The readers of this blog are, primarily, practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art whose body of expertise lies inside the framework of ground fighting. Reflecting on this fact, and having just finished reading some patently absurd martial arts blog espousing some very ignorant ideas about the merits of ground fighting, I found myself wondering:
What percentage of fights go to the ground?
The most commonly touted statistic is that 90% to 95% of fights go to the ground. The problem is not that it sounds implausible. I am willing, in principle, to believe it. But this a question of fact, not of opinion. So where are the citations? Where are the original studies? On what evidence is this claim based?
And that’s the strange thing, really. There is, by my account, a palpable lack of hard data on the question.1 The percentage is originally claimed to have been derived from something published by the LAPD. Deeper digging led me to this study originally published in 1997 by The American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, “Use of Force Training Seminar: Future of Non-Lethal Force Training – Reality Based and Integrating Techniques for Non-Lethal Force Training.”2
According to the study, the LAPD made 316,525 arrests in 1988. Of those arrests made, “2,031 incidents contained a sufficient level of aggressive resistance by a suspect toward the officer to qualify as an altercation.” A survey of the ways in which these altercations happen revealed that 95% of the time, they unfolded in one of five patterns. “[A]nd 62% of those five types of altercations ended with the officer and subject on the ground with the officer locking and handcuffing the suspect.”
It seems, then, the original statistic being bandied about by a fair few amount of people was generated from a misunderstanding. What we can say from this 15 year-old study is that 62% of the altercations ended with the officer on the ground, applying a joint lock, and arresting the perpetrator. But it’s hard to know how much bearing, if any, this has on fights between civilians. Little, I think, for fairly obvious reasons.
I am also reminded of the quip about “99% of statistics are made up.”
But then what is the percentage? In principle, this question does have a definitive answer. In practice, it seems the people who supply an answer are people who have something to gain, in one fashion or another, by the shape their particular answer takes. In other words if you’re one of those ‘lethal’ strikers who espouses opinions like “the average street fight lasts between 3 and 8 seconds,” then it’s better to perpetuate the idea that ground fighting on the street is either uncommon or undesirable.4 And in turn, if you’re a grappler, then all fights eventually go to the ground.
This points to a larger issue, which is we have a question on our hands whose answer is funneled primarily through the Arena of Opinion. That being the case, and without even a semblance of statistical information, I think I’m going to have to leave this one right here. It is, to the best of my understanding, an unknown.
I really did think data on this topic existed somewhere on The Internet, done by some government agency, like the FBI. But perusing what the FBI had to offer, everything was broken down by crime committed, and not by the kind of fight statistics the UFC would take. Distilling from the statistics we do have into the ones we want, if even possible, would be a task requiring hundreds of people, people substantially more qualified than me.
What percentage of fights go to the ground? I simply have no idea. And throughout my day-long investigation, I did not run into any hard data suggestive of any concrete answer. Thanks for reading.
2. http://ejmas.com/jnc/2007jnc/jncart_Leblanc_0701.html, reprinted in the Journal of Non-Lethal Combatives, 2007. I should note that the Journal of Non-lethal Combatives looks like the sketchiest journal I’ve ever seen, and has been out of print for some time.
3. Someone submitted this for my Six-Month Anniversary entry, if you can believe that. I’ve been fighting the temptation to publish parts of the email, which read like the fantastical reviews my friends and I write for the blog…except someone actually wrote it unsolicited and of their own accord. Amazing.
4. It was reading ‘statistics’ like this, asserted by fiat (of course), which got me considering whether there were actually any data on the number of fights which go to the ground. I’d provide the citation to the blog where I read these inanities, but I feel like it would be better if said blog just melted away in obscurity forevermore. If you’re that interested, email me. Or just google that fictional statistic. A few entries below was one entitled “Avoid Ground Fighting At All Costs,” which goes to show how ill-informed people can still be in this day and age.