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Self Defense/Classical shoot takedown counters



I’d like to pick your brain with regards to the old classical martial arts vs mma argument.  Please have a look at this article here and scroll down to the bottom of the page where the sub headline ‘Wing Tsun is the new dim mak’ is.  Here the author makes mention of traditional martial arts answers to wrestling shots, and basically says that the only real answers to shoots are from wrestling.  He goes on to point out that any counter where you give the opponent both of your legs, keep your centre of gravity stationary and try to downward elbow or machine gun punch the opponent to the floor is the stupidest response you can attempt (which is what I’ve seen demonstrated by most traditional martial arts counters). Now truthfully, from the videos he linked on combatatntdvd, I can see where he’s coming from.  The attacker attempting the wrestlers shoot is shooting from too far away with no setup, bent over at the waist and instead of aiming for body to leg contact and driving through, he stops before he gets any body contact. On top of that, the defender, stays on line and attempts to stop the shot by just kicking the opponent.  Had the opponent attempted a proper shot, the defender would’ve been bowled right over.  The only time I’ve seen someone stay ‘on the tracks’ and succeed in countering the shot are when they timed them with a knee to the face, or when they slightly sprawled to shed some of the shots momentum, then landed an old style boxing uppercut that rather than coming vertically up from the front like a modern uppercut, instead came in from a horizontal angle to the shooter, just like a hook punch would, slamming into the side of his jaw and knocking him out (I saw UFC fighter Mark Hunt do this , In fact the author of this article was the one who covered that technique in another article).

What I would like to know is, what are some classical martial arts takedown counters (or even old school catch wrestling counters) you know to a wrestlers shot?  I’m not talking just counters you can use in a sports situation, but counters you can use in a self defense situation).  I mean, the sprawl is great-when the person is your size, but against someone who outweighs you it becomes more difficult and not so reliable (hell, even with someone your size it all depends on you timing your sprawl right, if they’re too deep in on your hips then the sprawl won’t work).

Also from that combatantdvd youtube page, what do you think of the takedown defences shown here?  Does it meet the necessary principles to be an effective counter to the takedown?

Thanks in advance

ANSWER: First let's make sure we're using the same meanings of words. I have a friend who breaks down Japanese martial arts in three tiers:

Classic is pre-WWII stuff -- when it wasn't mass taught. Traditional is what happened when Kano got Judo introduced into the school system and Funikoshi was teaching it at the Universities and to military in WWII -- in other words mass teaching. Commercialized is what happened with MA schools and Westernization.

Kelly Worden is the guy who coined the term "Kiddy Karate" to describe the changes in school taught karate (not just dojos, but PE in school). In traditional karate lot of stuff was changed, dropped and 'softened' to prevent injuries among the students (and by that I definitely mean kids). This was the beginning of what I call a car with no engine. But at the time it was taking out the carburetors and coils. Stuff that could be easily added in later.

Commercialized is what came later and when teaching MA became not just a business, but a career. This is the whole engine is missing stuff. It's also gotten a lot of crap added to it as someone either tried to jury rig the moves to make 'em work again, or just ripped off and added shit wholesale to meet market demands. (Like Yudo. The secret Korean wrestling system that was 'rediscovered' and added to Tae Kwan Do schools' curriculum when the whole BJJ craze was hot. Oddly enough, it looked exactly like BJJ -- and if you walked into the Sabunim's office you could often find "Learn BJJ" DVD courses on the bookshelf.)

All of that is background to explain why what you're asking isn't as simple of a question as you think it is.

I know of a technique -- a technique that you can see versions of in all three forms -- that depending on which version works, might work or is a fuckin' disaster against a shoot.

The hand work is the same in all three. One hand goes palm up to the shoulder. One hand goes palm down to the thigh.  In commercialized karate, the person just stands there. In traditional karate he drops back into a cat stance. The cat stance not only changes range, but puts all the weight onto one leg.

In classical ... well that takes some explaining. From a forward facing position, he shifts to the side (left)while turning 90 degrees. (So he's facing what was his right.) Here too is a cat stance. Inherent in this cat stance, however, is a weight drop onto that one leg.

