If there is one thing that Jiu Jitsu folks tend to avoid training, it is BJJ takedowns. While difficult, takedowns remain a crucial part of the grappling puzzle and are actually not as hard to figure out as most people think. There is an easy 5-step formula that you can apply to any BJJ throw or takedown out there, taking lots of the guesswork out of the equation.
The Importance of BJJ Takedowns
In a sport where most of the exchanges take place on the ground, not knowing how to bring the fight to the ground seems impractical at best. And yet, many BJJ practitioners actively avoid training takedowns.
I’ve given this problem some thought and have concluded there are two main reasons why people avoid BJJ takedowns.
The first reason is that takedowns are a lot more chaotic than the ground aspects of grappling. When you’re fighting a takedown battle, there’s no time to stall and think about your moves, especially as a beginner. As such, takedowns stand in stark contrast to the ground aspect of Jiu Jitsu that most people associate with the sport.
The second and, in my opinion, more important reason, is that BJJ offers a way out of training takedowns: guard pulls. While not as effective in terms of scoring points or achieving the all-important top position, guard pulls actually achieve the same thing as takedowns and throws – getting the fight to the ground, but without all the chaos and practice that takedowns require.
The issue with taking the easy way out is that you’re not training realistically. As a beginner, it may be easier to pull guard, but that only means you’ll have a much more difficult time figuring takedowns further down the road when you can’t avoid them anymore.
Takedowns are crucial to developing a well-rounded grappling game. Whether you train for gi, no-gi, MMA, or self-defense, you need to develop the ability to take a person to the ground, allowing you to play your Jiu Jitsu game. Pulling people on top of you is simply not smart, and is one-dimensional, making you predictable and easy to beat.
My advice, start training BJJ takedowns as early as possible in your Jiu Jitsu journey. Are they hard? Certainly! But they are more than worth exploring and mastering! And, by following this 5-step formula, you’ll be able to execute any takedown you think of, provided you spend enough time drilling it.
BJJ Takedown Fundamentals
There are three basic principles to training Jiu Jitsu takedowns.
- You can’t grapple anyone, standing or on the ground, if you are not connected to them. So the first thing would be establishing a connection, i.e. getting grips on an opponent.
- In order to get anyone down, you need to take their balance away (or create kuzushi as they say in Judo). In simple terms, nobody is going to go down unless you off balance them first.
- The hardest principle of any takedown is to keep the person on the ground once you get them down. A takedown or throw will only be effective if the person you’re taking down stays on the ground,
Get a Hold of ‘Em
Grip fighting for takedowns is as elaborate an art as grip fighting for passing the legs or playing guard. As such, it is beyond the scope of this article. Grip fighting nuances aside, the major principle to follow is getting a hold of someone before attempting to do a takedown.
Very often people focus so much on BJJ takedowns they disregard where they are in relation to their opponent and then fail miserably at their attempts as a result. Getting solid grips will provide you with both an anchor, and a means to get people off balance.
Break Their Balance (Kuzushi)
No matter how great your grips or positioning are, you’re never going to throw someone to the ground if they have good balance. In BJJ, we often refer to this as a base. Takedowns are just like sweeps – there’s no way to sweep an opponent without off-balancing them first.
Given that as humans, we are quite used to balancing while standing on our feet, it is imperative that you have a functional pair of grips on your opponent and use smart positioning to ensure you get them to shift their weight, thus allowing you to attempt whichever BJJ takedowns that you have in your toolbox.
Keep Them Down
The final principle for any successful takedown is controlling the person once they are on the ground. Control in this sense does not necessarily mean keeping someone in side control some particularly dominant position. It simply means not allowing the person you just took down to recover and get back to their feet.
Unfortunately, this is one aspect of BJJ takedowns training that people often ignore, ending up with good takedown technique, but no practical success at getting people to the ground and having them stay there.
The good news is that with a bit of training, this can easily be remedied.
The 5 Essential Steps To Make All Jiu Jitsu Takedowns Work
The following 5-step formula comes from wrestling coach Wade Schalles. His take on takedowns is that there are mechanical aspects that are common to all takedowns, throws, and trips, and understanding these commonalities will make your takedowns more successful.
A quick disclaimer: it won’t matter how well you understand the principles of BJJ takedowns if you don’t know the technical execution of takedowns. So, you still have to learn how to execute a takedown, and then you’ll apply these principles to that takedown!
Let’s use the basic and reliable double leg takedown as an example to explore the 5 steps:
Step 1: Stance
The first common denominator of takedowns in all grappling arts is stance. The way you stand relative to your opponent will determine whether you can mount a successful takedown attack or get taken down yourself.
A staggered stance with your legs hip-width apart is a perfect starting point. The distance between your front and back legs should be slightly more than your usual stride length. This will provide you with both stability and mobility in all directions.
Aim to keep your upper body at an angle in relation to your opponent. That means that the shoulder on the side of your front leg should go forward, while the other should turn back. This now provides you with a front and rear arm as well. While the former is actively engaged in grip fighting, you should try and “glue” the wrist of the latter to your rear hip.
Step 2: Motion
Motion refers to the way you move while maintaining your stance during BJJ takedowns. From the basic staggered stance, you can move in any direction by using the leg that is closest to that direction to step forward and then bring the other leg into place to reset the stance.
