Global Training Report
Judo Club, Japan
By Roberto Pedreira
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
otherwise working in the mizu-shobai stop into Kane-ei. Me for one.
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
I happily accepted, hoping he was exaggerating about the "one thousand
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.
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,
初 level (or "dan", 段) 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
I needed something else. Ukiwaza was it. At least I
thought it was ukiwaza. Someone said it wasn't ukiwaza, it was
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
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
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
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
(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.