In today’s self defense technique breakdown, we will analyze how some standard grappling knowledge can be applied to a common self defense situation like bear hugs. Jerry Wetzel will run through the steps to negate, defend, and take control of a front or side bear hug. In doing so, he touches on a number of grappling fundamentals that can be applied in many situations, from self defense to sport.
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Responding Instead of Reacting To Bear Hugs
First he discusses the importance to not act instinctively. This is an important concept in self defense as often an attacker is counting on, or at the least expecting, the instinctive action. It will often play right into the attacker’s next steps to overpower a victim. I like to point this out because there is something absolutely required beyond knowledge of what to do during an attack in order to make your proper response more likely than your instinctive reaction: PRACTICE. Without drilling, practicing, and then sparring the techniques you intend to make a part of your defensive arsenal, you simply cannot be confident in how your body and mind will react to an aggressive action. In 2015’s series on competitive grappling, I covered drilling complex movements into second nature as it applied to high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique; the same is true for self defense. In fact, drilling may be even more necessary due to the potential consequence of an error in real world reaction.
Next Jerry explains why it is crucial to focus on the outcome instead of the moment-at-hand. While the instinct is often to pull or push away to escape the moment-at-hand threat, the goal is to have an outcome that puts us in a dominant position. He goes on to specify that this position ideally offers the ability to “dial the violence up” or “dial it down” as need be (this particular portion of the instructional was music to my self defense ears as I made this same point in previous articles Self Defense Situations That Call For Restraint and Taking Control and Creating Options).
The Power of the Underhook
A standard grappling grip that comes into play throughout all battles for leverage is the “underhook”. From takedowns, to clinch control, to top pressure, and escapes; when you watch any combative sport that allows grappling, you will witness the power of the underhook. Both offensively and defensively it is a tool that can create or shift leverage and yield both subtle or devastating results. In Jerry’s technique video, he first mentions it as the danger of being grabbed in a bear hug. Perhaps contrary to our intuition, Jerry points out the bear hug that leaves your arms free is a more precarious position than a bear hug that wraps around your arms. While your arms being free may intuitively seem like you have more defensive ability to strike at your attacker or more limbs to defend with, it is the leverage and the hip control of a double underhook bear hug that is harder to overcome.
Here is an example of how the position can use leverage to break the posture backward of even a larger and stronger person for an easy slam, and why you want to fight against it in all cases:
To avoid this outcome from a surprise grab, it is advantageous to respond by achieving at least one underhook of our own against an attacker. This begins with some awareness from the get-go. In both situational examples that Jerry mentions (the face-to-face escalating argument, or the surprise grab from the side by an additional adversary), the ability to secure our own underhook comes from keeping our elbows in during any confrontational situation. I would recommend this in all situations that are public or involve people you are unfamiliar with. The more you work on self defense, the more you will notice some positional awareness you apply in almost all engagements. While Jerry doesn’t mention it specifically, you can see his hand positioning, foot positioning, and slight body angle are all those of a practiced combatant. Perhaps we will cover body positioning and movement in a future article.
Achieving this underhook of our own allows us to base our hips out, keep our spinal posture strong and intact, and ultimately unable to be easily picked up. Here is Jerry’s instruction and my step by step breakdown following:
- Keeping elbows in (pre-contact) will cause the grab to also trap one or both arms, allowing for an immediate swim-under to secure at least one strong underhook
- While securing the underhook, simultaneously sit back and drop hips for base
- Step foot on same-side as the underhook outside and around opponent’s foot taking a slight sideways angle, while reaching underhook around back to opposite-side lat or hip control
- Secure attacker’s opposite arm at the elbow or tricep, pulling in and slightly down while raising underhook to break opponent’s posture toward opposite side
- Tip: be sure to keep a solid base and press head tight to attacker’s chest, out of the way of headbutts
- Swim hand securing attacker’s opposite-side arm under and secure gable grip with the underhooking arm around attacker’s lower back for leverage
- Clamp elbows in tight, pull attacker’s lower back in with gable grip, and push side of head into attacker’s chest breaking posture backward
- Use leg that stepped around to knee bump attacker’s near-side leg forward and inward, while giving a head bump in the opposite direction into attacker’s chest for easy takedown
- Use judgement to either follow opponent down for control, pull a weapon, attack with strikes and knee-into-rib pressure, or to disengage and get away