For those readers who have not seen my first article on the dangers of ground-work, please see the article here.

Once a defender is on the ground, there are significant dangers that they are exposed to as a result of loss of mobility and closer proximity to hazards such as the feet of standing opponents and concealed weapons. To bring this in line with the goal-oriented approach to survival situations, we should confirm our strategy and tactics.
The over-arching strategic goal for any survival situation is to find safety.

To survive.

In order to achieve this strategic goal, there are usually a number of minor tactical goals that must be accomplished and hazards that must be negotiated. If we find ourselves on the ground, our primary short-term tactical goal is to get back on to our feet as soon as possible to maximise our mobility and allow us a more substantial chance of being able to disengage and flee the combat.

Two other secondary tactical goals that come into play while on the ground are:

  1. Defence.
  2. Offense to create an opportunity to transition from ground to standing.

This transition from prone to standing is a dangerous transition which must be trained effectively to minimize risk and exposure to attack. Since it is such an important part of our ground response, I will deal with it specifically in the third and final installment of this series on Ground-Work.

For the majority of this article, I am going to discuss defence and offence with respect to a scenario involving multiple, unarmed standing opponents against a single prone defender. I will mention weapon defence briefly towards the end of the article but this represents a large body of information which is treated in most self-defence systems. For the most part, the self-defence practitioner merely needs to be familiar with how to work their weapon control and disarm techniques from the ground as well as in a standing stance.

Ground Defence

The hazards that we might encounter while ground fighting are too numerous to be fully described here but can be grouped into the following major divisions:

  1. Prone opponents.Prone opponents potentially represent less of a threat than standing opponents since they are restricted in much the same way as the defender is by being on the ground.
  2. Standing opponents. Standing opponents represent an increased risk to a prone defender because of superior mobility and the ease with which they can use kicks against the prone target.
  3. Groups of attackers. A group of opponents is possibly the worst threat that can face a prone defender. Unfortunately, it is a likely scenario since violent criminals often resort to forming groups to increase their chances of success.
  4. Weapon threats. Due to mobility reductions while on the ground, a weapon-wielder becomes more of a threat to a prone defender even if the weapon-wielder is likewise prone.
  5. Obstacles. The area that we have to fight in may contain hazards and obstacles such as broken glass or masonry depending on the situation. This cannot easily be predicted but should be taken into account strategically and tactically as we deal with a particular situation.

In terms of traditional Chinese martial arts, the back of a person’s body is considered to be ‘Yang’ in nature. It is sometimes described as the ‘turtle-shell’ because of the bone and muscle that protects it. With some conditioning training, the back can be made very tough indeed. So should we crawl around on all fours presenting our back to our opponents?

No. ‘Tis a silly idea.

If we were to use this approach, we would have no way to attack our opponents and no easy way to absorb or redirect attacks to any great extent which means that it will only be a matter of time before we succumb to damage. As soon as we are on the ground, we need to flip onto our backs and protect our bodies with our arms and legs. This gives us offensive and defensive potential as well as allowing us to see and assess the changing conditions. See Figures A and B below for an indicative representation of a ground defensive posture.

Figure A – Ground Defensive Position

​Figure B – Ground Defensive Position

The core idea behind our defensive structure on the ground is the same as the core idea behind our standing defensive structure which is to protect the centre-line of our bodies. Note that the legs, feet, arms and hands are protecting the centre line. In addition, we should be able to defend ourselves from attacks to the sides and to the head. Our arms are not the ideal tools with which to defend against kicks but if we are on the ground facing multiple opponents, this is almost unavoidable.

The core idea behind facing multiple opponents while standing or while on the ground is the same: reduce the attack vectors. Try to keep your attackers coming from only one direction. When we’re standing, we can use our mobility to try to line attackers up so that they are obstructing each other’s attack lines. Because of reduced mobility on the ground, this is far more difficult but is still one of our defensive tactical goals. When prone and facing multiple attackers, we should try to keep our legs facing our main incoming attack lines. We can do this by rotating on the spot using a combination of our legs and body movement to keep our legs facing our opponents. This is a mode of movement that requires practice.

In addition to this rotation, we can use a combination of various shoulder and side rolls to stay mobile and reduce our lines of incoming attack. We may also have to transition into a half-standing stance for a period of time due to an interrupted transition from prone to standing or for some other reason. These intermediate stances might involve fighting from our knees or similar. Our low stance training can help us remain mobile and combat-efficient while in this ‘half-cocked’ state.

Ground Offence 

As mentioned previously, the goal of our ground-based attacks should always be to engineer an opportunity to get to our feet. As such, our attacks should be calculated to reduce threats by reducing the number of attackers that are facing us. We can use our legs to attack our opponents forcefully while on the ground and we can also use our legs to block and deflect incoming attacks.

See the Figures below for a selection of attacks that can be employed with the legs. Sweeping opponents while on the ground becomes an attractive option to reduce threats and to engineer temporary ‘breaks’ in our attacker’s line to allow us to transition more safely to a standing position. Our arms and hands should predominantly be used to protect our upper bodies and heads while on the ground but we may find that we have to use our arms to attack.

Figure C – Front Kick

Figure D – Side Kick

Figure E – Hook and Front Kick

The final figures below show some attacks that may be launched with the arms and hands.
Figure F – Punch

Figure G – Elbow and Knee Strikes

Attacking from the ground using punches and kicks is difficult and does require some practice. Good exercises include working from the ground against a punch-bag hung on a low chain and sparring from the ground with multiple, standing partners.


Weapons represent a threat that must be dealt with using some kind of control or disarm technique. Striking alone is not the most efficient way of dealing with weapons because if the strike does not neutralise the opponent, they will adapt their approach to suit and will likely prevail against an unarmed defender in the long run. Due to the threat of facing multiple opponents while on the ground, protracted grappling is not recommended. Most of the locks and holds taught in our system of Chi Na can be easily and quickly taken to the point where actual damage is done. Due to the very high danger level associated with facing armed opponents while on the ground, the defender may be forced into a position where they have to apply their grappling techniques to seriously damage limbs in order to neutralize the weapon threat.

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia