Four Reasons to Make Upper-Body Takedowns Your Grappling Nucleus

Most jiu jitsu schools coopt their takedown curricula–if they indeed offer any–from folkstyle and freestyle wresting techniques, and particularly leg attacks (although occasionally snapdowns, front headlocks, and short offense might occasionally be addressed if the respective coach has a scholastic wrestling background). This seemingly provocative claim is crafted with a strong degree of experience–in my decade-plus of jiu jitsu study, I’ve trained with frequency, i.e., not just a happenstance drop-in visit, at six different BJJ schools, and what was usually taught were variations of the single-leg (which still commands the greatest percentage of successful takedowns at grappling competitions, including this year’s ADCC championships), a basic double-leg, and–still one of my personal favorite techniques– to a much lesser degree, the ankle pink. I won’t mention any names, but to my chagrin, exactly half of the schools I trained at never (your read that correctly, NEVER) taught or trained takedowns. I’ll save my diatribe on those circumstances for a later post!

But here’s my suggestion as a coach–if you’re new to jiu jitsu and/or hybrid grappling, and/or you haven’t yet developed great fluency with leg attacks (again, single- and double-leg takedowns, etc.), please consider a training focus on upper-body attacks, like those you would see in Greco-Roman wrestling and no-gi judo!

In the interests of everyone’s time, and to save you from my verbose rhapsodizing regarding how much I love Greco-Roman wrestling, here’s a bulleted list when considering the advantages of upper-body takedowns and throws compared to their much more popular contemporaries…

  1. Your neck and head are at risk when shooting for the legs!!! This needs little explanation if you’ve ever been d’arced or guillotined. But just for visual evidence, check out Kade Ruotolo hitting a nasty d’arce while his opponent was attempting to come up on a single-leg takedown. Also, consider MMA or self-defense situations in which you could easily get kneed or kicked in the head!

2. Resultant posture is more aligned with other sports and forms of combat. The bent-over, ‘shooting’ stance applied in both folkstyle and freestyle wrestling does not transfer to MMA as well as the more upright, hips-forward posture of the Greco-Roman wrestling practitioner. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip from Chael Sonnen, former UFC title challenger, titled ‘Why have Greco-Roman wrestlers done better in MMA than Freestyle?’ His thesis…posture! And, if you listen to the whole reel, it certainly sounds as if Chael is advocating for catch wrestling and hybrid grappling as a great technical basis for MMA! This also correlates to my point above about getting kneed in the head if you adopt a folkstyle/freestyle stance.

3. You can remain connected to your opponent’s upper-body after a successful takedown. Forthwith is a great example from the recent UFC 280, where Mackachev secured an immediate mount (and later the championship belt) using a modified harai goshi. What a well-timed and well-executed technique! (this vignette also exhibits the preceding postural point, too…)

4. Upper-body attacks just look cool! OK, this just might be my inner eight-year-old who still likes to trip people, but check out this clip showcasing Giancarlo Bodoni’s excellent application of ashi-waza. This exchange was easily one of my most favorite moments from this year’s ADCC championships! I believe this clip also supports some of my previous points above…

Come check out a class at Horsetooth Hybrid Grappling Club if you’d like to add Greco-Roman wrestling hand-fighting, ties, takedowns, and trips into your repertoire!

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