Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Judo and MMA

This is my first affiliate post with the leading MMA blog Punch Kick Choke. Although I am a fan of the UFC and MMA in general I had not considered doing anything about Judo with an eye to the MMA world. Mainly because I’ve only done a little bit of no-gi grappling and MMA training and have never had an MMA fight, although its something I may do in the future.

So I thought I’d focus this inaugural post with a little exploration into how I see the relationship between Judo and MMA. Focusing on the role of Judoka in MMA, what Judo techniques are applicable to MMA and why some Judoka are resistant to MMA and Judo being used in MMA.

One of the most asked questions about Judo and MMA is why Judoka don’t seem to have been as successful or achieved as high a profile as people coming from other combat sports like Wrestling, BJJ and Muay Thai. I’m not really interested in doing a style vs style dick measuring contest. Wrestling is a great form of grappling, BJJ is also great and has revolutionised the public perception of ground work and influenced a lot of other grappling arts and Muay Thai is also fantastic martial art.

However, as many of you will be thinking the above mentioned martial arts have produced many more elite level MMA practitioners than Judo, why is this?

Why Judoka struggle in MMA

First I would say that I think that the careers of Anderson Silva, Shinya Aoki, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and Fedor Emelianenko are going rather well and that they haven’t done too badly for themselves in MMA. Of course that’s a bit disingenuous, while these people all hold a minimum of a black belt in Judo and some more, to claim them as Judoka is a bit silly. Most would say their main stylistic influences come from other arts like BJJ and Muay Thai. Let’s not get to caught up in the Judo/ Sambo thing either, most Russian Judo and Sambo clubs see little distinction between the two arts and practice both together and my Russian Judo friend refers to it all as simply ‘wrestling’, make of that what you will.

So there are ‘Judo people’ who do very well in MMA. However, those with a ‘pure Judo’ background often seem to struggle.

I think the answer to this lies in several structural issues. The main one being that the MMA promotion that the overwhelming majority of us English speakers watch is the UFC. The UFC as an American franchise draws a large quantity of its fighters from the American population, unsurprisingly. Although Brazil is also a major ‘supplier’ of fighters. However, the American nature of the UFC has a relevance to Judo. America is a minor Judo nation, it is utterly dwarfed by the big Asian powers of Japan and Korea and the European big beasts of Russia, France, Holland and Germany. Also America has a very small practicing Judo population with a small elite talent pool. By contrast America has a massive wrestling talent pool, a world class wrestling talent development framework and world class coaches across the country. It is then unsurprising that an American MMA promotion like the UFC produces many more fighters with a wrestling background than Judo one. If you look to MMA promotions in Japan, Russia, Brazil and France you will find a much higher profile of Judoka being successful, because all these countries have in place what America has in place for wrestling, but not Judo. It’s interesting to note that some of the most famous Brazilian fighters have Judo black belts – Silva, Silva and Nogueira – and that in Brazil Judo is one of the most popular sports, more popular than BJJ.

Another is that Judo is not seen as a gateway sport to MMA, nor is the sport culturally associated with MMA. If you practice BJJ or Muay Thai you will almost certainly train with someone who trains in MMA or maybe even is an MMA fighter. Also many people train BJJ and Muay Thai with an eye on using them to go into MMA. This means that those who practice these arts are already consciously thinking about their sport and MMA. This is very rare in Judo, very few people walk through the door of a Judo club, at any age, looking to use it as a springboard into MMA. Also those who progress through its ranking structure and competitive hierarchy hardly ever have the intention of doing it to enter MMA competitions. It’s either to get better at Judo or in the elite competitive sense to win a continental, world or Olympic title. Simply put a lot of ‘pure Judoka’ aren’t that interested in pursuing an MMA career.

So that the real talent in Judo invest all their peak years in Judo and only consider a transition to MMA after having achieved all they can in the sport and not relishing the prospect of continuing living in penury as most competitive Judoka in the West do. There are some notable exceptions like Satoshi Ishii and Ronda Rousey. Ishii left the sport acrimoniously after a very short career and an Olympic gold and Rousey left the sport without achieving her full potential settling for a World Silver and Olympic bronze. It’s safe to say Rousey could have achieved a world title and perhaps even Olympic gold if she had stayed in the sport. Nevertheless the majority of ‘pure Judoka’ coming into MMA have done so at the end of their athletic peaks and careers and after failing to achieve the titles they sought. So the talent pool for Judoka entering MMA tends to those entering at the end of athletic careers and apart from the superhumans like Randy Couture very few can cope with the world class young athletes in the UFC and other promotions when they’re past their own athletic peak.

