take Someone Down from the Rear Bear Hug
Check out this article and video to add four easy takedown options from the rear bearhug to your game.
And no, you don’t need to have four years of collegiate wrestling under your belt to pull off any of these moves…
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