Global Training Report Archives 1997-2016

 

 

 

Global Training Report

 

Presents

 

Cross-Training Judo 

for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Fujisawa Judo Club, Japan

By Roberto Pedreira

 April 2012

 

Prologue

Most of the regular customers of Kane-ei (金榮) a small izakaya near the south exit of the JR Tokaido line station, in Chigasaki, Japan, have permed hair and look and talk like characters out of a Takeshi Kitano movie. That's because the characters in Kitano movies are based on guys like them. Guys with tattoos, missing fingers, and not infrequently large scars across their faces, evidence of defeats--or possibly victories--in inter-gang street brawls. 

Once in a while, people who aren't yakuza or otherwise working in the mizu-shobai stop into Kane-ei. Me for one. And  Saiin Tamio for another (picture below). Although he could certainly pass for a yakuza, based on appearance alone, it turned out that he was a printer by trade, and a 5-dan judoka. "How can I avoid to be thrown by a good judoka?" I logically asked him. 

Logically, because as a jiu-jitsu guy with no judo background, and training in Japan with lots of jiu-jitsu guys who do have judo backgrounds, I was concerned about getting thrown. Having been thrown repeatedly by a short 2-dan judoka with a jiu-jitsu blue belt, whose specialty was seionage (over the shoulder throw), I wanted to be able to avoid that in the future.   

Saiin-sensei's answer was, "if you want to avoid being thrown, first you have to be thrown one thousand times". He invited me to come to his judo club in the nearby town of Fujisawa, 8 minutes away by train, where he would elaborate. I happily accepted, hoping he was exaggerating about the "one thousand times" part.

Training at Fujisawa Judo Club

The difference between a dojo and a club is in the formality and rigidity of the practice routine, and the cost. A club is a place where guys who already know their art get together to train. Beginners are welcome too, but their instruction is very individualized and spotty compared to a dojo. Or to put it another way,  it is more efficient, since they are taught what they want to learn, and they decide what they want to learn as they go along and discover what they need to be able to do to throw and pin, and avoid being thrown and pinned--which is what judo is all about. A judo club will tend to have relatively many older guys who have been in judo for a very long time, know a lot, and are very good at a few things. They might have been national champions in the past. Some continue to compete. 

The Fujisawa Judo Club (FJC) meets twice a week (Wednesday and Friday) from 8 to 9:30. On a typical night there would be between 8 and 10 people training. One or two (including me) would have white belts, the rest black belts. Some of the black belts have been training for a short time, one or two years. Most however have been doing it for 20 or more years. Saiin-sensei, for example, started when he was15 and has been at it, consistently, for 37 years. Kids who are still in primary school (grades 1-6 in Japan) are awarded different colored belts to encourage them to be ambitious (koujoushin [向上心] o mottaseru tame no mono). According to  Kodokan sources, it is each dojo's choice as to which colors the belts can be. Brown belts (representing 3rd through 1st kyu) are given to middle school students (grades 7-9). When a middle school judoka turns 16, he can exchange his brown belt for a black one. The first (hence beginning, "sho", level (or "dan", ) of black belt simply signifies that the wearer knows and can apply the basics of judo (approximately like a blue belt in jiu-jitsu). 

For an adult student, there are no particular techniques that you have to excel at to earn your sho-dan . One technique is all you need to know, if you can do it well enough to throw other sho-dans with it in randori, Saiin-sensei says. In reality, however, it's difficult to be able to consistently execute one throw against sho-dans without knowing the other basic throws that you can threaten with and thereby set-up the first throw. It typically takes about a year to get to this level, often less--six months is enough, according to Saiin-sensei, if you train hard. One white belt at the FJC showed up one day with a new black belt (he is on the right in the picture at the top of this page. How long had he been training, I asked him? "Eight months", he answered. 

People arrive at the club when they want to and do their own warm-up, which is usually just light stretching. There is no formal starting time, although the doors are always open no later than 8:00. A typical training session consists of about 80-100 repetitions of uchikomi (20 each of four or five of the basic throws), and then randori with 3-4 different people. The randori is not timed, and continues until one person wants to stop.  At 9:30, or when no one wants to do any more randori, the session is closed, everyone lines up, kneels in seza, closes their eyes and meditates. They then bow to the front, bow to the sensei, bow to each other. Finally, everyone grabs a broom and sweeps up the floor. 

