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.