An article by Mark Mullen
Most students of Brazilian jiu-jitsu are aware that the origins of modern day BJJ came from Japanese judoka Mitsuyo Maeda who was one of the earliest of Jigoro Kano’s members at the Kodokan.
Since those early days, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has evolved significantly and now Olympic style judo and sport BJJ have diverged into their own sports.
The rules governing IBJJF competition differ from those of Olympic judo requiring different strategies by the competitors and consequently a different emphasis on techniques.
One of the things I learned most when I visited the original Gracie Barra in Brazil was starting each class in standup position to provide training time in standup techniques.
Unfortunately, many jiu-jitsu schools that are more sport oriented, devote little time to training the stand up portion of grappling, starting sparring only from the knees.
Before we go any further, we do have to acknowledge the inconvenient reality that judo training does carry a higher risk of injury. Bodies being propelled through space coming to an abrupt stop on the mat will eventually result in some injuries. The emphasis in judo on ‘high amplitude’ throws (compared to the lower stances and takedowns of wrestling) also contributes to the injury rate.
But even without a catastrophic injury, the repeated falls also wear down older, less resilient bodies. Many judoka have confessed to me that they took up brazilian jiu-jitsu as the emphasis on groundwork was more forgiving to their joints. Learning how to safely breakfall also mitigates the chance of injury while grappling standup.
Some of the major differences that will dictate how you approach your judo for Brazilian jiu-jitsu (for purposes of the article, I will concentrate on the standing aspect of judo for BJJ).
The major differences between Judo and BJJ standing work include:
- Judo’s primary way of winning is to throw the opponent flat on their back – winning by ippon. The same technique in BJJ is a score of 2 points and doesn’t end the match.
- Gripping rules / leg attacks – judo has many strict rules against defensive and stalling grips and leg attacks are forbidden. In BJJ nearly any grip – except for fingers inside the sleeves are permitted.
- Match restarts – in Judo if a competitor is not successful with a total commitment throw, they frequently stall in the turtle position and the referee will restart the match in standing position unless their opponent mounts an effective attack that results in progress on the ground.
- Allowed ground time – in an attempt to keep the action as high as possible, judo referees give little time on the ground before restarting the match. Judo newaza has less time for strategy on the ground than BJJ competition.
- Osaekomi scores. In Judo you accrue points the longer you pin someone on the ground. In fact, if you hold someone in a recognised pin for 20 seconds, then you score an Ippon and win the match outright. In BJJ, holding an opponent in side control is not a method to earn points – unless preceded by a guard pass.
The current rules of Judo contest state that if no forward progress is made in newaza, then the referee may stop the match, and reset the players in standup. Knowing that if a throwing attempt fails, that the match will likely be restarted standing in a neutral position, the thrower can try much more risky throwing attempts that may end in a disadvantaged position if the attempt goes wrong.
BJJ players have no such referee intervention to rely on when their opponent is on their back after a thwarted throw!
This leads to a tactical difference between the 2 arts: BJJ players must be more aware that certain throws that you turn your back on your opponent (ex. haragoshi, seionage) are in the high reward / high risk category.
Stated simply, you had better think twice before attempting that hip throw under bjj rules because if you miss it, your opponent ends up on your back with you underneath!
I started in judo and eventually earned a brown belt. Since then, the majority of my judo has been within the context of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and my judo has developed several distinct differences and now differs markedly from what you might encounter in a traditional judo dojo.
In my adaptation of judo for BJJ I primarily concentrate on “ashi waza” – the leg trips that leave you in a safe or neutral position if you miss the attempt. These included ouchi gari, ko ouchigari, kostogari, sasaetsurikomi ashi, all of which also have no-gi variations
Judo throws for BJJ general guidelines:
- Be aware that there are a wider variety of grips you can use in standing BJJ than in Judo. Many grips – both offensive and defensive – are prohibited under sport judo rules. For example, holding the same side sleeve and lapel grip for an extended period of time to set up taiotoshi. I have found that when I discuss my judo for BJJ with some judo blackbelts they may automatically respond: “But you can’t do that in competition!” I have to remind them that those rules exist only in sport judo, not in most other grappling rule sets.
- Concentrate on throws that are low risk / do not leave you in bad position if you miss them. For example, try kosotogari – the trip that Lyoto Machida often uses – is effective but doesn’t leave you vulnerable if your opponent steps out of it.
- Learn to deal with stances that are overly defensive. Most BJJ matches will have both competitors in a bent over defensive posture that would be a defensive penalty in judo. Secondly, double leg takedowns are popular in BJJ but prohibited in the current judo rules, so the BJJ player must use a lower stance to defend against that attack. Judoka in contrast use a very strong upright stance.
- Realise that judo involves lower number of techniques, with a great emphasis on combinations. Even top sport judoka specialize in just 3-5 throws that they know inside and out, and then develop combinations between them. For example, most judo throws and trips have classic combinations where the opponent defending the first attack will leave an opening for the 2nd technique. To quote Samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, author of A Book of Five Rings: “You must research this deeply.”
Judo training benefits BJJ players in other ways too…
For example, the balance and sense of opponent’s weight and momentum can really improve your ability in sweeps from the guard as well.
Also there is the idea of action-reaction combinations (I discussed this idea in an article about a private lesson with inventor of the modern half-guard, Gordo, after returning from training in Brazil).
The single most significant thing that I took from those privates with Gordo was the use of the action-reaction principle when executing even the most fundamental techniques.
In order to throw a bigger, stronger opponent, you must make use of their momentum to break their balance (known as kuzushi in Japanese).
After training more standup, the BJJ player will develop a sharper sense of momentum and the balance of their opponent and find automatically, their sweeps on the ground improve!
I asked World Champion Xande Ribeiro at a seminar how he felt training in judo improved his BJJ. Instead of naming specific techniques like I assumed, he said that the attributes of explosiveness, gripping and balance/ momentum were the most important things that carried over for him.
So how do you get more judo training in? Of course you could start training at a judo club, but you could also use the open mat times at your academy to start matches from standing and drill a couple of throws as part of your warmup.
You want to look at judo as the cousin of BJJ (instead of a completely different discipline) that is part of your training to make yourself a complete grappler.
Mark Mullen is a frequent contributor to Grapplearts and Stephan Kesting’s first training partner in BJJ Black belt in BJJ and a Brown Belt in Judo (Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ)
Click here to access a video lesson on the most powerful position for sweeping your opponent from the guard.