The Takeaways Of A Judo Background. Part 3

Warm greetings to all! Welcome to the long-postponed conclusion to my series on Judo and how it can be integrated into Mixed Martial Arts. This final installment has to do with Ne Waza, the ground game in Judo. For those of you who enjoyed my mini-breakdown in Part 2b, I'm sad to say that I will not be looking in depth at the actual techniques employed in Ne Waza, but rather focus on Judo's particular approach to ground fighting as a whole. Enjoy the read and feel free to share your thoughts!

Before we delve into this discussion, I want to clarify how Judo matches are scored, as this information is useful further on. Points are awarded based on proper technique combined with how the opponent lands on the tatami - or mat - as a result of a throw. The first type of point is Yuko (Advantage), in case the throw was successful but the adversary landed on his side. You can score as many Yuko as you want, it will not end the fight. However, if, at the end of the match, you have more points than the other competitor, you are awarded the decision win.

The next is Waza-Ari (Half-Point), when the opponent lands on his back but the throw wasn't convincing enough. Two Waza-Ari give you the victory in any single match (Waza-Ari Awasete Ippon). Then there is, of course, Ippon (Full Point), awarded for a convincing throw that clearly landed the opponent on his back. Ippon means you are instantly victorious.

In terms of ground fighting, you are awarded Yuko if you can pin your adversary to the mat for at least 15 seconds, Waza-Ari for 20 seconds and Ippon for 25 seconds or if he chooses to tap (either because he knows he can't win or because you've transitioned from a pin to a joint lock or a strangulation and he wishes to maintain his bodily integrity).

To get on with this article's topic, I could oversimplify the entire discussion and state that Ne Waza is the same in Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but there really is a lot more to the story than that. When you look at Judo and how it was intended to work as a Martial Art, you see that it aspired to be as complete as any grappling art could hope. Using as little opposing force as possible, the practitioner would have to first throw his opponent to the ground, and if said opponent survived the fall or was still conscious, follow up on the ground in order to end the fight.

This may very well have been the case in the late 19th century, but as the Art gained more and more followers in Japan, rules had to be put in place for formalized matches. Over the course of time, such rules included limiting the duration of bouts, awarding points for successful techniques, penalizing stalling, and so on. The focus, especially after Judo became an Olympic sport (the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo), seems to be making the matches as visually appealing as possible.

This focus on Judo as an Olympic sport first and a Martial Art second is why ground fighting lacks the prominence it had, for example, in the days when Mitsuyo Maeda spread his art in Brazil. For a spectator to be able to enjoy a good "roll", he must first be aware of the complexity of Ne Waza, whereas throws, trips, takedowns are inherently spectacular, even if you have absolutely no idea how they're executed. As a result of this sad but simple truth, the ground game has been featured less and less over time, even on the most elite levels in Judo.

In turn, the pushing aside of Ne Waza in favor of throws, has lead to an interesting situation: Judo, one of the first Martial Arts to feature ground fighting, has evolved somewhat slower in this field than off-springs such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Russian Sambo. To put it simply, you've got a decent chance of finding a black-belt Judoka with a very rudimentary ground game, which definitely isn't the case for BJJ. A Judoka is left to perfect his ground skills as he sees fit, sometimes evolving into a Ne Waza wizard, sometimes not.

Let us pause for a few minutes in order to get an idea of how ground fighting looks like in Judo matches.

Judo Newaza Grappling International Fights (via Morganator)

A visible difference between most BJJ and Judo practitioners in terms of Ne Waza is the basic approach. While each individual has their own style, a Judoka who is skilled on the ground is probably going to stand out as confident and aggressive, to the point of being relentless, with good submission accuracy, and a variety of readily available reversals and sweeps. They know what they have to do to get the tap, and if they think they've got a shot at submitting someone within seconds, they will give their best effort to do so, without worrying about getting into bad positions as much as a BBJ practitioner probably would. However, it can definitely be argued that their submission defense is not on par with their offensive output. As previously stated, this has less to do with the martial art itself and a lot more to do with the way the competition rules have shaped the game.

Judo may be a niche spectator sport but it is still widely popular as far as combat-based entertainment goes. As such, it is only natural that the rules evolved towards making it as visually appealing as possible. An educated spectator may appreciate the subtleties of Ne Waza, but scores of people watch Judo for the sole purpose of seeing someone get mat-slammed in a spectacular way (they are, more or less, the equivalent of the JUSTBLEED!!!!! crowds in MMA), and can't really be bothered with ground fighting.

