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Mastering Self-Defense: The Simplified 4-Square Technique to Counter Ground Attacks

Ground attack

How do you get someone off you, someone who is mounted on you and pounding your face in? Most instructors will have long-winded explanations and a myriad of techniques to accomplish it, but I’ll keep it short. Real short. There are only four things you need to know, and they’re so easy that you’ll never forget them if you find yourself in this situation. But first, a little history lesson.

French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote a collection of letters called “Lettres Provinciales” in 1657. In one of them, he made a profound statement: “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

You’d think that it would take less time to write a short letter, and normally you’d be right. However, if you wanted to write a letter that was inspiring and thought-provoking — like a poem, for instance — it takes a great deal of thought and time to select the perfect words. To inspire, enlighten or motivate a reader to act is no easy feat.

It’s no different for teaching self-defense. To survive combat, the thought process to select techniques and tactics must be short and to the point, which translates into faster reaction time and effectiveness. Every combat situation you may face has be condensed into the “short letter concept,” so to speak, or else you may end up wasting time and fail to deploy the correct solution.

When your back is on the ground, you must think of your body dividing the surface of the ground into four quadrants, or four squares. One line divides the center of your body in half, from your head to your tailbone.

ground attack defense position

The second line runs straight across your shoulders extending right and left.

ground attacked inverted defense

There are two upper squares above your shoulder line, and two lower squares below your shoulder line. Two boxes on your right side, and two boxes on your left side. No matter how you get the mounted attacker off-balance — be it with a hip buck, thrashing back and forth, or a finger jab to the eye.

man punching other

Once the attacker puts his hand down on the ground to regain his balance and keep from falling to the ground, the law of gravity means that he must place his hand in one of the four squares. When he does, it means that there are only four possibilities for you to take advantage of.If the hand is placed in one of the two upper squares above your shoulders, which are divided right and left by the center line of your head, then you’ll do a sweep.

man defending himself from a punch

Now, at this point, I must “write my letter longer” so you will understand the concept, and once you do, you’ll always go with the shorter version in your mind when it counts most — in combat.Once the attacker’s hand touches the ground, you will push, or sweep, the attacker’s wrist or arm away from you so he falls in that direction. Using a common metaphor, you’re essentially knocking out one of the legs of a three-legged stool, and it will fall. To make sure you are successful, you must use your opposite hand to push the attacker’s body in the direction you want him to go, and assist with the opposite knee.

man saving himself from a punch

Of course, once the attacker falls, you must immediately follow up (counterattack so he does not come back at you).

If the attacker’s hand lands in a lower square, which is right and left of your body’s centerline and below your shoulder line, then lock his arm. Just reach around his arm, hook it, pull it in tight to your body and roll in that same direction.

man saved himself from a punch

He no longer has that arm available to brace himself, and down he goes. You may even get the added benefit of breaking his stuck wrist as you roll onto it.

This brings up a warning for training. When practicing this technique with a partner, you must first warn him or her to adjust the wrist so it’s not twisted the wrong way when the roll takes place. Once the warning is given and he or she responds, “OK, go,” then and only then can you roll into the direction of the lock.

So what happens if the attacker tries to regain his balance after your destabilizing strike and places both hands in the two upper right and left squares at the same time? That’s easy. Pick one of his arms and then sweep it. Notice that I said, “one of his arms,” and not both. That’s because if you knock out both arms at the same time, his head or torso will fall straight down on your face. The goal is to launch him to one side or the other.

It will never happen where the attacker will place his hands in both lower squares at the same time unless he fell backward for some reason. However, it is possible that the attacker will put one hand in an upper square and the second hand diagonally in the lower square at the same time

man on man in a ground attack

In this case, you just pick the nearest “target” with your nearest “weapon,” and either sweep or lock it — but go after only one arm. If you go after both arms, he will just fall on top of you.

Like I stated, I’ve been teaching my original “Jim Wagner 4 Square Take Off Rule” for a couple of decades now, and all the students who have cycled through my Ground Survival courses — people who have come to me from virtually every fighting system under the sun (civilian martial arts, law-enforcement defensive tactics and military combatives) — have confirmed that this is by far the easiest method to understand and use for this particular ground situation.

Now, if someone comes along with a better way to teach it, I’ll run it through the testing process like I do with any new technique, tactic or training method I encounter. I have a bunch of experts try it and give their input. If there is some merit to it, I’ll see if beginners can take to it. If it is not easily understood, if it’s too complicated or if it’s not as good as what we already have, it is not adopted into the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection system.

However, if it turns out that the new way is better, it’s out with the old and in with the new. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me if my name is on it or not. It’s all about having the best methods available to stay alive.


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