Let’s start by acknowledging that teaching throws and takedowns to adults presents significantly larger difficulties than does teaching them to children. The fact that most people who have expertise gained it in large part while they were children is both evidence that this is true and one of the factors making it so because they are unfamiliar with the challenges faced by their students.
When my oldest son Brett was about five or six years old I took him to his first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament. He hadn’t practice takedowns very much, because he mostly worked out with adults who were just playing with him, so I showed him the head and arm throw just before his first match and had him practice it five or six times. He went on to use the technique effectively against every one of his opponents that day. He didn’t have success because his technique was good. He succeeded because he believed it would work. When you are six your father knows everything and if he says it will work you believe him.
With adults, on the other hand, you can teach someone a throw or takedown and have them perfect their technique over the course of a year. When they step on to the mat in a competition they will maybe not even try it. If they do try it the odds are that their will do so hesitatingly and will fail. This is because adults have years of experience teaching them that their father or other authority figure may not be as expert as they think they are and that they themselves are not always successful and so they do not trust themselves and the technique enough to commit to it. It is the lack of commitment that makes them fail.
The most difficult part of a throw or takedown is the entry, covering the ground between you and your opponent. In wrestling, this is called penetration. It starts in wrestling either from outside or from a tie-up position or in Judo after you have come to grips. It is the most difficult because it takes commitment. You must go for it like you know it is going to work. There cannot be any hesitation. Gaining an advantage to accomplish it is what set-ups are for.
When teaching Judo, for example, it is wise to give new competitors a goal of attempting takedowns in their matches. It isn’t critical that the attempts are successful at first, in fact in most cases they will not be, but trying is important. At first the attempts will be hesitant and will most likely fail. After several attempts, they will learn to commit more, even if only out of desperation to succeed at first. Eventually one of them will succeed. When this happens the world changes for the competitor. It worked. And now they know that if they commit to the technique it will work. From that point forward real technical learning can begin because they have conquered the difficult part. This is a tried and true method and it will work, but there is a better way.
There is a saying in the martial art of Muay Thai that if you want the clinch badly that is just how you are going to get it. What it means is that if you are desperate for the cinch you are likely to reach for your opponent. This makes it very easy to attack you with strikes. Because if this the way to achieve the clinch effectively is to come in punching. The clinch will naturally happen. What this means for takedowns is that the way to penetrate in an actual fight is to cover the ground while striking. This puts you in the clinch. This position is very well developed in Muay Thai. You can take their approach and get people very comfortable fighting for dominant arm position in neck wrestling and when they are ready add knee strike and their defense. This training method, neck wrestling with knee strikes, is a staple of Muay Thai training. Many training sessions end with a half hour or more of it after all of the kicking and punching is over.
Only a limited variety of throws and takedowns are allowed in Muay Thai but it is a very short step, once your students are comfortable at this range, to add the entire world of Judo and wrestling. The threat of knee strikes keeps the students in what both judo and Muay Thai would consider good posture and they also make entry into throws and takedowns a breeze because you have eliminated the most difficult part.
The training should start with standard neck wrestling without any knee strikes or takedowns. This is to ensure that each layer of technique is being trained. If you jump right in to knees and takedowns the subtleties of how to gain control are often lost. Knee strikes and defense should be added next. This is the critical phase because it is where we insure everything happens from good posture.
It is important to understand that every training method has strengths and weaknesses that must be identified and understood. A good example of this is the method of fighting for takedowns like is commonly used in wrestling. This method had undeniable strengths. It isn’t a coincidence that the most successful throw or takedown in the Ultimate Fighting Championship is the double leg tackle. The fighters who use it effectively have developed it using exactly this training method. However, as soon as you begin this drill everyone who takes part will immediately bend forward at the waist and assume a defensive posture. This is quite a big mistake for fighting because it leaves you completely vulnerable to strikes. By adding knee strikes in before allowing throws and takedowns you reinforce the habit of keeping good posture that is required when strikes are involved.
Once a habit of good posture has been introduced by neck wrestling with knee strikes you can add in throws and takedowns from judo and wrestling. Now these techniques will happen in the context that they happen when fighting. This is an important point.
In the early days of the UFC there was a fight between Matt Lindland, who had only a couple months before won the Olympic silver medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Murilo Bustamante, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. During the fight, there were several successful takedowns but surprisingly it was not the Olympic wrestler who landed them. The reason is that the setups he was used to, both offensively and defensively, were the setups used in in wrestling. These are significantly different than the setups used when your opponent can punch, kick or knee you. The Jiu-Jitsu expert, on the other hand, had practiced all of his takedowns and throws with setups that took striking into account. Among the details was attacking from an upright posture, which striking makes necessary.
In many cases martial arts training is almost an anti-intellectual endeavor. Students come to class and learn by imitation how things should be done, what training methods to use and how. But because of the inertia that physical training has they often fail to think about why things are done that way or to consider if there may be a better way. This is a serious mistake.
Teaching throws and takedowns to adults isn’t the hard part. Getting them to overcome the mental barriers required to make them effective is. The traditional approach used in both Judo and wrestling is slow and takes a commitment to overcoming these barriers on the part of the student. It is a better way to teach pummeling and neck wrestling and then knee strikes and defense before going in to throws and takedowns because this method gets around most of these barriers.
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Kratophobe – A person who claims to be a warrior and yet has an irrational fear of realistic hand-to-hand combat training.
Etymology, from the Greek...