The Dichotomy of Grappling

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At training and I was doing some randori with one of our guys: my height, probably 20+ pounds on me, a wrestler, and solid purple in jujitsu with our teacher – that is, we do roughly 40-60% standing grappling work, gi and no-gi, depending on what is trending in the dojo at the time.

He was playing a strong grip game: mixing up the holds, keeping in base, adjusting and re-adjusting grips with the flow of the fight.

He did not attempt a single attack….I did, but couldn’t pull one off, either.*

Obviously this kind of negative grappling can get frustrating: his refusal to attack, to keep from giving any opening, and mine to eschew guard pulling to initiate groundwork, were meeting head-to-head. For a moment, I forgot myself and chided my partner: “hey, that’s negative grappling. You never make an attack. You just defend. That will get you penalized in competition (not that I know about that…). And it makes for a less useful training experience for your partner.”

To his credit – he’s a good guy and self-effacing, and has not a contentious bone in his body – he said he was working on some other things, but realized that what he was doing was counterproductive to a shared grappling experience.

Thinking on it later, I had to check myself. What he was doing is exactly what he should for a combative or defensive encounter. Arguably, I’m a better grappler, in fact he said part of his reticence in attack was that he did not want to get smashed. Yet here he was, able to use his skills and attributes to keep moving, keep base, change grips, and shut down my attacks. It’s not that he wasn’t actively grappling, its that he was using negative grappling to keep from being placed in a position he did not want to be placed.

Isn’t that really the point?

From a competitive perspective, of course not. From a combative point of view, he’s on the money, because in the latter circumstance being able to keep from being entangled and being taken down is key, isn’t it?

I’ve explored this idea of negative combatives before, and recently was discussing John Danaher’s points about negative gripping  with a friend. Far be it from to me challenge the Master – but he pretty much defines the difference between in attitudes of jujitsu for defensive and combat survival purposes and that for “rolling” and competitive matches.

That is, of purpose. Previously I’d compared it to the clinch in boxing – “negative” boxing that is frowned upon and penalized in the sport. But how useful would it be to be able to tie up with and prevent a superior boxer from using their skills against you?

“That’s not boxing!” some would say.

But….isn’t it?

In the same vein, isn’t negative grappling still grappling? Just grappling a different way? Isn’t the ability to keep a superior grappler from effectively engaging with you via grips and base and tactics valid skill? Especially when a competitive submission is NOT your goal.

Boring to watch, yes. Frustrating to do, check. Effective? Undoubtedly.

I’d be cautious when looking at it this way. Negative grappling is not “anti-grappling” in the same sense that much of the martial world uses it. Usually the anti-grapplers are people who have no understanding of grappling, and this becomes immediately apparent when viewing their so-called solutions to grappling problems,

But negative grappling is still grappling, in my view. It may be frowned upon in a sportive – and even sporting – context. But the lessons it offers bear noting.


*For the record, I don’t pull guard. That would have been the easiest thing to do, and the default for many jiujitsuka, but I won’t pull guard. I could have; got the fight to the ground, done a sweep or submission from guard, etc etc but that’s not how I roll… pun intended.

I also rarely open with a sacrifice throw. I try to get them down with me still standing, or me on top. The ol’ school Valley Drop isn’t a preferred way to go to the ground for me.

It is my conscious decision to do this, and I am fully aware it intentionally limits my jiujiutsu.









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