The single-leg takedown is a staple of wrestling, and it has been appropriated by jiu-jitsu, where it has one of the highest percentages of takedowns. With easy access to a leg, multiple possible setups, and many options to finish, the single leg is something even the most diehard guard puller has to deal with occasionally.
This means grapplers at all levels must have at least a basic understanding and proficiency of the fundamentally important single-leg takedown, and this article will take you through the most critical aspects of it, offensively and defensively.
The Importance Of The Single Leg Takedown In BJJ
In modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu competition, pulling guard is a tactic many athletes use, mainly because the scoring under the IBJJF awards only 2 points for a successful takedown and the same amount for a sweep.
So, it’s better for many to sit down or pull guard and wait for a sweep in a position that opens up submission options instead of taking the risk and expending the energy for a takedown.
But other competitors have a solid top game and don’t want to spend half the round working towards a sweep, and they need strong takedowns.
Then, if we consider no-gi, the takedown becomes much more important, especially in rulesets like the ADCC, where guard pulling is limited by the rules and takedowns score higher.
But why the single leg out of all the many options for a takedown? The single leg is safer than the double leg, and when opponents face each other in the standard staggered stance, the lead leg is not hard to grab.
The single-leg takedown is a wrestling classic, and it is equally efficient and versatile in gi, no-gi, and MMA, but its importance is more significant in the latter two.
The move has many setups and ways to finish, and they all begin with grabbing hold of one leg, which is easy enough.
I will list a couple of variations, setups, and defenses that will be the fundamental ones. However, this technique has so much variability that you can spend your entire career training it and still encounter some new details.
There is a rather distinct difference between the gi and no-gi single-leg takedown. Without the gi, the move is just like in wrestling, but the gi grips make it more challenging to grab a leg. On the flip side, the gi provides more grips for finishing it.
Let’s start with the gi version.
- First, you will want to establish a grip on the opposite lapel from the leg you will be attacking. This can also be done with a double sleeve grip or, ideally, with the same side lapel grip.
- Then, you pull the opponent toward you, making him step and bring their leg closer.
- Then, you can change levels and grab the near leg, ideally by angling off the outside, with your head on the inside.
- Lift the leg and push forward for the finish shown in the video below.
Let’s move on to a no-gi version of the single-leg takedown.
- Always make sure your stance is nice and low before shooting; this will decrease the likelihood of the opponent sprawling successfully.
- Unlike the gi version, you will often need to close the distance instead of pulling the opponent towards you. Do this with a good penetration step. The best results come after timing the steps of the opponent.
- Once you grab the leg, your head should be postured up, pushing the opponent’s ribs or chest.
- After you lift the leg by simultaneously pushing with your head, you can go to the most popular finish called run the pipe in wrestling.
- Running the pipe is done by stepping across to the inside of the opponent and pulling and turning for the finish.
For the full visual rundown of the entire sequence in this excellent video by Lachlan Giles:
Single Leg Takedown Variations
As I’ve said, there are many variations of the single-leg takedown. Still, a significant factor you will likely not encounter in BJJ due to the threat of the guillotine is the head on the outside. But there are still more than enough finishes and set up with the head on the inside.
- Here is a similar run the pipe mechanic, but instead of pushing with the head to his chest, you use your shoulder on his thigh, which takes even less effort and can be very painful if you get the angle right:
- Although the single-leg takedown is usually the opposite of a guard pull, nothing stops you from using the guard pull to set up the takedown.
- Sometimes, running the pipe does not work because the opponent counters it by pushing his weight forward. When this happens, another solid option is to lift the leg as high as possible and run him to the mat. In my experience, this has worked much more often than the other variations.
Since the single-leg takedown is common in jiu-jitsu, your defense against it must also be rock solid. There are different defensive approaches drawing upon BJJ, wrestling, and judo, but also some universal principles that are in play in any single-leg scenario.
Like against a double-leg takedown, the first defense is the good old sprawl. Smash the opponent with your hips by sprawling to the inside and turning the hip being attacked towards the opponent.
But sprawling is possible only if you see the shot early enough; if the opponent already has your leg, other means will be required.
A universal principle in single-leg defense is to always try to push the head of the opponent down.
As you have seen from the attacking section of the article, the head plays a crucial role in completing the takedown because, through the head, you are pushing with your whole body. Take it out of the equation, and the takedown is basically gone.
A wrestling-specific defense, especially against a low single entry, is something you can commonly see done in folkstyle wrestling. The key here is to quickly control their wrist, push the hands below your knee level, and push the head down while bending your knee.
As shown in the video, the turning part of the defense can be a bit harder to pull off, but even if you manage to free your leg, you’ve successfully defended the takedown.
You can go for the all-mighty kimura lock for a more BJJ-oriented way to defend a single-leg takedown attempt. This wrist lock is super versatile and works just as well against single-leg takedowns. Even if you don’t finish the submission, you will be in a better position than before.
To borrow one from the judo book, one of the most popular sacrifice throws, called sumi gaeshi, is a beautiful counter to the single-leg takedown.
Although not as important as in other grappling styles, takedowns are still a part of jiu-jitsu, and if you are into no-gi BJJ and submissions grappling in general, they become a core element.
No other takedown is as widespread and used as the single-leg takedown, so I advise everyone, regardless of level or preferred style, to spend time honing their single-leg offense, defense, and counters by drilling consistently.