Coming from a more traditional/striking focused background, I always struggle with the advice of not staying so upright in order to be better positioned to defend takedowns (single or double leg). I recently watched this video about using knees to counter takedowns and it really spoke to my style, since it allows me to maintain a stance better suited to striking and use striking to defend.

This made me wonder though since from the UFC matches that I have watched, the more common strategy against takedowns seems to be the sprawl rather than using knees, in fact I'd say I've seen the flying knee used more often against a takedown attempt than a stand up knee, but of course I could be wrong.

My question than is, generally is a sprawl or knee more effective against takedowns? Or at least which should I focus more on when practicing? I understand that knowing both is better, but if I needed to choose one over the other which would it be? If it is the sprawl still I would appreciate some insight into why this is generally more effective, especially considering that as a striker I would think using what I'm best at (striking), would be more effective than trying to improve at sprawling since any grappler will always be better at this than me, including getting past my sprawls.

  • Related: martialarts.stackexchange.com/a/10154/6440 - since knees are below 50% even among extraordinary strikers and sprawl is a very basic and easy to learn technique...what is your measure of "effectiveness"? May 1, 2021 at 18:00
  • @PhilipKlöcking that question does take a very different approach but surprisingly the answer has many relevant points to this one. What do you mean by "knees are below 50%"? In terms of effectiveness I guess what I'm looking for is for a striker, which of the two should they focus on first and the reason's behind this.
    – FrontEnd
    May 2, 2021 at 12:43

1 Answer 1


There is nothing special about the knees. If you want to defend leg shots, I do not think the choice between knees and sprawls makes sense.

The wrestling view of defense has multiple layers:

  1. hands
  2. elbows
  3. head
  4. hips

Your defense starts with the hands. If you can defend with those, you do not need the later layers. Likewise if you can defend with the elbows, you don't need your head (probably not a good idea if striking anyway) or hips. Sprawling is done with the hips, once you have failed to defend with the hands, elbows, and head. You can maintain distance using your hands and elbows the same way you do with your knees. If you would normally use your hands against grapplers, then just use your hands. I suspect the reason the Muay Thai fighter prefers knees against low attacks is because he wants to keep his hands high in his normal fighting stance.

When I say defense starts with the hands, I do not mean you are trying to punch someone in the head in respose to them are shooting in on your legs. I mean that you put your hand between yourself and the opponent to maintain distance. If you can reliably hit someone as they are changing levels and moving in, you certainly should do that, but most fighters do not have this level of coordination or reflexes.

That said, for you on the knees versus sprawl question, I recommend learning to sprawl, simply because I think it would teach you more in a know your enemy sense and provide a different perspective even if you don't end up using it. Leg shots and sprawls are the basics of wrestling; you should at least get some practical experience so you can judge for yourself whether your reflexes are fast enough to defend a leg shot with whatever your preferred techniques are.

  • Some great points. I would have thought generally knees (or even mid to low kicks) would be better at catching takedown attempts than punches since takedowns are often attempted while an opponent is throwing jabs or other head punches. The uppercut I would think is better suited to this but would need to be used often enough to deter takedown attempts. Knees (and low-mid kicks) start lower than uppercuts and so are a faster option, and even if being used offensively rather than to deter takedowns, have a much better chance at connecting with a ducking foe due to the trajectory of low to high?
    – FrontEnd
    May 3, 2021 at 12:17

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