You know the stereotype of a typical BJJ match. It goes like this: slap, bump, and sit down on your butt as fast as possible. Maybe both competitors sit down on their butts and begin playing the double guard pull game.
While this stereotype is not as prevalent as many imagine, there’s still a degree of truth behind it. While takedowns have never been BJJ’s forte, the rulesets, both IBJJF and the increasingly prevalent ‘sub-only’ rulesets, de-emphasize its importance.
So are BJJ takedowns still important? The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why.
Let’s not forget the roots of BJJ; self-defense and vale tudo. In both scenarios, takedowns are of huge significance. In a self-defense scenario, takedowns allow you to make a quick escape or give you the opportunity to apply your ground fighting skills.
As another often repeated phrase goes “the ground is the last place you want to be in a street fight”. And while BJJ training will give you a powerful advantage if it does go to the ground, ideally you want to avoid it and make your escape as quickly as possible.
In MMA, one needs only to look at the dominance of wrestlers today to see the importance of takedowns. The most common issue high level BJJ artists face when transitioning to MMA is getting the fight to the ground in the first place.
Look at BJJ’s MMA hero, Demian Maia; he only really started succeeding against high level competition after extensively working on his wrestling.
From a competition perspective, it is true that many rulesets do not reward takedowns. They are pointless in sub-only rulesets and in IBJJF tournaments are only worth 2 points; plus they can be negated by your opponent pulling guard.
However, consider that in competition, takedowns:
The message here is simple: don’t neglect your takedowns, they’re important for more than just BJJ competition. And even there, they can give you a distinct advantage. White belts: read that once more.
This section will briefly lay out some key concepts for executing a successful takedown. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of every takedown related concept. That would be impossible to do, especially considering how many grappling arts they are that are ONLY focused on takedowns!
With that being said, here are four fundamental concepts that will help you.
Imagine a line connecting your two feet. Your center of gravity lies somewhere on that line. The weak plane that can be exploited for takedowns is a point that can form a triangle with said line. Example: if your opponent is standing square with parallel feet, his weak plane is directly forward or backwards.
The weak plane may be constantly shifting but it can never disappear. As you get more proficient with takedowns, you will automatically get a feel for where your opponent’s weak plane is and the optimal direction for your takedown at a glance.
It’s very difficult to takedown an opponent who is in perfect balance. You need to off-balance them first; known as kuzushi in judo. This can be done by things such as snap downs, drags, or simply pulling the gi to make them step.
This concept works in tandem with the one above; kuzushi is used to expose the opponent’s weak planes. Making your opponent step in a certain direction can make his weak plane more easily accessible for you, in addition to also being used to expose his leg.
Think about forward hip throws or a double leg. In those takedowns you want to get your center of gravity underneath your opponent’s center of gravity. This enables you to use maximum leverage to lift them off the ground.
Consider a failed double leg, where your opponent is sprawled on top of you. His hips (his center of gravity) are forcing your shoulders down while your hips (your own center of gravity) are nowhere near to his. And then think of a successful double leg, where your hips are under your shoulders, which are under his hips. Even if he tries to sprawl, you would still be able to lift him up and complete the takedown.
This is probably something BJJ guys struggle with the most, even after learning the technical details of takedowns. It’s really more of a mindset. For most takedowns to be successful, especially against higher level opponents, you really have to fully commit to it.
Many BJJ guys try one takedown and when that gets defended, reset back to a neutral position. Or they don’t commit 100% to a takedown. This may come down to the methodical nature of BJJ ground fighting, where positions can be slowly and methodically obtained. However, stand up grappling is far more dynamic. When you go for a takedown, you have to go all the way.
Every takedown comes with many variations, so it would be impossible to list them all. The table below lists 23 of the most common takedowns you will encounter, variations and combinations not included.
23 Bjj Takedowns
13. O Soto Gari (Major Outer Reaping)
14. Ouchi Gari (Major Inner Reaping)
15. Kouchi Gari (Minor Inner Reaping)
16. Foot Sweep
17. Sumi Gaeshi (Corner Reversal)
18. Tomoe Nage (Circle Throw)
19. Collar Drag
20. Knee Tap
21. Rear Body Lock
22. Double Underhooks
23. Lateral Drop
While you should definitely spend time learning takedowns, the reality is that overly focusing on them is not the optimal route for BJJ.