So, in the interest of fast-paced action, the ground work is viewed as an auxiliary component. You cannot fall on your behind unprovoked and pull your adversary down to the mat, or, to utilize a popular internet meme:


However, should you end up on the mat along with your opponent after an unsuccessful throw - neither you nor said opponent got Waza-Ari or Ippon - AND the referee thinks that you've got a clear chance of pinning him or getting a submission, you are allowed to continue. Even so, if it takes too long for you to get any purposeful offense going, you will be stood up.

This no-nonsense, keep-it-moving attitude is also visible during the standing portion of a match, and one might say competition Judo is paranoid about "stalling", going so far as to penalize or even disqualify competitors for refusing to engage in the fight. That being said, you can chain techniques together in order to intentionally initiate Ne Waza ( for example, fake a throw so as to unbalance your adversary and while you're both on the way down, go for a flying submission).

How does this influence the Judoka, though? Two very distinct types stand out:

  • The ones that embrace Ne Waza, feeling this is where they shine. These Judoka like to maximize their efficiency in terms of grabbing a submission or securing a pin as fast as humanly possible. They worry less about getting in trouble and more about walking away with someone's arm. Their best work is from the top but they're always ready for a fast sweep or reversal if things get ugly for them. And they can even be very good at transitioning from one submission/pin to another. Ronda Rousey, the former Olympian bronze medalist and recently crowned Strikeforce 135lbs female champion is probably the poster-girl for this style.
  • Those that want nothing to do with Ne Waza and simply choose to turtle up the second they hit the tatami, knowing they will be stood up without any sort of penalty if their opponent can't break through their defense in a matter of seconds. This does not necessarily mean they do not posses any ground skills (although some genuinely don't), but that they feel they stand a much better chance against their opponent on the feet.

During Ne Waza, you can employ techniques found in four large categories. For each technique there are variations based on hand grip and body position. The four categories are:

  • Osaekomi Waza (Pinning techniques) - The purpose here is to immobilize your opponent on the mat, rendering him incapable of continuing the fight. A pin must be at least 20 seconds long for you to get a Waza-Ari, and if you reach 25 seconds, you win the match (Ippon). You can still score a Yuko if you manage to hold the pin for at least 15 seconds. The most basic pin, usually the first Ne Waza technique taught in most schools is the Kesa Gatame (Scarf Hold). It is very popular because it is easy to land in this hold immediately after a throw. Other easily recognizable pins to MMA fans are: Kami Shiho Gatame (North South Hold), or Tate Shiho Gatame (Full Mount Hold);
  • Kansetsu Waza (Joint locks) - The keywords here are "armbar" and "armlock", from all conceivable angles and situations. The most easily recognizable is Ude Hishigi Juji Gatame (Back-Lying Cross Armbar), which is the one we most often see during grappling or MMA bouts. Another technique, made famous by Masahiko Kimura during his legendary match with Helio Gracie, is Ude Garami (Figure Four Key Lock). After the Japanese Judoka's victory, the move was named "the Kimura" in non-Judo grappling circles.

Disclaimer: Judo does NOT include leglocks, kneebars or anything that has to do with twisting someone's foot or leg into a Paul Harris special delivery pretzel.


  • Shime Waza (Chokes and strangles) - These moves target either one's blood or air supply, with the purpose of rendering the adversary unconscious (or have him tap, preferably). Some well-known techniques include Sankaku Jime (Triangle Choke), Hadaka Jime (Guillotine Choke), or a series of moves that fall under the very general term Juji Jime (gi chokes using any imaginable variety of hand grips);
  • Katame Waza (Grappling techniques) - This is where the sweeps, passes and escapes are, every pin or submission having, in theory, an escape or reversal provided it is applied with adequate timing.

As far as applying Judo's ground game to MMA goes, it is a matter of adapting the techniques to no-gi grappling. In this aspect, it is no different from traditional gi BJJ, in that you must figure out how to make do without a sturdy jacket to grab onto. Over the course of MMA history, various fighters have managed to integrate their Judo Ne Waza into their overall grappling arsenal, and it is inevitable that we name such figures as Karo Parisyan, Fedor Emelianenko or Ronda Rousey amongst the most successful to do so.

And so we find ourselves nearing the end of this post. I hope you've enjoyed the series. Have a good time on BE and don't forget to tap!

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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