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Single Leg Defense Every Grappler Should Know

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Photo via lexfridman.com

The single leg takedown is the highest percentage takedown in American collegiate wrestling. You shouldn’t be surprised if all the wrestling greats in American history tell you it’s one of the most important moves you need to know. Therefore, knowing how to defend against the single leg should be a top priority.

Single legs aren’t only used in wrestling, they’re also prevalent in other grappling sports, and mixed martial arts as well. Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba had arguably one of the best single legs in all of MMA. He was able to use it to great effect against opponents who were much heavier and stronger than he was. Sakuraba was one of a kind. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see someone with his unique fighting style ever again. But just in case we do, it’s important to know how to defend against against such an efficient technique.

Although there are many ways to defend against the single leg takedown, we’re going to cover the basic fundamentals you must know before trying anything more advanced.

Sprawl and Push the Head Down

Photo courtesy of jiujitsupedia.com
Photo via jiujitsupedia.com

The first and most important defensive maneuver against any takedown attempt on the legs is a sprawl. When your opponent shoots any shot on you, sprawl and hip into him as hard as you can. If he manages to get a hold of your leg, whizzer the side he’s attacking and extend that leg out while hipping into him. Push his head down with your free hand and try circling around to one of his sides; the goal is to get to a position where you’re perpendicular to his body. While circling, don’t stop pressuring with your whizzer, your hips, and your hand pushing his head down. You should be applying pressure with all three of those while keeping your leg extended.

Grab an Ankle

Photo courtesy of John Sachs/tech-fall.com
Photo via John Sachs/tech-fall.com

After you’ve circled far enough, grab one of his ankles and pull it as hard as you can while hipping into him and pushing his head down. Also, remember to keep your leg extended so he’s not able to suck it in. The goal here is to completely knock him off balance and flatten him out. Once you’ve flattened him out, crossface him with your forearm and get behind him. After you’ve gotten behind him, that’s a takedown. What you do from there depends on whether you’re in an MMA fight or a wrestling match.

Whizzer and Wrist Control

Photo courtesy of wrestlingpod.com
Photo via wrestlingpod.com

So far we’ve covered how to defend a single leg when you’ve sprawled your opponent out. But if he still manages to catch your leg and come up with it, you need to know how to defend from your feet. The two most important things in standing single defense are your whizzer and wrist control. You should immediately slap on a whizzer and grab his wrist. Your wrist control should be very active; constantly try pulling and tugging on it to loosen and eventually break his grip. Furthermore, you need to be wary he doesn’t switch to a double leg, so be prepared to push it down if he reaches for another leg. Additionally, don’t let him get good head positioning against you. Push the top of your forehead into his face, so he can’t ram his head into your chest to knock you off balance. Last but not least, the leg he’s captured should be bent at the knee and either pushing to the outside, or blocking his thigh with your foot.

Fight for Your Life

Photo courtesy of wrestling.isport.com
Photo via wrestling.isport.com

The is the last place you want to be. If he gets past your sprawl and your whizzer, and gets your leg up fully extended, you’re in trouble. But that doesn’t mean you just give up. Keep your free leg as far away from him as possible so it will be difficult for him to trip you. You should be hopping on your tip toes waiting to evade his attempts to trip you. Next, use one hand to push his face away, (don’t eye gouge him) and the other to grab one of his wrists to try to peel off his grip. All the while bending your foot in an attempt to bring it in the inside to get back to the previous standing position. It helps a lot to be flexible when you’re in this situation.

Other Techniques

There are many other defensive techniques for defending a single leg, like spin arounds, spadles, lateral throws, etc. But these are the basics. You must first master the basics before you learn the more advanced moves.

Live Situational Wrestling

An effective way to get familiar with these techniques is to do live situational wrestling where you and your partner start in these fixed positions. Try doing thirty second sessions starting from each of these positions, and rotate with your partner so you both get a feel for it. If you notice your partner is doing something wrong, be sure to inform him. The better you and your partner get at defending a single legs, the better practice it will be for both of you trying to take each other down.