For example, if you are moving forward, your front leg will go slightly forward, and after it steps down, your rear leg will follow. The same principle works for moving back, left, right or diagonal. Moving around in this way paired with the proper stance will make it hard for people to take your balance away.
Step 3: Level Change
Level changes happen in any takedowns, whether it is a wrestling move or a Judo throw. Sometimes it is quite apparent, while on other occasions it is extremely subtle. Subtle or not, level changes are a part of all BJJ takedowns, and you need to be aware of them and execute them purposefully.
In our double leg takedown example, having first established your stance and moving as described before, you will first lower your center of gravity by bending your knees while keeping your posture. In this case, the level change takes place before launching the takedown itself.
The timing of level changes will vary – particularly since BJJ takedowns refer to more than just wrestling moves (for example, Judo throws relying on the Gi). Level changes can take place at three distinct time moments:
- Level change before engaging grips
- Level change as you engage grips
- Level change after engaging grips
Step 4: Penetration
The double leg takedown is the perfect example to really pinpoint this step, as the penetration step is one of the technique’s defining features. This penetration step is often practiced as a solo drill during BJJ class, so many of us are already familiar with it.
A simple explanation of penetration that is universally applicable to all BJJ takedowns is shortening the distance between you and your opponent. Why use the term penetration? Because penetration refers to shortening the distance while positioning yourself to execute a finishing aspect of a takedown, rather than just moving closer in relation to the opponent.
Step 5: Finish
Finishing a takedown is where all the technical training comes into play. In terms of a double leg as our main example, it involves arm placement around the legs, your body position in relation to your opponent, and the different ways you can finish the takedown.
In essence, the 4 steps leading to this are positioning steps, while this step is where you get to use your takedown technique to transition to the ground.
For a double leg, you start in a stance, move to position yourself optimally, change your level, make a penetration step, and finally gain access to the opponent’s legs allowing you to use your grips, legs, and body to get them down.
The 5 steps outlined above apply to all BJJ takedowns, Gi or No-Gi.
Putting It All Together (BJJ Takedown Drills)
Now that you’ve got the three principles and the five steps, you’re ready to go out and practice your takedowns. It isn’t enough to know these concepts, they need to come naturally and instinctively.
Counter-intuitively, the best way to practice the 5 steps is actually to begin at step 5, working in reverse. Why is that?
Let’s say you start with step 1 and do a minute of stance practice. You then add motion and do a minute of stance and a minute of motion. Then comes level change, penetration, and finish accordingly. By the time you get to do the first rep of finishing mechanics, you already have 5 minutes of practice on stance, four on motion, etc.
But the most important aspect of BJJ takedowns is actually getting someone down. So, using what appears to be a logical drill system, you’ll spend the least time training the most important part of a takedown!
Instead, start at the end – go into a finishing position and drill the finish. Then go back through the steps so that you spend most of your time drilling the actual finish, and the least of your time practicing how to stand. It is practical and yields great results!
Oh, and if you truly want to become a beast at BJJ takedowns, add a 6th step – pin the person down, preferably in side control. That way, after you finish your takedown, you develop a habit to go directly into an optimal position for playing your ground game.
Common BJJ Takedown Mistakes
There are as many mistakes in executing BJJ takedowns as there are grapplers. As everyone tries to make the principles and steps of takedowns work for them, they are bound to make mistakes. Moreover, the chaotic nature of training and executing takedowns leaves lots of space for errors.
However, there are three things I see people mess up more often than not:
Ignoring the Three Principles (and their order)
Ignoring any of the three main principles will guarantee that your takedown will fail and oftentimes opens you up to counter-attacks.
It goes without saying that you have to engage someone in order to be able to off balance them. Also, when you eventually get to the ground, you mustn’t allow people to just come back up – we’re not training Aikido, after all.
As you can see, the principles only make sense when applied in sequential order!
Not Dedicating Enough to the Finish
People very often arrive at a finishing position and then half-heartedly try to finish. That won’t work with takedowns. You need to be decisive, brave, and expect that you will run into resistance 100% of the time. Practicing the 5th step against a resisting opponent is crucial to developing the grit necessary for success with BJJ takedowns.
This is one reason why I love giving people scrimmage rounds where they start at the 5th step of a takedown. In the example of the double leg, that would be in a penetration step, grips on both legs, shoulder to the hips, and ready to drive. Getting practice finishing the takedown against a prepared opponent is a vital part of your training.
Rushing the steps
As crucial as finishing might be, so are entries into a takedown. If you try to rush through the steps, or worse, skip some of them, it is not just the success of your takedowns that will suffer.
Rushing will leave you vulnerable to counter takedowns because you’ll compromise your balance and structure when hastily trying to get to a finishing position. Instead, be patient, bide your time, go through your checklist, and when you get to that fifth step go with everything.
Oh, and don’t forget to pin your opponent after you take them down!
BJJ takedowns are not easy. In fact, they are difficult to master and execute even under the best of circumstances. However, understanding the principles behind every takedown as well as the 5-step process will give you as much control over the takedown as possible.
Spend some time developing awareness of the principles and steps, train smart, drill relentlessly, and avoid the typical mistakes. You’ll be sending people flying across the mats in no time!
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.