The first half of the training session closely resembles BJJ training in Brazil, minus the bowing, kneeling, and sweeping, at least since the mid-1970's. It isn't a coincidence. Two of the guys training at FJC are Brazilians of Japanese descent from Saõ Paulo, Flavio and Alexandre (picture below).  They had never heard of jiu-jitsu, they said, which wasn't hard to believe. When I was in Saõ Paulo in 1997, the only Paulistas I met who had heard of jiu-jitsu were the ones I trained with at the Top Form Jiu-jitsu academia of Prof. Ricardo Kowarick. Most Paulistas have heard of jiu-jitsu by now. Flavio and Alexandre are two of them.    

A good dogi (judo gi) costs about $190 in Japan, not including belt. I didn't have $190 to spare but had three jiu-jitsu kimonos so I just wore one of them. Everyone was curious about the design and wondered what kind of dogi was it? Saiin-sensei already knew that I had been to Brazil for jiu-jitsu so he mentioned that. Some of the guys had heard of Gracie Jiu-jitsu via Rickson's fights with Takada and Funaki and thought it was a kind of wrestling with punches and kicks--vale tudo, in other words. I tried to explain that it was more like judo newaza (ground techniques). 

But for judo guys, newaza is mostly osaekomi (pinning). They'd generally ask me if I wanted to do newaza, and I'd generally say "betsu ni" (not particularly), but they'd often insist anyway. For my purposes, that was counter-productive. Not because they were clueless on the ground. On the contrary, they knew what they were doing on the ground, and they were good at it. It just wasn't what jiu-jitsu guys do. What judo guys do and what they are good at is holding you down for 25 seconds. That scores ippon and they win the match. They obviously have no incentive to risk their match winning hold-down by attempting a submission. 

Some of the older guys do in fact know some sophisticated submissions, the same ones you can see on old  judo training films. There is nothing in theory to prevent the average judoka from learning and perfecting all of the old judo submissions--assuming that they can find a qualified teacher and training partners who want to wrestle on the ground. Both will be hard to find in most judo clubs Most hobbyists do not have to option of personal training with Isao Okada. 

Judo's current single-minded obsession with throwing has left a niche that is being exploited by Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It will stay that way until judo's competition rules change to allow and reward more extensive ground work. That isn't going to happen as long as the Olympics provide the model. 

Younger guys who are training for competitions are probably going to be focusing on a few high payoff match winning stand up techniques. Knowing three techniques well is going to benefit them more in the near term (upcoming matches) than knowing 65 techniques less well. Few matches are won using techniques other than the basics anyway, like seionage and uchimata. The older guys however have had plenty of time to soak up techniques and are under less or no pressure to win matches, and so are much more likely to be interested in knowing and using a wider variety of judo techniques. 

There may be and probably are some judo guys (who haven't studied jiu-jitsu) some where today who can execute juji-gatame or sankaku-jime correctly, or for that matter any submission. They don't seem to be common however.  What might have seemed adequate technique before doesn't necessarily seem adequate now that the Brazilians have invented dozens of escapes and counters for every move. These (probably) didn't exist back when Kimura and his colleagues were kicking ass at Tenri University in Kyoto. Or to put it in another perspective, judo guys who are good on the ground (apart from pinning) are as common as jiu-jitsu guys who can throw well. 

I finally decided to fork over the dough for a gi, hoping that they'd think I was more into stand up and less into newaza. The tactic worked. They still like to go to the ground if they can but they no longer assumed that that's what I wanted. Since they like to train on the ground,  I use the opportunity to try to fix my weakest point, which is attacking guys who turtle up and wait. They do this constantly, so I have abundant opportunities to work on my relogio (clock) chokes (originally a judo choke, known as koshi-jime (hip choke) in Japanese). It is also easy to anticipate when ground fighting will start--any time I turn my back to attempt a seionage, that is when ground fighting is likely to begin. (Ordinarily, I would never attempt this kind of throw, but since it is judo training......). Now if I, the jiu-jitsu guy, wanted to play from the ground, this wouldn't be difficult, although in judo you can't take the fight to the ground unless you do it by way of an attempted throw, which makes it a less certain that you will be in the position you want when you get there. But obviously, if you are a jiu-jitsu guy cross-training at a judo club, it doesn't make much sense to spend a lot of time on the floor.

