I wrote last week about how enjoyable it was to see top flight Judo back with the beginning of the 2021 World Tour, the World Masters in Doha. I discussed in said article a number of contests that were won in ne-waza (groundwork). For me, even with how popular and more widely practised Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is becoming within the Judo circles in a number of countries, it is still largely the same techniques scored in competitive Judo that were winning people contests long before most of us had even heard of the term ‘BJJ’.
Do I think a Judo player can gain benefits from learning some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, absolutely. I’d like to see a much more selective approach to the cross training though, on both sides, for those crossing over to mainly advance their skills in their primary sport.
From a Judo standpoint I’m going to discuss two nations; Brazil and Germany. As far as I’m aware, having trained in Germany many times, known and spoken to numerous German national team Judoka, international level Judo players in Germany do no BJJ at all, their groundwork training appears to be classically Judo. Now let’s take Brazil. I was told a few years back that virtually all Brazilian national team Judo players are also black belts in BJJ. I’ve done ne-waza randori (groundwork sparring- starts very similar to a BJJ roll) with plenty of Brazilian players and yes, most were pretty tasty on the deck. In Judo tournament though, now I don’t have the stats for this, going off recollection, I’d say the score and defence ratios would be similar, i.e they score a similar number of times and don’t get scored on a similar number. Both nations are well versed in groundwork however neither really looking clearly superior to the other in tournament.
We still see the classic strangles, armlocks and turnovers performed in tournament at a higher ratio than any other techniques. Do other techniques work? Of course. Have BJJ-esque style techniques worked in high level Judo competitions? Yes they have. But, again, the former techniques discussed are still more valuable weapons to get dangerous with first.
I’ve also written before that at a rough guesstimate there is probably 10% of BJJ that could be applicable to contest Judo and, probably, the same the other way around. The old debate of BJJ just being Judo anyway is one that is flung around all the time. Maybe it is. There can be some level of disrespect towards Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from a small number of Judo people. Personally, as much as I enjoy the history of both arts, I am only really interested in how to approach and train in today’s modern climate (I’m not talking about bloody Zoom!).
Unfortunately for a lot of international level Judoka they are normally treated as, at minimum, blue belts when they walk into a BJJ club, which is understandable as they have a grasp of how to spar on the floor, are tough and very physically well prepared in comparison with most BJJ low grades. Actually though, I think most of the really valuable content for a Judoka cross training is what is learned from white to blue belt. Regardless of what some may say, although personally I had learned ‘guard’ positions, hip escapes etcetera at Judo, we had never been shown them in detail. Particularly regarding the hip escapes (shrimps) I’d never fully been told why we did them, it was just something we did across the mat as part of the warm up. Barring in mind I’ve trained, for a long time, at some of the best Judo clubs the UK has to offer. Like it or not, probably dating back to a time when Judoka were given a lot less time on the floor in tournament, there are plenty elements of groundwork that have been seemingly forgotten. For me, and plenty of other Judo players, BJJ has helped re-inject some of that content. That process from white to blue belt includes the real basics, they need to be learned well, solidified. I appreciate that not all BJJ clubs and academies offer beginner sessions but I found going back to our beginner classes, as a purple belt, at Carlson Gracie Farnborough for a while a really, really great learning period.
The main key areas that I can put my finger on as being able to say that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has had a positive impact on my contest Judo are:
Not panicking on my back.
Some simple, detailed and effective ways to pass the legs (pass guard).
Being comfortable having someone’s leg trapped and working to deep half guard, to be very safe and wait for the referee to stand us up.
I learned this technique, The Kashiwazaki, from my Judo coach. It involves freeing your trapped leg and pinning the opponent. I initially learned it with no real intention of getting good at it. It was from all the time I ended up in a similar position in BJJ rolling (randori- sparring) that I began to practise and hunt it seriously. It’s become one of my best and favourite techniques, winning me plenty of contests.
A big one for me- defending and escaping the hooks. Defending on all fours (turtle position) and flat of the front is a skill, an extremely important skill for contest Judo. Many of the effective Judo ne-waza attacks require at least having one hook (foot hooked in). Staying tight and preventing for a short amount of time until the match is stopped and both players stood up again is vital for defence purposes.
Yes, in my opinion, what I’ve just discussed, can be valuable content for a competitive Judoka. For me, aside from the odd exception though, that is probably where the benefits largely end; where the time spent training and learning to the outcome of reward starts to quickly thin.
I first began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2008 under Casey Jones at SBG Shropshire. I relocated to Camberley the following year to commit fully to perusing competitive Judo, where I also then continued to learn some BJJ from Andre Pimenta and Wilson Junior at Carlson Gracie, where I remain today. In non-covid times Andre runs a Carlson Gracie session out of the Judo club on a Monday evening; Carlson Gracie Farnborough have their own permeant dojo offering a full schedule of quality sessions. For the full time athletes at Camberley Judo Club this Monday evening BJJ session has been part of the weekly training programme for manny years.
