Ground Fighting is Statistically Safer on the Street, And We Can Prove It.
There’s a ton of anecdotal stories already suggesting that ground fighting is an essential component of self defense, but there are still a number of holdouts. People that either insist grappling is either unlikely to happen or unwise to specialize in. On a Saturday afternoon, I posed this question to The Martial Arts Community of Facebook.
Nearly 21% saying “no” is a pretty large percentage. And while this poll is far from scientific, I have a feeling that if we scaled the sample size up the percentages would hold. It’s an age old argument, how important ground fighting is in self defense training. These days, the question of whether or not it occurs in “the street” is more or less settled. The argument is shifting now to just how important studying grappling is.
At High Percentage, we don’t trust people. We trust data. So for the past few weeks, we watched 200 street fights and recorded several data points about ground fighting. Here’s the main questions we asked:
Did one or both participants engage in fighting on the ground?
Did the fight intentionally or unintentionally go to the ground? (ie, was it the result of a clear takedown attempt, and not a knockdown or stumble)
If the fight was intentionally grounded, what was the outcome for the participant who took it to the ground?
Were there strikes landed on the ground?
Were the grounded fighters able to return to a standing position?
As usual, street fights can get crazy, particularly when they escalate into melees with multiple small fights happening to several participants attacking one. Our biggest limitation was parsing these out in to separate fights when possible. Sometimes it wasn’t.
A smaller limitation was that it was sometimes hard to tell when takedowns were intentional or not. But for the most part, we were able to come to consensus each time.
In the end, some of the questions we asked we’re simply indeterminable. In these cases, we marked them as such.
With all that out of the way, here were our major takeaways from the data.
Seven out of ten fights went to the ground, and nine out of ten for women.
73% of fights went to the ground, a clear majority. Fights involving two females were even higher, many because of women’s propensity to clinch. Too many factors favored the ground. Frantic movements off balanced people. Changes in terrain as simple as stepping off a curb prompted falls. And of course, taking shots to the head would often drop participants. But those weren’t even the leading reason for why fights went down.
Over half the fights went to the ground purposely.
55% of takedowns were marked as intentional. Sometimes this would be a participant with clear wrestling, judo, etc experience. Other times, there wasn’t nearly as much skill involved.
Either way, it’s clear that more and more people are intentionally taking fights to the ground, not accidentally finding themselves there.
People who took the fight to the ground on purpose tended to win, or at least not lose.
Less than 2% of participants who took the fight to the ground went on to get knocked out or incapacitated, which says a lot. By and large, fighters who “scored” takedowns went on to defeat their opponents 39% of the time.
About half the time (46%), the fight had no clear outcome. This isn’t to say no one got hurt, but no one was so hurt they were incapacitated, which is good.
When fights go to the ground, they tend to stay there.
58% of the fights that went to the ground, stayed there for the duration. Typically, the top fighter would immediately throw strikes (79% of fights involved strikes on the ground.) and the bottom fighter would be overwhelmed. In the cases where participants were able to stand back up, 57% returned to the ground within seconds. Bottom line: if you go down, you’re staying down.
Fights that go to the ground have less violent outcomes for both participants.
45% of fights that remained on the feet resulted in a knockout. That number dropped to 12% if the fight went to the ground. In fact, 58% of all ground fights ended with no clear resolution, aka no serious injuries. Fights that stayed standing ended indecisively only 43% of the time.
It’s important to note that these numbers go both ways. Even participants who “lost” fights on the ground were less likely to lose via knockout.
It’s no secret that we are a jiu-jitsu website. At the same time, we’re not searching for conclusions that always validate our beliefs. We go where the data goes. Right now, it’s very clearly telling us a story. Ground fighting is a reality, and people that employ grappling skills tend to perform better and walk away in better shape.
That being said, we recorded many fights where grounded participants were brutally attacked by third parties. Other fights involved dangerous weapons. These are the harsh realities of self defense that should give everyone pause in a real fight. In the split seconds we have before we must make decisions. Go for a takedown or stay standing. There’s no right answer, we just have to play the odds.
cover image: Alexey Dushutin