Photo credit: Greg Bartram - US PRESSWIRE.
In my Karate career, I learned to disregard the notion of having a dominant side. In keeping with the philosophy of Karate-do as an unending path to self-improvement, I considered it a lifelong duty to make my naturally weaker left limbs equal in strength and dexterity to their right counterparts. For every 100 kicks I did with my right leg, I did 150 with my left. There were strategic reasons to pursue ambidexterity as well: it enabled me to confuse opponents by switching stances, and literally doubled my offensive options. Then I decided to take up grappling to complete my skill set, and immediately encountered a dilemma.
As I drilled self-taught Judo throws at home, I naturally worked both sides equally. It seemed a natural extension of my Karate philosophy. Then I attended my first Judo class, and this ideal was challenged. While working with a helpful blue belt, he asked me which grip I favored (in Judo, the way you grip your opponent depends on whether you prefer to throw with your left or right side dominant). I said I was fine with either side. He said I had to choose one. I asked if I couldn't do both? He said no- everybody chooses one, masters it and sticks with it.
I was a little crestfallen about this, but I could see the advantages in focusing on just one side. After all, I am the advocate of being a formidable master of just a few techniques, instead of being mediocre at many. Perhaps drilling the hell out of just one side was better than confusing my brain with too many options. But before I decided, I fired up my laptop and consulted The High Oracle of the Google. Google knows all things, and would set me aright.
Google did not disappoint. It revealed to me this excellent research paper on the use of dominant sides in Judo. In summary, the research findings were that most ordinary Judoka indeed favored throwing with just one side of their body. However, high-level elite Judoka used both sides almost 50/50. This gave them double the range of offensive options and made their game more difficult to plan against. That settled the debate for me. In whatever I do, I aspire to the highest standards. Ambidextrous throwing it would be.
But then, something gave me pause. In my grappling research, I had watched every single one of Ronda Rousey'sfights. I had them all in memory. And a little subconscious data mining prompted this sudden epiphany: I was certain that Ronda executed all her throws with her left side. My brain replayed all her fights, and every throw I recalled was left-handed. Could this be true, or was my mind playing tricks on me? I decided to check. I took every single one of her MMA fights, as a statistically valid sample, and the results were fascinating.
Note: For the non-Judoka readers, throwing left-sided usually means stepping in with your left foot, and using your left arm to throw your opponent over your left hip. Here are some samples of Ronda's fights:
Rousey vs. Richardson:
- At 1:12, Ronda steps in with her left, grips homegirl's neck with her left arm, and throws her over her left hip en route to the inevitable conclusion.
Rousey vs. Stratford:
- At 1:16, Ronda steps in with her left, gets the same left arm grip, and attempts a throw over her left hip. Homegirl defends it, and Ronda follows up by using Stratford's backward momentum to trip her backwards. The inevitable follows.
Rousey vs. Gomez:
- At 1:55, Ronda steps in with her left leg, grips exactly the same way with her left arm, and attempts a throw over her left hip. Homegirl defends, and Ronda reacts exactly the same way: she uses her opponents backwards momentum against her and switches to a backwards trip. The rest is predictable.
- At 0:25, Ronda steps in with her left foot, grabs with the same left hand grip and attempts a throw over her left hip. Homegirl defends, and like clockwork Ronda switches to a backwards trip. Takedown.
- For some reason, homegirl escapes annihilation after the first takedown and regains her footing. At 0:44, Ronda rectifies this oversight. She steps in with her left foot, grips with her left arm, and throws homegirl over her left hip. This time, there is to be no escaping the inevitable.
Rousey vs. D'Alelio
- At 0:43, Ronda steps in with her left, grabs the prisoner with her left arm, and executes a partially successful throw over her left hip. The unbalanced convict is left vulnerable to an execution by flying armbar.
Rousey vs. Budd:
- At 1:10, Ronda secures her left arm grip, and attempts a throw over her left hip. The sacrificial lamb defends, and Ronda predictably switches to a backwards leg sweep. Nature takes its course.
Rousey vs. Tate:
- Tate charges gamely to her doom. Ronda gets her left arm grip at 4:02. Tate resists, so Ronda reverses to a backwards trip. Takedown. I'm beginning to see a pattern here.
- At 7:17, after a gruelling grappling contest, Ronda steps in with her left, grabs with her left arm and throws Tate over her left hip. It was the beginning of the end.
Rousey vs. Kaufman:
- At 3:03 Ronda steps in with her left foot, latches on her favorite left-arm grip, and attempts a throw over her left hip. The victim defends, and Ronda follows the script: she switches to a foot sweep, achieves the takedown, and restores balance to the universe.
Bonus Video: Rousey at a No-gi grappling contest:
- Ronda swiftly steps in with her left foot, captures her prey with her left arm, and throws her over her left hip, before doing unkind things to her arm.
My research complete and my first impression confirmed, I came to the following conclusions:
- Ronda Rousey definitely favors her left side in throwing. The research paper may have found that elite Judoka use both sides equally. However Ronda Rousey, who definitely fits that description, indubitably favors throwing with her left side.
- Ronda is a curious beast. Like Sherlock Holmes after marshaling his keen observations, I was going to announce the confident conclusion that Ronda Rousey must be a lefty. However, I immediately remembered that she strikes in an orthodox stance, implying that her right side is her power side. So either she deliberately strikes in a stance that favors her grappling but weakens her striking; or she favors throwing with her left side despite being right-handed; or she is ambidextrous. Whatever the truth is, she is definitely an unusual fighting animal.
- Ronda's fight game is pretty predictable. I felt pretty smug when I predicted just hours before the Jones-Belfort fight that Jon Jones was vulnerable to armbars and triangles from the bottom, only to be vindicated by Belfort's heroic submission attempts. I think this analysis may have thrown up a similar insight about Ronda's potential weaknesses. Instead of the popular wisdom that the smart thing to do is to stay out of her clinch and stick-and-move, it seems to me that the wise opponent should drill the standard Judo defenses and counters for a left-handed hip throw attack which may be followed by a backwards trip. This way, it might be Ronda who ends up on her back fighting to survive. Next opponent, take note.
- I'm still confused. Elite Judoka may indeed favor both sides equally, but at least one Judoka with a gold-plated resume is decidedly one-sided. Which doesn't help me in deciding whether to focus on just one side, or pursue an ambidextrous strategy. So, dear readers, I would appreciate your insights from your own grappling experience in Judo,wrestling or BJJ. Is the concept of a dominant side relevant in your sport? Do you think it is best to choose a side and drill it to absolute mastery, or to attempt to be more balanced?