Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scoring Primer: Takedowns

[This is the first in a multi-part series covering each of the different ways to score points in competitive jiu-jitsu.]
noun    [teyk-doun] 
When an athlete forces his/her opponent to the ground after having been standing at some point during the movement
The first opportunity to score in any grappling match is with a takedown.  Understanding how takedowns are scored is vital for seizing the initiative before your opponent.  In this article, I'm going to take an in-depth look at exactly how a referee determines if a throw, a shot, or a trip qualifies for points.

Unfortunately, since competitive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu doesn't have a unified rule book, I'm only focusing on competitions that use IBJJF-based scoring.  Under these rules, takedowns are worth two points, which makes it part of a three-way-tie for the "least amount of points that can possibly be awarded" along with sweeps and the knee-on-belly position.

A takedown is considered an "Action" for scoring purposes, so the focus is on how you perform the move.  I've already briefly written about "Action" points and "Position" points in BJJ, but basically a takedown (along with all other "Actions") has three components:

Initial Position  =>  Transition  =>  Final Position

A referee is going to look at these three requirements and make sure each one is fulfilled before awarding points.  I've dedicated a section below to each of these criteria.

Initial Position

Takedowns must start from a standing position with both feet on the ground.

The standing position - either competitor can score a takedown 

Takedowns that start from the knees are not scored.  The most common way this happens is when an athlete gets to the turtle position and then puts his or her opponent on the bottom.

Neither athlete is able to score a takedown from this position.
Even though it's a requirement to start from the feet, it's ok to go to your knees as part of the movement. However when a competitor misses takedown points, it's usually because the takedown didn't actually originate from the feet.  

The IBJJF is especially strict with the rules for initiating a takedown.  Not only must the motion start from standing, but the grips must be acquired while on the feet as well.  If two competitors start on the ground, scramble to their feet with the grips unchanged, and then one competitor puts the other one down, no points or advantages will be awarded for a takedown (however a sweep could have been possible depending on the position).

The inverse of this is also true, if a competitor shoots a single or double leg and is countered with a sprawl, but is eventually able to finish the takedown, then points will be awarded because the technique originated from the feet.  Continuous motion and pressure must be applied while on the knees.  If the attacker pauses and accepts the turtle position, it is considered a new position and a takedown can no longer be scored.

Final Position

The goal of a takedown is to move your opponent to one of the three bottom positions while remaining in control from a top position for three seconds.  The bottom positions are:

Opponent's back or side on the mat:
White is on bottom, Blue is on top
(Note that a takedown that directly puts your opponent on his back or side does not need to be maintained for three seconds, see the "Ippon Rule" below)

Opponent's butt on the mat:
White is on bottom, Blue is on top

Or dominant turtle:
White is on bottom, Blue is on top.  Notice that blue is behind White

Only when one of the above positions has been stabilized for three seconds will the referee award points.

In order to score in the turtle position you must be on your opponents back, behind the arms, and he or she must have at least one knee down.  The front turtle position is a neutral position where neither athlete is considered to be on top or bottom.

Despite how it may look, neither competitor is on top


The "Ippon" Rule:

The IBJJF uses a special "Ippon" rule that takes into account exactly how your opponent lands as the result of a throw.  If a takedown causes your opponent to land directly on his or her back or side, you will immediately score two points without needing to stabilize the position for three seconds.  This rule gets its name from Judo, where a similar throw would instantly win the match.

The Transition

A takedown requires you to do something to force your opponent to the mat.  You won't score points if your opponent takes the bottom position before you can initiate.

Moving yourself from standing into a bottom position without any interference from your opponent is called "Pulling guard".  Pulling guard is by far the most common way that a competitor moves from standing to the ground without a takedown happening.

When you correctly pull guard, your opponent is denied points for a takedown, but you are giving up the top position.  In order to pull guard, you must have control of some part of your opponent's body.  Sitting to your butt without making any contact will earn a warning/penalty.

The following situations are also considered pulling guard:
  • You sit to guard after a failed shot or from the front headlock position
  • You attempt a sacrifice throw and fail
Be careful! When pulling guard you can can still give up takedown points if:
  • Your opponent is controlling your leg or foot as you pull guard.
  • Your opponent has a grip anywhere on your pants as you sit or jump to guard.
  • You pull guard in response to a takedown attempt (such as a foot sweep)
Finally, if you are initiating a takedown and your opponent jumps into a guard such that you are completely supporting his or her weight off the mat, you must put his or her back or butt on the mat within three seconds to score.

Blue jumps guard while White is holding his pants.
White must put Blue down on the mat within three seconds to score a takedown.


The most common way to score an advantage for a takedown is by successfully forcing your opponent down to the mat, but then failing to maintain yourself in the top position or you opponent in the bottom position for the full three seconds.  

Successfully off-balancing your opponent, causing him or her go from standing to one knee on the mat, is enough to warrant an advantage.  This would include a snap down to front turtle where the initiator cannot immediately move to a dominant turtle.

Advantages can also happen near the edge of the mat.  If a takedown is in progress and the competitors go out of bounds, an advantage will be scored for the attacker and the match will restart standing.  This is often seen with a double or single leg when an athlete drives his or her opponent off the mat while lifting a leg.


If you take your opponent down to a position that must be maintained, but he or she immediately scrambles up to the top, you will still earn an advantage.  Your opponent cannot score a takedown in this situation.  However, if your opponent quickly established a guard and used a sweep to put you on bottom, he or she would score for the sweep.

White snaps blue down and spins behind.  Blue counters.  White gets an advantage and blue does not score.

If your opponent immediately counters an ippon and ends up on top, for example by rolling you over from the bottom of side control, he or she will not score any points and you will still earn full points.  This is because ippons do not need to be held for three seconds.  Once again, your opponent can still score with a counter from guard.  In this case, he or she would earn points for a sweep instead of a takedown.

Clearing the submission 

As with all actions and positions, you cannot score points for a takedown while you are caught in a submission.  This is usually seen with a guillotine choke counter to a double leg.  After you have brought your opponent to the mat, you must completely clear the submission hold before the referee can give points.

White has taken Blue down, but is stuck in a submission.  White cannot score until he frees his head.

[Before I wrap this up, I would like to thank Billy Dowey and Ryan LaFree for their modeling work in the above pictures.  I also would like to thank Jon Plyler for the technical expertise.]