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Section 4: Defense On Your Feet

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Having the ability to defend yourself or counter your opponent's attack is a very important aspect of wrestling. Like most other sports, a wrestler must be able to counter and attack his opponent. The objective of defense is not just to stop your opponent's offense but to take advantage of scoring opportunities whenever possible.

Effective defense on the feet involves many of the same positioning concepts as initiating your offense. There are some basic position and body control concepts that will enable a wrestler to be most effective in both of these situations. Knowing how to get into a good stance position is the starting point for being able to initiate an effective defense. A good stance will eliminate many scoring opportunities that may be available to the opposition. A good stance will also allow the defending wrestler to react and defend more effectively.

Understanding important concepts about defense on the feet can be a big help to wrestlers at any level. Defensive concepts range from the simple to the systematic. When you watch the highest levels of competition, you begin to understand how systematic and important good defense can be. I have seen many wrestlers on the senior, and international level depend on their defense to win matches. The technique and Strategy can be so sophisticated that some wrestlers prefer to use a defensive strategy. For instance, some wrestlers will wait for the offensive wrestler to take a leg shot so that they can catch him in a Front Headlock. Using a defensive Strategy will often involve forcing the opponent to take a bad shot and then taking advantage of his poor position or letting the opposition take a shot that the defending wrestler is used to countering. If a wrestler is not prepared for such defensive strategies, one may find himself losing matches one ordinarily would win.

Another effective defensive strategy is the Counter Attack. A wrestler is very vulnerable as one starts to recover to his stance after missing a takedown attempt. Some wrestlers plan their Counter Attack. They attack as the opposing wrestler recovers back to his stance. I have seen this Counter Attack Strategy used many times over the past few years. It is a technique that the offensive wrestler needs to be aware of.

Wrestling rules at all levels require wrestlers to aggressively attack the opposition. If one wrestler does not actively pursue the opposing wrestler, he/she will be penalized for stalling. If this is the case, it would have to imply that one wrestler is attacking and the other is defending at all times. This should lead coaches and wrestlers to conclude that defense should be given adequate consideration during practice sessions. I would suggest that one-quarter of the time spent on takedowns be spent on defense and counter maneuvers. This time ratio would reinforce the importance of offense and allow adequate time for wrestlers to work on defensive skills.

Each coach may have a different philosophy about how he/ she wants to work takedown defense into his practice plan. However, there are some powerful concepts that will enhance any wrestler's ability to counter effectively.

There are four important concepts that every wrestler needs to consider when working on defense:

(1) Position

(2) Control

(3) Anticipation and

(4) Counter reaction.

Before discussing each one of these points individually, I want to outline a basic strategy for defense.

I mentioned earlier in this chapter that it would be a mistake for a wrestler to depend solely on his defense to win. It has been proven many times that the wrestler who can initiate the most effective offense will usually win the match. However, wrestlers are often confronted with the question of whether they should think defense first, and then offense, or the other way around. A wrestler must always be ready to protect himself on the feet. Therefore, I feel that leading into your offense with your defense is a prudent strategy. This would involve pursuing your opponent from a position of protection. However, a wrestler should look to create scoring opportunities and take advantage of every offensive scoring opportunity. This strategy would involve more than just getting into a good stance position and waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. A wrestler can protect himself as he/she works various set-ups or works to score from various control tie-up positions. The point here is that you must protect yourself and be ready to react if the opposition takes a shot. This strategy will allow a wrestler to react quickly on defense and take advantage of scoring opportunities.


Position is one of the most important technical aspects involved in the sport of wrestling. Often, coaches and wrestlers do not consider this very important concept enough. The entire technical aspect of wrestling is based on use and positioning of the body. Speed, leverage, strength, timing, and coordination can be improved by correctly positioning the body. All parts of the body need to be considered if you want to make the position work to your advantage. For example, the head, hands, arms, and hips are great defensive tools when used appropriately in certain situations.

When a wrestler assesses his ability to defend himself on the feet, position should be the most important consideration. Positioning can discourage the opposing wrestler from taking his best shot or render a great takedown shot ineffective. I mentioned earlier that having a proper stance is important when it comes to defending yourself on the feet. Let's take this a step further. By scouting an opponent, you will be able to figure out his Strengths and weaknesses on the feet as well as ·on the mat. Sometimes slightly altering your stance will make it more difficult for the opposing wrestler to take his best shots, or a wrestler may force a tie-up situation that will make it difficult for the opposing wrestler to use his offense. When a wrestler can make position work to his advantage, he/she will be using one of wrestling's most valuable resources.


If a wrestler can control his opponent on the feet, he/she will be better able to defend himself and initiate an effective attack. Essentially we are referring to controlling the tie-up position.

