The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 1

I bid thee welcome to the first installment of a series dealing with the benefits of having a background in Judo. Right of the bat I would like to warn you that this is not intended to demonstrate Judo's superiority to other grappling arts, or martial arts in general. Comparing and contrasting will, at times, be unavoidable, but the focus of my posts is how this specific background can aid you as a potential Mixed Martial Artist.

The world of combat is full of grappling arts. It is a given that just about all human societies in history have developed some form of wrestling, from antiquity to the industrial age and beyond. Some arts have evolved, adapted, some have kept close to their roots and others have disappeared altogether. In terms of grappling, there are certain arts that have become more popular and better known, as is the case of Greco-Roman Wrestling, Sambo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling, but there are many others of lesser fame and equal cultural worth, such as Scandinavian Glima, Korean Ssireum, or West African Wrestling.

Among the better known forms of grappling is Judo, a Japanese martial art developed in the 19th century by Jigoro Kano, who systematized various styles and techniques belonging to traditional Jiu-Jitsu, the unarmed battlefield art of the Samurai. Since its birth, Judo has gained a great deal of international prestige, developing into an Olympic sport and being practiced by millions of men and women world-wide. For a detailed history of the emergence of Judo, I recommend two very fine articles that can be found right here on BE: nottheface's work and T.P. Grant's piece (both articles are part of respective mind-blowingly awesome series, so go check them out if you haven't already).

The discussion throughout this series will be centered around a few key aspects of Judo: the Ukemi Waza, physical conditioning, throws, trips, takedowns and counters, and lastly, ground fighting. Today's post is more of a warm-up, focusing on the first two items mentioned, Ukemi Waza and conditioning. I hope you will find all this worth the read and urge you to keep in mind that I do not consider myself in any way, shape, or form an authority on Judo, and am merely formulating conclusions based on my personal (somewhat empirically limited) experience with this martial art.

Practicing Judo is a tricky endeavor. Being an Olympic sport, almost all clubs fall under the governing body of the International Judo Federation, and are focused on developing quality athletes for the purpose of competing within the boundaries of the well-established world-wide circuit of tournaments and cups. This makes it so that Judo is less available to the casual individual, who only seeks to study the art for its own sake. Most countries only have a handful of non-IJF affiliated clubs, which can make it very discouraging for someone interested in casually picking up this martial art. Coupled with the fact that one typically begins training Olympic Judo in his early teens, the sparsity of privately-owned Judo clubs makes this very popular martial art rather less casually accessible than others, such as Karate or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Getting down to business, however, the first thing a novice judoka (i.e. someone who pratices judo) learns in terms of technique is the Ukemi Waza. For those of you unfamiliar with the term "Ukemi Waza", it roughly means "break-falling techniques", dealing in how to develop spatial awareness and be able to take a fall without having all your limbs broken. This is done by way of drills such as simulated falling from multiple angles, rolling, doing cartwheels, jumping over obstacles (usually other pupils) and rolling out as you land, and even practicing correct falling technique by having someone throw and trip you within the allowed framework.

The Ukemi Waza is the foundation on which one begins to fashion himself into a true judoka, as it takes away from the inherent fear of falling or losing control of your body, which is a frequent occurrence on account of this being an art based mostly on taking your adversary's footing away from him and landing him on his back. Furthermore, since judokas are human, errors are bound to appear when practicing throws, trips, etc., especially during the early stages of one's development. All it takes is a moment's worth of fear or hesitation while you're in the air, be it in practice or during an actual match, for injury to creep up. And so, with the danger of breaking a limb or even your neck ever present, one must always put sufficient time into learning how to walk away from a fall in one piece, regardless of rank and level of skill.

Here's a comprehensive video if you're curious as to how Ukemi Waza drills look like:

Kodokan Judo - Ismeretterjesztő Film (via hegep)

In Judo matches, getting put on your back by an opponent's correctly executed technique (offensive or counter) lands him an ippon (automatic victory, sort of like the KO in striking arts). As such, judokas are taught to avoid this circumstance as best they can, while at the same time making sure they do not a) injure themselves and b) open themselves up in case the fight continues on the ground. From an MMA standpoint, the benefits of the Ukemi Waza are threefold:

  1. as stated earlier, it prepares the mind to react better and faster in situations where you briefly lose control ("Fear is the mind-killer", as Frank Herbert would put it);
  2. it helps prevent injuries (such as the broken arm suffered by Shogun Rua in his PRIDE bout with Mark Coleman);
  3. if one gets taken down and does not wish to engage in ground fighting, he is more adept at quickly getting back to his feet, or, in any case, getting out of danger faster than the average fighter.

Another element that simply cannot be neglected is physical conditioning. While it is true that Judo means "The Flexible Way" or "The Soft Way", and has a huge philosophical component attached (as is the case with virtually any Japanese art), it is a highly physical endeavor, involving a great deal of anaerobic effort and it takes a huge toll on the body. As such, proper conditioning is paramount, and usually involves raising the bar for anaerobic tolerance, making the most of one's fast twitch muscles and developing good strength (especially core strength), stability and balance.

A distinction has to be made, obviously, in terms of the resources a judoka has available. A member of an Olympic team will most likely have a specialized strength and conditioning coach, like one would expect to find at an advanced MMA gym, and much in the same way as it is in team sports like Football or Soccer. Training at the top is similar to other sports, having specific training sessions dedicated to conditioning, and separate ones for practicing techniques and sparring. However, your average judoka, in addition to having a more relaxed training schedule and fewer hours in the gym, as it were, only has his regular coach's advice and instruction (of course this tends to vary from club to club). In this case, results may vary based on the coach's knowledge in terms of physical preparation.

Below is an example of a conditioning session. It's obviously not Olympic level, but it gets the job done:

JUDO Anaerobic Fitness Circuit (via chchjudoschool)

Whatever the case, a judoka who sticks to his training is typically more adept at dealing with anaerobic effort than a striker, and tends to have a good balance of strength, explosiveness and overall toughness. One needn't forget that Judo, much like Wrestling, puts you in the position of having to manipulate someone else's body, and your opponent isn't likely to let you get away with whatever you want. Hence, you must complement your technical skill with endurance, mobility, strength and balance in order to impose your will, which, in an MMA environment, may give you an edge in the physical department against opponents of other backgrounds.

Needless to say, all of these previously mentioned traits and skills, to which I would like to add a diligent work ethic and good discipline - it's a traditional Japanese martial art, after all - are useful takeaways should one desire to transition from Judo to MMA. If you've enjoyed this piece, feel free to follow the next installments of the series. Naturally, the comment section is open to any and all opinions, insults, gifs and cat pictures. Enjoy our time on BE!

Posts belonging to this series:

The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 1 (Break-falling technique and physical conditioning)

The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 2a (Throws: theoretical approach)

The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 2b (Throws: integrating them into MMA)

The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 3 (The ground game)

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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