Judo for BJJ

Judo and BJJ are closely related both historically and technically. Recently, we’ve seen a number of experienced BJJ folks join our Judo classes. So why do Judo if your primary sport is BJJ?

First and foremost, Judo winds up focusing on more kinds of submission than BJJ. That’s just not entirely obvious at first.

In Judo, you can win a match by holding someone down for 25 seconds in a pin. There is no comparable score in BJJ. Holding someone down long enough is a submission when they can’t get out. Lots of clever folks have done the math that shows that if you can’t get out in the first 25 seconds, you aren’t very likely to get out at all.  In effect, pinning in Judo recognizes a submission in fact whether the guy on the bottom agrees to tap or not.

These days, we practice Judo on nice, safe, supportive mats that cushion the force of the fall. Technology has improved and given us more and more supportive surfaces to fall on. Back in the bad old days though, getting thrown hard could knock you out. The idea of the match ending score for a throw is that the winner could or would have knocked out the loser if the throw had landed on a bare floor. Throwing cleanly with speed, force, and control is a submission too.

Judo can expand your BJJ game both mentally and technically. Specifically:

  • Judo Throws and Takedowns – Judo has a wide range of throws and takedowns that can put your opponent right where you want them to set up a submission. Do we need a better example than Ronda Rousey who uses her strong Judo throwing skills to set up match ending armlocks?
  • Judo’s Speed of Play – Judo is on TV in most of the rest of the world and that has forced Judo rules to emphasize speed of action to keep the viewers interested. Your BJJ game will need to pick up pace substantially to compete in Judo. BJJers who make the transition to Judo find that the capacity to change match tempo is a competitive advantage on the BJJ mat. High speed requires building mental clarity and confidence to improve your game.
  • Synergy of Ground and Standing Work – Standing and ground work both leverage the principles of body mechanics to gain control and submit your opponent. BJJers often have a solid understanding of those mechanics. That understanding can be rapidly applied to throwing. Applying the lessons learned in mastering throwing often transforms and improves ground work fundamentals too.

But let’s be real: it takes some adjusting to get used to Judo. We’ve learned some lessons about adjusting to Judo from a BJJ background.  Here are some of the complaints and challenges we’ve heard.

  • Judo narrows the range of techniques available— Leg locks, shoulder locks, ankle locks and other joint locks anywhere other than on the elbow are forbidden by the sport Judo rules. Cross facing or pulling guard from a standing position are also penalized. Recent rule changes have excluded single and double leg takedowns and any throw that starts off by grabbing the opponent’s legs. These techniques are still part of Judo, just unavailable in a sport competition.BJJers often bemoan the loss of these options (as do a lot of judoka too.) Judo is an international sport. Many years ago, the Judo community decided that one set of rules should apply to everyone regardless of age, size, expertise, or physical ability. Olympic athletes and elementary school kids share the same set of rules. The one size fits all approach has eliminated techniques that have been demonstrated to either risk injury to opponents, or promote dangerous or negative situations. Many of the dangers aren’t likely to affect world class athletes, but they may well put the child judoka at risk who can’t perform at the top levels. Judo has pursued a “one big tent” strategy and it has worked so far. Judo is the second most practiced sport in the world after soccer.
  • Judo permits players to give up their back — Generally BJJ scores points for taking the opponent’s back and players instinctively avoid giving up their back. Many Judo throws involve twisting the torso to throw and that twist can expose the thrower’s back. Worse, some judoka will “turtle up” on all fours and volunteer their back.  While good Judo prioritizes an attacking position as much as BJJ, players do not score points for a back mount position in a Judo match.
  • Judo interrupts ground work— Judo competition rules encourage rapid, visible progress in groundwork. Match referees can stand players up if neither is “making progress.” BJJers often find that the pace of action that they are used to when rolling with jujitsuka needs speeding up for Judo. Judo expects players to continue to attack every 20 seconds or so. Jujitsu strategies of waiting for an opening can be penalized in a Judo match. Judo emphasizes creating the opening rather than just waiting for it. Partially due to the influence of TV spectators and sponsors, the Judo match pace is much faster. But Judo throwing techniques are simply bigger and faster than many effective groundwork technique. That speed has a big impact on the pace of the Judo match.

It only takes careful tuning to prepare your ground game for Judo. But you’ll discover a whole new world of possibilities in the range of Judo throwing techniques. Come try a few sessions and discover for yourself.

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