Even though elite level jiu jitsu players have decent throws and takedowns, their stand-up games are no match for even college-level wrestlers. To become the best BJJ player possible, it pays to work on this aspect on your game, and one of the best ways to do that is to model high-level wrestlers.
World class wrestlers seem to move differently. A flurry of activity culminating in an opponent landing flat on his back…or his face. My first time competing against a high level wrestler, I fell flat on my face about four times in less than 30 seconds. I was so confused I couldn’t even be frustrated. What just happened? How was this possible?
The answer is chain wrestling. This is when wrestlers set up multiple motion sequences. When world class wrestlers do it, the movements are so fluid that several offensive and defensive movements blend together into one extended, fluid motion.
To see how this looks, we’ll take a look at one of America’s best offensive wrestlers in history- Jordan Burroughs. He is so unbelievably quick that it will be much easier to follow my explanations by playing the video at half speed. First, though, it’s worth appreciating the poetry in motion at regular speed.
As an Olympic gold medalist and multiple-time World Champion, Jordan Burroughs is on track to becoming one of the best wrestlers in American history. He was initially known for his double leg but has since added more layers to his game as opponents have adjusted. We’ll break down each of these multi-layered sequences in chronological order. If you’re interested in viewing the entire match, feel free to click on the links next to each sequence.
Sequence 1: Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Bekzod Abdurakhmanov (UZB)
Notice in the first sequence that Jordan Burroughs looks to circle around to a go-behind on his opponent. When Abdurakhmanov adjusts by squaring up with him, Burroughs follows up with an ankle pick to finish the takedown.
Sequence 2: Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Zelimkhan Khadjiev (UZB)
In the second sequence, Burroughs clears Khadjiev’s control of his left wrist by very briefly getting wrist control of his own. Sensing danger (as all of his opponents are aware of his ability to shoot a powerful double leg takedown), Khadjiev reaches for a left-handed collar tie as a way to control Burroughs’ forward motion. Burroughs sees this split-second opening from the outreached arm and shoots for a single leg. After Khadjiev adjusts his hips to defend the single leg, Burroughs converts his single leg into a double leg attempt and starts driving forward. Realizing that he is in deep trouble, Khadjiev tries to belly down towards the mats in order to minimize the amount of points given up in the sequence (higher amplitude “feet-to-back” throws are worth twice as many points as the standard takedown in Freestyle wrestling). Sensing this, Burroughs converts to a body lock and finishes with a high amplitude gut wrench.
Sequence 3: Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Ali Shabanau (AZE)
The third sequence is a short clip of Burroughs executing another variation of the gut wrench. In this particular variation, he traps one of Ali Shabanau’s arms in the gut wrench. It’s worth noting that in the actual match, Burroughs should have received four points for this high-amplitude takedown but the referee seemed to favor Shabanau in this match. As a result, Burroughs only scored two points.
Sequence 4 and 5: Jordan Burroughs (USA) vs. Sosuke Takatani (JPN)
The fourth sequence is one of Burroughs’ signature moves- the blast double leg. His opponent, Sosuke Takatani, defends the initial attack by sprawling his legs back and pushing his hips into Burroughs. Most wrestlers will stop the forward movement after the first step. However, notice how Burroughs takes a total of four steps forward with his knee. In regular speed, this looks like one attack. By doing a technical breakdown, you can see that Burroughs made the equivalent of four shot attempts in rapid succession before finishing the double leg.
The next sequence comes from the same match against Takatani. The sequence starts off with Burroughs snapping Takatani’s head down to enter what wrestlers call “short-offense” position. Next, Burroughs looks for a single leg towards Takatani’s left side. Predictably, Takatani circles away but puts a significant amount of weight on his right leg as a result. In response, Burroughs changes directions and shoots a cross-handed low single to Takatani’s right leg. Burroughs then runs up Takatani’s body to secure the takedown.
The rest of the video consists of one-off action clips displaying Burrough’s strengths – heavy hands, his ability to quickly change directions, and an unparalleled ability to lower his level and shoot leg attacks.
Each successful attack sequence at the higher levels usually require a combination of two to three set ups. In particular, snaps and jab fakes are particularly easy to use in combination. There are so many variations of each set up that you can snap or fake an attack in most standing positions.
With a good combination of set ups, one attack will work. Sometimes, however, several attacks in fluid succession are needed. Jordan Burroughs does this particularly well because he’s just about perfected firing off leg attacks from his knees.
In order to reach this level of offensive ability, these attacks need to be integrated into your subconscious mind. Actively thinking about the steps simply does not work. The first step is to master the fundamentals of each individual attack. After this step has been reached, three particular drills can be used to develop a feel for chain wrestling.
In this drill, focus on hand fighting and set ups without executing a leg attack. Here, you’re looking for jab fakes, snap downs, or any other set ups while deliberately creating openings to score. Try to chain individual set ups together.
Sparring is a lighter version of live wrestling. There is more resistance than drilling but both wrestlers take turns trying to develop a better feel of certain positions while experimenting with different technical options. This is where you can get a feel for executing multiple attacks in succession.
It’s very difficult to chain wrestle without knowing what it looks like. Video works great but seeing chain wrestling in person works even better. Since you don’t see life in video camera lens, seeing what chain wrestling looks like and feels like in a live situation gives you a better idea of the timing.
Once you can chain attacks together, your opponents may know what’s coming and still be unable to defend your attacks because they can defend the first set up or attack. However, that second attack or sequence is very hard to prepare for since the opponent has already broken position trying to defend the first attack.
Che Chengsupanimit is a former collegiate wrestler, member of Thailand’s national freestyle wrestling team, and current combat sport enthusiast. He writes about how to achieve higher physical and mental performance while being on a budget or a busy schedule. You can learn more about Che and his work at his blog.