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Chapter 1: Takedowns – Why Russians Do It Better

Winning is one thing, but Russians strive for total victory. That is why we’re taking an in-depth look at their approach to takedowns. Through superior jacket manipulation in sambo, one could achieve that total victory with a devastating throw. The rules of jiu-jitsu might not reward us for throws to the same extent that sambo or judo do, but that mentality of pursuing total victory is sometimes lost in jiu-jitsu.

 

Throughout this book, we will talk a lot about “dominating” and “killing” the limbs of our opponent. To me, this is the first inkling of that total victory mentality. First I completely dominate one of your arms–with a Russian tie or with an arm drag–and that opens the door to completely dominating you.

I’m emphasizing the mentality here because I don’t want you to drill a Russian tie and think “I grip here and here to get this two-on-one and then I move on the next steps.” The technical details are important, but I want you to instead think, “This arm is mine” when you start to play with the Russian tie.

 

Attacking with that tenacity will force your opponent to react and will open up your takedown game.

By building our takedown game from these principles of technical domination, my hope is that I can help you do it better too. And the concepts that we start to explore here in terms of positioning, leverage, and control will come up again and again throughout this book.

A strange argument often erupts in jiu-jitsu circles: “Should I learn judo or should I learn wrestling?”

First of all, this discussion often omits sambo completely, which irritates a certain friend of mine (Reilly Bodycomb) in a deeply emotional way. Second of all, I’ve been fortunate enough to have trained both, and I can’t imagine choosing one art over another when you can take the best of every world and meld them together.

Why We Have Been Teaching Seoi Nage Wrong

While jiu-jitsu borrows techniques from sambo and judo, especially when it comes to jacket-based takedowns, some of the practicality of these movements gets lost in the translation between rulesets. Lacking the ippon–a victory from a properly executed throw–some throws can seem dangerous to use, so jiu-jiteiros shy away from what are actually incredibly effective throws.

The seoi nage has perhaps gotten the worst of this treatment. The fear is that if you botch the throw you end up on the bottom, or worse, with your back taken. In judo, this is less of a concern. Your opponent would be on your back with a deep collar grip for only ten seconds before the referee would stand both opponents back up.

Using that same example in a jiu-jitsu match, your opponent could be on your back with a deep collar grip for the entirety of the match, assuming that you are not submitted right away. With a couple of tweaks to your grip, falling victim to things like a bow and arrow choke off of a failed seoi nage are much less likely.

Taking an entire page to talk specifically about grapplers ignoring the merits of seoi nage might seem like overkill, but in my mind it’s crucial. If you don’t learn the seoi nage, you are shutting off an entire avenue of useful takedowns. Armed with these adjustments you can approach the seoi nage with the same total victory mindset as the rest of your takedown game while gaining access to a bunch of options that you might have overlooked before.

Wrestling in the Jacket

 

When you have the versatility of transitioning from a classic jacket-based takedown game into an explosive shot, you create a game that is both dynamic and efficient. An opponent can rarely defend every avenue at once, so if you find yourself struggling to win the jacket game you can change gears and attack the lower body, and vice versa.

A willingness to bounce between fighting for grips and taking a shot is incredibly off-balancing for your opponent, and it helps you to develop the habit of seeing the whole picture of the scenario in front of you. Sometimes totally dominating an arm results in a clean path to a leg via a shot. Yes, you’ve established that the arm is yours, but if you have the option to trade it in for a takedown, hit the ticket counter and claim your new prize.

 

Did capturing that arm win you a single leg or an O uchi gari or a back bodylock? At the end of the day, you shouldn’t much care as long as you end up on top with two points.

At their roots, all of these takedown arts shared many of the same techniques, but their various rulesets drove them apart, and now you have a chance to bring them back together in a way that is fun and useful.