Why NOT to Escape From Grabs

Last week we focused on some “basic” work, defending against wrist grabs.  Now Conventional Wisdom in many martial arts is to either “counter-grab,” meaning to grab the person back, or to “go against the thumb” to escape the hold.  While escaping and running is fantastic for children to get away from an abductor or for people take a 1-day self-defense class and who want a simple, quick way to escape, for those of us who are training regularly in Systema there is a more effective way to deal with grabs.

Reason #1 not to escape. Pulling your arm out by going against the thumb puts you and the attacker on, at least, equal footing.  What I mean is that he has committed to an attack and so you pull your arm free.  At this moment you are both standing there free to attack.  The grab can now become a deadlier attack such as punches or a weapon-attack.  In this case you have won the battle by directly dealing with the attack but not the attacker.  Just yanking your hand out at the thumb usually does nothing to affect the attacker’s structure or inflict pain.   Dealing with the hold should ideally negate his follow-up attacks.

Reason #2 not to escape. When the attacker grabs you he commits his mind and body to the point of attack.  This physical tension and mental focus are gifts to you to use against your attacker.  The advantage here is that you know where your attacker is, physically and psychologically.  If you just pull your hand out you relinquish this advantage.  For example, he may have broken his own structure in an effort to grab and hold you.  If his structure is broken then one simple move can knock him down, without worrying about breaking the hold.  The bonus here is that when he is falling or on the ground you can break his elbow, using the tension of his grab for a point of support.

The Thumb vs. The Four Fingers.  If you are concerned about breaking the hold, naturally you try to go against the thumb, however, if your goal is dominance of the attacker then working with the fingers is devastating.  Just as the thumb gets you out of the grab, working against the flexion of the fingers keeps you in the grab.  Here is why this is a great strategy.  Working with the fingers means he can’t let you go because the tension of his grab keeps him connected to you.

When you are grabbed the attacker may be able to keep your wrist from moving but he cannot prevent you from moving the rest of your body.  As you move the tension of his grab forces him to extend his arm an body, breaking his structure.  Now it becomes easy to knock him down.

A simple drill to show how this works is to have your partner grab your wrist.  All you have to do is fall–lower yourself– to the ground against the flexion of his fingers, the direction his fingers would straighten out.  If you do this with the proper relaxation you will throw your attacker to the ground with minimal effort.  Once you accomplish this you can then pull your partner off-balance without you falling down.

Philosophically, working with the four fingers accepts the attack and works with what the attacker gives you to subdue him, whereas breaking the grab is much more of an oppositional mindset which results more from fear than an understanding of the attack along with the attacker.

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