We mentioned the same thing when using Yoga to improve your BJJ - focus on a few poses, not many.
You don’t need a large variety of takedowns in your arsenal, just a few core ones (in judo they call this the tokui-waza). Here are five of the most effective takedowns in the gi.
This is a takedown you only see in BJJ, as it leaves takes your opponent down face first, which doesn’t score in judo. Also a common guard sweep, this can be applied standing as well. It is easy to learn and thus should be part of every BJJ practitioner’s arsenal.
The reason the collar drag is so easy to learn for BJJ practitioners is that:
The main challenge in hitting this move is getting a strong cross collar grip on a standing opponent. Once you have that, you can hit the move anytime your opponent has a bent over posture, which is very common in BJJ.
Unlike many takedowns, this move is also low risk. If you fail, it’s no different than pulling guard. Further, even a failed collar drag takedown can be used to immediately set up guard attacks such as loop chokes or single legs.
This used to be a high percentage move in judo competition. However since leg grabs in judo are now considered as deadly as knee reaping in the IBJJF, this move has sadly fallen by the wayside. Nonetheless this move is fairly easy to learn and most BJJ practitioners should have no problems picking it up.
While it is theoretically true that the kouchi gari should be able to work by itself without the ankle pick, it plays out quite differently in live training. Pure foot sweeps are deceptively difficult; taking years to master even for judo players. Most BJJ practitioners will simply not have enough hours put in to get the timing right.
Hence, adding an ankle pick to the mix really boosts its probability of success as you do not have to get the perfect timing required for pure foot sweeps. Plus, this move is also very low risk. In BJJ, Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza was well known for using this move.
The fake guard pull to ankle pick is a very BJJ-specific move, in the sense that it would work only in the context of a BJJ competition. The reason for this is that it relies on your opponent’s reaction to a perceived guard pull; something that doesn’t really exist in other grappling sports. That said, in a BJJ competition, this move has proven its mettle time and time again; it’s high percentage and easy to learn.
Note: You can fake the guard pull with either leg, just remember that that leg becomes the ‘driving’ leg.
The fake guard pull to ankle pick is often hit right at the beginning of a BJJ match, where the other person is already expecting a guard pull. And because he sits his base lower to counter a perceived guard pull, his weight is already moving backwards, making the ankle pick easy.
This is a great move for guard players since your opponent is already expecting you to pull guard. Surprise them with this move instead. Notable users of this move are Gui Mendes and Sergio Moraes.
This forward throw is one of the staples of competitive judo for a reason; it has a devastatingly high percentage.
Unlike a normal hip throw, in which all of the lifting action has to be done by the hips, the uchi mata adds in the leg as well. Not only does this make the lifting component easier, but it allows the thrower to ‘chase’ down the uchi mata by hopping on the base leg.
Here are some common ways you can use the uchimata in a more BJJ context:
This is another staple and high percentage judo technique. Many top level judoka use this throw as their main scoring attack.
There are two general variations, morote seoi nage and ippon seoi nage. The former keeps the standard collar and sleeve grip while the latter has you place your shoulder in your opponent’s armpit.
In BJJ, it is not a good idea to constantly attack seoi nages as in judo. This is because this throw exposes you to the threat of a back take if unsuccessful.
Therefore, in a BJJ context, this throw is best used judiciously. Do not spam this throw but rather wait for the opportunity when your opponent’s posture is leaning forward. The reward for this throw is high; often landing you right in side control and setting you up for an immediate armbar submission.
While judo style takedowns are the king in the gi, wrestling takedowns are what you need for no-gi. Here are the key no-gi takedowns every BJJ practitioner should have in their no-gi arsenal.
This is a must know takedown. While there are many levels and variations to a double leg, every BJJ practitioner should know how to do a basic double leg.
The most important skill for BJJ practitioners to learn here is level changing and deep penetration steps. In addition, finishing a double leg also requires a high degree of commitment. Double leg takedowns will teach BJJ practitioners how to fully commit to their takedowns.
In a BJJ context, many people get surprised by a fast double leg shot right off the bat. The key to a successful double leg is really just commitment and a certain degree of explosiveness.
