In the past and especially in lighter-weight divisions, takedown skills were “nice to have” but not essential.
This is mostly because guard pulling is allowed and players tend to spend most of their match on the ground.
If you are good at playing the guard, you probably don’t care so much about giving up 2 points (or whatever points in a given rule set) and getting taken down, especially at the beginning of a match anyway. Why? Because your opponent will have to deal with your guard after taking you down.
This can be a frustrating situation if you are the one who takes your opponent down & can’t pass your opponent’s guard. I suppose this is a common scenario for those who come to jiu jitsu with strong Judo/wrestling background. They can take their opponent down at ease but tend to have a hard time after that.
The great news is that you have zero reasons to take your opponent down to their back… because you could create back exposure instead. Instead of taking them down with double leg, get to the rear body lock position and force them to be on all four/in the turtle position, for example. Congratulations, you’ve just bypassed your opponent’s guard and gone straight to their back. You probably won’t get points for “takedowns” in many rule sets, but who cares — you got closer to a better-and-harder-to-reach position.
This “back exposure from takedown attempts” is where grappling seems to be heading, and I think it’s a potentially exciting development. Why? Because it will probably create more dynamic actions between two players if they are proficient in all aspects of grappling. And if one player can play this sort of holistic game while the other can’t, the former will have a massive advantage over the latter.
I highly recommend you to think about how to create back exposure from your takedown attempts and also learn to defend yourself in and even counter from positions where your opponent’s takedown attempt exposes your back. Start working on these areas, and you will most likely be ahead of most BJJ folks out there.
Now, what I wrote above is probably more applicable to competitions where guard pulling is somewhat discouraged than typical IBJJF rule set competitions where there’s no penalty for guard pulling. But either way, I believe it will be beneficial for you to explore this back-exposure use of takedowns.
After all, one key sub-component of this wrestling + jiu jitsu integration trend is the idea of wrestling up — meaning you initiate a “takedown” from the bottom position.
When two good guard players compete against each other, we often see them play a seesaw game where one sweeps the other and vice versa until the match finishes. This happens because they are equally good at playing the guard, and their guards are legitimately hard to pass. But what if one of them knows how to wrestle up AND expose the back from their bottom-to-top takedown attempts? That will create this player more offensive opportunities than the other player. So… don’t ignore this trend even if you primarily play the guard and practice gi.
I think a natural question many of you may have is: OK, Masa, but what exactly do I need to learn? Judo? Wrestling? I don’t have time for everything!
A quick answer (for most of us) would be to focus sharply on what makes sense and works in the context of BJJ/grappling. And make sure to learn ENOUGH to be dangerous against most BJJ folks who don’t have solid takedown background. And when you grapple against those who have strong background, you should know what they need to take you down and how to counter their attempts by using jiu jitsu.
I know this answer is not specific, but I hope this will do for now. I will write more about this topic in my future emails…
p.s. Guard pulling is not a crime.