BJJ Takedowns: The Importance, Categories, and Context
Takedowns are an important and integral component of BJJ. Some gyms train takedowns on a frequent basis and some do not, and this tends to be influenced by the gym’s affiliation and the background of the students or coaches. Takedowns are one of the reasons that a wrestler or Judoka who is new to BJJ may improve at a faster speed than a pure newcomer, as it can take years to learn and become proficient at takedowns.
Importance of Training Takedowns
Takedowns can be exhausting and dangerous to train, especially for new practitioners. However, they are important to the sport’s effectiveness, credibility, and longevity, and it should be an aspect of your training--regardless of how often you train them.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t pull guard? Of course not.
Does this mean that you must train takedowns every class? Not at all.
Does this mean that you need to train takedowns at 100%? Please, no.
The bottom line is that takedowns are an integral element of BJJ and necessary to both self-defense and sport, and they should not be ignored. Since they are difficult, frustrating, and it can be hard to track progress, it may be tempting to skip the wrestling, Judo, or takedown class your gym offers. Instead, have an open mind, do your best, and continue training. You may not be the best, but you will learn, you will get better, and your game and the sport will be better for it. If for no other reason, train takedowns so that you know how to beat them when someone tries to take you down.
Common Takedown Categories
There are many terms in BJJ that can be interchanged, and takedowns can be especially difficult to categorize. While there are general categorizations of specific techniques, how someone describes or names a takedown may largely depend on their martial arts background. If the player has a wrestling background, they will likely use the word “takedown” most frequently, whereas someone with a Judo background will likely call it a “throw.” This is largely due to the fact that wrestlers tend to practice mostly takedowns and Judokas tend to practice mostly throws. However, there is some overlap in techniques taught in those respective practices, but you may still hear them categorized based on the originating sport’s preferred method of takedown or throw.
A “takedown” is an all-encompassing term that describes a practitioner forcing their opponent from a standing position to a sitting or bottom position through a properly executed technique. You may hear someone say, “That was a nice double-leg takedown,” which would refer to the proficient execution of a wrestling takedown technique known as a double-leg takedown. Essentially, if a player has been taken from a standing position to the ground, they have been taken down, and you could describe it as a takedown.
Throws and Sacrifice Throws
A “throw” describes a takedown in which one player throws the other, generally requiring some form of momentum and a close proximity in order to set up the throw (see more on “setups” below). Sometimes, this involves one player throwing the other away from them by generating momentum, movement, and a disengagement of attachment.
However, it could also involve a hyper-attachment and closeness of proximity, to the point where the bodies of the two grapplers are now as one, and the throw becomes about who gains the coveted top position when the players land. In this situation, you may sometimes hear this referred to as a sacrifice throw, as the initiator is often required to temporarily sacrifice their position in order to gain the necessary momentum.
A “trip” is exactly as it sounds: by placing a prop behind the opponent’s leg and pushing them over it, a grappler can cause their opponent to lose balance and trip. In the case of the trip, the prop will generally be the initiator’s own leg, which they place as a prop using a combination of momentum or directional manipulation, timing, and their own body placement. Trip techniques are more commonly seen from practitioners with a Judo background, as it typically requires the opponent to have a standing upright posture, and the trip will compromise their balance. Against a grappler with a traditional, bent-over wrestling stance, it is much harder to trip them.
A “pick” involves grabbing the opponent’s ankle with the initiator’s hand. This typically involves the initiator to start at a lower level than their standing opponent or to perform a level change. During this takedown, a specific part of the opponent’s body is targeted, usually the ankle. Once the initiator has gained control of that part of the body, they can change levels again by standing up, sweeping or off-balancing the opponent in the process.
A “toss” is essentially a throw, in which the opponent is leaning over, and thrown over the initiator’s body. The most common toss is the hip toss, and the thrower compromises their opponent’s balance, shoots their hips in close, and tosses the opponent over their own hips. This is a common Judo throw, but a wrestler’s version does exist. Due to the control required to execute this technique, it is usually easier to perform in the Gi.
A “sweep” is typically characterized as a takedown, throw, or reversal, with a focus on attacking the ankles, knees, or legs--and knocking the opponent off balance through a trip, prop, block, or similar movement. There are many sweep techniques, and they can take place standing or on the ground. One example is the scissor sweep, which includes both standing and ground variations.
Cross Training for Takedowns
While some BJJ gyms will integrate takedowns and throws into their curriculum or training, others will focus primarily on the ground aspect of the sport. When schools do not train takedowns in BJJ classes, they may offer specific competition, wrestling, or Judo classes, or they may expect the student to cross-train at a Judo-specific or wrestling-specific gym. Still, it is uncommon for BJJ gyms to disregard takedowns entirely. However, it does happen from time to time, and these gyms will likely be negatively viewed in the community. Regardless of whether a gym teaches takedowns in the BJJ class or in separate classes, cross-training with other art-specific gyms or schools can be extremely beneficial to the advancement of your personal Brazilian Jiu Jitsu journey.
Gyms with a large membership who actively compete will probably have some form of competition class. These classes will usually include conditioning, takedowns, guard, passing, and submission techniques that are either high-percentage in competitions, special to the gym’s identity, or geared towards the individuals. Even if the gym’s culture leans more towards guard pulling than takedowns or throws, they will likely still spar from standing, in order to replicate the conditions of a BJJ match in competition or tournaments.