Useful Lessons Learned

Luckily, Saiin-sensei had been exaggerating. I didn't have to be thrown a thousand times to learn how to avoid being thrown. I almost instantly figured out how to avoid being thrown. But I soon learned that most of the things I was doing were illegal. For example, one very effective way to avoid getting thrown is to cross grip your opponents collar--left hand deep in opponent's left collar for example. This will make it almost impossible for him to throw you. Probably for this reason, it is illegal to take this grip for more than 6 seconds. You can do it, but you have to attack from it (within 6 seconds). Otherwise it is considered stalling and you will be penalized. If the judo guy naively thinks he can't be choked while standing up, and lets you insert the other hand, then he may be in for a surprise. Using this grip, you can also throw him with a te guruma (hand wheel), which apparently is a legal throw but not part of the standardized Kodokan curriculum. Once you have the hand in the cross collar, use it to push his head out. If his right leg is forward, close to you, scoop it up and lift, while bringing his head down (steering wheel motion).  This will only work if his near leg is close enough to scoop up, and the more advanced guys will never let that happen. Even the sho-dans will wise up to it after a few trips to the floor.  

Keeping your hip way back is another thing that works well, but if done to excess would be penalized as stalling. The best way to avoid penalties for stalling is by attacking aggressively. This is also a good way to get thrown, but that's life. Ideally, you practice enough, get better, and can attack without getting thrown. But even in the most optimistic scenario, you can get thrown.

There are a lot of other ways to beat judo guys but on closer inspection they usually turn out to be illegal. One more example: when the judoka throws you with a big momentum throw, you simply have to hang on and roll inside, and invariably (like 9 times out of 10) you will roll him and end up on top. Wrestlers avoid this by "throwing for distance", but in judo you are supposed to let go when you are thrown, in theory so that you can do your ukemi safely, but it seems to this observer that the actual reason is so the thrower won't get rolled by his own momentum. In any case, hanging on is viewed as "cheating", or so I was told. The rules make it irrelevant anyway because once your back hits the the floor, you lose the match by ippon. It doesn't matter that you rolled and mounted him--you already lost the match.  

Another way to beat judo guys is to be better than they are at their own game. That won't be easy when they've been working on their game for 10-30 years and you've just started. 

One thing that makes it a bit easier is uchikomi. In fact, the most useful part of judo training, from the perspective of a jiu-jitsu fighter who wants to avoid being thrown, is letting other guys do their uchikomi on you. If you did nothing else, your defense would get pretty good. The reason is that being the uke (receiver) for uchikomi gives you a lot of experience seeing and feeling the approaches and set ups. Doing it with your eyes closed is even better. When you feel your opponent's shifts in position before the throw, you can automatically adjust to them. (Incidentally, holding the pads for a striker offers similar benefits.)

My primary objective in judo training was, above all, not to break anything. My second and closely related objective was to avoid getting thrown by seionage (which, while classified as a hand technique, is actually an over the shoulder throw), and to a lesser extent, over the hip throws like harai-goshi. Uchimata is classified as a leg technique but in terms of how you hit the floor, it is similar to harai-goshi, so I wanted to avoid that as well and any others than would put me flat on my back from my opponents hip level. I didn't mind osoto-gari and the other leg techniques. They would cause you to lose the judo match, but for randori, the falls are easier to take.

My third objective was to learn how to throw people. Given that there was only one other white belt there, and he didn't always come, I didn't think my chances would be good. 

I was too pessimistic. Judo throws are taught in stages and the first throws anyone learns are the throws you can practice in uchikomi, such as seio-nage, osoto-gari, uchimata, harai-goshi, tai-otoshi, hiza-guruma and a few others. Most other throws cannot be so conveniently practiced in uchikomi--the sacrifice throws (sutemi-waza) for example. As you'd therefore expect, most people get good at doing the throws they practice a lot and good at defending the throws they are attacked with a lot. Conversely, they don't get as good at doing or defending the other throws.  I reckoned my chances of throwing anyone with seio-nage, uchimata, osoto-gari etc. as close to zero (which subsequent experience showed was an accurate assessment), so I decided to work on the less orthodox throws, such as ukiwaza and yokogake. They are taught last not because they are harder to do, but only because they are harder to practice in uchikomi. But as a consequence of this, many younger judo guys aren't familiar with them. 

