“we’re going to catch a big one, we’re not scared”.
OK, a silly way to start an article but I couldn’t resist as it makes as much sense as most stuff shown with regards to rear bear hug defences.
If you are involved in doing self-defence training then at some point the subject of escapes from a bear hug will come up. If you trawl the internet you will come up with dozens, hundreds or possibly even thousands of clips showing you how to escape from a rear bear hug, some of them even involve big guys in tight fitting t-shirts and camo’ trousers (so they must be good, right?)
Basically the rear bear hug escape breaks down into two categories, the over the arm hug and the under the arm hug. The escape from the over arm hug breaks down as either shifting your weight (hips) sideways so you can step behind and unbalance your attacker, dropping your weight and raising your arms to break the grip (more on that later*) or sitting your weight back whilst pulling your attackers leg forward between your own. The under arm grip (hug around the torso) adds the option of the arms being free which is a gift that allows you to punish your attacker with your elbows.
That is all well and good but pretty well all the defences you see, and certainly the ones that work well and easily, rely very heavily on the hug being flawed in the first place.
I spent some interesting time in the arms of a real beast of a man (or training partner perhaps I should call him) when researching the subject prior to teaching a session at the UK’s annual “Bunkai Bash” in 2016 and what became very apparent very quickly was that a rear bear hug applied properly and with commitment by someone who knows what they are doing is very, very difficult to escape from, even for someone my size (6’ 3” 220lbs).
“we can’t go under it, we can’t go over it and we can’t go around it, we’ll have to go through it”
Now, despite my flippant comments, there are some well thought out examples available on the web showing some sound principles of body dynamics (there are some silly ones as well, obviously), however they all suffer from the same flaw in my opinion (and the opinions of some with far more real world experience than myself)
Virtually all the defences you will see on YouTube are based on an attacker grabbing you from behind, wrapping their arms over yours at around halfway between shoulder and elbow (without squeezing in) and then standing up straight behind you and remaining static.
Now the first thing I would say as a complete aside to the defences themselves at this stage is that in this peculiar circumstance, in a one on one situation, what actual physical risk are you in at this point? Your “attacker” has both hands fully occupied and, apart from being within your personal space, can do nothing to you without releasing their grip.
That is because the rear bear hug used this way is not an attack but a control technique to prevent you from carrying on whatever action you were involved in, so what you are effectively learning in your “self-defence” is how to defend yourself against a police officer or the occasional door man. That being the case I would suggest that a far better form of defence is to stop behaving like a dick in the first place and your defence will pretty much take care of itself.
The reality is that, by and large, the rear bear hug is used very specifically for one of two purposes, either as a precursor to someone throwing you to the ground (or into a table, bar or whatever) during a fight or as an abduction technique as a precursor to throwing you into the back of a panel van or boot (trunk) of a car. In both these cases the same thing happens, immediately you lose your contact with the ground and what do 99.9% of all bear hug escapes require? A good base and contact with the ground. This is a dynamic attack and not a static situation!
This is why I say that for the rear bear hug to be applied by someone who “knows what they are doing” means that they have the intention to lift you so they will go low, this also has the benefit of making it far easier to lock your arms in and if you are fortunate enough to have been left the use of your arms it means that their head is tucked into your back between your shoulders, making your flailing elbow/head techniques virtually useless.
It was suggested to me that if you frog kick (pull your legs in then kick them both out forcefully to the front) that you will be impossible to hold on to. Our practice indicated that the best a 170lb male training partner managed was to have a 50:50 chance of overbalancing us forward and we both went to ground (which is where he was going anyway) and the same thing tried with a 100lb female (the most likely target for this sort of attack) had no effect whatsoever.
That is not to say that all is hopeless in this situation and a student of mine came up with an innovative answer (I thought) to this problem on the fly whilst training. As he didn’t have a stable base to work from he used mine instead and braced his feet against my legs. Now when a full grown man drives all the weight and power of his legs through your thighs you let go pretty quickly! Even the power generated by the 100lb female through the legs is sufficient to break free from a big guy, the down side is that this escape does tend to leave you hitting the concrete knees and hands first (or face if you are unlucky) but if the option is that or the boot of the car (and the possibilities that follow) then it’s probably worth a try.
So, in summation, it’s not that rear bear hug defences don’t work, they demonstrably do in the context that they are shown in the myriad videos out there but, what they actually are is a self- defence solution without a problem. Like much in the self-defence market they only work because a situation has been manufactured for them to work in. By all means play with them (they are fun), learn them and (despite all I have said before) never say never, one day the situation may arise (stranger things have happened), but do recognise them for what they are.
*Just in case you thought I’d forgotten the “more on that later” comment (go on, admit it, you had), If you break the grip by raising your attackers arms the first thing you give him is your neck, although it does bear the question that why, if he was in a position to go for a rear bear hug he didn’t go for the far easier and less risky choke in the first place?