An argument often advanced is that the transition from the gi dependent world of Judo to the no gi world of MMA  makes Judo techniques less effective or harder to apply. I don’t put much stock in this argument as in my experience as Judoka it’s much easier to apply Judo techniques from a  no gi clinch than from a standard sleeve and lapel grip. However, I do believe that it’s much harder to apply Judo techniques against a good wrestler or other no gi grappling specialists, so Judoka facing good wrestlers often struggle to gain the control they need and the wrestlers have a good sense of balance or base that makes them hard to throw full stop.

A crossover issue I find much more convincing and which plays into the athletic peak argument is learning striking. Most Judoka will have done no striking so when looking to transition to MMA are utter noobs at striking, combine this with declining athletic prowess and the result is a very sub par striker tacked onto a declining Judoka. Also because striking is the obvious weakness their camps tend to be tailored to bringing their striking up to scratch ASAP. The result of this is that often Judoka go into an MMA contest having done nothing, but striking for 6+ months and try and have a striking match with someone, they invariable lose. Very few are able to shift that mentality and intelligent use their limited striking to enable them to use their Judo.

So after that barrage of excuses, what aspects of Judo are useful to a BJJ, Muay Thai or MMA practicioner?

Judo for MMA

The obvious thing that someone from a non-Judo background wants is the sexy throws.

Everyone would love to be able to do this in an MMA match:

Or have a highlight reel like this:

Most Judo throws are designed to leave the thrower standing or at worst have them finish in a hold down, usually some form of side control. This can be quite advantageous for MMA as it allows you transition from the clinch to a dominant ground position to strike, seek submissions, transition to the full mount etc...

The most common Judo throws seen in MMA are:

Other good throws include

You can adapt these throws to a variety of grips – overhook/underhook, whizzer, head and arm wrap etc..

However, it is vital that you have an understanding of the fundamentals of the throw. Otherwise you will just be muddling through unsupervised, do the throw incorrectly and risk injuring your partner.

If you want to learn Judo you need to do so with a qualified instructor and if you like you can supplement, but not replace that, with my blog.

Resistance amongst Judoka to MMA

It is, unfortunately, not uncommon to find a certain resistance to MMA in the Judo world. In part this is down to the nature of people posting on the internet asking to be taught a complex technique which takes hours of practice over an internet message board without ever setting foot in a dojo. Quite rightly this kind of attitude pisses people who have dedicated years of blood, sweat and tears to Judo off. However, there are also some philosophical issues, perhaps unique to Judo that cause resistance to MMA from some Judoka.

Fundamentally it is because of this:

These are the Japanese characters for Jita Kyoei one of the two founding philosophical statements of Judo alongside Seiryoku Zenyo. Its relevance for MMA lies in its English translation of ‘mutual benefit and welfare’.

One of the founding principles of Judo was that it would concentrate only the techniques and training methodologies that would allow the maximum of force, realism and combat with the minimum amount of damaged sustained by either party. This also fits into a wider philosopher of creating better human beings through Judo and taking care of others.

From this viewpoint the knockout hunting and ground ‘n’ pound of MMA that many of us MMA fans enjoy so much is an anathema.  Because it violates all the principles of Jita Kyoei, there is no mutual benefit and welfare in a KO.

However, to pin it entirely on the shoulders of Eastern philosophy would be a mistake tied into it is the wide popular perception of MMA as human cock fighting, thuggish, brutal and uncivilized. Which although untrue is a widely held popular belief from which Judo coaches are not immune. Combined with the Jita Kyoei philosophy, I think, the roots of resistance to MMA amongst some coaches can be found. However, this is far from all Judo coaches. My Judo coach is a former multiple national champ and Olympic squad member and avid MMA fan. I regular go to his to watch the UFC and he is even at the age of 40 trying to line up an amateur MMA fight.

So be careful not to tar all Judo coaches with the conservative brush, but be aware of why some think the way they do.

I hope this has been an interesting read, although I appreciate its been a long one! I will be looking to post the next blog update within a fortnights time.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Yo, I actually have trained Jeet Kune Do for the last school year, and did for two years a couple years ago too, both from Dan Insanto schools. So I know what I'm talking about when I say Jeet Kune Do is overrated amongst hardcore martial art fans. Its a dope martial art for sure, but the idea it is the ultimate or "best" martial art is ridiculous.

      Another thing about Jeet Kune Do is the fact it is like MMA in that it is centrally about taking what works and discarding the rest, it just has a different base since Bruce Lee started with Wing Chun and trained in Boxing, JUDO, Fencing, Kali, and a couple styles of Kung Fu (while MMA is usually a combination of Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, and Jiujitsu). The best JKD schools don't teach just JKD (at the one I go to now I also train in Muay Thai, BJJ, and Kali, and the last one I went to I also trained in Muay Thai, Silat and Kali).

