Folkstyle Wrestling/Basic Movements

  • Changing Levels
  • Back Arch
  • Four Takedown Movements
  • Spinning
  • Hip Heist/Reverse Hip Heist
  • Sit Out
  • Sprawl
  • Back Step

1) Position: You have probably heard the expression "location, location, location" in real estate. That doesn't mean anything in wrestling. The wrestling (or grappling) corollary is "position, position, position." Indeed, I would argue (simply to make the point academically as, of course, I do teach "technique") that there is no such thing as "technique," only increasingly good positions variously strung together with movement that increase the favorability of your being able to control your opponent along the way. Sticking with the context of takedowns on this post, #1 would be to maintain a good stance and position on your feet as you approach and move with your opponent. Between this and #'s 2, 3, and 4 (and whatever number defense will involve—OK I might cheat and go beyond 7), if your opponent can't effectively initiate an attack and score on you, because your position, movement, attacking, and tie-ups/clinching is very effective, the worst situation is a draw (if we are talking solely takedowns); and if you have some of the other 7 points down, you should be able to score yourself.

The main points here would be a) knees bent, back angled slightly (not exactly vertical, not horizontal) with your chest, knee, and ball of foot roughly aligned, b) generally being in a staggered stance although you need to be able to move in a square stance, c) head up, visual attention directed to your opponent's chest, d) weight mostly on the balls of your feet, equally distributed between each foot, and e) hands out in front, palms facing each other (to keep elbows in).

Along these lines, a) learn one side first (e.g., lead right or left, I like left because that is also my boxing lead so I keep left leg forward in MMA so I don't clue my opponent as to whether a striking or takedown attack is coming, b) focus on different techniques depending upon whether your opponent leads the same or mirrored leg to you versus switching your lead if your opponent "doesn't cooperate" by leading the leg you hope he leads (e.g., with my left leg lead, I attack double or outside single to my opponent's left side if his left leg is lead or I go to head inside single on the right if his right leg is lead; that being said, eventually, you want to develop some competence with the other leg being lead but first develop competence on one side), and c) if you do MMA, STILL first learn the traditional wrestling stance and way of attacking so you learn to properly and consistently learn to lower your level on attack.

2) Movement: Position is not static but fluid. The trick is to move while maintaining good position, minimizing openings favorable for your opponent to attack, and maximizing your ability to quickly and effectively attack your opponent. A) don't cross your feet, b) take small, short, low steps to be able to initiate an offensive or defensive maneuver quickly (for at least half of the time your foot is off the ground (i.e., moving downward from the top of the arc of your step) you can't redirect your movement unit it makes contact with the mat—and that is a clue to a good time to initiate an attack on your opponent), and c) don't let your feet get too close together as you step.

3) Initiating Attacks: A) lower your level simultaneously with your set-up (but lower level before your transition in so your trajectory is into your opponent, not downward and into the mat), b) your hips lower but the angle of your back remains about the same and your head remains up, eyes open, directing your visual attention to your opponent all the way in (typically towards his chest), c) lean forward slightly prior to initiating your attack (just as you would if you are preparing for a sprint vs. starting a jog), d) don't back up with your body or hands before you attack (a common mistake; as I lower my level my weight is subtly shifting forward before I step in), d) consider moving your hands to your opponent's legs a millisecond before you step in with the reason being that smaller muscles can't be recruited for movement quicker and more deceptively than larger muscles and assist in more stealthily attacking (think of the cartoon analogy where the character punches and his arm stretches out "pulling" the rest of his body after), e) hand movement needs to be linear (from where they are to where they need to be; shortest distance...quickest), most typically striking straight out, elbows in (think "Alien's mouth" analogy), f) don't drag your rear foot on attacks utilizing the penetration step, g) your speed and continued momentum into your opponent are, in part, predicated on quickly following up with your rear foot instead of having it "hang out there" (your rear foot should "catch up" to a frame a millisecond behind your knee making contact with the mat; think simultaneous will help you here), h) don't blink your eyes but keep your visual attention on your target the whole way in (you would be amazed how many people blink or close their eye when attacking), i) on any penetration step attack, momentum CONTINUES through your opponent so your finish must transition immediately and logically (i.e., the particular finish for the particular position you end up with relative to your opponent's initial defensive maneuver); your goal is not simple to "land in front of your opponent" but to continue moving through him.

4) Tie-ups and clinch and set-ups: Your ability to control your opponent while on your feet is predicated on your ability to move him and to keep him in unfavorable position to attack you and position favorable for you to attack. Set-ups are important (e.g., head pop, arm post, drag, etc.) but being able to physically manipulate your opponent so they are unable to attack your effectively is king. A) developing proficiency with pummeling, underhooks, 2-on-1, PROPERLY utilized collar tie, etc. is crucial. Against high caliber opponent's a simple forehead tap, quick hand movements to distract him, moving myself, are likely of little utility. It's not about how much you move yourself (which you actually generally want to be economical to maintain your own good position) but how effectively you move your opponent and you have to make contact to move a good opponent. B) associated with this, it is crucial to be able to logically and fluidly transition from on tie or clinch position to another so that your opponent is continually preoccupied by having to break your tie and control. A secret to this is to become proficient in controlling and moving your opponent's head in the process of pummeling, clinch, and ties. It would take a separate post on pummeling and clinch to get into the details of all of this. Suffice to say competitive pummeling is NOT just underhook and overhook arms swimming back and forth with your opponent.

