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Should I Train Grappling or Striking First?

When people first start training MMA, they may be unsure of where to start. Do they start training in grappling first or with striking?

There are benefits of beginning your training with either striking or grappling. So, we’re going to list the benefits of beginning your training in each for this article. But we tend to think that learning grappling first is more beneficial. After we list the pros of training in grappling or striking, we will give you the reason why we think it is more beneficial to learn grappling first, both from a self-defense perspective and an MMA competition perspective.

Table of Contents

Benefits of Training Striking First

Carlos Gracie Sr. was quoted once saying: “Punch a black belt in the face once, he becomes a brown belt, punch him again, purple…”

What Carlos Sr. meant by this quote is that grapplers need to know how to defend strikes. You could also argue that this can be a reason to train striking before grappling. Here are the benefits of training striking first before grappling.

Learning About Striking Range

By training striking before grappling, you can understand what striking range is. There are actually three different striking ranges. Punching range, kicking range, and close range.

  • Punching Range: This is the distance that your punches can reach an opponent. Boxers learn this range to throw their punches with the most efficiency. Also to keep their opponent at the end of their punches.
  • Kicking Range: In kickboxing, you learn this range to keep opponents at the end of your kicks. By learning this range, you can keep opponents away at the end of your foot and land kicks.
  • Close Range: Close range is the striking distance, where you’re face to face with your opponent. Some boxers use this range to muscle their opponents to land uppercuts and hooker. While in Muay Thai this range is also used for that plus using clinching to land elbows, and sweeps.

By knowing these ranges, you can control the striking aspect of a fight. Whether you want to land punches and kicks, or clinch your opponent. Being able to control these ranges will make it harder for a grappler to get their takedowns on you.

Learn To Defend Strikes

Learning to defend strikes is probably more important than knowing how to throw strikes. “The best offense is a good defense” is a line many of the top striking coaches will always say.

Being able to block and slip punches, while checking or evading kicks is a must know for self defense. It is an important skill to have and is a bonus when learning striking first.

Make Getting Takedowns Easier

Another advantage to  learning striking first is that it can make getting takedowns easier. This goes along with understanding striking ranges.

Here are two examples.

  1. Landing Strikes To Set Up Takedowns: You’re controlling a fight by keeping your opponent at a distance with strikes. What your goal could be is to get your opponent to lose composure and close the distance. When they do this, it opens up your opportunity to take them down. A very common strategy used in MMA.
  2. Defending Strikes To Get A Takedown: When fighting a striker, a strategy that’s used is waiting for an opening to get a takedown. Let’s say an opponent is flat footed after they throw a kick. Fighters will wait for this tell and immediately go for the takedown opportunity.

Benefits Of Training Grappling First

A boxer is like a lion, the greatest predator on land. But you throw him in the shark tank and he’s just another meal.”- Renzo Gracie

Now, we’ll get into the benefits of training grappling first over striking. There are three specific reasons for training grappling first we will go over.

The Ground Cancels Out Striking Ability

As Renzo was saying it doesn’t matter how good your striking ability is. Once the fight hits the ground, you’re in a whole other world.

Fighting on the ground cancels out a striker’s ability to punch and kick. It doesn’t matter how good your striking ability is if you can’t get off the ground. A huge reason for training grappling first over striking.

A great example of this was in the Stipe vs Ngannou fight. Ngannou in his previous fights destroyed his opponents with his powerful striking.

But Stipe’s proficient grappling canceled out Ngannou’s striking power.  Stipe took Ngannou down for 5 rounds at will to retain his title.

The Proven Effectiveness Of Grappling

When a straight grappler goes against a straight striker, the outcomes were usually the same. The grappler would come out on top.

The Gracie In Action videos and early UFC fights showed the effectiveness of grappling over pure striking. In nearly all of the fights, the striker was taken down and submitted. 

Thanks to those early fights grappling became a core component of training for the world’s best fighters.

Statistics Back Up Training Grappling First

Statistics have been accumulated that actually back up the notion of training grappling first. You can read a few of them here.

The first most cited study was done in 1991 studying 5,617 altercations with officers in 1988. In those altercations 62% ended up on the ground.

Rorion Gracie used this study in his Gracie In Action videos to sell training Jiu Jitsu. But he said 95% of altercations go to the ground and that is incorrect.

Another study was done by Bakari Akil(Ph.D) at Middle Georgia College. Akil, who trains no gi BJJ wanted to know exactly how many fights went to the ground.

After watching hours of fights, Akil got the results.

  • 42% of fights ended with both fighters on the ground
  • 72% ended with only one going to the ground

There are a few flaws in these studies, but they do show the importance of grappling. If an altercation goes to the ground more than half of the time it’d be good to train grappling first.

So, What Is The Real Answer?

Training grappling first would be more beneficial than striking. It is fantastic to know how to strike, but you can’t argue against the benefits of training grappling first since nearly 3/4th of fights end up with at least one person on the ground.

You can’t argue the facts that more time than not fights go to the ground. At some point whether it be in a competition or on the streets a fight usually turns into a grappling match.

It doesn’t matter how good your striking is if you can’t grapple. We’ve seen it time and time again that a fighter with grappling ability always beats a fighter with no grappling ability.

This is why you should really consider training grappling first. Having a base in grappling before striking would have you better prepared for the realities of an actual fight. Knowing how to defend yourself on the ground is far more important and practical than knowing how to strike.

Train Both After Learning Grappling First

After you get your base in grappling, then you can start to add striking into your training. But make sure your fundamentals on the ground are sound.

Being able to defend yourself on the ground is far more important for self defense than striking. Knowing how to defend against an attacker while on the ground could save your life.

By learning to grapple first it can also make your striking better. You’ll have no fear of being on the ground or on your feet making you a more complete martial artist.


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