The single leg may be one of the most important takedowns to learn in BJJ. It is also a wrestling staple, being easier to set up compared to double legs. In BJJ, especially in no-gi, many sweeps end up with you in a single leg position. Hence, the ability to (at least) finish a single leg is crucial for no-gi grappling.
It is impossible to list out every single leg variation and finish; there are simply so many. Truly one of the most versatile moves in all of stand up wrestling. Instead of trying to learn every variation and finish, just focus on a few and get really good at them.
Since many BJJ practitioners like to set up the single leg from the guard, this is a good way to train your single legs during practice. Start by focusing on sweeps that end up with the single leg, and as your finishes get better, you will feel more confident in setting them up from the feet.
Not only is this a basic wrestling move but it is also a staple part of the BJJ self-defense curriculum. The takedown portion of this move is actually quite easy; it is getting the double underhooks that is the main challenge.
As you can see, the takedown itself is simple, which is probably why it is an essential part of the self-defense curriculum. Getting the double underhooks is the main challenge; however this can also be set up from the guard, namely butterfly guard. As a final note, be careful of the lateral drop counter to this move; do not let your opponent get double overhooks on you.
This is the no-gi version of the kouchi gari to ankle pick we explained above. While not as low risk as the gi version as you have to get in much closer, this is still a high percentage move with fairly low risk. Further, because arm drags are also commonly used from the guard, this skillset transfers over well.
Arm drags are a great way to set up takedowns. By getting one of your opponent’s hands out of the way, you negate the risk of guillotines and also clear the path for a shot. This takedown is commonly hit from the hand fighting stage of stand up grappling. The version of baiting your opponent to grab your wrist to hit the arm drag is also higher percentage.
While it might be considered a single leg, the mechanics and technique behind the low single are very different compared to the regular single leg. This is a very versatile takedown, as it can be shot from far away, even before making contact.
Like any shot, there is some degree of speed and explosiveness required. However, the advantage the low single has over the regular single and the double leg is that you don’t have to penetrate as deeply. This is because getting your center of gravity, your hips, underneath your opponent’s center of gravity is not required.
The low single can be shot off standard tie-ups or even with no grips. In wrestling, the undisputed king of the low single was John Smith. In BJJ, AJ Agazarm is known for his use of the low single in competition.
Back during the Gracie Challenge days, Royce Gracie could get away from shooting a double leg with a stomp kick set up from 2 meters away. Not anymore. Shooting from too far away will either lead to your opponent avoiding your shot, blocking your shoulders with his hands, or sprawling on you.
It also sets your opponent up for a shot of his own. As you get back to your feet from your failed shot, there’s a perfect window for your opponent to shoot in on you.
Again, the point of fully committing to your takedowns must be stressed again. Not only will half-hearted attacks lead to many of your takedowns not succeeding, it will also open yourself up to counters. Attack with full commitment or don’t attack at all.
How many BJJ matches do you see where it’s two people just holding on to the standard collar and sleeve grips on each other while standing? Contrast that to judo matches, where they fight the grips at all costs.
What’s funny is that most BJJ practitioners know to break and fight for grips on the ground, but due to lack of practice they forget it’s just as important when standing up as well.
Many beginners think that keeping their heads down and chin tucked is the proper way to prevent a guillotine when shooting. This is absolutely wrong. Keeping your head down and tucking your chin will kill your own posture, and kill the power of your shot.
Further, keeping your head down exposes the back of your head which is a powerful control. The correct method is to keep a strong posture with your head up. This will prevent your opponent from being able to reach your throat with his wrist and give you the option to pick him up as well.
To takedown a skilled opponent, it is rare for your first attack to be the one that succeeds. A common mistake is to just try one takedown attempt at a time. Learn to chain attacks together; they don’t even have to be different attacks! A common sequence is a shot followed by a reshot.
While the role of takedowns has been sadly minimized in most BJJ competitions, this does not mean that their utility as whole has been. They are still a vital component in being a complete grappler, not to mention if you want to transition to MMA or in a self-defense scenario. Learning the takedown game will also improve your coordination, balance, and explosiveness plus give you an attacking mindset.
Two great supplemental resources you can take advantage of is The Takedown Blueprint by Jimmy Pedro and Travis Stevens and Dan Gable's Wrestling Essentials. All of these people have competed at the absolute highest level of their sports, and you can’t go wrong learning from them.
Comment if you have any questions!