If a wrestler can control the tie-up he/she will be able to keep the opposing wrestler on the defensive. This requires that a wrestler react quicker than his opponent in all tie-up situations. A wrestler must also work to control the tie position that he/she is most effective from. Íf the opposing wrestler is constantly defending himself, he will have few opportunities to initiate his own offense. This will also allow the wrestler who controls the tie-up more opportunities to attack as the opposing wrestler reacts to defend himself.


Having the ability to anticipate an action or reaction will help wrestlers better defend themselves. It will also allow them to take advantage of more scoring opportunities. A wrestler can improve his ability to anticipate by drilling. For instance, if a wrestler works on a Head Snap set-up, he will learn about all of the ways the opposing wrestler might react to that set-up. When drilling, a wrestler should concentrate on how he might attack the weakness of the reaction.

It helps when wrestlers are able to anticipate when opponents might take a shot. This will give a defending wrestler adequate time to react and also initiate a counter attack.

The best way to improve your ability to anticipate is to spend more time studying wrestling

reactions. Situation drilling and live wrestling can also be helpful. Live wrestling will give you a much better idea of how your opponent might react to a certain situation in real competition.

Counter Action

Counter action generally takes place after the opposing wrestler has taken a shot. Counter actions involve reacting to an attack and using specific counter techniques. The best way to improve your counter action is by drilling specific counters to specific takedown techniques.. An important aspect of counter action is to try to stay one step ahead of your opponent. For instance, if the opposition takes a shot, the defending wrestler must react to the shot, then continue to improve his position before the opposing wrestler counters his counter reaction. The wrestler who is continually able to improve his position first will probably win the situational contest.

Defensive Strategy

In this next section on defense on the feet, I will be discussing some more specific ideas about how to make the good defense work to your advantage. These concepts and tactics are very effective. If a wrestler spends time working on these tactics in practice, they will work to his advantage against many opponents. I would like to reemphasize that defense by itself is not a wise strategy and that the wrestler who initiates the most effective offense will usually win a match. However, there will be certain situations where smart defense will pay off. On many occasions, when there is only a short amount of time left in a period or in a close match in which you are ahead, it might be wise to use some smart defense. Another Situation would be if one wrestler is clearly overmatched by his opponent. If the overmatched wrestler can keep the score close, he/she will have a better opportunity to win in the end.

Using smart defense does not imply that a wrestler needs to stall during a match. I am speaking more in terms of limiting the opposition's offense, frustrating him to the point where he/she starts to make mistakes and forcing him into unfamiliar positions. If a wrestler approaches defense from this standpoint, he/she will be less apt to be called for stalling.

The first concept I won't discuss is the various lines of defense. This concept is based on using position and various body parts to frustrate and prevent the opposition from effective takedown Shots.

The first line of defense should be a wrestler's head. The head is a useful tool for blocking your opponent out or preventing him from taking shots. Generally, the placement of a wrestler's head will determine how successful he is in getting past the opposition's arms and finishing his takedowns. The defending wrestler can use his head to force the attacking wrestler's head into an ineffective position. By doing so, he may be able to block a shot or prevent the offensive wrestler from taking a shot.

Using the head as a defensive tool requires that a wrestler leads with the head as well as the hands. Keeping the head lower than the opposition's head and to the center of the body is usually the best blocking position. Using the head works best when it controls the position of the opposing wrestler's head. This frustrates the opposition and forces him to take a poor shot.

If a wrestler leads with his head, he must protect it. The Head Snap is one of the most effective takedown set-ups. Your opponent will look to snap the head if he feels that you are out of position or that a head snap will open up a takedown opportunity. If a wrestler uses the head to block out, he must keep his eyes on the opposition and be ready to prevent or react to the head snap.

The second line of defense is the hands. The hands and arms are the most useful part of the body when it comes to defense. The hands can be used to block, control and initiate offensive maneuvers.

The hands should be kept towards the center and out in front of the body. The hands can be used to control the opposing wrestler's wrist, arms, or head. The hands can also be used very effectively in controlling tie-up situations.

A wrestler must use his hands to prevent the opponent from securing his best control positions. This will require that he react quicker than the opposing wrestler and work to control the positions that will limit his opponent's offensive opportunities.

The third line of defense would be the elbows and arms. The elbows are useful in blocking the opposing wrestler's shot. This is often evident in a Collar Tie situation or when the opposing wrestler shoots in on a Double-Leg Tackle. Blocking with the hands, elbows, or arms can be a useful defense.

The upper part of the arms can be used to block out or be used in controlling various tie-up

situations. The arms are most often used when a wrestler defends himself with the Whizzer. The Whizzer is one of the most effective techniques for defending against all types of leg attacks.

The fourth line of defense is the hips. The hips are the part of a wrestler's body that should be protected the most. If the opposing wrestler can gain control of the hips, he will most likely score a takedown. The hips are also the part of the body that can be very useful when defending against leg takedowns. Bumping with the hips or using them to maneuver the opposition into a weak position can be a very effective defensive strategy.

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