A common grab involves an opponent placing one or both hands on your shoulders. In this topic, we will discuss what might be done if the opponent is in front of you or to either side as they grab. There are multiple ways by which the grab can be performed and innumerable ways in which you might respond. We’ll cover the most common grabs and possible responses.
This lesson relies on knowledge about our use of the Octagon.
Front Shoulder Grabs
When someone grabs you from the front they might use one hand or they might grab you simultaneously with both hands. Ideally, you will move as the grab is initiated so that the grab either misses or proves ineffectual. If you find that someone has successfully grabbed you before you could move, then you will need to employ one of the following methods to effect an escape.
Single Hand Grabs From the Front
There are two primary forms of single-hand front shoulder grabs. These are Linear Grabs and Crossing Grabs.
A Linear grab occurs when an opponent reaches straight forward and grabs your shoulder. For example, if a person reaches forward with the left hand and grabs your right shoulder, this is a Linear Grab. In the case of a Linear Grab, the person’s arm does not normally cross his or her Center Line.
With a Crossing Grab, the opponent’s hand does cross his or her center. This might happen when a person reaches forward with his or her right hand and grabs your right shoulder. Assuming you and the opponent are standing face to face, the opponent’s arm had to cross his or her Center Line.
These definitions can fail if you are not standing directly in front of the opponent. For example, if the opponent is standing at your local angel 7 and reaches out with the right hand to grab your right shoulder, the grabbing hand might not cross his or her Center Line. It all depends on where the opponent is facing. If the opponent is facing you, then the right hand will probably cross the opponent’s Center Line. If the opponent is facing your local angle 2 (the two of you are facing in opposite directions), then the right hand will probably not cross the opponent’s Center Line.
It is beneficial (though not always essential) if you can note whether the opponent is employing a Linear or Crossing Grab method. It can help you decide the best approaches available for dealing with the grab.
A linear grab is a face-side grab. By that we mean you will need to deal with the front-facing aspect of the opponent. A part of the consideration here is that the opponent might now use his or her opposite hand to strike you. They may attempt to hold you in position so a subsequent strike can land with greater impact. This suggests you must move quickly to prevent a potential follow-up strike.
The easiest way to extricate yourself from this situation is to move. If the opponent grabs you with the left hand on your right shoulder, for example, you might employ a stepping pattern while moving to either angle 4 or angle 6. Moving in either direction will place you further away from the potential secondary strike and reduce the effectiveness of the initial grab.
One thing to consider is that moving in this way may allow the opponent to shift the grab from your shoulder to your neck or head. To prevent this you need only place a Shuto Uke against the inside of the attacker’s grabbing wrist as you move. You might also use your right hand, in our current example, the grab the attacker’s left hand or wrist so he or she cannot shift the hand position as you move.
Instead of grabbing the wrist, you might instead place a Shotei Uchi against the opponent’s left elbow. Now as you move, you will apply pressure to the elbow causing the attacker’s arm to be trapped between your hand and shoulder or neck. This is a control hold and if you rotate your center (counterclockwise in this case) the opponent’s torso may be forced down. This allows you to escape or to kick or strike the opponent’s downturned and somewhat compromised face and torso.
This is also an opportunity to employ a blocking combination such as Morote Shotei Uchi. In our example, your right hand might be placed outside the opponent’s left elbow while your left hand might be placed inside the opponent’s left wrist. Now as you move or simply rotate your center (counterclockwise) you will again employ a control hold.
If you feel the other person is particularly aggressive, then you might strike before the opponent can. You could strike to the opponent’s left shoulder area to inhibit a strike from that side of his or her body. You might also target the abdomen or face if you believe the other person is intent on injuring you.
If an attacker crosses his or her Center Line to grab your shoulder, then they are turning their back on you. It may not seem like it initially, but that is what has happened. Consider the following scenario.
You are standing directly in front of someone who reaches out with his or her left hand and grabs your left shoulder. The person has crossed both his or her Center Line and yours as well. If you rotate your center in a counterclockwise direction then the attacker will rotate further, increasingly exposing his or her back. If you were to place a Shuto on the inside of your left shoulder as you rotate then the opponent will turn to expose even more of his or her back. If you were to step slightly toward angle 7 then you would find yourself directly behind your opponent. This would facilitate an escape or provide you with an opportunity to strike at the muscles of the back or the kidneys. You could also slip your left hand away from the opponent’s wrist and place it on his or her forehead as you move, providing you with a different control mechanism and a possible opportunity for a throw.
Even if you do not step to angle 7 you might grab the attacker’s arm with your left hand and then press in at the elbow or shoulder of his or her arm to gain additional control as you rotate your center. There is also an opportunity for a strike to the ribs as you maintain your grip on the person’s wrist. With a little thought, you can find countless other opportunities to escape, strike, or control the opponent.
Dual Hand Grabs From the Front
Another potential grab scenario involves someone who is directly in front of you linearly grabbing you using both hands. The person uses the right-hand to grab your left-shoulder while his or her left-hand grabs your right-shoulder. In this circumstance, you will need to be concerned about a possible knee strike or a head butt.
Moving directly back or off to angle 6 or 8 can weaken the opponent’s structure and make such strikes much harder to accomplish. This might be a useful first approach to this situation.
Another possibility is to use your left hand to grab the opponent’s right elbow as you place your right hand just outside the opponent’s left shoulder. Now stepping R7L4 while pulling down with your left hand and pressing slightly up and forward with your right hand might throw the opponent to the ground, providing you with an opportunity to escape.
