Just recently, somebody asked Marc MacYoung a question on his Facebook page. I think is still relevant, even though the answer has been known for some time. The question was:
Have you ever researched, or seen research, regarding data about the number of fights (where weapons are not involved) that end up “on the ground.”
This immediately brings to mind the “ninety percent of all fights end up on the ground” myth. Before we get to Marc’s answer, some background on the origin of this myth. First of, where does it come from.
The myth of 90 percent of fights end up on the ground
As far as I know, it was Rorion Gracie who started claiming this back in the late 1980’s. A Google search gave me this article (originally published in Playboy of all places…) from 1989. This was before UFC 1 and the Gracies weren’t as well known as they are now. Neither was Brazilian Ju Jitsu. In fact, if you opened up a martial arts magazine back then, there was still a lot of traditional martial arts in there, along with lots of Jeet Kune Do. People were writing about trapping, the different ranges and so on. There was very little on ground-grappling or striking on the ground.
There is a lot more to how it all went down (an interesting article right here) but Rorion seems to have been primarily looking to promote his family’s style when he claimed that ninety percent of all fights go to the ground. The angle he played seems to have been something along the lines of:
- 90 percent of all fights eventually end up on the ground according to an LAPD study.
- Gracie Ju Jitsu specializes in ground fighting and we have a proven track record.
- Therefor, Gracie Ju Jitsu is the best system for fighting.
A few years after that original article, UFC 1 came along, Royce Gracie won and that brought ground grappling and MMA in the limelight. The Gracies fared well in the twenty years since then, to put it mildly.
During those two decades, that 90% quote got tossed around all over the place until it eventually became accepted as a fact by the average martial artist, in particular by the BJJ or MMA practitioners. It even came to the point that if you questioned this “fact”, you were labeled a stupid traditionalist who didn’t know what real fighting was. Unfortunately, there are some problems with that quote.
Why is this a myth?
The first problem is that the logic doesn’t hold up.
One of the key problems we all have nowadays is that we are bombarded in the media with “studies” and “statistics” that supposedly prove all sorts of things. At least, that’s what’s implied when you read those kinds of articles. The issue is this:
Correlation does not imply causation
This is a classical mistake scientists are warned about and one they should always strive to avoid. Just because one factor is correlated to another, doesn’t mean it causes it. Or to put it in relevant terms:
Just because 90% of the fights go to the ground and Gracie ju jitsu focuses on fighting on the ground, doesn’t mean it’s the best system for fighting.
The logic just doesn’t hold up, even though it seems to at first glance. The burden of proof lies with whoever poses a theory and Rorion used the LAPD study for this. Unfortunately, that study proves no such thing.
The second problem is that Rorion misinterpreted the LAPD study he is quoting. Maybe he didn’t read it completely. Maybe he misunderstood it. Maybe he did it on purpose. Who knows? Either way, it doesn’t matter as he kept on using this study as proof of his theory about the superiority of his family style.
Unfortunately, the study doesn’t support his claim at all. This is where Marc’s post comes in. Before you read on, please read the entire post. Don’t just skip ahead but read the whole thing (I know it’s long) because Marc explains in detail why the LAPD study does not prove what Rorion said about fights and therefor why his theory about the importance of BJJ is not entirely accurate (note, I didn’t say it was entirely wrong either…)
If you have invested a lot of time and energy in BJJ or MMA, you might have a knee-jerk reaction of “Bullshit!” while reading and I totally understand why you would feel that way. But that doesn’t mean Marc is wrong…
What I disagree with
I do partly disagree with Marc when he says this:
You will, however, encounter grapplers who take you there intentionally. Granted not as many as back when BJJ was the latest cat’s ass. But they are still out there.
I think there are way more people nowadays who think going to the ground in the street is a good idea than ten years ago, when MMA really shot to fame. In particular in the US where the UFC is one of the biggest sports around. Here’s my theory (totally unscientific, just my opinion which could very much be wrong):
We now have an entire generation that grew up watching MMA as the dominant combat sport.
