When starting martial arts as an adult it feels critical to ensure that you are maximizing your training time from the outset. After deciding to train martial arts, one of the first I needed to know is if I should prioritize learning grappling or striking. So I decided to take a closer look into the striking versus grappling debate.
Training grappling before striking is ideal since provides more initial benefits for combat sports and self-defense. Grappling-based martial arts like BJJ, Wrestling, and Judo also allow control without causing injuries to yourself or your opponent and can nullify striking if applied intelligently.
There are several reasons why it’s better to start training in grappling before striking. If you’ve been wondering which art to start with, keep reading to find out more.
Grappling Skills Are Essential in Combat Sports
Skills gained in grappling-based martial arts are important in combat sports since these skills decide whether or not the fight goes to the ground. Skilled grapplers with below-average striking skills have more success in combat sports like MMA than strikers with below-par grappling skills.
Both striking and grappling are obviously very important parts of full-contact combat sports like MMA. Striking disciplines are important and great martial arts to train, however, these skills can be rendered nearly useless if a grappler manages to get their takedown.
If you look at the early UFC where people tended to be dominant in one discipline, the pure grapplers tended to win over the pure strikers. For the average hobbyist or amateur, this is still reflective of what would happen in an amateur MMA setting, so prioritizing grappling first might make sense.
If a striker can’t keep their feet or end up in top position, they aren’t going to be able to utilize their skillset properly. That’s why even high-level strikers need to be able to stay on their feet and defend against grappling on the ground.
If you are looking to shore up your self-defense fighting abilities, it makes sense to train grappling first. Ending up on the ground at the wrong time when there are no rules or referees to protect you is a bad situation. Grappling allows deciding if and how the fight goes to the ground.
Ground fighting is also statistically safer as a trained grappler. Many fights end up on the ground, and it seems like a good idea to be trained for those situations.
Some situations that are common in grappling that have perfect carryover into self-defense include:
- Dictating whether or not a fight hits the ground through takedowns or takedown defense
- Holding somebody in an effective guard position to prevent them from effectively striking you
- Effective control in fights that involve a wall which mirrors training in fighting off the cage
Ultimately, grappling gives you the opportunity to control and move between different situations in a self-defense fight context. If you are highly trained, you also have the option to put somebody out through a relatively safe blood choke and keep your opponent from taking lasting damage.
Another factor that people that don’t train combat sports just don’t understand is that if you don’t have a lot of sparring training with true intensity, you are very likely to freeze up in a situation where you have to defend yourself. Grappling martial arts do a great job in inoculating you to the stress of a fight situation within the context of relatively safe training.
Training grappling first allows you to get more experience in clinching situations faster, which helps to protect you from strikes. Getting to the clinch prevents most striking options and control in the clinch can keep your opponent too off-balanced for powerful knees and short striking techniques.
Muay Thai fighters will be familiar with that position, and if you run into somebody who has very level Muay Thai they can probably deal with the position and get some hits in. But if you experienced enough, you should stand a good chance of getting the fight to the ground, where they don’t have as much experience.
Learning grappling martial arts first is important because close-range fighting is common, which is really the only place that grappling can occur, so you will be far more experienced than your opponent at close ranges if you train it first.
Taking them to the ground or pinning them against a wall brings them into your world. A fighter lying on their back or being pinned against a wall has few options other than trying to escape.
During grappling, knowing what options are available to you makes it much easier to control a fight. Furthermore, grappling limits the level of damage a striker can cause due to the close distance and the inability to get sound footing.
A Grappler Can Minimize a Strength Disadvantage
Building up grappling competence first can give you a lot of benefits as a beginning fighter especially if you are likely to be at a strength disadvantage. Grapplers can use posture, structure, and mechanical advantages to even the playing field against stronger opponents.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best arts for building these specific skills. During training, you’ll learn ways to use your body to execute moves that can work even against physically stronger opponents.
All grappling arts incorporate this idea to some extent. Getting into an advantageous position is a core tenet of grappling, and getting to an advantaged position and maintaining helps to minimize strength and size disparities.
Picking grappling over striking comes with the advantage that you can use it to reduce the effectiveness of techniques and skills that striking-based disciplines build. Striking is trained within certain ranges. A high-level grappler can nullify striking options by controlling where the fight is.
Many striking disciplines do include some measure of grappling, for instance, Muay Thai trains the clinch. Some more traditional martial arts like Karate and Aikido will also do some grappling training within certain contexts. However, trained grapplers will still have more repetitions and thus more skill advantage in these positions.
Striking disciplines typically require that you remain standing or in a dominant top position since that is where the majority of training occurs. If it isn’t obvious, the fighter who ends up in the position and range that most of their training occurred in will be at a big advantage in an altercation. A grappling expert can usually choose the position and range of the encounter.
Building a strong grappling foundation can give you many options that striking may not give you that make it a good initial choice. For instance, subduing an opponent without causing significant harm is really something that grappling does far more effectively than striking.
Some common ways grappling is useful that aren’t necessarily available in striking arts are:
- In subduing a physical threat without causing injury: One of the reasons jiu-jitsu is starting to be seen in more police officer training programs is that grappling enables them to use less force to control suspect without causing physical harm.
- In achieving incapacitation of an opponent: When needed, there are also submissions or blood chokes that can incapacitate somebody without causing as much harm as striking or other escalation tactics.
- In street altercations where you end up on the ground: Being on the bottom on the ground poses a higher risk since the top person can throw better strikes and being on the ground involves strikes 79% of the time. Getting to a top position through grappling experience really maximizes your chances of walking away with less damage done.
While it is preferable to have training in both striking and grappling, for most people with normal lives and responsibilities, choosing grappling for their initial martial art will be a good choice. It will give a host of benefits that striking does not give you, the most obvious of which is giving you options like exerting control without harming your opponent.
A smart grappler can also nullify striking with some targeted training and teaching grapplers how to strike later can make them well-rounded in the future. However, training any martial art, striking-based or grappling-based is a good idea for personal development. You can always add more martial arts later!
For more check out Can a Black Belt Martial Artist Beat a Boxer?