Review: “Dirty Ground: The Tricky Space Between Sport And Combat” By Kris Wilder & Lawrence A. Kane


This book was made available by YMAA Publication Center through NetGalley, and I requested a copy for the purposes of reading it and providing a review.

OK, all the necessary stuff out of the way, how cool is it that you find a book you were willing to pay good money for available for review at no cost? Indeed. Life. Is. Sweet.

This book works off the premise that ground fighting, which is cool in the MMA ring or other competition arena, has to be played by different rules, or no rules at all, when it’s a violent encounter. Or, in the middle space between sport and combat, what the authors refer to as a “Drunkle”, the example being your drunk Uncle Albert at a family reunion. You’re asked to corral him and get him to settle down, but you can’t put the hammer down on him like Anderson Silva or use lethal force. He is, after all, family, like it or not.

The authors do a great job of clearly delineating, as much as possible, the difference between sport, drunkles and combat. They also cover the concepts of what you need to consider before getting involved in a violent encounter, namely Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion (different sources use different terms and acronyms, but the concepts are the same):

  • Ability – Is the threat able to hurt you? An armed teen with a knife certainly is. An unarmed toddler isn’t (unless they’re dropping Legos in the hallway, to be found in the middle of the night).
  • Opportunity – Does the threat have the opportunity to hurt you? The same teen standing forty feet away with the knife wouldn’t have the opportunity. Once that teen gets within that magical 21 feet, he certainly does.
  • Jeopardy – Are you in what a reasonable person would call jeopardy? Even if the armed teen is cussing and telling you he’s going to kill and describing in detail how he’s going to do it, if he’s walking away from you while doing so, you’re not in jeopardy.
  • Preclusion – Did you, absolutely, have to fight and not have any escape avenues preceding or during the encounter? If a guy is in the car next to you waving a gun, telling you what he’s going to do to you, and you get out of your car and put a beat down on him, you may have the first three points on your side, but not the last. You could have avoided the encounter by simply putting pedal to metal.

This is just an example of what the authors cover. They spend a great deal of time talking about what ifs and wherefores and whys of violent encounters, giving you many things to think about. While they rightfully stop short of giving legal advice, they do make sure you understand there is much more going on that what might be going on in your head. Also addressed briefly, but in a solid manner, is the difference between social and asocial violence.

They also cover in detail some popular grappling styles through the centuries and how they fit into the sport, drunkle or combat spectrum.

Finally, they show several judo techniques, not because of superiority of that art, but because of the accessibility of terminology because of the popularity of the art, and put each one into the sport, drunkle and combat spectrum, giving examples of how those techniques might be applied. They also provide pictures of each of these examples, demonstrating how the force applied in each would differ.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book. It definitely covered the continuum I was hoping it would, speaking to the differences between each area, the gray areas in between, and how to tell which part of the continuum the encounter falls into. Not only that, but they also try to give you pointers on identifying when the encounter shifts from one area to the other, such as when drunk Uncle Albert suddenly has his three sober, armed brothers coming to his aid (my example, not theirs).

If you have any interest in protecting yourself and those you love in a violent encounter that could end up on the ground, this book is definitely for you.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

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