Why so many grappling styles stop when things go to the ground

If you throw your opponent to the ground in almost all of the old, traditional folk wrestling styles then you win. That’s it. Game over. To modern day martial artists that seems very odd, as we’re now all used to seeing MMA and BJJ fights on the ground, sometimes lasting minutes. But in olden times, if your shoulders touched the ground or you were pinned (or some version thereof), it was all over.

Why is that?*

Photo by Alan Stoddard on Pexels.com

You’ll find the answer in the latest episode of the Sonny Brown Breakdown in which he interviews Ruadhán MacFadden of the Hero with a Thousand Holds podcast.

“I talk to Ruadhán MacFadden. He runs a project titled The Hero with a Thousand Holds which looks at the culture and practice of folk wrestling styles around the world. In particular the people and places that the styles have emerged from and not just the techniques which they used. We discuss some of the mythology and culture behind these styles and what the future holds for them. And we get into some of the particulars of Icelandic Glima and Irish Collar and Elbow Wrestling and Scuffling.”

* Ok,I’ll tell you the answer, (or one of the possible answers anyway). Wrestling between males (and sometimes females) was often used as a form of socialisation, and entertainment in tightly knight communities, or as a way of settling disputes without recourse to serious violence. Killing valuable members harmed the community’s chances of long term survival. In any case, there was nothing to be gained for the community from people getting seriously hurt either, so there had to be a simple way of declaring a winner without things escalating to the point that somebody was bludgeoned to death with a rock. Hence, once you landed on the ground, it was over.

4 thoughts on “Why so many grappling styles stop when things go to the ground

  1. Pingback: Why so many grappling styles stop when things go to the ground — The Tai Chi Notebook – SMA bloggers

  2. Yes, and weapons…if you are on the ground and your opponent has anything bigger than a pocket knife, any level of skill, and time, you are in serious trouble.

    Push hands today often stops at unbalancing. This usually fits into the socialization category. It’s usually safe, friendly, empowering, and fun. But, this was not exactly how it was used in traditional training.

    In traditional training, the idea was to learn how your opponent’s ground reaction force could be broken. Losing balance was a first indicator. With practice, the idea was learning to break GRF on first contact without your opponent falling down and offering them a momentary illusion that they were still in control. This simply created an opening, in which your vulnerability to a counter-attack was greatly reduced. If your opponent has no effective ground reaction force, their ability to launch an effective attack was greatly impeded and their exposure increased. With that opening, you could attack in the manner you saw fit.

    It’s not foolproof, but it raises your odds of survival, and mastering the lessons of push hands in the clinch or bind, would enable you to move on to be introduced to advanced methods in fighting and weapons training. It was never meant to be the pinnacle of training.


  3. Probably true, but the Greeks were pretty adamant that wrestling was bugger all use for soldiers in war. General Qi of the Ming Dynasty in China said the same thing about martial arts. Wrestling is for civilian life.


  4. I guess I prefer the interpretation that if you are fighting in a war with edged weapons (like spears) and you are put on the ground, then the disadvantage is so great you can just call it a loss.


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