Being one of the oldest athletes at the club I definitely feel like I have a relatively decent grasp of what is applicable to take from BJJ that can benefit Judo; one, for the amount of time and quality instruction that I’ve received in both sports and, two, from the experience of mistakes.
From my own experience of trying things out and now, watching younger players on a similar journey, there are two very clear areas that can have a negative impact on Judoka that perhaps haven’t quite grasped where that line of beneficial cross training ends.
The first is simple. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen or practised with a Judo player that was on all fours that tried to get back to guard (partner between their legs) to just be held down for their efforts then I’d be a rich man. There is a danger for a Judo player to think that it is not good to defend on their front as letting the opponent ‘get to your back’ is such a big no no in BJJ terms. From a competitive Judo standpoint though we are safe on our fronts or on all fours, we should never be discouraged from that being our main base of defence on the floor; there is a time and a place for trying to get back to guard but those occasions are minimal. Again, defending on the front is a skill that must be learned and practised, I mentioned the hooks earlier, weight distribution and correct defence of the arms, wrists and neck are other important areas too. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is often both people attacking or at least both people having the option, a lot of the time, to attack. When we look at groundwork in a Judo contest it is, 90% of the time, one person clearly attacking and one person clearly defending. If we take every element of ground fighting, ignoring rulesets, a lot of what is then applicable to Judo contest is ‘set pieces,’ a few clear positions that a player needs to get exceedingly good at, I feel like the remaining 10% is where BJJ can aid. I like to think of the technical elements that BJJ can offer Judo as being the glue that can underlay and stick a lot of those ‘set pieces’ together.
The second area that, still being somewhat unaware of what can be applicable cross overs, is energy conservation. It’s important to know when, particularly when on all fours or flat on the front, it is worth the risk and the energy to try and initiate getting back to an attacking position and then to attack. A Judo contest is intense, explosive and taxing on the energy levels, groundwork is also very physically demanding, hunting a position or an attack that has only a small chance of a very positive outcome is most of the time not worth the effort. Stay tight and conserve energy, a lot of Judo contests are tight fought affairs, preventing those extra outbursts of energy may very well be vital in the back end of matches. My good friend, Carlson Gracie black belt and coach, Pete O’Shea occasionally brings up a contest of mine at the Commonwealth Games; I had managed to secure a decent De La Riva and was progressing with the sweep when the referee just stopped the fight and stood us up, the time or really the understanding isn’t there. It was a hard one for me, a tough learning curve because I love Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but that forced me to take a real hard look at what areas were REALLY applicable and worthwhile to tournament Judo.
From then I altered the way that I would do my randori, I have gone back to largely starting every practice on all fours. I can then work my way on top if I see a viable option. We just don’t see two people on their knees pushing each other in contest so I largely don’t bother with it in randori. We do see guard positions but not enough in my opinion to begin most randoris in such ways. Like I said, I really enjoy doing BJJ, for BJJ’s sake. I started purely to benefit my Judo but today (well, outside of covid times) I do it because I enjoy it. I do my best to learn when I’m at BJJ, to become a better BJJ player, I no longer alter the way I train on BJJ sessions to just get the benefits for Judo. For example, when doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu if I end up on all fours I will nearly always try to get back to guard, to spin through. What I definitely stick to though is not doing any BJJ for a couple of weeks before Judo tournaments, I really find that helps me just iron out those grey areas and help me remain tight in the style and rule set that I’ll be competing in.
There is definitely a place for BJJ training, 100%. I think that there is an area open though for people pretty well versed in both arts to provide somewhat of a system of instructing a kind of a small ‘BJJ for Judo’ syllabus. Not that formal but you get my point, perhaps like a short crash course, for higher level competitive Judo players. I feel we should get it to a point, in both directions, that if someone doesn’t want to cross train then they shouldn’t have too, the benefits of cross training already having been learned and merged into the primary sport. I have incorporated some of those applicable areas in my own coaching. Because of the close connection between Camberley Judo Club and Carlson Gracie I have plenty of players that I coach that do both sports. Particularly with the kids and lower grade seniors, I try not to overly instruct them with the way they do their randori if they cross train, tight specifics can come later. Better, at more formative stages to encourage them to enjoy it all and learn a wide base of skills.
Of course, the same rule applies if we are looking at it from the other way around. For Jiu-Jitsu in a gi (kit) then again, at another rough guesstimate, probably only 10% of Judo could be applicable to contest BJJ. I believe that 10% can be very valuable, just like the ‘BJJ for Judo’ content, but it is on coaches and individuals to work out what is transferable. There is plenty of Judo that has got me into trouble on a Jiu-Jitsu mat. I have written extensively before about the areas of Judo that I feel would be of most reward to the BJJ practitioner. I know there has been a big push on the stand up front of Jiu-Jitsu by very respected people in the scene like Roger Gracie and John Danaher. It’s going to be interesting to see the impact that has on BJJ training and competitions of all levels.
For me the answer to, “Is cross training worth while?” will always be yes. So long as the understanding of learning the understanding of the applicable beneficial cross overs is there, and the amount of time spent training that other sport is relative to the amount of benefits it will bring to the primary art.
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