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A Primer on Effective Throws and Sweeps

The concepts shown here are for illustrative purposes only. Seek professional training from a reputable instructor before attempting any techniques discussed or shown in this story.

The date: March 13, 1998. The event: Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) 16. It’s the early days of the UFC, and cage fighting is still banned in many states of the union. Only hard-core combat sports fans and devoted martial artists are tuning in to watch the mayhem on pay-per-view.

MMA legend Frank Shamrock, weighing in at 180 pounds and sporting the physique of a Greek Adonis, has his hands full against Russian kickboxer and undefeated Extreme Fighting Champion, Igor Zinoviev. The bell sounds and the ref yells, “Let’s get it on!” Only 22 seconds into the fight, Shamrock dives in, picks up Zinoviev, and throws him to the ground. Zinoviev is knocked unconscious with a career-ending broken collarbone and a fractured C-5 vertebra. Shamrock barely broke a sweat with the throw, marching off into UFC history as a legend of the sport.

Grappling and throwing are as old as mankind, and most likely the first fight amongst modern-day humans ended up with the combatants rolling on the ground. Wrestling and throwing have been around since time immemorial. In fact, a mural discovered in Egypt, dating back to 2,000 B.C., depicts a variety of wrestling positions. Grappling during a violent encounter almost seems natural. It happens in almost every MMA match. In the sport of boxing, contestants are routinely separated after they clinch up, and scores of YouTube videos record fights that often involve grappling of some sort, whether it be standing or on the ground.

Throws and sweeps — you’ve likely seen Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, or Bruce Lee throw opponents on their asses on the big screen. Maybe your favorite UFC fighter (like Shamrock) uses them. But just how easy is it to do, and how effective are throws in a SHTF scenario? Here we explore what it means to dump a bad guy, like a bad habit.

What Comes Up
Throws are no doubt effective. Here are five reasons to add throws into your combatives training. Ends a Fight Quickly: As depicted in the opening paragraph, dumping someone on his noggin will end a fight quickly. In the cement jungle, throws may have deadly consequences. Additionally, unforgiving objects like fire hydrants or rocks can make throws lethal.

Speed Bump: Once on his butt, an attacker will have to make his way back up to his feet to be effective. This can buy valuable time to high-tail it out of there.

Shielding: During a multiple attacker situation, a downed attacker makes a great shield, slowing down the attack of other assailants.

Control: Putting someone on the ground will make life much easier, if your goal is to control the rowdy rascal. Having the ground contacting and blocking the majority of a bad guy’s body will make escape difficult, giving you more dominance.

Advantage: If you have experience in wrestling, sambo, judo, or jiu-jitsu, you’ll have a huge advantage in the clinch. This will be especially true if the only thing your opponent is used to wrestling is his own conscience.

Must Come Down
As effective as throws can be, they’re not the panacea of combatives techniques. Throws may end a fight quickly, but they do have shortcomings. Below are the drawbacks to your slam fest.

Too Close for Comfort: Even though most violent confrontations happen in close range, we recommend you make a quick exit if you can. Throws, by nature, require bad-breath distancing — recommended if you can avoid it. Run, hide, and (lastly) fight is the formula we recommend.

Size Matters: No matter what Yoda or any other master tells you, executing a successful throw during an all-out violent encounter may require some mass and strength. You may notice that grappling sports like wrestling and judo are divided into weight classes. This is to make the sport fair for the little person, acknowledging that big people have an advantage when you get all touchy-feely.

Grounded: When attempting a throw, there’s always a chance that you may end up on the ground yourself. Falling to the ground may open up an entirely different can of worms if you’re not well-versed on the fine art of ground fighting. Also, the possibility of multiple attackers makes floor-based-fighting an absolute no-no.

Weapons: If your assailant is armed with a knife or gun, getting all close and personal for a throw may not be what the doctor ordered. Trying to flip someone on his head can go south really quickly, if a knife or firearm is presented mid-struggle.

It’s Complicated: Compared to strikes, sweeps and throws have more moving parts. To execute successful throws, more training time is required. This can be a good thing because training will get us off our couch and make us sweat. We’ll take it.

How to Put a Bad Guy Down
Although there are a variety of throws from many different martial arts, here we’ll focus on what we feel are the three most effective and easy to apply: the back sweep, front sweep, and hip toss. Rounding out your combatives arsenal with these three techniques will make you better prepared when trouble comes knocking. But first, let’s study how to safely close to the requisite distance for the throw-down.

Enter the Dragon
Before attempting any throw, you must be in the proper position; think hugging range. Against punches, get your chin down and hands up. Take a step forward and get your head close to the attacker’s head. Grab their shoulders or arms and hang on. Against a weapon (like a knife, club, or firearm), controlling the attacker’s offending limb is paramount for safety and proper follow-up. With the weapon under control, your strikes and throws will have greater success.

Don’t feel that once you’re close to your attacker, you must sweep or throw immediately. Feel free to soften them up with any strike handy, including elbows and knees (see RECOIL OFFGRID Issues 7 and 16, respectively). The strikes will sap the attacker’s will to fight and knock them off-balance. Once tenderized and tippy, success is almost guaranteed. Now onto the throws!

Know Your Roll
Looking for a new pastime? How about one where you’ll make lifelong buddies, have fun, get into fabulous shape, and learn to defend yourself during fights? Look no further than the grappling arts found at your local gym or recreational center. But where to start? Here’s our guide to the most common grappling arts.

