MMA Fan’s Guide to Grappling: Judo

This series is meant to help MMA fans understand what the different grappling backgrounds actually mean, and was inspired by a question posed on…

By: T.P. Grant | 10 years ago
MMA Fan’s Guide to Grappling: Judo
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

This series is meant to help MMA fans understand what the different grappling backgrounds actually mean, and was inspired by a question posed on Reddit. The series started with a look at American Folkstyle (NCAA) wrestling, one of biggest sources of talent, and now we move on to a largely untapped source of potential fighters – Judo. And untapped in both women’s and men’s MMA as unlike many other grappling arts, women have a strong presence in Judo.

Brief History: Judo came from the Japanese art of Jujutsu, which was used by Samurai and combined grappling and striking techniques. In extreme close combat Samurai would take down armored enemies, when opportunity presented, with an array of trips and throws. Once the dominant position was attained, the victorious Samurai would quickly dispatch his victim with anything from his sword to the fallen man’s own knife. Despite translating as ‘art of softness’ Jujitsu was a desperate art of survival that used anything at its disposal including, but not limited to, blades, chains, biting, eye gouging or just pure brute strength.

But when the Emperor Meiji took power and phased out the Samurai, Jujutsu almost disappeared during the rapid westernization of Japan during the Meiji Restorations. A jujutsu student named Kano Jigoro took the many different styles of Jujutsu and unified all the techniques that work on the basic concepts of leverage and momentum rather than strength, speed, or weapons. His school, the Kodokan dojo, became the home of a new style of Jujutsu known as Judo.

Kano believed that the best way to keep the art relevant was to incorporate the idea of sport and competition into it, and so under his guidance Judo was practiced as both martial art and sport. It grew as a sport and in 1964 Judo was included in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In 1972 Judo was adopted as a full Olympic sport.

Summary of Rules: Judo’s rule set has historically provided a mix of standing, positional, and submission grappling. A judo match can be won in a number of ways, the most common one being by throw. A perfect throw where an opponent lands flush on his or her back is scored as an Ippon, which ends a match. Imperfect throws are scored with different points, some which can add up to an Ippon, others that serve as tie breakers. Judo matches can also end by pin, but an opponent must be held down flat on his or her back for a full 20 seconds to score an Ippon in that method. Finally, matches can end by submission, but only chokes and armlocks are permitted. No neck cranks or leg locks are allowed in Olympic Judo.

Judo used to be very open when it comes to rules regulating ground work, submissions and takedowns. Some schools of Judo keep to this tradition – Kosen Judo and Kodokan Judo still incorporate a great deal of ground work and variety of takedowns. But current competition rules are greatly limiting modern Judo athletes. Judoka are given seconds to work on the ground after a throw before they are stood back up, but that is slowly changing. In a recent rule change Judoka are not allowed to grab the pants or legs whatsoever, eliminating many takedowns.

Strengths: The good side of Judo’s very limiting rules is that it forces Judoka to assume an upright grappling stance, which transitions very well to MMA. Also Judo grip fighting is very fast, and almost can resemble striking at times. As a result of this Judoka’s footwork tends to translate well to a boxing stance and they tend to have good hand speed when they learn how to strike.

What Judoka truly excel at is takedowns. They are masters of keeping their balance and subtly manipulating the balance of their opponents. Once in the standing clinch, Judokas are very dangerous and have a wide array of ways to take fighters down. While these moves are practiced in many other martial arts, there are only so many ways to throw a person on to the ground, Judoka specialize in the standing clinch position. Most fans of grappling think of the iconic hip toss when they think Judo and that is very much a strength of many Judoka. (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) (Gif)

But that is just the beginning of their technical arsenal, they also have a great number of leg blocks, trips, reaps, and wheels. (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) And they also make use of foot sweeps which are tricky little balance moves not often used in wrestling. (Gif) (Gif) (Gif)

On the ground it is a mixed bag for Judoka. Under the current rule set competitors can get away with very little ground grappling ability, but some Judoka do excel in this area. Generally speaking all Judoka are versed in pins and have good, heavy top pressure when working from the top. Judo does involve some guard play, so Judoka are familiar with positional grappling, passing guard, and moving to dominant positions. Some Judoka, because of the limited time on the ground, are excellent at attacking quickly for certain submissions, such as Ronda Rousey and the armbar. (Gif) (Gif) (Gif) Good submission hunters in Judo are excellent at attacking in transition or creating an opening for a submission.

All-in-all Judo provides an excellent base of the basics of ground grappling, stance, and then a wide array of takedowns for an MMA fighter.

Weaknesses: The first, and biggest, challenge of transitioning from Judo to MMA is the lack of the gi to grip for the Judoka. Now many Judo players do train no gi to some degree, but the complete lack of no gi Judo competitions means that training is often infrequent for the serious Judo competitor. The lack of gi grips and the leverage they create can radically change how some throws are done and change almost nothing about other takedowns, so how much it impacts an athlete depends on their Judo game.

Another big change is the removal of many of the rules limiting takedowns. Again some Judo black belts are very well-versed in double and single defenses (Gif) but their removal from competition means that the average Judoka is far less comfortable dealing with them than even a moderately experienced freestyle wrestler. So Judoka in MMA range from being able to easily stop double legs, to looking like wrestling novices when someone shoots in on their legs.

Finally ground grappling – we covered the good above but lets get to the bad. Even Judoka who are fairly good on the ground can have some very bad habits from the rule set of competition Judo. First, their instinct to avoid a pin means they will go belly down when they are taken down and give up their back rather easily at times. (Gif) And the quickness of Judo ground work means that some will specialize in one part of ground fighting but ignore others. The result being that a Judoka may shine in one aspect of ground grappling but find themselves technically outgunned in another and be forced to fall back on nothing more than grit and determination. (Gif) Often submission defense falls by the wayside for competitive Judoka as all they have to do is stall for a few seconds to be granted a stand up. Finally the lack of leg locks leave Judoka very vulnerable on the ground. Again, some Judoka do learn leg locks, but generally speaking they aren’t as experienced as other submission grapplers.

Notable Practitioners both in and out of MMA (Click for Highlights): Ronda Rousey, Karo Parisyan, Rick Hawn, Dan Camarillo, Tadahiro Nomura, Hector Lombard, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Teddy Riner, Kayla Harrison, Masae Ueno, Georgii Zantaraia, Masahiko Kimura

Video of Grappling Art:

Judo highlight (via TheMythTheMagic)

Judo / Wrestling Throws and Trips in MMA – Volumes 1-5 (via TheJudoMMA)

To share thoughts go to the comment line below or reach out to T.P. Grant on Twitter or Facebook. Special thanks to BE Judoka Ananse for his help with this one!

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