Saturday, February 25, 2012

Throwing Techniques and Takedown Techniques

I've decided to write an article for submission to the semi-academic journal, Journal of Asian Martial Arts (JAMA). This is not your usual martial arts magazine, but a periodical for serious academic articles on various aspects of the martial arts.

The article I'm writing concerns the distinction between throwing techniques and takedown techniques. It's in two parts due to the scope of the material. Part 1 presents 'the problem.' There is no definitive distinction between the two types of techniques. There is a lot of opinion, most often not in the martail arts literature which tends to ignore the issue, but there is NO definitive distinction - until now. Part 2 of my series presents the definitive distinction.

Part 1 also addresses the important issue of why bother classifying:
One response that Q did not receive, and one which I continually received when discussing this issue with senior instructors and students of the Jan de Jong Self Defence School was: 'Who cares?'; 'It doesn’t matter'; 'What’s the point in classifying these or any other techniques?'; 'Students are only interested in how to do the technique, they are not interested in how it's classified'; and my personal favourite: 'It's just intellectual masturbation.' This scepticism is common within the martial arts community, and it is not unreasonable. Before we even attempt to address the issue of the distinction between throwing techniques and takedown techniques, we need to address the issue of the usefulness of classification itself.
I'd like to thank the person who provided the 'intellectual masturbation' quote as it is gold.

I present a case, a strongly supported case, that the question more rightly becomes, why not classify:
'Why classify martial arts techniques?': when this question is raised, it is most often raised with the question raiser being unaware of the centrality of this activity to our intellectual processes. Apart from the issue of intellectual laziness, I would also suggest this question is often raised because the questioner may not be able to see the similarities and differences between the different techniques. Hofstadter believes that 'gist extraction, the ability to see to the core of the matter, is the key to analogy making — indeed, to all intelligence' (1995: 75). 'Gist' refers to the essential part of something. Maybe those who question the value of classification of martial arts techniques cannot see the gist or essence of their techniques.
I review a raft of martial arts to see how, or indeed if, they distinguish between throwing techniques. I can count the number of distinctions I have found in the literature on one hand. All of them flawed.

I review books dedicated to the 'throwing and takedown techniques' of this or that martial art which are 'cashing in' on the popularity of these types of techniques generated by the mixed martial arts competitions - fruitlessly. For instance, Thompson's The Throws & Take-downs of Judo does not contain a distinction between the two types of techniques. In fact, all of the techniques described in the book are referred to as throws. Where are the takedowns of judo which Thompson suggests the book covers? Or, is Thompson and others who refer to 'throwing and takedown techniques' creating a new term to refer to all techniques that cause a person to fall to the ground - 'throwing and takedown techniques'? This new term replaces 'throwing techniques' and 'takedown techniques' which are often used interchangeably anyway. This is not a facetious question/suggestion. But this begs the question, why are there these two terms? They must suggest there are two different types of techniques. If so, what is the difference, or technically, the basis of classification? The characteristic that groups the similar and distinguishes the different between throwing techniques and takedown techniques.

Does judo teach takedown techniques? Kano developed a classification of judo techniques. There is no separate class of takedown techniques. This does not mean judo does not teach takedown techniques, it could mean they just do not distinguish them from other techniques. This then raises the questions, in which class of the classification are takedown techniques included? Why are they not a class of their own? The answer to the latter question could be because they do not understand the characteristics that set them apart from other techniques. They do not understand the essence of this class of technique.

Kirby, in Jujitsu: Basic Techniques of The Gentle Art, is one of the very few to attempt to distinguish between the two types of techniques:
Takedown: A technique, hold, lock, etc., designed to bring the attacker down without throwing him; the lock, hold, etc., is maintained throughout the technique and after the attacker is down.
Throw: A technique or hold designed to unbalance an attacker and physically lift him off the ground until he is down.
However, a review of the techniques included in his book reveals techniques that are referred to as throws that are not designed to physically lift the opponent off the ground.

