How Grappling Connects Us All: 1 Foot Sweep, 3 Martial Arts


It is often said that martial arts is the purest form of human expression. By looking at a single technique common to three different martial arts, we can see how grappling transcends geography and culture. The same foot sweep can be found in judo, wrestling, and muay thai. The objective is simple; bring your opponent to the ground. While the basic principles are identical, there are slight differences between each version of this technique. These differences reflect the unique development rules of each martial art. When learning any technique, it is important to keep the context they are used it. By doing so, we can understand why certain techniques are the way they are and how we might be able to adapt them for BJJ.

Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi

Sasae tsurikomi ashi, meaning “propping and drawing ankle throw”, is one of judo’s several foot sweep techniques. In this video, the technique is demonstrated in a variety of applications, including in combination with another trip, osoto gari.

By loading your opponent’s weight to a single leg, blocking its movement with your own, and turning them over it, they have no option but to fall over. To do so, you first must anticipate the weight shift of their movement or force them to react by pushing and pulling with the gi. The gi also helps to turn their weigh to one leg by steering their balance to one side (pulling down on the tripping side and up on the opposite site).

Unlike in BJJ or classical judo, modern judo prohibits grabbing the pants and guard pulling without an immediate, continuous submission attempt. Without the fear of leg takedowns, jump guards or various open guard entries, judoka prefer a more upright stance. It is this upright stance that allows you to easily reach and block the loaded leg to finish the sweep. It also allows you to use your hip to drive in and turn your opponent to the ground.

Wrestling Foot Sweep

Now let’s take a look at the same sweep which is also employed in freestyle wrestling. In this vdieo, Carl Adams demonstrates the technique from various clinch positions like the double-under hooks or Russian tie.

Unlike in modern Judo where you must take a “normal” grip (same side lapel and sleeve grips) when not attacking, wrestling and BJJ allow for many more different clinch positions, making the variations shown here especially useful in BJJ, gi and nogi. The principle remains the same; blocking the loaded leg and steering your opponent of balance with upper body control. Carl Adams makes an important point about leaning away during the sweep instead of leaning forward, which could be a general wrestler tendency from avoiding leg takedowns. Leaning away is the same driving forward of the hip in the judo video. Getting your hips and torso closer to your opponent’s upper body gives you more control to turn them and creates the empty space they fall into.

Muay Thai Dump

Since the foot sweep we’ve been looking at is initiated from a clinch position, it may not be a surprise to many to also see it in muay thai. The clinch is an important aspect of muay thai because many attacks come from the clinch. Landing knee strikes is highly valued in judging and an effective way of hurting your opponent. However, in throwing a knee strike, all your weight is loaded to one leg, creating the perfect opportunity to use this foot sweep.

The rules on throws, or dumps as they are more commonly referred to as in muay thai, dictate the final execution of the foot sweep. According to some rule sets, all throws need to be executed using the front of the leg, not the back or side. In other rule sets, the crucial aspect is finishing the sweep by clearing the leg, making it important to use a sweeping motion on the loaded leg, instead of a stationary block. Combined with the upper body control and rotation, the momentum of sweeping leg adds to the power, spectacle and ringmanship of the muay thai dump. While the gloves and strikes change the dynamics of the sweep, the underlying principles remain the same.

Matt Brown employed the same technique in MMA, against Erick Silva at UFC Fight Night Cincinnati. Connor Ruebush makes a good point in his article that Matt Brown’s technique, while appearing to be from judo or wrestling to most, likely came from his muay thai experience. Jack Slack’s video on Saenchai really highlights the application, context, and beauty of sweeps in muay thai.

Judo. Wrestling. Muay Thai. 3 different martial arts from three different parts of the world that share the foot sweep. I imagine you would see this same foot sweep in any other martial art that involves clinch or stand-up grappling. There are so many similarities between martial arts from different parts of the world because we share the same anatomy and physical vocabulary.

There is only one type of body, 2 arms, 2 legs, etc that make up the human body. Therefore, there can only be one style of fighting. If the other guy had 4 arms and 2 legs, there might have to be a different one. Forget the belief that one style is better than the other, the point of someone that does not just believe in tradition, but actually wants to know how to fight is to take what you need from every martial art and incorporate it into your own. Make it effective and very powerful, but don’t worry if you are taking moves from many different arts, that is a good thing.
– Bruce Lee

This is also true of just grappling. Learn from other martial arts. Figure out the context of the techniques and how to tweak them to work for you.