I attempted many osoto-gari, tai-otoshi, uchimata, hiza-guruma, and even dared to risk a few seio-nage, all to no effect. My counter-throws were more successful, but there is nothing worse than stalling, and constantly waiting for other people to initiate attacks borders on stalling, in my own opinion, at least in a training environment. My te-guruma stopped working after a few weeks too. I tried tomoe-nage and it's many variations. It never worked in the sense that I never threw anyone for ippon with them (although they worked great in a different sense, in that I always pulled to guard as a result. However, I didn't join a judo club to practice my guard).    

The judo technique morote-gari, is  a type of double leg take-down, but it is typically done (when it is done at all, which is rarely) from very close up, reaching down to pull the opponent's legs out. Judo guys seem to dislike morote-gari as a competition technique because, oddly enough, it is too "easy", or so they say. They like to see people floating through the air and being slammed on the mat (even so Kimura describes using a morote-gari (双手刈り) to pull out a victory over Masayuki Nakajima in their epic battle in 1937.) Another reason may be that morote-gari is extremely difficult to pull off, since you need to have both hands free, and it is unlikely that your opponent will let that happen. I am interested in getting people to the ground. I don't mind if it looks ugly. So I attempted many morote-gari. None succeeded. Mifune Kyuzo (10-dan) demonstrates the technique in the 1955 documentary The Essence of Judo, by disengaging grips and reaping the uke's legs out with both hands. I attempted to do this. It was impossible. No one would let me be that close without having at least one and if at all possible two grips. So it was impossible to apply morote-gari from the mutual grip position that one is expected to use in randori (a match would be different of course). 

I tried to apply morote-gari like a wrestler would, from far outside, following a deep penetration step. It seldom failed. The judoka's upright rooted stance is good for defending judo techniques, but it isn't good for sprawling. In fact, they didn't really seem to be trying to defend the shot, but rather to try to land on their butt, which would avoid a loss by ippon, after which they could start newaza. It also seemed that they are so accustomed to grabbing cloth that if they missed the chance to do that, they felt the jig was up and didn't know how to use their forearms or hips for defense. But as before, I didn't really want to spend a lot of judo training time on newaza, so I stopped shooting doubles.  

I needed something else. Ukiwaza was it. At least I thought it was ukiwaza. Someone said it wasn't ukiwaza, it was yokogake. Judging from The Essence of Judo, it might actually have been yoko wakare or yoko-otoshi. Anyway, it was one of the yoko-sutemi techniques (side-sacrifice throws, as opposed to for example tomoe-nage, which is a front-sacrifice throw, or ma-sutemi), and it was working very reliably. This throw is incredibly easy to do. Basically, you are simply falling back and dragging him down with you. The tricky part is the timing and the angulation, which is necessary to end up with you, rather than him, on top. I modified Mifune's technique slightly. When he does it, he finishes on his back, which is ok in judo because he initiated and controlled the throw. But I didn't want that. I made sure to hang on to the opponent's sleeve and collar and use his momentum to pull myself up and over into either a side control or knee on belly position. 

This ukiwaza or whatever it was worked surprisingly well. I caught many people, many times with it. Surprise was probably a factor the first few times, but it kept on working. In the case of Saiin-sensei himself, it may have been that he wanted to practice recoveries because most of time he was able to land in such as way as to avoid ippon. However, it utterly failed to work on a pair of  heavy, short guys, both 3-dans, which shows that every technique has it's limits, and also that some opponents are simply too good, or too big, or both. I couldn't get their weight on one leg, without which, the technique isn't going to work. With these guys, I just concentrate on not being slammed too hard. Fortunately, as in jiu-jitsu, defense develops faster than offense and it's considerably easier to avoid getting thrown than to throw. In order to minimize my chances of taking a big seio-nage or similar throw, I deliberately make myself a bit more open to the less devastating foot throws (assisted trips, actually), such as deashi-harai and kouchi-gari. The trade-off is well worth it. You have to give to get.

