Brazilian jiu-jitsu is all about groundwork, and submissions are its forte, with stand-up grappling and takedowns receiving very little attention. This trend has become even more evident since BJJ players started pulling guard as their primary way of taking the match to the ground. But do you need takedowns in BJJ?
Takedowns are an important element of BJJ and become much more so in no-gi BJJ and under rulesets like the ADCC, where pulling guard is penalized. And for self-defense and MMA fighting, having reliable takedown offense and defense can often make the difference between victory and defeat.
Having solid fundamentals in your stand-up jiu-jitsu game will make you a more complete grappler and let you use your hard-earned skills in much more situations, but do you know which are the best BJJ takedowns most worth your training time?
The most popular BJJ organization, the IBJJF, has made takedowns in competition almost worthless as they score 2 points, the same as pulling guard and successfully finishing a sweep afterward. This has created the tactic known as guard pulling, where the competitor sits on his but at the start of the match and waits for the opponent to come into his guard.
But Brazilian jiu-jitsu does not end with the gi version under the IBJJF. For most of its history, it was used as an effective self-defense system and a crucial element of MMA.
And sitting on your bottom with arms stretched is a sure way of losing your teeth from a kick in a street fight or eating a heavy punch in MMA. Just look at how dominant wrestlers have been in mixed martial arts to understand the importance of offensive and defensive takedowns in a fight where ground striking is allowed.
On the street, this becomes much more important. As good as your guard game may be, it’s a terrible place to be on concrete, especially if there is more than one opponent who can hit you from the side. Being on the ground is not very good in these scenarios, even if you’re on top, but then you can at least stand up and get away from the attackers.
Even in grappling, only rulesets like the ADCC penalize guard pulling, and the availability of slams to defend submissions means you cannot just rely on pulling guard even if you are ultra-confident in the position.
So, the basic points are that you need to have some reliable takedowns and takedown defense if you:
- Fight or train in MMA
- Want to be able to effectively use BJJ for self-defense in a wide variety of situations
- Grapple in different rulesets than the IBJJF
- Want to dictate where the match takes place, especially in no-gi where the person on top can stand up more easily
The 6 Most Successful Takedowns for BJJ
The lowered standing stance in BJJ and the inclination of gi BJJ players to pull guard have created thriving conditions for ankle picks and foot sweeps, the predominant takedown methods in jiu-jitsu matches.
Still, wrestling single and double-leg takedowns are also quite common, even more so in no-go BJJ and submission grappling.
With so many grappling martial arts focusing primarily on takedowns and crossover techniques that have found their way into BJJ, this isn’t an exhaustive list. Still, it has had the highest percentage of success in competition BJJ. It will be more than enough, even if you only master a few takedowns.
The ankle pick is a popular takedown method in BJJ across gi and no gi competition because it is easy to execute, does not require much effort to finish, and, most importantly, is not dangerous if unsuccessful.
The ankle pick is usually done from a lapel grip in a gi or an inside collar tie in no-gi. The other hand is holding the sleeve or wrist and yanking the opponent to the side, loading the weight on his lead leg, which is up for the taking. You drop down, let his hand go, and grab the ankle for the takedown.
Another common way an ankle pick is utilized is by faking a guard pull and then picking the ankle for the takedown. Here is a cool instruction on a sequence:
Foot sweeps include many techniques which are not all the same, and each has a different name in judo. Still, for the sake of simplicity and the needs of BJJ, we can combine them into one group. They all rely on unbalancing the opponent, sweeping his foot, and taking him to the mat.
Unbalancing the opponent is easier with a gi grip, so you see more sweeps in gi matches. They also don’t require much strength and energy to finish, just the right timing. This is not a small requirement because they need a lot of work before you get it right. Without the proper timing, you will just kick a leg and get a cold stare when you collide with a shin or a calf.
Here are some great options you can use in gi and no gi, borrowed from martial arts specialized in the takedown.
Sacrifice throws again come from judo, as it is no surprise they are so widespread in BJJ, which derived from early judo. Some are better suited for BJJ than others, and the Tomoe Nage is certainly one of them.
At the white and blue belt levels in competitions, sacrifice throws have the best success percentage, even if they are not very commonly tried. Sacrifice throws generally work only in a gi because you need to put yourself on the ground briefly and under the opponent before throwing him over. The gi gives you the grip needed to take him along for the ride.
Another reason sacrifice throws work like a charm in BJJ is they can be masked as guard pulls but can send the opponent on his back instead. Sacrifice throws require drilling, but sometimes even very sloppy attempts will do the job.
Single Leg Takedown
We move away from the judo throws and go over to the staples of wrestling. The single-leg takedown is a hugely important technique in wrestling that sees a lot of use in jiu-jitsu. They become much more important in no-gi, where you cannot rely on the stable grips the cloth provides.
The beauty of single and double-leg takedowns is they work in tandem, and a failed double can turn into a single or the other way around. The single-leg takedown is done by reaching down, grabbing one of the opponent’s legs, lifting it, unbalancing him, and taking him to the ground.
The most common version of a single leg is grabbing the leg around the knee, but this move has many variations, like the high crotch or the low single. Remember that in BJJ and submission wrestling, the top of your head must be pressing against his chest to help you finish the takedown and keep you out of nasty chokes.
Double Leg Takedown
The big brother of the single leg is the double-leg takedown. It is a mainstay in BJJ, submission grappling, wrestling, and MMA for a good reason- it just works. The downside of a double leg is it takes commitment. You need to be explosive and go all the way; otherwise, you will never get it.
There are many variations with different setups and different ways to finish. As a BJJ player, you don’t need all of those. Leave them to the wrestlers. But you should know and be able to land at least the basic double-leg takedown reliably.
The big danger of the double leg in BJJ is you may get caught in a guillotine. This is the reason many beginners avoid committing to a double leg because they leave their necks open. I have been guilty of this more often than I would like to admit.
Arm drags are also an excellent way to take someone down or move to their back while standing, from where you have multiple options to drag them down. The arm drag with an inside trip is one of the easiest ways to take down someone heavier than you.
To set this up, you need to use the arm drag to distract the opponent, close the distance, get a hold of his leg, and trip him. The key is to hook his leg as fast as possible before he can move away.
I use this more often in the back take variant because it’s easier for me to trick opponents into it. Then the drag to the ground from there is also easy.
Takedowns are an essential part of BJJ, albeit less important than in other grappling martial arts. Although BJJ players spend much less time learning how to take the fight to the ground than fighting on the ground, the numbers show that successful takedowns directly correlate with winning percentages at all levels of the sport.
You don’t need to know or be good at many takedowns. Become proficient in two or three, learn setups and ways to utilize them in different situations, and I guarantee you will have a significant advantage over those who have neglected this skill.