Facing a charging opponent, the commercial version is going to get tackled. In the traditional one, if the shooter isn't committed the change in range might work -- and the hands might keep the guy from getting a grip. Against a committed charge however, the traditionalist is going down. That's because he didn't get off line of the shoot.

In the classic, the shift to the side gets the person off line. That stupid seeming hand work (seriously I could never figure it out and all the explanations for it from commercial and traditional folks made no sense)being to make all kinds of sense from this sideline position. The upward moving hand catches one of the attackers arms and lifts. The downward moving hand shoves his head and neck down. The combined action creates a rotation in the grappler's body, that flips his -- what I call longhorn rush -- from horizontal to vertical.

This last is very easy to see why it works. Stand up, lean forward and hold your arms out with your palms facing the floor. That's the longhorn (hook 'em horns). Longhorn rushes are a bitch to deal with. That's because just moving to the side, still gets you hooked by one of the horns.

Now, without moving your arms, twist your body so both palms are facing a wall. That's the rotation from horizontal to vertical the classic technique creates. Mix it in with not being directly in front of the grappler and more and the shoot is ruined. The grappler literally goes sailing by. The weight drop changes the level of the karatedoka, if not to that of the grappler, close enough that the leverage the grappler was relying on isn't there anymore. Also, the weight on the back foot allows for fast movement into the next action -- especially forward movement or attacks with the leg.

I've seen this classical technique done against someone trying to shoot the leg. It is ...a thing of beauty despite its purpose. I've also seen people try traditional and commercialized versions and get creamed. Here's the bitch, ALL of them are convinced they're doing the technique right. And while we're at it, these three variations are the basis of MMAer's saying that martial arts don't work in the street. And hey, given that odds are they've only seen watered down traditional and commercialized stuff THAT observation is true -- as far as they've seen.

So the point is NOT whether martial arts don't work or MMAers are better. In fact from a technique standpoint, most MMAers are technically worse than most martial artists. (They compensate for shitty technique by being in such good shape.)

What it's really about is mechanics.

Does the person doing the move have the mechanics that make it work?

Or are they patching it with muscle? And that opens up a whole new can of worms. All kinds of shitty techniques work on someone you're stronger than. But those same shitty techniques fall apart facing someone who is stronger than you. So if you limit yourself to only fighting eight year olds your MMA is guaranteed to work out in the street.

The other issue -- which I'm not going to go into -- is there are all kinds of really nasty counters to a grappler trying to throw a shoot on you. Except, they aren't friendly fight techniques and they're some of the fastest ways I know to get thrown into prison for excessive force. Because remember, MMA techniques are not self-defense, they are fighting. And fighting is illegal. So if you're in a fight and you pull one of these moves, you were already in the wrong. Now that he's seriously injured...

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Marc, I can see that counter working spectacularly against a bull horn rush or attempted double leg.  I have just a couple of follow up questions.  To illustrate what I mean, please take a look at this youtube video
Now, have a look the shot at the very first second of the video.  Here, the pivoting to the side would work great because the shooters leg is between the defenders feet and not blocking his sidestep.
Now look at the shot at the 6:07 min mark.  Here the shooters foot is to the outside of the defenders left leg, preventing a sidestep in that direction.  Also, at that mark he goes on to talk about one of the principles of the shoot - hips in and head up.  He then shows how with your head down you can be pushed down, this brings up three questions for me.  Firstly, you can see in both shots, that the shooters arms aren't out wide like they are in a bullhorn rush, so how do you underhook the arm with a small gap like that before it locks around your leg?  Secondly, with an upright posture and the head looking up (also how my mma coach taught me as it engages the neck and back muscles and makes it harder to push the head down) how do you then execute the second part of the classical defense where you push the head down and rotate them?  Wouldn't it be very diffcult from this position as you're trying to break their posture from upright to down?  Thirdly, if they have managed to get in on your hips like in the video, how do you defend then?  The arms locked around your leg prevents you getting an underhook and the upright posture will make it difficult to push the head down, not to mention by this stage your posture will have started to be forced backwards.  Do you need to use a different counter or still the same counter with a tweak?

