Self Defense Against Awkward Clothing Grips and the Unexpected – Avoiding Reaction

Being a student of both the Jeet Kune Do philosophy and framework, I always appreciate efficiency. In an homage to efficiency, today’s article will kill two birds with one stone. I’ll wrap up Jerry Wetzel’s series regarding street grabs, as well use these final two videos to further highlight some conceptual analysis of self defense. While some of this may seem repetitive, looking at key concepts from a variety of perspectives and applications is truly central to proper self defense training. As we discussed in this previous article featuring an attacker grabbing onto your clothing—self defense is about responding instead of reacting! In order to ingrain response into behavior, repetition is required. Likewise, in order to ingrain self defense concepts into immediate thought, they bear repeating in potential situation after potential situation.

The Old Hockey Trick

In this next video, Jerry Wetzel shows a proper defensive response to a street version of the hockey fight technique of getting “jersied”. In this case, it would likely be a jacket or hoodie getting pulled over your head from behind the neck. This situation can be especially confusing. Not only is it rarely practiced in specific discipline based systems, but it offers notable advantages to your aggressor by limiting your range, options, mobility, and awareness; while simultaneously increasing his or her level of restraint and control. Situations that negatively impact your safety across so many fundamental self defense concepts create high levels of anxiety, concern, or fear and this can lead to mistakes.

Mistakes happen when we react instead of respond. As Jerry points out right away in this video, the natural reaction is to try and back out of the situation. While you may get lucky some percentage of the time and have the restraining clothing pull up and around your shoulders and arms, releasing you, it is more likely that as you pull away you actually entangle yourself deeper into the control of your opponent. This is because it pulls your upper body forward and down, bending at the hips, and completely breaking your spinal posture and balance. Having the improper reaction of backing out (remember our examination of Push/Pull Theory) only continues to exacerbate your broken posture. In Judo terms, your attacker would be attaining kusuzhi offering leverage and positional dominance. Furthermore, because the clothing grip and entanglement is directly behind the head, it offers almost “dog collar-like” control to your opponent (where the head goes, the body follows). Instead of reacting by pulling away, it is imperative to respond by stepping in to to get your own hips back under your head and correcting your posture so that your next moves can come from an position of advantage.

Specifically, Jerry demonstrates moving into a superior position by slipping your head to the outside of the controlling grip and stepping in with your hips slightly off-center to the outside while driving your head back into your opponent’s gripping arm. In addition to getting your feet and hips back properly underneath your center of gravity, why include the head slip, off-center step, and posture back into your opponent? To create leverage by disrupting the centerline control of your opponent, while taking an outside angle. This combination of regaining posture while also taking centerline control creates options.

Coach Mikal used this same concept to apply the Standing Collar Choke from a position of leverage over strength. While centerline theory has been expanded across all studies of body mechanics, Bruce Lee helped mainstream the martial aspect from his background in Wing Chun and his application of it in his formulation of the Jeet Kune Do style. To learn more about the history of Jeet Kune Do, its effect on self defense and even today’s MMA, check out this article from Fight! Magazine.

In this final video of the series, Jerry takes a look at a combination of a Bear Hug with a clothing grab. There can be a number of reasons it ends up this way, but the latching on of the clothing grip creates some additional challenges to quickly disengage or escape (remember, simply escaping is one of the safest self defense techniques). There is no space in a grab like this, and a lack of range and mobility is an even bigger problem if the aggressor’s hips are under yours or if he or she is generally stronger than you. You could end up going to the ground on their terms, be held while additional attackers join in, or not have good visibility on a weapon being pulled. Having no space is dangerous in street situations! It limits your options, and options are what we are always trying to create. Striking is possible, but depending on how your aggressor is pressuring into you or positioning their head, may not be very effective (or effective soon enough).

When Striking Leads to the Ground, and Grappling Leads to Stand Up

So, once again, we are in a position where the instinctive reaction to strike (after all, hands and arms are free) may not be the better response. In fact, it may be the very reason you end up in a ground fight on the street—and, in bad position with an attacker on top. Instead, revisit the Judo concept of kusuzhi and focus on regaining balance, while disrupting your attacker’s. Avoid the ground grapple by taking grips of your own and stepping back in a small angled pivot and pull your opponent in that circular motion created. The direction would be dependent on whichever side you have a higher likelihood of getting your attacker to step toward in order to keep their own balance. You can block the foot in that direction and force that step as well. As soon as your attacker replants in the direction of your pull, use that split second to push (or strike) down into the back and side of his or her head and open up some space. Now you have options again. Falling is not the goal, opening space is! Once you have a position of advantage, you can dial up or down as necessary.

Finally, Jerry Wetzel adds what I consider a tenant of self defense training, and discussed more in depth early in February, in the article Studying Self Defense. That is sparring or training with progressive levels of resistance. I like that he even suggests putting on MMA style gloves and working with a partner to dial up and down on the attack and the defense. As I’ve mentioned many times, self defense requires training these unknowns in order to respond with the better options, or when it comes to real world application you will sink back into reaction.

Andrew Raynor Dover NH

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Andrew Raynor

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