An important consideration to keep in mind for anyone who wants to upgrade their jiu-jitsu stand-up game with judo cross- training is that, obviously, many of the things your opponent can't do in judo, he can do in jiu-jitsu. It cannot be assumed the techniques that work well in a judo randori will work well in the stand-up phase of a jiu-jitsu match. It is unquestionable that if you have the correct grips, and create the necessary unbalancing, and execute the movement correctly and with good timing, the opponent is definitely headed for the mat. The remaining question is what will happen after that. In a judo match, what will probably happen next is that your hand will be raised in victory. In jiu-jitsu, the fight will continue. so how the opponent lands is the critical issue, and the one that will have to be investigated through practice. A final point that needs to be made is that if your stand-up is vastly better than your opponent's in a jiu-jitsu match, he will simply pull or jump to guard, thereby effectively nullifying your throwing advantage. But that isn't all bad. Since you will know that he is going to do that you can prepare to block it. You will be on top in any case, which is generally the better place to be. And you also can pull guard if that's what you want. If nothing else, your judo superiority will provide more options for you and fewer for your opponent. Having relatively greater freedom to choose when and where to attack is always an advantage in any competitive situation.

******

It isn't about which is better, judo or jiu-jitsu. They are two pieces of a whole, two sides of the same coin, as the Kodokan official newaza tapes put it, illustrating with footage of Yamashita Yasuhiro taking his opponent to the ground and continuing with expert newaza, actively attempting submissions. Given the constraints of judo competition for mat-work, it would be surprising if anyone could pull off a submission within 25 seconds with constant and obvious "progression"--if the match was conducted according to BJJ philosophies. But that is the point. In judo, mat-work must be set-up by throws. You cannot initiate newaza without making a serious attempt to throw. A good throw will, in principle, open the door to a relatively speedy submission on the ground. That is, assuming that the judo stylist has done his (or her) newaza homework. 

Sadly, many have not. But happily, some have. Perhaps not accidentally, the most successful Brazilian judokas (medalists in Olympic or World Championships) invariably have had multiple teachers/coaches, and all have had one or more jiu-jitsu professors in their lineage (the one exception being Chiaki Ishii, (the first Brazilian Olympic medalist (bronze, in the 1972 Munich games), who learned his judo in Japan before immigrating to Brazil in 1964).

To take one example (best known among contemporary jiu-jitsuists) Flavio Vianna de Ulhôa Canto. Flavio owns the ground in judo competitions, and his newaza is highly regarded by jiu-jitsu players. Flavio's judo teachers were Geraldo Bernardes, Paulo Caruzo, Leopoldo de Lucca, and Alfredo Dornelles.  Bernardes learned from Teophanes Mesquita, Antonio Vieira. Leopoldo de Lucca. Mesquita learned from Yoshizawa Nagashima and Augusto Cordeiro. Cordeiro learned from Ryuzo Ogawa. Dornelles learned from Bernardes. De Lucca learned from Haroldo Brito, who trained briefly with Carlos and Helio Gracie and in turn taught Oswaldo Alves, who taught Rolls Gracie, and according to informed sources, contributed more to modern BJJ than any other single individual, with the possible exception of Carlson Gracie, who also trained, briefly, at Haroldo Brito's academy. (For details about Alves' and Carlson's debt to Haroldo Brito, see Choque 3).

A similar convoluted arvore genealogica (lineage tree) could be drawn for all of the top Brazilian judokas, the point being that jiu-jitsu and judo have always co-existed in Brazil (and prior to about 1954 were not really separate other than for the purposes of marketing and promotion of professional "fights" and lessons) and the best athletes have always learned both. Recall also that many of the "jiu-jitsu" professors were not Gracies or affiliated with them, such as Yassuiti Ono, Takeo Yano, among others. For more information about this topic see "Choque: The Untold Story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, by Roberto Pedreira. 

Finally, it might be noted that cross-training is a "mentality". Flavio (Canto) regularly trains with jiu-jitsu people, like Royler Gracie. He also trains (or did) wrestling with Darrel Gohlar and the Brazilian Top Team guys.

(c) 2001-2012, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.

Originally published 2001, 2nd revised edition April 2012.

Revised September 17, 2012.

Revised May 13, 2015.

Revised February 11, 2017.

 

Also of interest: BJJ legend and judo mestre Oswaldo Alves talks about Rolls Gracie, and the judo roots of BJJ, and much more. 

 

GTR Publications

 

 

 

 

Choque 1, 3rd Edition (June 1, 2016)

 

 

 

Choque 3, 1961-1999

(Updated June 1, 2016)

 

 

 

 

Choque 2, 1950-1960 

 (Updated June 16, 2016)

 

 

 

A1SZprint.jpg (145051 bytes)

Jiu-Jitsu in the South Zone, 1997-2008 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Editions are also available

GTR Archives 1997-2016