      Anyway, on topic, great post. Very interesting to read about, I've always wondered about why we don't see more prominent Judoka in MMA since it seems to be an effective martial art. Its probably the number one style I've always wanted to try out but never had the chance to, its a shame most MMA places don't also offer it.

  2. Did you even read the post Karter?

  3. nice post, shame the JKD crowd got here so quick though.

  4. Karter stop being silly. This is an article about Judo and MMA not Judo and street fighting.

  5. Karter Mahole said something funny.
    If he could read it out, I'd use it as a ringtone.

  6. Its about respecting art, style and the objective of the student. This is a well writen educated blog and as a judoka and hapkido student I am sick of all the my art is better crap, each style has it's strenghts and weaknesess and as we see in many mma rings there is no real defence to a well timed attack no matter what discipline it originated from. My advice is to enjoy the art you decide to do and enjoy learning from where you can.

  7. These are some really, really great points. As a Judoka, but also a lover of MMA and no-gi grappling, I have often thought on ths subject (please, BTE forgive me for posting a link to one of my own articles, but I also wrote a post recently about how Judo needs to change if it wants to become a bigger element of MMA: I had not however, considered the point that you made about the fact that there are just far fewer Judo players in the US than there are wrestlers. You're absolutely right.

    As for those who may feel that Judo is less effective in a fight: bah. Just like wrestling or jitz, balance is key. You drop someone on their head (especially if you come down on top of them, read to start inflicting damage), and it is damn effective.

    I think it comes down to the people. Those who brought Judo to the states were steeped in tradition. Much of the element of what has brought BJJ to the states had already embraced concepts of MMA. Give it a generation and I think you will see it be different. When the next generation of instructors spent their youth watching MMA fights.

    1. beautifully said...i respect you

    2. Very intelligently written post; judo is quite applicable in MMA fighting, and just as formidible as BJJ which, by the way is the old form of judo taught to the gracies-most world class judoka has no interest in the MMA most of whom abide in Japan, Korea & Europe; i've been doing judo for over 35 years & Muay Thai for 12 years which introduces striking to my arsenal;judo & muay thai were made for each other & anyone well trained in both arts can be quite effective/dangerous in MMA

  8. This article is correct and sums up why judo popularity for mma is not the main talent pool, I am a judoka and have also precticed Vale tudo from the early days. (over 40 now). My club teaches judo & sambo for Vale tudo situations. Techniques need modification and some do not work in this environment, however other (most banned in judo competion are excellent).
    Judo is very effective in MMA and the Street, however it does need to be combined with a striking art.

  9. As a bouncer, mma fighter and judoka, I can say Judo does work if you know and practice all the techniques including techniques not allowed in competion as mentioned above.
    Jeet Kune Do is also good for self defence, but Karter does sound like he is talking the same old rubbish and believing the fairy tales of some kung fu masters. I wonder if he has actually had a real fight and seen how strappy they actually are?

  10. Karter remember its the fighter and the brain and heart inside him that wins fights the rest makes it look good

  11. i train judo, i have been for about a year and a half now and i love it but heres my two cents. judo is a very effective maritial art a skilled judoka can drop 99.9% of the population very quickly but judo is hard, it takes skill and countless hours of work to get that throw to become second nature but its all worth it when your techniques start working and you find your self throwing bigger and bigger people every week. also mma floors are padded which means that judo throws which would normally knock people out on any surface other than mats do nothing but get you in a better position for submissions. and secondly tyhe fighters wear nothing in mma which is very unrealistic but i suppose it will come in haddy if you ever get attacked by some naked crazy lol :D

  12. In my dojo we practice what my sensei calls "throwback" judo. Forgive the pun. We draw heavily on OLD films and books. We do NOT train for tournaments. We spend plenty of time on techniques not allowed in tournaments. A few of us have used Judo in fights, and the fights were over in seconds, without major damage to the perpetrators, who usually outnumbered the judoka from our dojo. I am not experienced in fights myself, but our black belts include a former bouncer and a former Army Ranger officer, who has been in hand-to-hand combat literally hundreds of times, with lives at stake every time, and while he uses a real eclectic toolbox of fighting techniques, his main emphasis is on Judo. It is notable that he trains at our dojo when there are so many "competition" dojos he could go to.

    Compare boxing: Very effective, but boxers do better in street fights if they prepare a little; otherwise they can be vulnrable to "dirty" techniques, including fairly crude kicks, and also tend to break their hands if they are used to punching only when their hands are taped up and enclosed in gloves.

    Judo, like boxing, can be a superb fighting art, but not so good if you don't train properly.


