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Drilling the “Rough Break” for Grappling & Streetwork

Let’s start with a little Old West history and then walk that into a mighty pragmatic drill-set that trains sensitivity, sensory deprivation, and overall resourcefulness.


Our first stop is a little horse-breaking practice that will upset horse-whisperers everywhere.

In the wild and wooly old days horses were mighty useful companions and work-mates, but, and this may come as a surprise to many, horses don’t pop out of the womb with a hankering to be ridden.

In our best-case scenario, a young horse is acclimated to people, raised around people, seen other horses ridden, and even then, the initial acceptance of bit, saddle and rider is still a slow process.

This rider-acceptance is all the more recalcitrant in a freshly captured mustang, a wild adult horse that has not been socialized to humans let alone fostered any unfulfilled dreams of losing its liberty and having a curiously garbed ape perched atop its back.

Compassionate “gentling” takes some time. Gentling is the preferred method, but on a working ranch and/or working drive, time was not always yours for the asking, so “breaking” was used over “gentling.”

We’ve all seen variations of horse-breaking in Western films. The bronco-buster heads into the corral, walks a horse down with a lasso and then hops atop, spends a few seconds before getting tossed, then repeats the process ad nauseum until fatigue or begrudging acceptance is won. (William Wyler’s 1958 film The Big Country has an excellent depiction of this dogged process.)

But even breaking as just described takes time. When time is of the essence, some bronco-busters would resort to the “rough break.”

In a rough break, the buster ropes the horse, chokes it down (yep, you heard me right), once down the animal is saddled and blindfolded. The buster steps atop the green bronc and strips off the blindfold, digs in with spurs, slams home a quirt and rides it out.

Oh, he’s still tossed, but good bronc-busters say that it only takes about three rides with the rough-break method and then the horse can be turned over to the cowboy.

Now, I’m not a card-carrying friend to PETA, and not condoning rough break methods, but I am here to say we can modify rough-breaking for our own combat training.

Let’s have a look-see.

Rough Breaking for Grappling

  • Hit the mat and have your “bronc” don a blindfold.
  • Position an opponent before him—both are in short-offense (starting from the knees to take hard unprotected takedowns out of the picture.)
  • Start with cohesion, that is, collar and elbow, over-under, whatever “coming to grips” is your cuppa tea.
  • Blow the whistle and let her buck!
  • If when the bronc is on the bottom—call “Freeze!” and remove the blindfold.
  • Then call “Go!”
  • From the now visually aware bottom position the bronc tries to get back in the winning game or at least survive until the clock dictates.
  • The bronc’s goal is to win via submission, or at the very least not find oneself in a pinned bottom position.
  • Extra Credit: Use the rough-break number of three rides to really get the most out of the experience.

Rough Breaking for Street-Work

  • You can, of course, use the prior drill but switch the grappling arsenal for one of ripping, striking and tearing as long as appropriate gear is used.
  • To raise the stakes, take it to the feet but…
  • Start from cohesion, a hands-on position of some sort and minus out hard strikes. (If partners agree and are geared appropriately, open hand slaps are a nice addition.)
  • I also find using the rough-break protocol for muffling an “X” Weapon (knife or firearm on the person) is another useful approach.
  • Again, if/when the bronc is clearly in a position of “Yeah, that ain’t looking too good” call “Freeze!” remove the blindfold and allow them to work their way out of the riddle.

It’s easy to see that all forms of rough-breaking, whether it be true bronc-busting or consenting humans scuffling with one another there are bruises to be accrued, but…some mighty hard skills won.

Click here for simple and brutally effective self defense moves taught by Mark Hatmaker

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