Although there are dozens of different martial arts globally, we group them into two main categories: striking and grappling.
Some martial arts encapsulate both, but it seems that there is always a focus on one or the other. That sparks debates about striking vs grappling for self-defense in a street fight
Both striking and grappling can be very effective in a street fight. But, when attacked, you should always look to get out of a fight as soon as possible. Striking ends fights a lot quicker, so in terms of self-defense, striking has a slight advantage over grappling.
If you choose to grapple and try to control the fight on the floor, it gives your attackers a lot of time to jump at you while you’re down or use dirty methods to hurt you.
That doesn’t mean that knowing wrestling or some other grappling martial art can’t be helpful. Knowing how to take your opponent down and control him gives you a great advantage.
Striking might be a better option in most situations, but whether you should use striking or grappling depends on every case individually.
Striking vs Grappling in a Street Fight
It’s pretty hard to determine whether striking or grappling is better when it comes to combat sports.
There are too many things influencing the answer: which sport are we talking about? What’s the ruleset? Are we talking about finishing or controlling the fight?
But, when we’re talking about which is better in a street fight, things are different.
If you get attacked on the street, you’ll most likely seek the opportunity to finish the fight as quickly as possible and try to escape.
Unless you are the one doing the attacking (in which case you shouldn’t ever consider taking martial arts classes), it is crucial to reduce the fight’s duration as much as possible.
That’s the main reason why striking is better in a street fight than grappling. If you are a trained striker, you can end the battle with a single hit, allowing you to escape or call for help.
It doesn’t even have to be a knockout. You only need to land a strike that incapacitates the attacker to keep attacking you. A single hard low kick will do the trick most of the time.
That quickness will give you the opportunity to end fights fast and not allow them to harm you in any way.
Also, you’ll have a lot more chance to defend yourself if attacked by multiple attackers as well.
I’m not saying that you are invincible if you learn a striking martial art, but your chances of getting out of a street fight safely are a lot higher.
Still, grappling can be incredibly useful, too. Just take a look at how many grapplers are UFC champions, demolishing strikers night in and night out.
However, a regulated combat sport such as MMA is nothing like ending up in a street fight.
As I said, you’ll seek to end the fight as soon as possible (be it incapacitating the opponent or escaping).
So, grappling and asserting control will only waste valuable time, especially with martial arts such as BJJ, where you can stay on the ground for a long time.
It’s not ineffective but impractical. Sure, knowing how to take your opponent down, keep them down, and prevent them from dealing damage is all incredibly useful in a street fight.
But, it takes too long to do it. Staying on the floor means you’re exposed and vulnerable for a longer stretch, where another attacker can come into play and hurt you.
You should always keep in mind that it’s a street fight, and there are no rules. Nobody guarantees clean 1-on-1 combat. There’s always a chance you’ll get jumped by a second attacker or that the attackers will use weapons.
If you don’t want to get hurt, the best thing to do is finish it as soon as possible, and grappling on the floor can’t provide that for you.
Now, that doesn’t mean grappling martial arts skills are useless on the streets.
On the contrary, techniques like takedowns, trips, and chokes used in wrestling or judo can be pretty effective for you in a street fight. You incapacitate the opponent and give yourself a chance to either escape or call for help.
Both striking and grappling are great tools to have for self-defense. But, when push comes to shove in a street fight, I have to give striking a slight advantage.
It helps you end the conflicts quickly, keep your opponent at a distance, and fend off multiple attackers if need be.
Which Is Harder to Learn: Striking or Grappling?
The opinions about which is harder to learn vary. Some say that grappling is harder to learn because there’s a lot more grinding, many more techniques, and so many ways to assert dominance or take control.
Others say that striking is more challenging, as you have to be incredibly precise but powerful at the same time.
Also, it’s much harder to set up your defense when striking. As you learn, you’ll get punched in the face over and over again until you know how to deal damage while avoiding taking damage.
Both of these skills have a long learning curve and take years to master. It all comes down to which of the two you like more and how prepared you are to train and take damage in practice to learn how to avoid it.
Strikers learn techniques on pads and heavy bags first. But, nothing is worth more than to get into sparring with somebody better than you and see how difficult it is to use those techniques in a real fight.
You need to learn how to combine defense and offense because every time you pull out a strike, you’re leaving yourself exposed to take damage.
On the other hand, grappling is so much more focused on endurance and grind. It’s brutal for your entire body, as five minutes of grappling will leave you a lot more tired than five minutes of striking.
And, it’s not like you can’t get hurt when doing grappling. Sure, impact injuries are a lot less frequent. But, chafes, dislocations and cauliflower ears are a lot more common.
In the end, it all boils down to how willing you are to learn, take damage, and use the experience to get better.
I’ve done both striking and grappling, and it was a lot more difficult for me to do grappling.
I always felt more comfortable staying at a distance, picking my moments and bursting out with explosiveness.
However, I got pretty beat up in striking practice a couple of times when trying to master new skills, perfect my defense, or simply going at it against somebody better than me.
I’ve never suffered an injury during grappling (although they do occur), and you have a lot more time to think about your next move.
But, when somebody has complete control over you on the ground, it can be even more grueling than being punched in the face.
What I’m saying is that you have to be ready to take a beating regardless of which one you choose to learn.
Both are hard to learn and even harder to master, so it all comes down to what you like more and what you believe your strengths are.
Should You Learn Striking or Grappling First?
That all depends on what you want to do with your skills.
If it’s for self-defense only, you should go for striking. It will allow you to quickly finish the fight you ended up in and escape any undesired situations.
However, if your goal is to compete in combat sports (especially in MMA), studies have shown that grapplers with poor striking usually have more MMA success than strikers with poor grappling.
You can be incredibly efficient with your punches and kicks, but what happens when a grappler lunges at you for a takedown?
First, nobody teaches strikers how to defend themselves from a takedown. Second, when they end up on the floor, it’s a one-way street to dominance.
Just take a look at the undefeated former UFC champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov. He learned how to strike on the go and never got to that “elite” level with his striking.
But, he’s one of the best grapplers in the history of MMA, and he used his skills to dominate, never losing a single MMA fight.
It’s a general consensus that it’s easier to teach grapplers how to strike than to teach strikers how to grapple, although it entirely depends on every individual.
No rule says you should learn one or the other first, as it all comes down to what you like more, what your motivations for training are, and what skills or abilities have you already had that you want to build on.
I started with kickboxing first and had some trouble transitioning the style to defend myself from takedowns initially. But, with a lot of will and a great teacher, you can learn both and be effective in both, regardless of which one you started to practice first.
Now that you know the effectiveness of both striking and grappling, it is time to choose which martial art to start with.
I highly recommend you take a look at the complete guide about which martial art you should start with.