Today we’re going to talk about self defense vs a lapel grab, a classic problem that every martial arts student needs several solutions to.
Notice I said ‘several solutions’, and that’s because any one technique can never be equally applicable to all situations.
If a crazed serial killer is coming after you with a hatchet then morally (and, in most places, legally) you’d be justified in using very high levels of force to defend yourself. If you broke that attackers arm, for example, then nobody would fault you for it.
But let’s say that Uncle Ted at the family barbecue has difficulty holding his liquor and – inspired by liquid courage – takes offence at your political leanings and decides to teach you a lesson. He grabs your shirt and starts shaking you around in an attempt to intimidate you.
So what do you do?
Clearly you can’t allow an antagonist – even your uncle – to keep a grip on your lapel.
That grip keeps you within range of his punches if things escalate, it compromises your balance, and he could throw you to the ground and land on top of you.
But at the same time responding to this relatively low level of violence by gouging your uncle’s eye out, throwing him on his head, and then viscously jump-stomping the back of his neckwould not be appropriate.
Also you likely wouldn’t get invited to many more family occasions after putting a family member into the ICU.
Different techniques are best for different contexts, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. You shouldn’t use a lethal force technique in a situation that’s not morally, socially and legally justifiable.
A friend of mine uses the analogy that self defense techniques are like golf clubs in a your bag; you want to pull the right club out of your bag for the shot. You wouldn’t use a wedge when you need a driver, and vice versa.
Anyway, back to this family BBQ gone bad…
As we already mentioned, permanently maiming the guy is not likely to serve you well in the long term. Going straight for a vicious attack will escalate things and eliminates any possibility of defusing the situation.
In this situation a simple and effective grip stripping move banned in both BJJ and Judo might be the best option.
(It’s banned because it attacks a single finger, but it works like a hot damn when you don’t have to follow the rules of a sport!)
Here’s how to do it:
- Grab his gripping wrist securely with your same-side hand (e.g. your right hand stabilising his left wrist)
- Apply pressure to his thumb joint firmly with the palm heel of your other hand (e.g. the heel of your left hand against the tip and first joint of his thumb)
- Push forward on his thumb joint, compressing it into his hand while also pulling his wrist off you with the other hand
I’ve field tested this against BJJ players and Judo players with incredibly strong grips and have found it to be very reliable and very powerful method of stripping the grip
For a more detailed breakdown of this technique, as well as some more about the tactical implications of using a technique like this, check out the short video below…
A couple of additional notes…
First, despite appearances this technique is NOT primarily a thumb lock!
Yes, you can cause some pain to the thumb by doing this, but someone hyped up on adrenaline (or methamphetamine) isn’t necessarily going to feel the pain in their thumb until much, much later. So getting your opponent to ‘tap out’ is not the primary goal here.
Look at it this way: the four fingers of your opponent’s hand are grabbing your lapel, and his thumb is forming a backstop to the lapel material, essentially locking the material and his other fingers into place.
When you compress his thumb using this technique it effectively removes the backstop to his grip, leaving him holding onto your coat with just 4 curled fingers which is a much weaker grip.
Also the bent thumb creates a nice little ledge for your hand to rest, giving you an additional purchase point where you can use the power of both your arms against his 4 fingers, a battle you’ll win an overwhelming majority of the time.
And secondly, I hope it’s obvious but you don’t want to be worrying about grip stripping like this if it’s a high violence situation andyour opponent is already hurling punches at you. In that case, you have more urgent problems; deflect that punch, launch your own attack, and go for the clinch.
But in a low-to-medium violence situation where some guy is getting in your face and grabs onto you without the punches flying in your face, quickly strip that grip using the technique shown in the video above. Once the grip is broken then immediately get some distance between the two of you so you can maintain your ability to move freely and keep control over the situation.
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