Aikido: Also called “the way of harmonious spirit,” Aikido is a Japanese system that mixes joint locks with philosophy. If you’re looking for a system that’ll also teach you to be a better human being, while learning to subdue an attacker with the least amount of violence, this art is for you.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): A more modern interpretation of traditional or Japanese Jujitsu (see below), BJJ emphasizes ground fighting, with the goal of gaining submission by joint lock or choke. Many BJJ practitioners compete in tournaments to improve their skills and test themselves in a safe environment. You’ll often find this art taught alongside Thai boxing and wrestling in mixed martial arts gyms across the country. If you like to get sweaty and lose weight, sign up.

Japanese Jujitsu: This is the original samurai art used as a last resort on the battlefields of yore. Traditional jujitsu offers a well-rounded curriculum of strikes, kicks, joint locks, and throws. Some schools teach katana (aka samurai sword) techniques, as well as basic ground fighting.

Judo: A popular Olympic sport often found at your local recreational center. Judo involves the use of a “gi” or judo uniform that resembles a bathrobe on steroids. Throws and sweeps are the specialties of judo practitioners and ground fighting; along with submission holds are also practiced.

Russian Sambo: This art is found in both the Russian military as well as Russian gyms. Stateside, sambo can be found in martial arts schools across the USA. It’s a combination of judo, jujitsu, and wrestling. Strikes are also taught as part of the military version, and sambo tournaments can be found around the world.

Western Wrestling: An Olympic sport, freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling can also be found in high schools and colleges across the U.S. More recently, MMA gyms are introducing wrestling programs into their curriculum to make their fighter’s repertoire more complete. Wrestlers train takedowns as well as ground controls and pins. It’s a grueling sport dominated by younger athletes. But make no mistake, wrestlers are tough SOBs.

Back Sweep

What: A motion utilizing the foot or leg in a rearward direction to floor the assailant. The back sweep is the go-to move of many martial arts, combatives, and combat sports systems, especially judo. It’s easy to learn and involves the use of large muscles to put your assailant down.

How: To execute a proper back sweep you must knock your attacker back with some sort of strike or push. The strike can be in the form of a punch, palm, elbow, or fingers to the eyes. The strike will cause your attacker to lean back. Once their balance is lost, immediately step to the outside of the opponent’s leg with your same side leg. A quick twist of your upper body, along with the rear sweep of your front leg will down the assailant. Once the perp is on the ground, there’s a decision to be made. You can control the attacker, continue to retaliate, or make a quick exit.

Knife Stab vs. Back Sweep
Sherman Chin grabs a knife and prepares to go “psycho” on Conrad Bui. Bui recognizes the attack, steps in to parry the attack, and strike the eyes. The eye attack allows Bui to further off-balance Chin and makes the back sweep to the ground easy. The defender now has the opportunity to further continue the offense or run.


Baseball Bat vs. Back Sweep
Seems like every apocalypse movie has a baseball bat attack somewhere. Here the attacker comes at Bui looking to hit a homerun. Bui immediately repositions himself within the arc of the strike and lands an elbow strike. The elbow strike is enough to off-balance the attacker and allows Bui to step behind the front leg. A quick back sweep to the ground, followed with a palm strike, ends the fight.


Front Sweep

What: A forward motion of the foot and leg used to off balance the attacker or to take them to the ground. The front sweep relies more on timing and less on strength. With the correct technique and timing, this sweep can take someone down with minimal effort.

How: The front sweep will work great when the opponent is leaning forward. It’s common for the attacker to lean forward during a punch or attempted grab. Parry the attack and get inside the arc of the strike. A lateral strike or push will setup the attacker for an easy sweep by taking the weight off their front leg (the leg that’ll be swept). Simply place your opposite foot to the outside of the attacker’s front foot (if the attacker has their left foot forward, place your right foot to the outside of the attacker’s left foot). Next, slide your front foot medially, and down they go. With the attacker grounded, you can continue the onslaught, use them as a meat-shield, or simply hightail it out of there.

Knife Stab vs. Front Sweep
The knife-wielding assailant is looking to ventilate Bui. The defender immediately parries the attack and steps in for control and a palm strike/eye rake. The counter-strike knocks the attacker back, making the front sweep effortless. Once grounded, Bui is in a better position to disarm the thug.


Club vs. Front Sweep
Bui defends himself against a clubbing attack by leaning back and getting out of the way. Once the weapon has missed, Bui quickly steps in to jam the weapon and elbow strike the attacker. A forearm shot to the throat off-balances the attacker. A front sweep along with a disarm, and Bui is safe.


Hip Toss

What: A throw involving the use of one’s hip to uproot and slam an attacker to the ground. The hip toss is commonplace in many judo, wrestling, and cage matches, as well as on the streets.

How: As with the other throws, you’ll need to be close enough to deliver a kiss, but the only thing you’ll be delivering is carnage to your attacker. Use your free arm and wrap it around your opponent’s neck. Once the headlock position is achieved, turn the back of your hip toward your attacker. Next, bend your knees to bring your hip down, lower than the hip of your attacker. When this position is set, use your legs to lift the attacker off the ground, over your hip, and slam their body to the ground in front of you.

Haymaker Punch vs. Hip Toss
Bui gets his hands up when he sees the threat. Bui steps forward inside the arc of the strike and lands his own forearm shot to the side of Chin’s neck. The force of the strike knocks Chin back, allowing Bui time to turn and hip toss the attacker to the ground. Once on the ground, Bui is able to control the attacker, break the arm, or make a mad dash for safety.



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