The Lost Art of Mat Awareness
Get Your Movement Mojo Back
Movement is a critical part of wrestling, as poor footwork can be the difference between being able to sprawl effectively or being taken down right from the start. But footwork alone is not the only factor to consider when navigating the mat. It's not just a matter of what to do, but where to do it.
Knowing where to hit your moves on the mat can be a huge boost to your game. Here are a few key concepts to understand when using your footwork on the mat:
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Concepts to Consider
Circle and Move to the Center
If you've been a competitive wrestler for a while, you'll often hear the referee call out, "Work to center!" It makes sense from an officiating standpoint, as constantly stopping the match due to being out-of-bounds can be cumbersome. Use that to your advantage.
By keeping the action to the center, either by cutting your opponent's angles off or using tie-ups to move them, you can prevent your opponent from using the border to stop the takedown. This means more room for you to work from the takedown to riding.
Using the Boundary
Conversely, you can use the outer circle to your advantage both offensively and defensively. If you are on the outer edge of the mat (your heels close to the line), taking your opponent down successfully means that you not only have the center to work in, you have the entire mat to use. That puts a lot more pressure on your opponent to move and try to escape.
On the other hand, if you are on bottom position working towards the boundary, moving to the outside while your opponent is riding forces a reset back in the center. This reset can you the element of surprise, that moment of explosion off the whistle that results in a smooth stand-up or switch. This is a catch-22 as some officials may deem it “fleeing the mat” if you’re simply moving to the outside instead of having your opponent move you out. Be cognizant of that distinction.
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Drills to Improve Mat Awareness
Stance and Movement
Normal stance and movement drilling is a staple in wrestling, especially for beginners. Where the drill becomes more cohesive with mat awareness is implementing the drill in a smaller space rather than free roaming. If your mats have multiple circles (like most folkstyle mats have in a school mat room), get low and mimic your movement like you would in a match but with the stipulation that you can only move within the circle. If you’re using a different mat, mark off boundaries with tape or something visual and move as you would normally. Once you feel yourself getting close to the edge, pivot and move back to the center.\
Double-leg to Single Finish By the Edge
Earlier I mentioned the concept of working to the center and finishing the takedown in the middle of the mat. There will also be times where that's unavoidable and you finish by the edge. What this next drill does is redirect your opponent mid-takedown towards the middle.
Set up your double-leg takedown like you normally would, but intentionally close to the edge of the mat. As you move your opponent close to outside, switch to a single leg (preferably running the pipe) on the inside leg. For example, if you're hitting a double leg with your head on your opponent's left hip, you're going to finish the single on the left leg. Cover the body and work your rides and pins. Here’s a good demonstration from Cary Kolat on the move itself.
Ride In, Escape Out
With a partner, start in referee's position close to the edge (either in a circle or with man made borders). The objective is two-fold for you both:
- The bottom wrestler will work to move outside of the mat.
- The top wrestler will work to move their opponent towards the center.
Begin the drill with no time limit to get used to the stipulations, then add a time limit to add extra urgency. Note that the objective is not for the bottom wrestler to "flee" the mat and create bad habits, but rather to force movement to the outside and cause a reset.
Knowing how to move on the mat is beneficial, but knowing where to move separates normal wrestlers from champions. Go over these concepts and drills by yourself or with your team and watch your scoring improve dramatically.