Takedowns and throws are notoriously neglected in jiu jitsu training. As a purple belt, I made the decision to become excellent at all aspects of the game, including standing grappling. One of the attacks I found most versatile for BJJ sparring and competition was the single-leg takedown. It has so many different variations and is usually much easier to set up than its cousin the double-leg.
This in-depth article on the single leg by a member of the Thai national wrestling team, Che Chengsupanimit, describes the principles behind the effective attack and how to use it effectively.
Concepts-based learning such as those you’d see in Beyond Technique can also be applied to takedowns.
Does this mean you neglect to learn actual techniques entirely? Certainly not. Principles and techniques go hand in hand. Starting out with these principles accelerates your learning curve. By understanding not only how to execute techniques, but also understanding why certain techniques work, you can develop an intuitive understanding of what to do in a position despite never having practiced a specific technique in a given position.
Getting Into Stance/Holding Position : 3 Concepts
A coach once told me that wrestling consisted of two main qualities: positioning and conditioning (less about hair product and more about being in good shape. Assuming otherwise was foolish as my coach had about as much hair as Jason Statham). Good positioning allows you to attack and defend effectively at the same time, while excellent conditioning allows you to hold good positioning for a longer period of time.
Takedowns often involve generating a lot of force in any given direction, so stay mindful of your positioning. To remember this concept, coaches often remind their wrestlers to keep their head up, back straight, and hips in (or underneath). To generate the most amount of force possible, this concept is key.
Set-Ups: 3 Concepts
Set-ups to takedowns are particularly interesting because you do not need to make use of all the concepts to successfully set up an attack. That being said, the more experienced your opponent is, the more of these concepts you’ll need to apply.
First, you’ll want to put yourself within shooting distance. Close the distance on your opponent and get a good feel for how far away from your opponent you need to be in order to fire off a successful attack. Being too far away gives your opponent more time to react, but also leaves you extended and vulnerable to counter offense or a guillotine choke if you aren’t careful. In general, you want to be at least arm’s length away from your opponent before you shoot a takedown.
Next, you’ll want to break your opponent’s position. If they’re looking to play the takedown game with you, they’ll also be trying to keep their head up, back straight, and hips underneath them. Using fakes, pulling their head down, pushing them, or moving them laterally tends to break their position. Over time, this weakens both their standing offense and defense.
Finally, you’ll want to clear your opponent’s head and hands defense. Opponents can block your attack by lowering their head and blocking your shoulder or down blocking with their arms. To avoid this, you’ll need to lower your level and move your opponent’s arm out of the way when you attack. There are plenty of different set ups, but an arm drag would be a good example of moving the opponent’s arm out of the way of your attack.
Shot/Attack: 3 Concepts
Now that you’ve created an opening to attack and score a takedown, it’s time to apply another concept introduced by Nic – closing the distance with your hips.
Most people seem to attack with the shoulder in a takedown while leaving their hips back. This violates positional concepts and from a physiological standpoint, your ability to generate force is compromised. Now that you’re attacking and being met with resistance in the form of your opponent’s bodyweight, keeping your head up, back straight, and hips underneath you is more important then ever.
As a way to explain the point, consider the deadlift. In a deadlift, you want the bar as close to being directly underneath you as possible because that’s how you can generate the most force. What if you try to deadlift a heavy bar that’s located three feet in front of you? You certainly wouldn’t come close to being able to lift your one rep max in the latter example. You’d end up needing to strain your lower back, and could potentially injure yourself in the process. If you feel significant amounts of back pain after attempting to work takedowns, this could be why. Fixing your position helps you maximize force output, but it also minimizes risk of injury. Three of the most common wrestling injuries occur at the knees, the lower back, and the shoulders, so compromise your own position at your own risk.
That brings us to the next concept- keep that single leg only if it doesn’t break your strong athletic position to do so. Assuming your opponent isn’t a fish, your leg attack will be met with some resistance. If this gets you far too extended, feel free to let go of the leg to maintain athletic position. You can always reset to a neutral position.
Long story short, your main objective is to secure their leg while holding strong positioning. To do this, close the distance with your hips when you attack.
Finishes: 1 Concept
Once you have secured control of your opponent’s leg while maintaining solid athletic position, your objective is to displace your opponent’s center of gravity relative to their base support. In other words, you’re applying Nic’s four quadrants concept to takedowns.
For example, think of a rugby tackle. In many ways, it’s similar to a double leg takedown. Grab the legs and drive through with your body! By grabbing the legs, you have secured their base support. By driving through with your body, you have displaced their center of gravity in a direction where their (now trapped) base support can no longer support them.
Two sub-concepts stem from displacing their center of gravity: pulling the opponent into empty space, or pushing the opponent into empty space. Any good single leg takedown finish will rely on one of these two concepts.
You may encounter more concepts as you go, but these nine concepts serve as a good starting point. In summary:
1: Head up
2: Back straight
3: Hips underneath
4: Get in shooting distance
5: Break their position
6: Clear their head and hands defense
7: Close the distance with your hips
8: Secure the leg
9: Maintain strong position (if your position is breaking, you can let go and reset to neutral)
10: Displace their center of gravity relative to base support
10.A: Pull your opponent into empty space
10.B: Push your opponent into empty space
I don’t recommend that you pursue perfection on these concepts. Unless your opponent gives absolutely no resistance, achieving perfect position is very unlikely. There may be certain times where you do need to power through a position to find a way to get that takedown, and there’s where different training methods come in.
If you’re drilling, strive for excellent positioning. Build good habits here so that the principles integrate into your subconscious and you won’t have to think about them. Once you find that you’re doing well here, let your partner give you some resistance. Good resistance isn’t so much using techniques to counter your attacks, but has more to do with holding onto position for a little longer or putting some weight against you so that you get a better feel for a live situation. If it helps, play with percentages (20% resistance, 50% resistance, or anything else).
If you’re sparring or rolling, do your best to achieve great positioning, but don’t consider yourself a failure if your positioning breaks. Fatigue breaks position and causes mistakes, and that’s a natural process. Of course, that doesn’t give you full license to flail your limbs around and get sloppy, either. Sames goes for competition.
To see more of these principles in action, I’ve compiled numerous video examples in my free ultimate guide to single leg takedowns.
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 improve your takedowns and achieve higher performance both physically and mentally. You can learn more about Che and his work at his blog.