Post written by Arlo Gagestein
Almost 6 years ago, the second time I ever competed in BJJ, grappling superstar Brandon Ruiz gave a pre-tournament seminar at the weigh-ins. If you aren’t familiar with Brandon, he is a 5-time member of the USA Grappling Team, winning team titles in 2008, 2009, and 2014, as well winning seven individual world championships and 15 world level medals through FILA/UWW, IBJJF, SJJIF, NAGA, Grapplers Quest, and Pancrase. Any heavyweight 2nd degree Machado Jiu-Jitsu black belt is intimidating. Throw in the fact that he is also a world-class wrestler with such an impressive resume and and Brandon is downright scary! Needless to say, while attending his seminar, I paid attention!
While this seminar was years ago, there are several things he taught that I still use today. One thing he covered really stood out to me. Brandon said studies had shown that in wrestling, 70% of the time, the person who gets the takedown wins the match. Now I’m not a mathematician, but those sounded like pretty good odds. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to let anyone take me down the next day. No matter what else happened, I was going to get the takedown or stubbornly resist until my opponent pulled guard.
I knew next to nothing about takedowns. I had been attending BJJ classes inconsistently for about a year and a half, and prided myself from fighting on bottom. I headed back to the hotel with 3 friends I had convinced to compete with me, and we spent the next couple hours flipping through a Dave Camarillo book looking for easy-to-learn takedowns. I picked two I thought I could pull off and we practiced throwing each other on the beds for 15-20 minutes before turning on Jet Li’s movie Fearless and drifting off to sleep.
At the tournament the next day, I arrived to find a long road to medal contention. As a 195 lb. white belt there were 12 competitors in my gi bracket and 11 competitors in my no gi bracket. I had my two newly learned moves and I had set my mind to avoid being taken down at all costs. I knew nothing about takedown defense, but was confident enough in my strength, athleticism, balance, and determination that I felt I could avoid being taken down by any white belt at the tournament. Even if I had to just stay standing until my opponent gave up and pulled guard I was okay with that.
Amazingly, my game plan worked. Opponent after opponent eventually went to the ground out of frustration and I quickly submitted them. I even hit one of my new takedown techniques a couple of times! As I was awarded my gold medal in the gi, I began strategizing my no gi competition. Brandon Ruiz’s takedown tip had been a goldmine! My game plan was the same. Everything went fine until the semifinal.
I was up against a stocky wrestler who despite me efforts quickly took me down. I was successfully able to keep him in my guard, but because of the takedown I was down on points. Then, he stood up! I knew I was in trouble. He was up on points and avoiding me on the ground. I stood back up, and he immediately took me down again. After a brief scuffle on the ground, my opponent stood up for a third time. The person who gets the takedown usually wins. He was using my own strategy against me. I knew that the next time he took me down I had to submit him, and quick. As he took me down, I threw on a desperate triangle and tapped him out as the time expired. I was lucky enough to be part of the 30%! I won again in the final, walking away with two gold medals in the white belt division.
Arlo (the tall one) and Justin in 2010 with the first medals of their grappling careers.
Winning my weight class qualified me to compete in the absolute competition against the winners of the other weight classes. Amusingly, the gi and no gi absolute tournaments ran simultaneously and I was supposed to fight in both at the same time. Flustered I ran back and forth explaining the situation and opting for my no gi match first. Once again I faced a stocky wrestler who easily took me down and choked me out in about 30 seconds. The 70% wins again. This time not in my favor.
In the absolute final for gi, I faced an experienced judo player. Assuming he would eventually throw me, I immediately tried one of my new Camarillo judo throws. I was instantly heels-over-head and slammed to the mat. Lesson learned. Never try to throw a judoka with a move you learned out of a book the night before. Once on the ground, my opponent controlled me very well, never overly threatening, but staying ahead on points and preventing me from any offensive efforts. Once I scrambled to my feet and was quickly thrown again. Time ran out and once again the 70% won. I lost on points largely because I allowed my opponent to take me down.
In all, I faced 10 opponents at the tournament, and in 9 out of 10 matches, the person who scored the first takedown won the match. Brandon Ruiz’s advice was spot on. It has remained in the forefront of my mind with every competition since. I’m still not great at takedowns. Sometimes I get the takedown; sometimes I get tossed or double-legged. Frequently when I do get taken down, I lose. Usually when I start on top I win. It was an important lesson, and one I will always remember. Thank you Brandon Ruiz.