Take your BJJ standup game to the next level with these fundamental takedowns.
One of the core concepts of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that a smaller and weaker person can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent by taking the fight down to the ground. On the ground technique and leverage are used to neutralize any form of physical advantages. Closing the distance and being able to take an opponent down is where the art of BJJ starts. With deep roots in judo, takedowns and throws are part of the foundation of BJJ, and have always been part of its curriculum.
In a street situation, a BJJ practitioner must also be knowledgeable in takedowns for them to be able to use their Jiu-Jitsu to its fullest potential, and in sport BJJ and MMA, being able to take an opponent down is part of the metrics of determining the victor of a match. In both real-life combat situations and competition, the importance of takedowns for BJJ cannot be overstated.
Having good fundamentals in your stand-up game will send you on a path to becoming a more complete Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Below are some of the best throws and takedowns to learn in BJJ.
Note: For the purpose of this article, the regular stance uses the right leg as the lead leg and the right hand gripping the same side collar of the opponent.
Table of contents
- The 8 best takedowns for BJJ
- What are the highest percentage takedowns in BJJ?
- How important are takedowns for BJJ?
- Should I learn judo or wrestling for BJJ?
1. High crotch single leg
The first takedown on the list is probably the most important one. The high crotch single leg is one of the best takedowns to learn in BJJ. It teaches you distance management with your shots, and learning to finish the takedown will also carry-over to a number of sweeps for your guard game. This is also usually one of the first few takedowns taught in BJJ class.
The single leg high crotch can be done from a number of setups, but one of the most common and best setups is from the inside tie:
How to do a high crotch single leg
- Take a small penetration step with your right leg and lift the opponent’s right arm with your left arm to open up a path to your opponent’s leg.
- Lower your stance but keep your head and spine upright as you shoot in, grabbing high up on their right leg with your right arm.
- Your head will usually land on the side of their hip and rib area.
- Once you have closed the distance, quickly take a forward step, with your foot landing near their free leg, and use your left arm to grab their leg. Your hips should be near their leg.
- With both your arms controlling their right leg, you are now ready to take your opponent down to the ground.
- One of the best ways to finish the take down is to block their left knee with your right hand as you drive forward.
When using a gi, the inside tie up can be replaced with your left hand grabbing the opponent’s right collar. Your left arm can take the inside position (their right arm should be on the outside of your left arm) so that they won’t be able to push you with their right arm when you shoot in.
This is usually one of the safest takedowns if done correctly (get your hips in, back straight, and head looking forward). If done incorrectly (back hunched with the head looking down), you may open yourself up to a guillotine. If the opponent doesn’t expose his back during the movement, you can usually end up in the side smash position.
2. Body lock
Similar to the high crotch single leg, the body lock is one of the best takedowns you can use and is one of the first few takedowns taught in BJJ class. You can go into this position after winning a pummeling exchange. The body lock is easy to execute and, when you have the proper positioning, very hard to counter.
You usually enter the body lock from the pummel:
How to do a body lock takedown
- Get double under-hooks from the pummel.
- Lower your stance while you push your head against their chest.
- With your arms around the lower back of your opponent, pull their hips in next to your hips.
- With your head pushing their chest and your arms controlling their lower back, they should look like they are leaning backwards.
- To finish the pass, you can buckle their knee by bumping it with your adjacent knee.
- Another option to finish is to do a leg trip.
The same entry can be done for both gi and no gi. The opponent’s belt can be used in the gi to secure the under-hook and stop them from re-pummeling.
From entry to finish, the body lock leaves you relatively safe from counter-attacks and reversals. There is a chance that you may end up in the opponent’s half-guard after a leg trip. A knee bump will leave you in a better passing position. You can also work a back take from the position.
3. Foot sweep
The foot sweep is a beautiful high percentage attack that works for both gi and no gi. Like the first two takedowns, it leaves you relatively safe from counters.