Wrestling gyms are a great place to learn how to manage distance, change level, move your opponent, and gain a hyper-awareness of the role timing plays when executing a technique. In the process, a grappler will also likely gain improved cardio and explosive movement. When training BJJ, it is worthwhile to train wrestling, if for nothing else than to learn how to beat a wrestler. Especially at the early stages in learning BJJ, practitioners who wrestled in high school or college will have an inherent grappling advantage. It is crucial for newcomers to not be frustrated by their peers with wrestling experience, and instead learn the pro’s and con’s of what wrestling can bring to the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Judo has an especially special place in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, because BJJ originally stems from Judo, but with more of a focus on the ground game. BJJ practitioners can learn a lot from Judokas, such as manipulating the opponent’s movement, the use of grips, creating momentum, timing, as well as the plethora of trip, prop, throw, and toss techniques. Much like wrestling, training even a small amount of Judo will be hugely beneficial for any BJJ practitioner’s game--even if all you do is learn how to defend against it.
As previously mentioned, takedowns are hard, difficult, and can be dangerous. By adding an exercise program into your weekly routine, it can help make training and sparring with takedowns a bit easier. For example, by adding in weight training, kettlebells, sprints, hiking, or other activities, you can eliminate or postpone the element of fatigue in training takedowns. A lot of what makes takedowns difficult is the cardiovascular endurance, explosive strength, and general understanding of what your body is capable of.
These elements can helpful to execute takedowns well and consistently against all body types and skill levels. Takedowns can make you tired fast, and the more tired you get, the more likely you are to hurt yourself or your partner--especially newcomers who may not yet have a great understanding of their body and what they are capable of. By increasing your cardio, strength, and stamina, you may find that takedowns aren’t as difficult as they once seemed.
When to Train Takedowns
Given that some gyms train takedowns, some don’t, and some gyms have separate classes for BJJ, Wrestling, and Judo, you may be asking yourself, “When should I train takedowns?” This is partly up to how the gym structures their schedule and their focus, but it partly up to you as well.
What are your goals? Do you want to compete? If so, you should be focusing your training around the structure of a competition. Given that most competitions start from standing, you should focus on starting from standing and train that way. You want to make sure that when it comes to competition day, everything you do feels natural. That doesn’t mean you have to train takedowns at 100% every day. Just as you don’t drill the armbar at full speed, you don’t need to drill takedowns at full speed. However, if your goal is to compete, starting from standing should be natural to you, even if all you do is pull guard.
Some grapplers that train into their old age are tough as nails and some are fragile or susceptible to injury. For older grapplers, know your limitations and what your body is capable of. You can still train takedowns lightly, and you don’t have anything to prove to the 18 year old who wrestled at a collegiate level. If that person turns out to be a good training partner, then learn what you can from them, but don’t feel like you need get slammed on the mat by them to prove that you can take it. You can still train takedowns without punishing your body and risking injury.
Especially if you are new to BJJ, always do what you can to keep yourself safe, and don’t be afraid to remove yourself from a specific situation. If you are sparring against someone that makes you feel unsafe, don’t ever feel like you can’t excuse yourself from the situation. If you’re unsure what to do, just tell the instructor you aren’t feeling well, and finish the class by watching from the sidelines. Then, talk privately with the instructor and express that you did not feel safe with that training partner or that particular takedown. It’s possible there was a crucial detail in the technique you were missing, maybe that training partner needs to be paired with someone more experienced, or maybe the instructor needs to correct the behavior of that training partner. Either way, do what you can to stay safe, and if you find yourself at a gym with a high injury rate, it may be worthwhile to look around for other gyms.
Setting up Takedowns
Regardless of whether you prefer Judo, wrestling, or another style of taking your opponent to the ground, one of the most important elements of the takedown is the setup. There are many ways to create an opportunity to execute your preferred technique, but most of them involve manipulating the movement of your opponent, changing your or their level, and developing a sensitivity to the timing of the technique.
Movement and Connection
Manipulating a player’s movement may seem daunting, but you may be surprised at how easy it is to do, once you have the key ingredients. In order to move someone, you first need to get some kind of connection. This might be sleeve or collar grip, a traditional wrestler tie-up, or underhooks or overhooks. Once you have a connection, you can move someone with it. This may be from a push or pull with your arms, it may be from taking a step back or forward with your body, or you may prefer to circle or sidestep. The important thing is to understand that once you have your connection and start moving, each of your actions will result in a reaction from your opponent.
Level Change and Momentum
Once you have your connection and are able to manipulate your opponent into moving how you want, you have a few options. One method of a takedown involves a level change, which can help you build momentum, and may make it easy to achieve your takedown. Not all takedowns require a level change or creating momentum, but it can be a good way to start learning the basics of takedowns. One example of the level change in wrestling is the single or double leg takedown. An example within Judo would be the hip toss. That the double leg takedown and hip toss are so different is a testament to the power of the level change within takedowns.
Timing and Execution
For newcomers to BJJ, executing a takedown successfully during a live sparring session will be one of the most rewarding experiences of the journey. Even after you have learned and drilled techniques and found your favorites, it will probably be some time before you can pull it off during a live roll against someone of your size and skill. This generally comes down to the timing and execution of the technique, which is not something that can be taught, and is simply something you will have to develop over time. Developing a sensitivity to the right moment to go for a throw is largely situational. Each roll is going to require a slightly different pattern of movements and will also depend on what your opponent is doing. That being said, don’t wait too long to make your move, and don’t be scared of failing. Especially when starting out, just do your best, learn from your failures, and don’t get discouraged.
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If you didn't know what a takedown was before, or if you're new to takedowns, I hope this helped you get a better idea of what to expect. If you think of something that wasn't covered or would like to know more about a specific detail, leave a comment below or send us a message.