Interview With U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro, Part 2

Part II of this guest interview by Dan Pedersen, aka BE reader judonerd. Tomorrow Jimmy and Dan will return and add their analysis to a Judo…

By: Bloody Elbow | 12 years ago
Interview With U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro, Part 2
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Part II of this guest interview by Dan Pedersen, aka BE reader judonerd. Tomorrow Jimmy and Dan will return and add their analysis to a Judo Chop featuring Yoshihiro Akiyama. Kid Nate. Part 1 is here.

Pedersen: So like you mentioned, now you’re seeing more and more Judokas transition from the Olympic dream to MMA to make a living. You’re seeing it at an earlier age, earlier in the career. Now there’s a wide variety of schools and opinions out there in Judo, some more traditional, some more liberal. Do any of these athletes run into flack from their schools or community because they left Olympic training for MMA? Any issues with sponsorship or being shunned?

Pedro: Well, the truth is, you just can’t compete at the highest level in both. You have to commit to one or the other. So it’s not likely that someone would be trying out for the Olympics in Judo and pursue an MMA career. It’s just not a reality. If you want to be good at MMA, then do MMA. You want to be good at Judo? Do Judo. You can’t pursue both simultaneously.

We recently had an athlete, Rhonda Rousey, who used to train in our program out here in Boston. She was a silver medalist in the World Championships. She was Junior World Champion. She took bronze in the 2008 Olympics. She was starting to make a comeback in Judo, and then decided: You know, Judo’s not for me-I don’t have the passion for it anymore, and I’m going to go try MMA.

And I have no doubt she’s going to be very successful in MMA because she’s a professional athlete. She’s a competitor, and she’s just tough as nails. She will become a name in MMA, but as the national coach in Judo, I had to tell her, ‘I’m not happy you’re doing MMA because it tells me you aren’t serious about Judo anymore.’ You can’t do both together and be successful.

Pedersen: I heard somewhere that you actually manage the careers of a few Judokas in MMA. Is that true or just a rumor?

Pedro: Yeah, we have an athlete by the name of Rick Hawn. He was on the 2004 Olympic Team for Judo. He competed in Athens and finished 9th. He’s been doing MMA full time since 2008. He trains out of my gym, he trains out of Renzo Gracie’s in New Hampshire, and he trains out of Mark Delegrotte’s Sityodtong gym to learn stand-up. And he’s now 8-0 in MMA. I do manage him. He’s about to compete in Bellator on October 21st against Levon Maynard. That’ll be his Bellator debut, in Philadelphia. Provided he wins that fight, he will fight in next season’s Welterweight tournament for Bellator.

Again, he’s a professional Judo player who is serious about all aspects of the game, whether it’s nutrition or sports conditioning, strength and conditioning, his MMA stand-up game, his Jiu-Jitsu game-he’s becoming a very well-rounded fighter, and he’s tough as nails. You know, we’ll see how far he makes it. Again, he’s a little past his prime, he’s 34 years old. But, he’s still young enough to have a few good years left and be a force for Bellator.

Pedersen: In addition to Rhonda Rousey and Rick Hawn, are there other Judokas we should be keeping an eye out for?

Pedro: You know, I don’t know who all is pursuing it. We’ve just seen Manny Gamburyan fight for the WEC title the other week against Jose Aldo. Manny is a kid who used to compete in my division in Judo back in the day. He’s still young, maybe late-twenties at this point. But he was a tough Judo player. Up and coming Judo-wise? I don’t know who is competing, to be honest.

Akiyama is somebody who was on the world team for Japan back in 2003. He made it to the semifinals of the World Championships, and should have actually been in the finals. He blew it with about three seconds left-the German threw him for ippon with three seconds on the clock, and he ended up finishing fifth in the 2003 Worlds. Akiyama is sort of the new foreign superstar for the UFC and just had a heck of a bout with Chris Leben and should be fighting again very soon. But he is a true Judoka, a legit Judo player who was very skilled and talented.

Pedersen: Now, a question about Akiyama. It seems like there is a difference in Judo competition-which is five minutes long and you go hard for all five minutes-compared to MMA, where you are doing three rounds, sometimes five. Do you think that’s a major adjustment in conditioning and pacing for Judo players. It seems like Akiyama sometimes has problems later on in his fights. Is that a difficult thing to adjust to or not?

Pedro: Yeah, I think he needs to… I don’t know what his conditioning program looks like or who is looking after his career… but first and foremost Akiyama is very muscular. He’s somebody whose muscles are going to require a lot of oxygen, so if he doesn’t train properly there will be a tendency to tire early.

There is a difference in Judo. In Judo we fight all of our fights in one day, so it’s not unlikely to have six, seven matches in a day. But you get a good hour to two hours in between your matches. So you start fighting at 9 in the morning and you aren’t done until 9 at night sometimes, in the finals. So it is a little bit different dynamic. It’s obviously something you have to focus on and train for.

