Trial Lessons

Why You Need to Know Takedowns

Wed Jun
by Ronin Athletics Team

Jiu-jitsu is not a single discipline. As Ryan Young of Kama Jiu-Jitsu explains in the below video, just because something is called jiu-jitsu doesn’t mean we’re talking about the same thing. It’s not that one is right, and that one is wrong; there are just different styles, and each gym or organization will have its own method of teaching it. Even different affiliates of the Gracies are different.

However, there are two very distinct schools of thought when it comes to teaching jiu-jitsu that can be broadly thought of as jiu-jitsu for competitive jiu-jitsu and jiu-jitsu for self-defense.

Tournament Jiu-Jitsu

As the name suggests, tournament jiu-jitsu has adapted to teach students the style of jiu-jitsu that is typically encountered in jiu-jitsu tournaments. Those who learn this style typically do not focus on striking techniques (either within a defensive or offensive context). Instead, sweeps, guard passes, and holds are the central concern. Tournament jiu-jitsu or sport jiu-jitsu is also largely a ground game.

A common criticism of this kind of jiu-jitsu is that it does not teach students how to effectively transition from a standing position to ground fighting, and that this presents a critical weakness in jiu-jitsu. Though this weakness is often exaggerated, it is true that the emphasis of tournament jiu-jitsu is on ground fighting rather than on clinch fighting, and even advanced jiu-jitsu students may struggle with takedowns.

Jiu-Jitsu for Self-Defense

The type of jiu-jitsu that people like Ryan teach is more complete. “We want our students to learn everything,” Ryan says. “You want to learn the whole art.” 

Rather than just focusing on individual techniques that one may see in a jiu-jitsu tournament, classes like Ryan’s will start with lessons that are more about self-defense. This is done by creating a simulation where you and your training partner will alternate playing the role of aggressor who may use the bully push, headlock, or shirt grab to subdue or intimidate another person. The instructor will then show the class how to escape from the situation. It’s only after that lesson that the class will move on to a lesson plan that is based more strictly in jiu-jitsu. In this kind of environment, self-defense is given primacy and jiu-jitsu is presented as just one tool that can be used as you defend yourself.

The Importance of Takedowns

In keeping with this approach, gyms like Ryan’s will spend time teaching takedowns. As he explains, they make sure that their mats are extremely well padded to avoid injuries. Experience with takedowns also prepares you to manage how you fall so that you don’t slam your head every time you get taken to the mat. It can be unpleasant the first few times it happens, but training on well cushioned mats for this contingency is how you learn to keep your neck and head in a position that avoids serious injury.

Gyms that don’t prioritize takedowns may not have this kind of padding in place. True, there will be some padding in every jiu-jitsu gym (as is the case with all martial arts gyms), but it may not be as well cushioned. 

If you constantly get thrown to the ground during your training in this kind of gym, there is a good chance that you will eventually get injured. Every time you get thrown thereafter, there is a chance that you may aggravate that injury. If you keep aggravating that minor injury, you’re eventually going to avoid class. If it gets bad enough, you may stop coming entirely. If this issue affects enough students, class sizes will dwindle and the instructor at the gym will go out of business. As a result, they nip this issue in the bud and stop having people start from the standing position to avoid slams.

What happens as a result? If you are only learning ground fighting, you will not know how to protect yourself from being slammed to the ground when a fight starts in a standing position. In a tournament setting, you are at a major disadvantage if your opponent has a wrestling background. No wrestler is going to just sit down with them on the mat and play into your guard.

Meanwhile, in an actual altercation, you will not know how to manage a fall. Should you get taken to the ground, your lack of training may result in you smacking your head on concrete. 

“Jiu-jitsu should encompass everything,” Ryan says. If you want to get the whole jiu-jitsu experience, he advises, make sure that when you go to a school you don’t see people just doing ground fighting. If you want to prepare yourself for a situation where you have to defend yourself or compete in a tournament setting, go to a school that will improve your ground game but also teach you about self-defense and how to engage with another person when you start from a standing position.



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