You can execute the foot sweep from a variety of positions. The collar tie, inside tie, and ai yotsu grip (basic judo stance):
How to do a foot sweep takedown
- From the ai yotsu grip (left hand on sleeve, right hand on collar), bring your opponent laterally to the left.
- You can take a few steps to feel their balance.
- Once you can find the timing that their body weight is off their left foot as they step to their right, sweep the left leg on the ankle area with the bottom of your right foot.
- Follow through with the foot sweep even if you feel like they have already lost their balance.
A similar setup can be done in no gi from the collar tie or pummel.
If executed properly, the foot sweep may land you past the opponents legs and into a dominant position or passing position. The sweep heavily relies on proper timing.
4. Arm drag to back take
If you are used to doing arm drags to take your opponents back from guard, you should feel right at home with this move, as it is very similar with regards to timing and speed. Once you are behind your opponent and are controlling their waist, take them down and insert your back control hooks after.
The arm drag can be initiated from a regular stance. You can break your opponent’s collar grip even if they are gripping your right sleeve:
How to do an arm drag to back take
- Break your opponent’s collar grip
- Control the their right wrist or sleeve with your left hand
- Grab their right tricep with your right hand and drag it to expose part of their back
- As you drag the tricep, grab the left side of their waist and step forward with your left leg so that your left foot lands behind your opponent. This is all done at the same time.
- You are now on your opponent’s back. Take full control of your opponent’s waist with both arms.
- From this position, bump your knee on the side of your opponent’s knee. When you feel their knee buckle, simply bring them to the ground using your control around their waist to shift their weight down.
- Another option to finish is to slightly lift your opponent and use your knee to sweep their knee, or jump to a double shin hook behind their knee (crab ride).
The exact same move can be done in no gi. You can also go into a single leg, double leg and inside trip, after the arm drag.
When you are on your opponent’s back, there is usually less room for your opponent to escape and counter if you take them down first before getting your hooks in, rather than jumping on them while they are still standing.
5. Ankle pick
The ankle pick is a great move as it works well in both gi and no gi. It is also a good move to do if your opponent stiff arms you while they have a collar grip. It is quick and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to finish. You can also fake a guard pull into an ankle pick.
The ankle pick takedown has a similar timing to the ankle pick sweep from guard, in that that your opponent’s weight has to be loaded on their hip and not driving forward. You can apply this takedown from the ai yotsu grip, cross collar grip, collar tie and others more:
How to do an ankle pick
- From the ai yotsu grip, take a few quick steps backwards while pulling the collar and sleeve.
- Once the opponent loads their weight on their hips, lower your hips and reach for the ankle
- Keep the collar grip the whole time and use your left hand to grab the ankle
- Use the collar grip to push on their chest in conjunction with your left hand tripping the ankle and pulling the leg up.
- You can attempt an x-pass to pass the guard after your opponent’s back hits the mats
In no gi, a collar tie or inside tie can be substituted for the ai yotsu grip. Pull on the back of the head to make your opponent load their weight on their hips.
This is also a very safe takedown, with no chance for your opponent to sprawl on you if timed correctly. Start passing right away once their back hits the mats – a leg drag is a good option.
6. Uchi mata
The uchi mata is one of the most used judo throws. It is a very popular throw in BJJ as one of its best uses is when the opponent is bending forward – a common BJJ and freestyle wrestling stance. There will be some back exposure with this throw, but not as much as other hip throws.
Again, this can be done from the regular stance, as your opponent takes a bent-over posture. You can take an upright stance and just lower your hip level to be able to get under their hip without breaking your posture:
How to do an uchi mata
- Pull your opponent’s collar and sleeve straight towards you and step forward with your right foot so that it lands beside their inner left foot.
- Make sure that as you pull their collar, your elbow is pointing downwards while framing on their chest to prevent them from being able to counter with a single leg
- Step with your left foot and as soon as it lands beside your right foot, lift the opponent’s hips by quickly going under them and raising your right leg so that it hooks their left inner thigh.