For this next part, you can keep your answer private if you like as it involves lethal force or serious injury techniques. I would assume that for a sporting match, counter the shot by push down on the head and rotating them as you described.  For a self defense situation, use a percussive slap to the back of the head then pull up on the head when you rotate them to prevent their head slamming into the ground- this disoreients them and puts them on their back and gives you all the time you need to escape.  For the extremely rare and unlikely situation where lethal force is needed (they probably wouldn't be attacking like that then anyway, but hey you never know) I'm assuming that you use the percussive slap but only a slight rotation followed by kneeling down to slam their head into the ground right?  I also seem to remember you writing somewhere about countering a shot by changing level and using an upwards elbow strike to damage the neck, but I'm not sure how that would work unless are doing a more head down charge. With the more upright posture would that elbow drop counter work?

Thanks again

#1 From a forward facing position, he shifts to the side (left)while turning 90 degrees.
#2 In the classic, the shift to the side gets the person off line.  
#3 Now look at the shot at the 6:07 min mark.  Here the shooters foot is to the outside of the defenders left leg, preventing a sidestep in that direction.

I never said sidestep, I said shift.  Put your asshole OVER your ankle. There may be a small step, but mostly it's twisting to the side.

While you can step, odds are
A -that's going to take you out of range of your arms being able to do it
B- if the guy knows what he's doing, you won't have time because he's too close
C - the power to rotate his body is coming from the rotation of yours
D - if his body is 'horizontal' the width of the line of attack is basically the distance between his hands. But if you twist him vertical the width of his line of attack is from his chest to back.

He goes flying past, or -- if he's doing the one knee drop -- he stops right in front of your knee, downward palm strike or elbow.

As for the second part, you got a hell of problem.

What I described was the NICE response to someone trying to do a take down. It's the one least likely to cause serious injury while keeping you safe from a move that could kill you out in the street.

See there's a serious fuckin' problem with taking sports techniques out of the safety of a padded ring and doing them on the streets. First, concrete ain't padded. Second, most people aren't trained to be taken down over backwards. (I call face-first a soft take down because the guy can catch himself. A hard take down goes over backwards.) Third there are sports moves that without gloves and padding will seriously injure you on concrete. Fourth, those same techniques require trained responses to keep from being injured.

Now that sounds all kinds of effective until you realize a drunk MMA trained idiot isn't trying to kill you but the dumbshit might just do it -- because this ain't the ring. Thing is he's thinking in terms of 'fighting' and throwing you a beating, but without safety equipment he's more dangerous than he knows.

I tell you this because, when you react to the danger he poses, Studmuffins becomes a whiny bitch and the cops put you in handcuffs for excessive force. It's a real ugly no-win situation because if you don't maim him, he maims you. If you do maim him, the cops bust you.

Truth is there are lots of really nasty and effective ways to handle a shoot -- it's a stupid fuckin' move outside the ring. The same things that make it dangerous to the victim if it works, makes it dangerous to the dude doing it if it doesn't.

The good news is that such tactics are actually rare -- except by people who are trained to do them. But there are enough of those dipshits out there it has to be factored in.

Here's the rub. It isn't about what technique works against them. That's the least of your problems. Step away from techniques and look at use of force and articulation. You can't beat a MMAer in a 'fight' -- that's what they've trained for. They're 'fighters on steroids' and outside of the ring they are unwittingly dangerous -- because they think on concrete is the same as in the ring.

To stop the worst of them, you gotta maim or break them. You're not there to fight them. In fact, you doing everything in your power to NOT fight is a big part of your defense. Not against them (although not fighting them helps), but your legal defense because you had no choice but to kill the stupid son-of-a-bitch to keep him from 'accidentally' killing you or leaving you a vegetable. You gotta explain to the cops, the lawyers and the jury WHY these MMA techniques are dangerous -- regardless of the fact that he didn't mean to kill you.  

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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