60, 70 years ago, the dominant combat sport was boxing. What young men thought of as “fighting” was often primarily inspired by boxing. Throughout the years, Asian martial arts got added to the mix and changed that view. In the last two decades, MMA (and BJJ) have been front and center in all the media when it comes to fighting. As a result, a lot of kids grew up thinking that this is how you should fight.
Then they get into trouble and have a couple low-level fights (schoolyard brawls, neighborhood pissing contests, ego-driven dust-ups, etc.) in which they use MMA techniques (trained or otherwise) and strategies. To a degree, these will work for them and reinforce the pattern. To all the onlookers, this reinforces the idea that this is how you should fight. This behaviour repeats itself and gets ingrained into a large part of the population.
Unless these guys get into serious trouble (murder, robbery, assault, etc.) or go to the ground against multiple opponents, they will not learn that there are kinds of violence and situations where BJJ is not the answer but the one thing you should absolutely avoid. To them, their kind of fighting is the real thing (which it is, all their fights prove this) but they fail to see that their experiences don’t encompass the whole spectrum of violence. But as most people don’t come into contact with those other kinds of violence, they don’t know any better and think their experience applies across the board.
Where does my theory come from?
From two decades of meeting those kids, teaching them both in my class and privately, seeing ad nauseam what’s written on the internet and what’s “taught” on Youtube and in other videos. But also from looking at as much CCTV or other footage of actual fights as possible: in the last decade, I’ve seen a huge rise in MMA techniques in street fights.
Some fighters were clearly trained, a lot of others seemed to have had either a little bit of training or they tried to mimic what they saw in the Octagon. Some were successful, others were not. But what was the most apparent was a tendency to consciously use ground grappling: fighters intentionally went for dominant positions.
Before the UFC got big, I hardly ever saw that. Now I see it more and more.
Another factor I think is important is that there have never been more MMA gyms and schools. More and more (mostly) young guys take up the sport as their first introduction to martial arts and fighting. Just like several decades ago, they used to take up boxing if they wanted to learn to fight. So more and more men grow up with MMA as their primary source of instruction for all their fighting.
Like I said, this is in no way a scientific theory. This is me sharing my experiences with you, giving you my opinion based on what I saw, read and heard in the last ten years. Which doesn’t mean I’m right, I could be way off. But I believe there may be some validity to the theory, which is why I still train in sports grappling and ground techniques. I firmly believe you should at least have a solid base in ground grappling as taught in modern MMA. Not to fight like them, but to understand how they fight and know what to do about it. Just like I believe you have to spend some time boxing and doing muay Thai:
- You haven’t been punched until you’ve been hit by a boxer.
- You haven’t been kicked until you’ve been kicked by a nak Muay.
Those arts excel at these techniques, just like BJJ excels at ground grappling. However, that doesn’t mean their techniques apply across the board. Try training on a slippery surface with techniques from boxing, muay thai and BJJ. For an example of that, here’s some training I did a few years ago:
You can read more about how and why I did this in the second part of my training on a slippery surface post. As you can see, changing one factor (the surface) changes everything. I very much recommend you give it a try too: go out and train on ice, in the snow, on wet grass, etc. You’ll definitely change the way you view how techniques that work great in the gym or dojo can be used outside of that context.
Like I’ve written about ad nauseam: context is king. It determines which tools you should use. Or like a good friend of mine would say: stay on mission. Know what your goal is and use the appropriate tool to achieve it. Meaning:
- If your goal is competition, then you train differently than for self-defense.
- If your goal is to choke people or tap them out on the mat, then you train differently than if you want to learn how to get up right away after you end up on the ground in the street.
Determine your goal first and only then pick your tools. Regardless of how good other tools are for other goals, if they don’t help you for that particular job, they’re not a good match for you then and there. I believe the same is true for all fighting arts: determine first and foremost why you train and then pick the system(s) that helps you achieve that goal.
While you go through the selection process for that system, beware the marketing hype and unproven theories (including all of mine). Think things through and do your own research so you can at the very least be comfortable with your choice.
After all, it’s your butt on the line.