- Pull on the opponent’s sleeve and collar during the entire motion
- If your opponent balances on one foot, continue lifting the hips by keeping your right leg up while balancing on your left leg. They will eventually lose balance as you torque their body to your left.
In no gi, your collar grip can be replaced with a whizzer on the opponent’s left arm.
It is important to get the proper timing of this move. There is some risk of you exposing your back to your opponent, right before you lift their hip, if not timed correctly. After the throw, there is a chance that you may land in the quarter mount or in your opponent’s half guard, or sit up guard. You can use your collar grip to push on them and avoid their set-ups.
7. Double leg
The double leg takedown is a very popular takedown, not only in Jiu-Jitsu, but in MMA as well. It is similar to the single leg, but with a deeper penetration step. It is important to have an inside position with your arms during the entry, especially with the gi on. Shots have to be fast and timed well to prevent getting sprawled on.
From a regular stance, instead of grabbing your opponent’s sleeve with your left hand, use it to grab the same side collar to establish inside position with your grips. The right hand can be used to grip fight the opponent’s left hand, or you can grab the same side collar with it as well:
How to do a double leg takedown
- From this initial position, use your left grip to make sure that the opponent doesn’t block your path to his leg.
- Take a small step forward with your right leg and lower your hip level to set up your shot
- Drive forward as you shoot in, making sure that your head and spine are upright.
- Grab behind your opponents legs as you step your left leg forward and behind their right leg.
- Drive in as if you are cutting a corner to finish the takedown.
This takedown can be done in no gi from the collar tie, inside tie, or even from quite a bit of distance. The further you are from your opponent, the less safe the move is.
If done from too far away, or with poor timing, there is a danger of getting sprawled on by your opponent. Once you are able to execute the takedown, try not to end up inside your opponent’s closed guard by jumping off to the side – you will usually end up in sidemount. If you do end up in half-guard, you can pinch their knees together with your arms and sprawl out to do a leg hug pass.
8. Sumi gaeshi
The sumi gaeshi is classified as a sacrifice throw. You will need to fall down to the ground to be able to generate momentum to lift and throw your opponent.
You will need to have a grip on the back area of your opponent, usually by grabbing the belt or by grabbing some gi material on the back. The opponent’s posture has to be broken in order to execute this move:
How to do a sumi gaeshi
- From the ai yotsu grip, pull downwards on the collar to break your opponents posture
- Reach over with your right hand and get a palm down grip on their belt. If you cannot manage to grab the belt, the Gi material on the back would suffice.
- The grip on the belt or the gi reinforces your right arm and will prevent your opponent from posturing up.
- Step in your left foot in between your opponent’s legs and fall to your back in a rocking motion.
- Pull the belt/gi material towards your back to shift your opponent’s center of gravity forward.
- Make sure your hips go under theirs as you fall.
- You can hook your right shin in between their legs, or under their right knee.
- Guide them upwards and to the back with your right leg in a controlled fashion.
- Use their falling momentum roll and follow them as their back hits the mat.
- You will normally end up in the side-mount or mount.
A variation of this can be done in no gi, wherein a guillotine style grip may be used to maintain the broken posture of your opponent.
If the opponent successfully counters this throw, you will end up in the guard position. If done from a regular grip and stance, your opponent will not get any points if they end up on top. If done as a counter for a single leg, and the opponent ends up on top, the referee may award points to your opponent as they initiated the single leg.
What are the highest percentage takedowns in BJJ?
According to a report by High Percentage Martial Arts, in the lower belt categories (white and blue), the most common attempted takedowns are leg trips, and single leg and double leg takedowns.