  13. Excellent post with good insights & great video examples.

  14. I think, the roots of resistance to MMA amongst some coaches can be found. However, this is far from all Judo coaches. My Judo coach is a former multiple national champ and Olympic squad member and avid MMA fan. I regular go to his to watch the UFC and he is even. UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz

  15. I’m not really interested in doing a style vs style dick measuring contest. Wrestling is a great form of grappling, BJJ is also great and has revolutionised the public perception of ground work and influenced a lot of other grappling arts and Muay Thai is also fantastic martial art. UFC 159 -- Jones vs. Sonnen

  16. Excellent post, thank you!

    As a judoka for last 12 years, (earlier even little bit more karate, boxing few years) i must comment that resistant to MMA among judokas, when/if there is that, is because we want to train judo, not to show that it works in a fight. That's something that people know after few weeks of training:)

    You said about principles, ‘mutual benefit and welfare’. It's true, but I think many judokas do not take it seriously if thinking about participating mma. But still these principles are most vital reason for judo to success. Those principles make judo universally accepted.

    Why we want to train judo, not to go see if we handle mma-fights? Of course, punching etc is different, and also we should then restrain developing our judo, if we are about to train new skills. But judo also takes time to learn, and I want to say after next 30years of combat sports that I can do well something, wanna say it bravely!

    I want to learn skills of judo, not to use my time to something not so "skill needed" arts. Okay, this is hard said, I know! But i do believe that MMA's origin is in thinking "which art is most useful in the streets?". People wanted to find out the realism in the different fighting methods. And i also believe that in real "real life situations" if I get to back mount, it's over then after few punches to neck. No more arts or skills needed, but a damn good lawyer. So in a wierd way "the realism stops into back mount"; and I do not consider context of MMA very relevant.

    So, I value the skills learned by time. Skills are more important than punching from behind, that can everyone do. (The trick is to get back mount, of course).

    Of course persons are unique, and I admit that I would like also train in a safe way (over 40 years now).

    So, judo offers:
    Effective fightingmethods
    Safe training, = You can take as hard as you can with very low risk which is not possible in boxing etc.
    Universally accepted principles.

    This is not mentioned to harm anyone, I respect all combat sports as the best possible way of living, but this is best for me.

  17. So, if I am in my early 30's, half a year of BJJ under my belt, a couple of months of various striking training at 60%; what would you recommend for me between taking up Judo and continuing with BJJ, if all I want is to be safer on the streets, not compete in anything?

  18. Now I have a clearer perspectives about judo and mma.

    Combat sports are not really easy to understand and be accepted. There are really many arguments about this kind of sports.

    Its good to read and carefully understand this field of endeavor. After all, judo and MMA trainings are both consist of art and discipline.

  19. People watch MMA because IT IS HUMAN COCK FIGHTING, not because it isn't. I hate the mamby pamby way MMA people try to wash their hands of what they;re actually training in/watching. In what other "sport" can sub part athletes that couldn't hack it anywhere else become champions? Tito Ortiz can't cut enormous weight, weigh in the day BEFORE the fight to fight smaller men, do nothing but take them down with his size, hold them there and punch them in the head until they give up anywhere but a human cock fight. He is a B level fighter, but provides a perfect example of why it is human cock fighting. The BJJ artists aside, be real about what it is.

    1. Matt, you make disingenuous points. A) MMA is not "cockfighting", it's human fighting at its safest raw form. You're making a trite point from the '90s, the technical level of fighters today makes them true martial artists.

      B) Because fighters fight within weight classes there isn't an overwhelming weight difference. If Tito or whoever puts on five pounds after the weight-in, the other fighter, IN THE SAME WEIGHT CLASS, has that option too.

      C) This post was about Judo and MMA, not what MMA is or is not.

  20. I think one of the biggest advantages of Judo in MMA is that people aren't expecting to get thrown from the clinch. They're expecting a level change or strikes and then they end up getting tripped and thrown.

  21. I would like to see more kane basame (leg scissors) attempts in MMA, especially given the natural transitions to inverted heel hooks and knee bars from there. Ryo Chonan showed years ago against Anderson Silva that this can be done, and it's not even a miracle move - people hit this in training in clubs that don't ban the leg scissors.

    Earthbound Freestyle Judo

  22. Great post! I may be generalising here and I don't mean to offend anyone but I have seen many wrestlers try out mma and just not take to it either. I think it's great to focus on what you're good at!

    Loren P | London Fight Factory

  23. Enjoyed reading the above article. I really appreciate your work. This post is really handy and useful, I am sure people will get help from this. And thanks for sharing.
    Hapki Do and Judo, IL

  24. including reasonable comments here... aikido clases