Book review: When the Fight Goes to the Ground

A while ago, Lori O’Connel sent me her latest book to review. It’s called “When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-Jitsu Strategies and Tactics for Self-Defense” and has a cool feature: it includes a bonus DVD with video footage of most every technique she explains in the book. This helps you out a lot if you have difficulty learning new techniques or concepts from reading alone. Even more, the book/video combo is ridiculously cheap for the added value you get this way, so definitely a plus right there.

Here’s a short promotional video with some additional info from Lori herself:

This already gives you a good idea of what the book is all about.

That said, here’s the review:

When the Fight Goes to the Ground: Jiu-Jitsu Strategies and Tactics for Self-Defense

The book is very in-depth and covers many different aspects of the ground game focused on self-defense. It starts in the first chapter with information that gives you a basic understanding of using your ground game for self-defense  instead of MMA or BJJ competitions. Lori covers how to stay safe, which strategies to use and so on.

In the following chapters she covers basics such as bodyshifting and control along with attacking vital targets like the eyes, nose, throat, ears, etc. The typical targets you are not allowed to go for in MMA competitions. She also spends time showing how to do breakfalls on concrete, which is a crucial element for effective street self-defense. No matter how well you can fall in the dojo on mats, that doesn’t mean you can do so on the street pavement. So you should definitely spend some time actually practicing these techniques.

From then on, the book is all about techniques. It starts with defending from the ground against a standing attacker. This is perhaps the most difficult scenario as you have limited mobility and options whereas the attacker has complete freedom of movement. Lori shows many different basic techniques to defend yourself there and hopefully get back up quickly.

Following chapters cover topics like:

  • Defending against a mounted attacker.
  • Defending from the guard
  • Defending against a mounted attacker on your back.
  • Defending against side control
  • How to apply and defend against neck restraints
  • Applying joint locks (like arm bars) on the attacker.
  • Much, much more.

I do have one caveat with this joint locks chapter as it might be read by some people as advocating that arm bars are a go-to technique when you are on the ground in a street fight. Lori makes it very clear that she isn’t saying that but unfortunately, this chapter will probably be used by MMA/BJJ practitioners to justify prolonging the fight on the ground instead of finishing it quickly.

Book review - When the Fight Goes to the Ground

Click the picture to buy this book.

One of the last chapters covers knife attacks while you’re on the ground. Lori shows some interesting techniques there but she also advocates something I disagree with: throwing away the knife right after you disarm the attacker. She explains her reasons for it but I disagree: if you are threatened with lethal force and manage to disarm your attacker, I think it is tactically smarter to keep the weapon until you are well away from him, safe and sound. Disarming an attacker doesn’t mean he will give up trying to kill you, so I don’t see the point in giving up a tactical advantage like that. Or worse, let him get back up to recover the weapon and come back at you once again.


The final chapter tackles multiple opponents when you are on the ground.There is once again some good advice here. What I would stress is that this is a worst case scenario: you shouldn’t assume that getting back up and away from them will be easy or painless. Chances are good you’ll have a dificult fight on your hands and will take damage along the way. Obviously, this shouldn’t stop you from fighting tooth and nail to escape your attackers. But you need to have realistic expectations: it won’t be like in the movies where the hero dispatches dozens of atackers without breaking a sweat.



“When the Fight Goes to the Ground” is an excellent book. I liked it a lot. It is a great introduction to the topic of defending yourself when the fight goes to the ground in the street from the perspective of Jiu Jitsu. One of the things I particularly liked is that Lori explains how to perform the techniques for different body types. She explains how to tweak them so they work for you if you are:

  • Tall with long limbs.
  • Short with a heavy built.
  • Smaller body type, like a petite woman.

Lori gives you more than enough information for you to start adapting the techniques so they work for your particular built.

The accompanying DVD is shot clearly and gives plenty of instruction on the techniques in the book. Lori introduces all the clips and ends with some final words of advice after about an hour’s worth of footage. Good stuff.

Overall, “When the Fight Goes to the Ground” is a great book to get you started on your path to self-defense skills on the ground. I have some technical quibbles (striking while looking away from the target, certain body mechanics,  some of the neck restraints, etc.) but these are more personal opinions than anything. Like Lori writes, you have to take what is useful for you and make it work for your circumstances.

“When the Fight Goes to the Ground” will also be very helpful if you practice a MMA or BJJ ground system but want to go beyond them. It will give you the information you need to train in a way that takes into account the differences between a competitive environment and street self-defense.

As a final argument to get this one, I need to mention the production quality: the book is printed on high quality paper and the pictures are very sharp and clear. The same quality is present in the DVD: well filmed and perfectly produced. A great job by all involved.

Highly recommend, get this book!

Book review  When the Fight Goes to the Ground




  1. Wim,I have to disagree about retaining an attackers weapon.I’m a black man from NYC and I can tell you from personal experience,if the cops roll up and you are black and holding a weapon?Buddy you are the perp.And you will likely be shot early and often.

    • Darrin,

      It’s not either/or. You can retain the weapon after the disarm for as long as necessary and get rid of it as soon as you are no longer in danger. If the police shows up while your attacker is still a threat and you are holding a knife, you best indeed drop it and hit the deck. But IME, the fight is usually over by the time they arrive so this usually isn’t that much of an issue.
      Your attacker coming at you again because his intent didn’t change after the disarm is an acute problem though. One you have to solve right away. To me, it makes more sense to have a weapon handy to face an attacker who has already demonstrated his intent to use lethal force than to have that weapon and then discard it. I don’t see the upside in going from a strong tactical position to a weaker one when the conflict is not over just yet.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to use it and kill the guy out of hand. You can still choose not to use it. But if you should need it because he attacks again, you’ll be glad you didn’t throw it away. Of course, in an ideal situation, this is a non-issue as you’d be running fiercely as soon as you got back on your feet…

  2. By default, I disagree with using grappling to any great extent in a self defense situation for reasons you have outlined many times in the past. (This isn’t to say that grappling skill has no place in SD, of course)

    Still, it sounds like this book does a good job of showing you where it should be used. Maybe I’ll check it out.

    • This book covers what most people mean when they say you need to know enough grappling to get back up when you’re on the ground in the street. So in that regard, it’s a good place to start. Doesn’t mean you have to drop on your back and shout “Get in my guard Bro!” when you’re in a fight… :-)