5) Think high or low in attacking. You asked, basically, about favorite techniques. Before I get into that, I would suggest first conceptualizing your attacking in two domains, low and high. "Low" is attacking below the waist, mostly with your hands, and "high" is attacking the waist and above with your hands and, paradoxically, attacking the legs with your legs. For example, (hand to) leg attacks are typically successfully done when your opponent's level is relatively high either because his level was spontaneously that way or because of your manipulating him with a tie-up or set-up. Sometimes a person is just too darn well defended to easily attack his legs, most typically, at least in part, because his level is relatively low. When his level is too low to attack his legs (with my hands), his head is usually low enough to attack (snap down or snap to front headlock). When I am doing this and his level gets higher, either the legs become more open for a leg attack or I can do leg-to-leg attacks such as inside and outside trips or I can throw. Breaking this down to the most basic level to learn, I am first trying for doubles, head outside singles, and high head inside singles. If my opponent is to low for me to attack his legs successfully, I know his head is low enough to attack (snap) to a front headlock. Instead of getting frustrated with continued unsuccessful leg attacks, I simply transition to attacking the head. If he defends this successfully, his head is going up as is his level, at least to some degree, so I focus on attacking the legs...and on and on. The upshot of this is that against high caliber opponents, you can't depend on success with "just leg shots." Even if your front headlock is poor with regard to scoring, you need to have proficiency at least to a level to threaten your opponent into more favorable position to attack his legs. I hope that I am getting the notion of "back and forth" or "high and low" across adequately.

6) Basic seven movements: You asked about the "favorite seven." The so-called basic seven movement skills (although I sometimes see somewhat different numbers associated with this) of USA wrestling are key. These movements/skills are the foundation for good wrestling.

7) Body build/technique and strategy match: Your body type, in my view, dictates, at least to some degree, the type of techniques and positions you favor and those to avoid. For example, being small, my game is to prioritize attacking my opponent's legs as, usually, my level is (more comfortably) lower. When I can't do that, I go to the head. With one of the guys at Absolute Jiu Jitsu, who is tall, I try to get him to tie up, get underhooks, and attack the head as his priority. Because of his height, he will have a bit more difficulty attacking his opponent's legs so I try to have him, for example, work underhooks (jacking his opponent up with the underhook because he is taller vs. sagging down with it as I do because I am smaller than my opponents) with good head position. Being smaller than my opponents, it is very crucial for me to avoid an overhook position to my taller opponent's underhook; a taller individual, however, has some more realistic options with an overhook. Generally, with little people, tie-ups involve sagging; with taller people jacking their shorter opponent's up. The upshot of this is your base techniques, tactics, and strategy must be rationally related to your body build, physical attributes (e.g., slower folks want to focus on getting good tie-ups and staying in close and not focus on trading "pinging" leg attacks from a greater range) against most opponents (and, of course, specific opponents).

8) Killer defense: When an opponent does attack, he needs to be punished for the audacity and lack of respect. Sprawling and wizzers (etc.) are important but understanding the idea of putting and keeping your attacking opponent's head underneath your abdomen or hip. This would be a long topic for another day but defense needs to be conceptualized in terms of "lines of defense." The first level is that if you are attacking and your opponent is defending, your defending is a moot point. The second line of defense is controlling the tie-up. Different tie-ups eliminate or make difficult various attacks by your opponent. In other words, learn which tie-ups prevent which of your opponent's attacks and focus on defending the ones must likely successful from that tie-up. The third line of defense not letting your opponent get past your head (learn to keep forehead contact with your opponent to "feel" his intent to attack then keep blocking with your head). If he gets past your head, the next line of defense is with your hands or arm blocking his head and/or shoulders if opponent gets by your head. This is front headlock city territory. The LAST major line of defense is when your opponent gets to your leg (of course, I'm not talking about defending various tie-ups, throws, etc., just leg attacks here). It is at this point where virtually all non-wrestlers and, frankly, most wrestlers, make mistakes. Again, getting into defense in a detailed manner is for another day but suffice to say your immediate goal is to get your opponent's head under your abdomen or hip, get out in front, pull him down and either spin behind or front headlock (all of which involve a lot of technique to be done correctly). In the process, you can torture your opponent and make him more hesitant to attack your legs. This style of defense (level 5) works BEAUTIFULLY with BJJ and submission wrestling as you can easily transition quickly to positions where you can work submissions. I am just a little squirt and I'm not even close to weighing what others do in our school but I can put a hurting on guys substantially larger with the concept of (opponent's) "head down" defense.

9) Some favorites of mine: Talking actual (takedown) attacks, my goal is to mix attacks based upon aggressive pummeling, clinching, and handfighting, including working a lot on the head then thinking "low" or "high." This "preparation" work is crucial and pays dividends. The more active your pummeling and handfighting, the more successful will be your actual attack; the converse is true as well. This may sound lame but I score most on a head outside single, then high head inside single, then double leg, at least with traditional leg attacks. However, I mix this in with frequent head snaps to a front headlock and pull my opponent down to the mat and spin behind, etc. when I have tugged his weight on his hands so he can not reach up and catch me as I come around back. For throws, which I think is an art that is fading away owing to changes in freestyle and greco rules, I like a fireman's carry (works well against relatively bigger guys who would cause me some hesitation in attacking their legs. I love arm throws and arm spins but the latter you need to cautious in finishing and repositioning quickly so you avoid a choke. I also love inside and outside trips, both of which are underutilized, in my view. Finally, I like foot sweeps (e.g., from "over and under" position while pummeling) as well as a more nontraditional foot sweep when I am in a regular stance at handfighting distance which I use to off-balance my opponent or sometimes kick my opponent's leg to a grab a head inside single.

Of course, if preparation (e.g., pummeling, handfighting) is "phase one" and attacking (e.g., "the shot") is "phase two," you still need to have a good "phase three" in terms of finishes to complete the takedown especially as your opponent responds to your attack with various defensive maneuvers. That last phase is also a whole new discussion and is rather technique or situation specific.