As someone who grew up wrestling, I, too, inherited the stubbornness and hardheadedness that wrestlers are well known for in grappling, mixed martial arts, and sport more generally--a mindset that is well captured by the "embrace the grind" mantra. Yet, somehow, at some point along the way, I have become quite weary of the grind--which has already taken various tolls on my body (ranging from an ACL replacements caused by a judo mishap in 1996 to two neck surgeries to fix damage caused by a bicycle wreck in 1996 and 2016, respectively). This presents me with a quandary--namely, a disconnect between what I need and want to be able to do on the mats and in the real world and what I can actually do as a 44-year old whose body is starting to predictably fail him.
Tournament medals from my childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood will prove insufficient if and when my mettle must lamentably be tested in a real life situation. While I may be good for a take down here or there (probably a snatch single) and while I have enough muscle memory to sprawl and flatten out most untrained men roughly my size and strength [a number of important qualifications, I might add], I simply don't train enough stand up these days to have the confidence in my take downs that I should at this point. Indeed, during the past 12+ years of my own jiu jitsu journey, I have spent relatively little time honing my pre-existing take down skills. As a result, I squandered an otherwise asset. And I am not alone. As I have pointed out here before and have others have complained elsewhere, jiu jitsu has a take down problem. Far too many coaches and students are unwilling to embrace the grind. And far too many wrestlers start jiu jitsu and then follow suit.
There are several putative explanations for this. First, take downs require space if they are to be done safely. And most gyms don't have adequate space. To me, this is a dubious justification. Many judo gyms and wrestling rooms are small, and they, too, manage to make room for take downs. Second, practicing take downs can be grueling and it can grind things down to a painful halt--hence, the embrace the grind mantra. But grinds suck for good reason and it's easier enough to see why one might prefer to avoid them if at all possible! For while it is fun when you're the one successfully completing a throw, being thrown is much less pleasant and can wear down even the best trained athletes. Third, and most importantly for present purposes, practicing and using take downs can be more dangerous. This doesn't, in itself, justify gyms paying insufficient time to take downs--as many gyms do--but it does mean that one must proceed with caution.
But how is one to proceed if one is wanting to work on take downs while nursing injuries or just staving off old age? My gym (Devine Jiu Jitsu here in Charleston) is doing an increasingly better job adding take downs into their overall curriculum--both in gi and no-gi. But the focus will be more on traditional wrestling take downs than judo or sambo throws. I also plan to cover some take downs in my self-defense training and teaching. Finally, a good friend, training partner, and former D-1 wrestler is also starting to tinker with me on the feet when we flow roll.
A former gym I think very fondly of (Triangle Jiu Jitsu, run by Seth Shamp) used to implement a proper throw mat when we were practicing throws--which can otherwise take a major wear and tear on the body. The downside to these otherwise often training tools: They are expensive and take up lots of space. The same can be said of grappling dummies--which we also used growing up but which are also expensive and take up yet more space.
So, that said, how do people strike the proper balance between take downs and ground work when it comes all of the various grappling styles--especially when injuries and the other siren songs of old age start to sing?