When someone grabs you by the shoulders from behind you will need to react quickly. How you react depends, at least to some degree, on whether they are simply grabbing, grabbing and pushing, grabbing and pulling, or grabbing and then changing their grip (for example, proceeding from a rear grab to a choke hold. It may also depend on whether they are grabbing with one or with both hands. Other factors such as the speed of movement, the relative heights between you and the attacker, the type of clothing you are wearing, and the weight of your attacker can all be relevant as well.
Here are a few skills and considerations you might employ when someone grabs you by the shoulders from behind. You will discover and train with a great many more over time, but these will provide you with an excellent starting point.
For your next ranking examination you should be able to proficiently demonstrate at least two methods of escape from each type of grab method defined below. You should practice and become proficient at them all, but on your ranking examination you will be required to demonstrate only two from each category below.
Pulling Rear Shoulder Grabs
Here are some methodologies and strategies you might consider when an attacker grabs you from behind and pulls you backward. With this attack the opponent’s goal is usually to either pull you in closer so they can change their grip (to a rear naked choke hold, for example) or to pull you backward and off balance. As a result your upper torso will probably be pulled behind your hips. Another common use for this method of attack is to use your shoulders as an anchor so that the opponent can then raise a knee and strike you solidly in the area of a kidney.
Here are a few things you might consider doing in the event someone grabs you by the shoulders from behind.
If possible step to angle 6 or 8 so that you move off of your opponent’s center line and use this same leg to pivot so you turn your center toward the attacker. Lower what is now your inside-shoulder as you turn so it more easily slips under your opponent’s nearest arm. Push or strike your opponent as your center comes to bear on them.
If you cannot rotate then you may wish to press your back into the opponent and raise both hands over whichever shoulder is closest to the opponent’s head (assuming his or her head is not directly behind yours). Performing a rapid succession of left and right Kumade Uchi strikes over your shoulder and into the opponent’s face may discourage them. Be ready to step to maintain your balance should your opponent suddenly vacate their position.
Slide one leg back directly between your attacker’s feet and straighten this leg. This makes it more difficult for them to pull you straight back (but it is a temporary reprieve). You might also wish to use this same leg to press into the knee, calf, or thigh of the attacker’s nearest leg to induce structural instability. This same leg could be used to deliver a rising heel strike up into the attacker’s groin.
Sometimes an opponent will pull you back at the shoulders and then strike with their knee to your kidney area. To help protect yourself you should place a forearm across the kidney area. This has a natural tendency to lower your shoulder of this same arm. Use this to your benefit to further drop this shoulder as you spin down and around to face your opponent. Assuming you used your right forearm, you would drop your right shoulder further, step back with your right leg to maintain your balance and duck down under the attacker’s right arm. Continue spinning in a clockwise manner (when viewed from above) until you are facing your opponent.
Bend forward slightly and step to octagon angles L8R3R6 so that you move back and position your right leg behind the left leg of your attacker. Move your right arm to the outside of the attacker’s left arm then rotate your center toward angle 4. Naturally you could do this same sequence on the opposite side so that you eventually rotate toward angle 3.
Pushing Rear Shoulder Grabs
This situation occurs when someone grabs your shoulders from behind and pushes you forward while maintaining their grip on your shoulders. This is different than if someone pushes you from behind grabbing you in some way. Here are some methodologies and strategies you might consider when an attacker grabs you from behind and pushes you forward.
Stepping to angle 5 or 7 will move you off of the center line of the push and lessen the effect of any additional energy applied to the push. It may also cause your opponent to step forward as a means of preserving or regaining balance. If they step forward then an Ushiro Geri might be their reward. If not, turn to face them or simply keep running.
If the opponent pushes but does not release their grip then you might consider an Ushiro Geri, but this may not be effective if the attacker remains close behind you. In this case you might try an Age Ushiro Kakato Geri (you can figure this one out).
Another approach is to use a stepping pattern such as L5R8 to duck down, under, and away to one side of the opponent. In many cases you will be able to push, strike, or control your opponent as you turn. Often you can strike to Chudan and Jodan levels in rapid succession as you return to an erect posture.
One final method would have you raise your left hand and press the opponent’s right hand firmly down into your right shoulder from above. Now step L7L4 while maintaining a firmly fixed right guard. This will move you out from in front of your opponent and position you on his or her right ear side. Your opponent will likely be forced to move in the direction of angle 5, particularly if they already had some form of forward momentum. You could also step to the opposite while using your right hand to press the opponent’s left hand down and into your left shoulder.
Static Rear Shoulder Grabs
Sometimes your opponent grabs you but does not push or pull. Perhaps they want to lecture you, or perhaps they simply want to control you in your current position. It is relatively easy to escape from these types of grabs. Here are a few examples.
Perform an Ushiro Geri directly back into the knee, thigh, groin, or abdomen of the assailant. Instantly step forward and turn to face your opponent.
If your opponent is fairly close, stomp down into the top of the arch of your opponent’s foot. Depending on how the opponent is positioned this could be Yoko Fumikomi Geri or Ushiro Fumikomi Geri. Again, turn to face the opponent.
If you are wearing shoes (not sandals), raise your foot and point the toes outward (to local angle 4 if using the right leg). Now drive the outside edge of your shoe down along the shin of your assailant in what is best described as an abrasive manner. You could finish this movement by stomping onto the top of the opponent’s foot. Escape and face your opponent.
Reach up and grab your opponent’s wrists just behind your shoulders. Immediately settle down and forward onto both knees as you pull the opponent’s arms down and forward simultaneously. The opponent will likely fall over you, landing on the ground at local angle 1.
If you would like to be really extravagant, drop both shoulders down quickly by bending your knees and then reach for the ground in front of you with both hands. When your hands make contact with the floor, shift your weight fully onto your hands and deliver Morote Ushiro Geri. Return the kicks, and turn to face your opponent. I’m not saying this is a good or effective approach to this situation, but it demonstrates what a little creativity can do for you.
Single Handed Rear Shoulder Grab
The easiest way to deal with a single arm shoulder grab is to raise a Shuto guard and perform a stepping pattern such as L7L4 (assuming the opponent has his or her right arm on your right shoulder) as mentioned earlier. Press the Shuto of your right arm into the attacker’s right elbow to push their hand from your shoulder. You are now in a good position from which to initiate an escape or a more punitive action. You would want to use your opposite hand to keep your opponent’s hand in place during the turn. This helps to ensure the opponent does not use this hand to swipe at your eyes as you turn.
Assuming a right hand grab, you might alternately raise your right hand to shoulder level and, grasping your opponent’s wrist, simply pull the opponent’s hand outward and off of your shoulder as you rotate in a CW manner. Be sure to keep the opponent’s elbow bent downward. The opponent will bend forward and twist in the direction of angle 5.
Again assuming a right hand shoulder grab step R4L4 so you position your left hip in a line with the opponent’s abdomen. Now strike back with Ushiro Empi Uchi targeting the opponent’s abdomen and Tate Otoshi Tettsui Uchi toward the opponent’s groin. Now immediately step L7 to spin out from under the opponent’s grasp.
Naturally many of the methods described earlier will also work in this situation. There are a great many additional methods that can be used, utilizing varying degrees of skill and brutality, to afford a release from this type of attack.