An alternate strategy is to immediately begin to manipulate the opponent’s elbows. You might use something like Kakewaki Uke to press against the inside of the opponent’s elbows, weakening his or her grip. If you performed this same action with Morote Shuto Uchi then your open hands can press the elbows down and in, causing major structural instability in the opponent. His or her face and ears become ready targets.
Place Morote Shotei Uchi outside the attacker’s elbows can provide the same benefit. Now the hands close over the elbows, pulling them down and either inward or outward. Placing your open hands immediately under both of the attacker’s elbows and pressing upward may force the attacker the balls of his or her feet. This makes the lower torso a target for a strike such as Heiko Tsuki.
The thing to realize is that the opponent has placed himself or herself in a vulnerable position. They have both hands occupied and no way to guard against your throwing or striking actions. Rather than considering an opponent’s grab as a disadvantage, you should look upon it as an opportunity. Provided you move quickly before the opponent can initiate another action, you can take advantage of this lack of good judgment on the part of the assailant.
You might also opt to deal with only one of the opponent’s arms. If you use your left hand to grab the opponent’s right wrist and hold it in place, then your right arm can pull down and inward on the opponent’s right elbow. You can increase the effectiveness of this counter-grab by rotating your center in a clockwise manner (in this specific scenario). This will have the effect of twisting and turning the opponent such that his or her other arm moves away from you. That’s what we generally call “a good thing.”
The risk is that while you are positioning your hands the opponent might change the position of his or her left hand or decide to strike you with it. If you have both hands occupied on your left side, then you are vulnerable to attack on your right side.
The solution to this is to step to your local angle 3. Now the opponent’s right arm is along your Center Line. His or her left arm has moved away from you somewhat (or his or her left elbow will bend further). If you concurrently move back (perhaps stepping to angle 8 instead of angle 3) then the opponent will undergo a structural instability that might make it difficult to use his or her left hand for any meaningful purpose.
You will find it beneficial to work with another person to understand how his or her body reactions when you make simple movements, hand positioning, or rotations. Even a subtle movement can have profound effects on an opponent. Often your movements will make it impossible for an opponent to perform any useful action. Working with another person, even someone who is not a martial artist can help you explore some of the methods above and perhaps discover a few additional methods on your own. If you work with someone outside of Tensoku Ryu, take things very slowly and explain what you will do before you attempt it. Avoid any sudden or abrupt movements. You do not want to harm or anger a willing training partner. If you do, you may find them less cooperative in the future.
Side Shoulder Grabs
At times a person might grab you from the side. If you are facing angle 1, then the opponent might be facing you from the direction of angle 3 or 4. All they need do is reach up and place a hand on your shoulder.
You might use any number of blocks to prevent the person from putting a hand on your shoulder, but for this exercise we will assume you did not see the grab occurring and find that someone has suddenly latched onto your shoulder.
Single Hand Grabs From the Side
We will first explore your options assuming the person has used only a single hand. For this series of examples we will assume the person is located at angle 4.
The easiest thing to do is to step toward angle 3. This stretches out the grabbing arm and may affect the aggressor’s structural integrity. It is likely the person will attempt to move forward to either strike or establish a more powerful grab. Your options include striking with Yoko Geri or moving and strike toward angle 4. This latter action might catch the opponent while in motion and increase the effectiveness of your strikes. You might also cause the opponent to fall backward. Timing is a major issue and if our timing is not precise, you might be struck as you move toward the opponent.
Stepping to either angle 5 or 8 is also an option. Once you step in either direction you have created either a Back Facing or Front Facing Grab. We’ll explore these next.
Back Facing Grabs
Let us assume a person at angle 4 grabs your shoulder with his or her right hand. Stepping L5 will cause your center to rotate slightly toward the attacker. The attacker’s center will move slightly toward your new position, but you will now be facing the opponent’s back (or the ear) side. You can prevent the opponent from turning as you move by placing a Shuto against the opponent’s right-wrist before stepping.
If you grab the opponent’s right-wrist and twist slightly away from you, this will rotate the opponent’s elbow so it becomes a potential target for a Hidari Shotei Uchi.
Stepping to L7 will put you directly behind the opponent. As you step, pull slightly on the opponent’s wrist to keep their structure in turmoil, preventing them from stepping as you move.
Front Facing Grabs
Let’s consider the same scenario, but with the opponent grabbing with the left hand instead. Now, stepping to angle 5 moves you toward the opponent’s front (face side). This leaves the person vulnerable to Migi Shuto Uchi or perhaps Migi Tettsui Uchi.
While you might be tempted to use Migi Yoko Geri or some related kick in this situation it may not be advisable. Remember the opponent is in contact with your shoulder. If you raise a knee you will be standing on one leg and susceptible to any push or pull from the opponent.
Dual Hand Grabs From the Side
A dual hand grab from the side should be treated much like a Back Facing Grab. You may wish to adopt a slight forward lean as you move. This is because the opponent can leverage his or her two hands to press and pull your shoulders back as you move. A forward lean can help compensate for these pressures. A Shuto placed against the opponent’s hand nearest the front of your shoulder will improve your ability to move and subsequently control the opponent. The opponent has a stronger initial advantage so it is in your interest to move quickly before the opponent can turn the grab into a significant pull or push that can take you off your feet.