Kirby is nearly there, but not quite. A takedown is defined by exception. A takedown is designed to cause a person to fall to the ground but is not a throw. A throw is designed 'to unbalance an attacker' - so a takedown is not designed to unbalance an attacker? Can you physically lift an opponent off the ground without unbalancing them? I would suggest that Kirby is referring to kuzushi, unbalancing methods that facilitate not only the execution of throwing techniques, but all techniques. You do not need to use kuzushi to execute a throwing (or takedown) technique, but it helps.

A takedown is defined as being maintained throughout the technique and after the attacker is down. Where does this place ushiro kata otoshi (rear shoulder drop) in which an opponent is pulled/pushed (a distinction for another day) to the ground onto their back by their shoulders from behind? The same technique is seen in aikido where it is sometimes refered to as a variation of irimi nage (entering throw). The technique causes the person to fall to the ground. They are not physically lifted off the ground. The technique is not maintained after the opponent is down.

I'm only singling out Kirby because he one of the very few to at least attempt to provide definitions for the two types of techniques. Most simply avoid the issue and use the terms interchangeably and inconsistently.

The picture at the beginning of this blog is of a book dedicated to the throws and takedowns of sambo, judo, jujitsu and submission grappling. Scott, the author, provides a distinction, commonly espoused, based on function. Throws are designed to end the fight while takedowns are techniques used to take the fight to the ground.
This conceptualisation of the difference between the two types of techniques, a not uncommon one at that, is that throws are an end in themselves whereas takedowns are a means to an end. This is a classification, and it is neither right nor wrong. However as Mills suggested, the merit of a classification is dependent upon the purposes it serves. Does this classification facilitate teaching and learning? Does it help in identifying specific takedown techniques and specific throwing techniques? The answer may be reflected in the fact that all of the chapters and all of the techniques included in Scott’s book dedicated to 'throws and takedowns' refer only to throws. Are any of Scott's throws takedowns? Why refer to takedowns if specific techniques are not identified as takedowns? The use of both terms suggests there is a difference, but what is that difference?
To end this blog, I am in the editing stage of this series of articles to be submitted to JAMA. Secondly, I'd appreciate it if any reader could refer me to any literature that makes a distinction between these two types of techniques.


  1. You may find it interesting that someone has tried to tackle this on wikipedia (with a wrestling bent):

    "A takedown is a martial arts and combat sports term for a technique that involves off-balancing an opponent and bringing him or her to the ground, typically with the combatant performing the takedown landing on top. The process of quickly advancing on an opponent and attempting a takedown is known as shooting for a takedown, or simply shooting. Takedowns are usually distinguished from throws by the forward motion and target of advancement (typically the legs), the terms are used interchangeably for techniques. Takedowns are featured in all forms of wrestling and stand-up grappling."

    Two things also come to my mind when thinking of this - when you have to grapple with someone else who is a grappler, you rarely get a clean throw, often it becomes a takedown (excuse the terminology use but you know what i mean) ie its a hip throw but its not a clean throw, not an ippon, in this sense a throw becomes a takedown as its countered, the quote about throws ending the fight is interesting if one takes throws to their jujutsu end rather than their judo one ie head hits ground rather than body hits mat.

    The other is sweeps - i dont mean foot sweeps here but groundwork sweeps (reversals) they are still achieving the same things but often on the ground - do you group them as throws and takedowns or is there a sweep category.

    Interesting to come back to this topic, seems like its why I started reading this blog!

    Thanks as always!

  2. Thanks Paul. The Wikipedia proves my point. Confusion and flawed distinctions between these two types of techniques rule. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm working on part 2 of my proposed 2 part series that provides a definitive distinction between the two types of techniques, and how it does faciliate the understanding and study of these techniques - on a practical level.


Your comments make my work all the more relevant as I use them to direct my research and theorising. Thank you.