Highest percentage white belt takedowns
|Sacrifice throw e.g sumi gaeshi and tomoe nage||56%|
|Single leg takedown||22%|
Highest percentage blue belt takedowns
|Double leg takedown||79%|
|Single leg takedown||57%|
The success rate for all attempted takedowns is more than double in the blue belt category (70%) when compared to the white belt category (31%). For single leg takedowns, success increased from 31% to 57%, and double leg takedowns increased from 0% to 79%. We can assume that takedown-offense improves as more experience is gained, while defense may not have scaled proportionally.
Success rates for takedowns: white vs blue belts
|Takedown||White belt success rate||Blue belt success rate|
|Single leg takedown||31%||57%|
|Double leg takedown||0%||79%|
How important are takedowns for BJJ?
Takedowns are essential for BJJ. Having solid fundamentals with your stand-up game will give you more confidence, especially in competition. Being able to dictate where the fight will go will give you an advantage over your opponent.
In competition, when your opponent pulls guard, a properly timed shot in which your hand makes contact with their leg will earn you two points, as this act will be counted as a takedown. Even if you are primarily a guard player, learning basic takedowns will help you effectively set up your guard pulls. Knowing what setup your opponent is using can help you time your moves more precisely, and this could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
In self-defense situations, takedowns become even more important. Pulling guard in a competition is one thing, but pulling guard when faced with an armed attacker is an entirely different scenario, with possibly lasting consequences. In a street situation, especially as a beginner, you would always want to take top position. This is even more important if you are facing an armed attacker. The habits that we pick-up in training become part of our instincts. There is nothing wrong with pulling guard in training, but you also have to make sure you know how to take top position.
To become a complete grappler, you have to learn your takedowns. As mentioned, a good chunk of Jiu-Jitsu is anticipation. Knowing all aspects of the art in order to predict your opponent’s next move is key.
Should I learn judo or wrestling for BJJ?
Judo and wrestling (freestyle) are two forms of martial arts that focus on takedowns and throws and are often associated with the BJJ stand-up game. While they both have similar goals of taking the opponent down to the ground, they go about it in very different ways.
One of the biggest differences between the two is the uniform. Judo makes use of the gi and wrestling does not, so the grips that you will be using are very different. Being able to grip a gi will give you that extra degree of control, and that can change how a specific technique, that is similar to both, is performed. For upper body control, the gi is used in judo, and underhooks and tie ups are used in wrestling.
The stance is also very different, with judo adapting a more upright stance when compared to wrestling. With the focus on upper body control using the gi, you will not have to worry too much about your opponent shooting in, or attacking your legs, especially since leg grabs were banned by the International Judo Federation (IJF) back in 2010. In freestyle wrestling, while there are upper body attacks, many attacks will see the practitioner go for their opponent’s legs.
While the ground game in Judo is much more limited, it is also more similar to BJJ when compared to wrestling. Judo rules also allow submission holds while wrestling rules do not. The scoring system is also quite different – holding the side mount or mount position for 20 seconds under Judo rules will award you with a victory, while in wrestling, points will be awarded.
Both artforms have their strengths, and all strengths have their carry-over into your Jiu-Jitsu athletic and technical development. Many academies will have a separate class for one or both, but most will incorporate aspects of both into their BJJ classes.
Learning the stand-up game should always be part of a jiu jitsu practitioners regimen and one of the best ways to supplement your stand-up game is to cross-train in both wrestling and judo. Learning both art forms will have a transformative effect on your jiu jitsu, not just on your stand-up, but in your ground game as well.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the most effective form of martial art, and as an art form, it is incomplete without the mastery of takedowns and throws. Because sport BJJ is relatively new when compared to more traditional martial arts, the rules of the game will always be fluid, but the core principle of the art will never change – a smaller and weaker person can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent by taking the fight to the ground, where technique, skill and leverage reign supreme.
About the author
Allan Co is a BJJ Black Belt under Carpe Diem Manila. He loves the cerebral aspect of JIu-Jitsu and enjoys playing the modern game. Aside from writing and training, he divides his time between his family and his Playstation.