Takedowns for Jiu-jitsu: Understanding the dynamics between Judo, Wrestling and Guard Pulling
I recall some years back listening to Danaher talk about how takedowns reduce one’s power dynamic. He gave the analogy of throwing a football and how one can throw a football further when standing compared to in a supine or prone position.
I thought it was an interesting metaphor. Prior to this, the way I had taught takedowns and creating immobility for your opponent was through a concept I learned in grad school (motor learning) about “Degrees of freedom”.
Essentially, it was the thought that for each degree of freedom (anatomical joints) that was removed, a person had less mobility and thus, less power.
As you get to the ground, you have less degrees of freedom. Thus, you become less powerful and less mobile. So it goes that one of the biggest, most powerful components to jiu-jitsu is the ability to get the fight to the ground.
Now, the thing you have to consider is how you get the fight to the ground.
For years, I’ve explained to my students that jiu-jitsu is essentially a bastardization of Judo and Wrestling —I understand there are probably other disciplines but let’s keep it simple.
Jiu-jitsu, as it’s practiced these days incorporates a lot of takedowns from both wrestling and judo and they’re largely modified for jiu-jitsu as a sport. As example, wrestlers don’t use the Gi so in jiu-jitsu, we adapt wrestling with the Gi in mind. Also, Judo these days doesn’t use “leg grabs” so judoka don’t have to defend them (singles, doubles, etc). Jiu-jitsu stand up has to concern itself with wrestling so Judo is often modified for this fact.
A third dynamic is the guard pull. The guard pull is an incredibly effective way of getting to the ground for sport jiu-jitsu but as I tell my students, you’d NEVER want to pull guard in a street fight…
Therefore, a great approach is to learn it all.
The Importance of Cross-training
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to cross-train judo (got my green belt) and some wrestling. An interesting note is that we currently have a former national team alternate judo player and the only way I can take him down is to out-wrestling him and not allow his grips to settle in. But that’s another story for another day.
I bring this up because in jiu-jitsu, you have to worry about all three: Wrestling, Judo and Guard pulling.
What disappoints me is that a lot of schools completely neglect the takedown game, which is unfortunate. Takedowns are an immensely important aspect of jiu-jitsu that goes way beyond sport and has much more application to self-defense where the need to get someone on the ground is critical. That said, I always advocate teaching and learning takedowns in jiu-jitsu.
At the school, we have a rule. DO NOT START FROM THE GROUND. You’re allowed to pull guard but every match has to start with both training partners on their feet. With this in mind, students can get more comfortable with takedowns and they’re even forced to attempt a few.
If your school doesn’t practice takedowns, I strongly suggest finding a good judo club or a spot that teaches wrestling (rare).
Dynamics between the Three and How to Approach your Takedown Game
Lastly, I want to leave you with something actionable. When you stand up, consider again that jiu-jitsu is a bastardization of wrestling and judo and adds some complexity with the addition to guard pulls.
The first thing you need to know is how to approach. That said, if you’re going to wrestle, you need to stay away from your opponent’s grips and create angles from the outside. Grips are more or less inevitable unless you can shoot quickly so that said, if you end up engaged in grips, treat them like a tie up in wrestling. The goal here will be to get on the inside of those grips and work your takedowns from a short distance.
If you’re going to work on some throws and foot sweeps, then you need to get your grips ASAP. Note here that if you’re going to use Judo, the traditional stance is upright BUT you don’t want to approach upright in wrestling because you’ll get taken down. Therefore, stay low in a wrestling stance and don’t come up until you can establish grips. When you can establish control, then you can assume an upright posture (but beware of the leg grabs).
Lastly, if you’re going to pull guard, consider the same principles. Establish connection with your opponent and get to the inside position. Only after you have inside position or control should you pull.
Once you start understanding the dynamics between wrestling judo and guard pulling, you can actually pull guard much more effectively with the concepts of off-balancing taught in wrestling and judo.
Things get much more interesting when you understand the dynamics between wrestling and judo where each contribute to much more effective attacks including ways to establish the guard position and also use the fake guard pull to hit some solid wrestling shots.
That’s all for now!
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll love my paid substack. Today I talked about some tips for incorporating wrestling into your jiu-jitsu from an advanced standpoint as well as from a beginner standpoint (+ Tips from half guard bottom as well as tips on how to choose your training focus]. Find it here!