Regardless of what Martial Art one studies, when thoughts and consideration is put towards ground work as an area of practise, then there are a few things that need to be seriously considered.
Firstly, this whole concept comes from the basis that probably all serious confrontations and fighting arts (Martial Arts), was and is to down the opponent, as in put them to the ground or knock them out so that they are then deemed out of action. Whereas an opponent or attacker who is on their feet, unless seriously backing off is always kind of still in the fight and dangerous.
Secondly, during real life confrontations going to the ground really is the last thing that you want to be doing, and yes! the last place that you want to be too, as this puts you not only at your most vulnerable but also in danger to the point of things going off the scale. Self-protection or fighting for survival is bad enough when you are on your feet but to intentionally start rolling around the floor is ludicrous.
A few years ago grappling and ground work kind of took the Karate world by storm, I’m not quite sure why this was, but it did, and for many Karate Ka I would say that it was probably because their fundamental Karate basis was either lacking, or after watching things like MMA and UFC they saw the great success that the Brazilian Ju Jitsu guys were having with their grappling skills and then clung on to this. The thing is though this wasn’t new, when the Japanese Ju Jutsu Masters Uyenishi and Tani arrived in the UK during the 50’s they were taking on all comers at fair grounds including challenges from many seasoned fist fighters, of which I believe they were both undefeated.
This becomes complicated, but three things stand out here, 1, the superiority of grappling once the opponent is on the ground. 2, these were all match fights. 3, the small stature of guys like Uyenishi compared to their many opponents made no difference at all, he was 5 feet 5 inches in height and 9st 2lb in weight.
The thing that was obvious to myself and many others too I’m sure, was that a lot of the Karate guys out there who were now suddenly teaching these supposed Karate grappling or ground work skills, were not really that skilled or proficient in the art of Ne Waza at all, despite their claims. So as far as holding their own or testing their ground work basis in a strong Judo or Ju Jutsu environment goes, most would or will have had little chance and that’s putting it mildly. The thing is with Judo or Brazillian Ju Jitsu you can put things totally to the test, which of course is much more difficult to do with Karate. Credit where it is due though these days there are more than a few Karate Ka who have upped their game in this domain, but like it or not this is not Karate based.
The first myth that was floated around was that most street fights or encounters end up going to the ground. Sorry, but this just isn’t true!! However, in a lot of street confrontations though one person will be put to the ground. There is a big difference here that most people fail to grasp or understand. This is why the basis of arts like Karate, Western Boxing and say Muay Thai is to fight from the stand whilst on your feet, yes all for good reason. Now don’t for one-minute think that I am taking anything away from the grappling arts like Judo, Ju Jutsu, Wrestling or Brazillian Ju Jitsu because I’m not. As I indicate above they really are excellent Arts that are to be highly endorsed, probably more so than a lot of the Karate that is being taught these days if truth be known. My father was a Judo Ka so I spent years in the art and know full well how effective it all really is, however their basis and approach is different.
Quite a few years ago now I got in to a confrontation whereby due to my Judo background the natural instincts of training instantly came in to play and I reactively took this guy to the ground. A well-executed technique that was certainly effective. But… Instead of staying on my feet I went down with him and got him into a head lock, all was good and I wasn’t going to lose for sure. Then out of no where a mate of his came running in and kicked me straight in the head. Luckily I saw it as he approached and managed to both tighten up my neck and turn my head so that I took the kick just above the right eye. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t seen it coming and took the kick both unexpectedly and to the front of the face, then I would have been in serious trouble that day. So, I certainly learned a valuable lesson the hard and painful way as far as going to ground goes.
The basis of Karate was not to go to ground but to stay on your feet and to fight from the stand, all for the very good reasons stated above. Also, ground grappling is one on one based, whereby at the stand you do have a chance against multiple attackers. I have had this conversation with quite a few leading Karate teachers whilst on Okinawa including my own Sensei and they all say the same thing. That there was no groundwork in Karate it is a modern addition regardless of trendy belief in the West. Now, many people will be saying look at old photographs there’s your proof!? Well… No it’s not! When you look at these photos you will clearly see the likes of Miyagi taking the opponent to the ground or going in for a finishing strike whilst the opponent is on the ground, even by way of a kneeling leg take down. Basically, these Karate men are still fighting from the stand, what you do not see is them actually in grappling positions on the ground.