He did tire in that fight, there’s no question. He dominated the first round. Second round he started to fade, but I thought he won [the 2nd]. Third round, he was barely surviving and ended up getting caught. But yeah, there’s no doubt, if you want to be successful in MMA, you have to train specifically for it.

In the full entry Dan and Jimmy discuss recent rules changes in Judo, Judo vs Jiu Jitsu, and Jimmy breaks down a throw used by Nate Diaz against Josh Neer. 

Photo via

Pedersen: OK, stepping away from MMA for a second. This is something I’m interested in hearing. What do you think about the “Judo vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” debate? Especially in situations online, you see individuals from both sides throwing insults at each other and arguing about which is better. Where do you think this whole argument came from, and where do you stand on it?

Pedro: That’s a good question. It probably just come from, you know: Who is better, his guy or your guy? Like I said, back in the late 1800s, Judo fought Jiu-Jitsu in what was basically a team fight, Judo vs Jiu-Jitsu. Back in the day, they lined up [Jigaro] Kano’s students, who were the founders of Judo, against the Jiu-Jitsu team. And they fought. And I don’t remember the rules that they fought under. But at that time, the Judo guys beat the Jiu-Jitsu guys. They cleaned house. And because of this fight, Judo became the national sport of Japan, and [became] the martial art that all the military and police officers train in.

(Note: Read more about the infamous 1886 police tournament and early Judo/Jiu-Jitsu rivalry and see also the original rules of Judo.)

Today, I think it just stems from, you know, “Which is better for MMA?” I think both are excellent. They both have their strengths and they both have their weaknesses. A Judo fighter who is a serious competitor is going to be extremely explosive and aggressive in a fight. And they’re going to be able to take down-without shooting singles and doubles and exposing themselves-be able to take down most people with leg trips and throws and things like that.

But their ground game isn’t as solid as BJJ practitioners, because that’s where BJJ guys make their living. [BJJ players] spend 90% – 100% of their training on the ground. So clearly their skills on the ground are going to be better than a Judoka’s, because Judo players spend at least 50% of their time on their feet. And in a lot of Judo dojos they spend 70% – 80% of their time on the feet. So just by sheer number of hours training, a Judo player is going to be better standing, and a BJJ player is typically going to be better on the ground.

That doesn’t mean every Jiu-Jitsu guy is going to submit every Judo guy. That doesn’t mean every Judo guy can take down every Jiu-Jitsu guy. But realistically, that’s where the two sports are today.

And because the rules of Judo have changed, and a lot more emphasis is put on throws and takedowns, trying to make it more spectacular for people to watch, the ground game in Judo has almost gone away. Now, that’s a place where I won a lot of my fights internationally. On the ground. I was schooled from a very young age to spend a lot of time doing ne-waza, the ground game. And I’ve rolled with a lot of Jiu-Jitsu guys and some of them are very, very talented-there’s no doubt. And I think if a Judo person wants to be good in Judo, they should spend time learning Jiu-Jitsu. On the flipside of that, there’s a lot of Jiu-Jitsu guys that could become much better fighters if they spent some time training Judo. Specifically on the gripping game: How to hold your opponent and nullify their techniques just by where you grab. Also by training some of the throws and takedowns that don’t put Jiu-Jitsu players at risk.

Pedersen: You mentioned the changes in rules in Judo. Recently, there has been a controversy, depending on who you talk to, about a rule change implemented by the IJF. Can you explain what this rule change is?

Pedro: It was at the beginning of this year. In an effort to differentiate Judo from all of these other grappling arts-USA grappling, you have wrestling, no-gi grappling, etc.-in an effort to differentiate itself from the others, Judo implemented a rule where you could no longer attack the legs. You couldn’t do a single-leg, you couldn’t do a double. You can’t do any pickups where you reach down and grab the leg first. You have to engage with your hips and make a full, committed attack. Only after you make the committed attack can you reach down and grab a leg to support that initial attack.

And it’s direct disqualification if you grab the legs. So it created tons of controversy, because spectacular throws like the fireman’s carry, or like the Te Guruma — where you reach in and grab the leg and pick them up and slam ‘em-those techniques are no longer allowed in Judo. So people that made their living from that game obviously were very disgruntled.

But it does get back to some “pure” Judo. At the most recent World Championships, Japan-as a result of those rule changes-the Japanese, who have some really traditional Judo, really cleaned house. I think they had 10 gold medals out of 16 weight classes. So it obviously impacted the game tremendously, because there was a point in time where, on the men’s side, the Japanese could no longer medal. Or had won only one or two medals, and typically bronze, at World Championships and Olympics. Now with the new rule change, they’re back to dominating.

Pedersen: Two questions about these new rules: Do you personally believe the rule changes are good for Judo the Olympic sport? And do you think they are good or bad as far as “combat effectiveness,” say in situations like MMA?

Pedro: Well, I think it’s good for the sport. I would like to see… You know, I don’t think disqualification is warranted. I mean, that’s the same penalty as punching or kicking in Judo. So reaching down accidently for someone’s leg for a technique? To be disqualified for that is a little severe. I think it should be a normal warning, a normal “shido”-four of those and you are out of the match. But for the Olympic sport? You know, there was a lot of great throws, a lot of nice Judo, at the World Championships. So I think it has improved the game… Made it sort of… less “ugly.”

As far as its effectiveness in MMA, certainly, it doesn’t help the Judo guy who goes in there against a wrestler, [a Judoka] who’s not used to someone shooting in his legs anymore or preventing that type of takedown. But the ability to throw someone with Osoto Gari or Harai Goshi-pure Judo-that will be unchanged. They will still be a force in those areas. But it does leave them ill-prepared against doubles and leg attacks.

Pedersen: OK. So, now, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become very popular in the United States, and MMA has obviously blown up in the U.S., but Judo is still very niche compared to its popularity globally. What does Judo need to do in the U.S. to increase its presence?

Pedro: I think Judo needs to follow more of a Jiu-Jitsu model, in terms of how it grows. In Jiu-Jitsu, you don’t have to be a black belt to open a school. You train under a black belt, but if you are a purple belt or a brown belt, you can go open your own academy.

In the U.S. in Judo, you have to be a black belt to run a school, or the insurance doesn’t even cover you. And a black belt has to be on the mat at all times for insurance to cover you. So Judo is not accessible enough to the general public.

Even if we had four, five people go and win the Olympics, on TV, on NBC, and those four people became superstars like Michael Phelps, and everybody wanted to go join Judo-the problem is, Judo is not accessible. There aren’t enough dojos or schools locally for people to go join. The nearest school might be hours away. Well, most parents aren’t going to drive their kids an hour to Judo when Tae Kwon Do or Jiu-Jitsu are five minutes from their home. So that’s basically the big problem right now: accessibility.

Pedersen: Let’s take a moment and look at a throw from Nate Diaz vs Josh Neer at Ultimate Fight Night 15 in September of 2008. We see this Judo throw a lot in MMA for some reason. Can you describe what it is and why we might see it so much?

Pedro: This is Harai Goshi, the sweeping hip throw, a sweeping loin technique. Basically, the philosophy of Judo is “Minimum Effort, Maximum Efficiency.” In other words, going with the flow. And in this clip, once again, you see the guy pushing forward. Walking forward. Diaz is sort of walking backwards, allowing [Josh Neer] to follow him. And he locks the upper body up with overhooks-two overhooks-and he takes his right leg and reaps the outside leg of his opponent.

But if you notice, what sets up the throw is two things: One-[Neer’s] movement is going forward, right into the direction of the throw. Two-his head is down and his hips are away. So his posture is broken here. And Diaz just throws him right up and over, ass over teakettle, beautifully. If this was in Judo? Match over. Right then and there. And a great finish here, right into side control.

When I wrestled in high school and wrestled in college, this particular technique-without a gi-was probably the most devastating and the easiest to execute. I typically did it off of a stand-up from the bottom position. You know, in wrestling, where you stand up quickly from the bottom and the opponent is trying to keep you down. And typically, like in MMA here, when a wrestler is behind you and trying to get you to the mat, the first thing they do is push you. Push you forward. They drive on you in order to lock their hands. This drive from the opponent allows you to reach back and throw them with this type of movement.    

Pedersen: Is there anything you want to add for anyone that might be reading this interview, wanting to know more?

Pedro: Yeah, absolutely.

Any MMA fighter who would like to learn Judo, to learn from us — we run a national Judo training center 
in Wakefield, Massachusetts by the name of USA Judo Team Force. Any MMA fighters that would like to train or get pointers and tips on how to utilize Judo in MMA-we would be happy to take them on as a project and help them out.

Pedersen: Ok, Mr. Pedro, once again, we really appreciate you putting aside the time to talk with us, with Bloody Elbow. I know you’re really busy, so thanks again for your time.

Pedro: Hey, my pleasure. Good luck.    

World Champion Jimmy Pedro is one of the most decorated judo players in American history.  Jimmy is world renowned for his judo expertise, coaching ability, and training methods. A newaza (ground techniques) specialist, Jimmy currently owns and operates Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield, MA and teaches clinics and seminars throughout the country.

If you are looking for a fun and unique way to increase membership and retention at your martial arts studio, motivate and inspire your students, incorporate grappling into your current curriculum, or add to your students’ judo skills, book Jimmy Pedro for an appearance or seminar today. For inquiries, please send an email to    

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