Integrating Judo and BJJ for Effective, Holistic Grappling

When I was learning judo as a kid while growing up in France in the early 80s, ground work (aka newaza) was a significant component of the art, especially as it was taught to children. We didn’t call it Kosen Judo, but it was pretty close to it in spirit and purpose. (For the semantically inclined, Kosen Judo is pretty much a varsity ruleset, not some special handshake secret form of judo, and it’s now called Nanatei Judo.)

Fast forward 30 years, and when I wanted to practice again, I found that judo had to some extent devolved into a standing-focused sport because of how official competition rules changed over the past decades. I heard about brazilian jiu jitsu and instantly fell in love with its intricate ground game and focus on submissions (as opposed to pins). But again it turns out sports competition took its toll to undermine the essence of the underlying martial art.

Indeed BJJ has evolved in the other direction, with many practitioners displaying poor takedown skills and resorting to guard pulling and butt scooting, which makes absolutely no sense outside of the confines of a sports competition. First, you have to be able to take the fight to the ground if you want to finish it there.

So, because I’m interested in being a complete grappler who can use his skills to defend himself “in the streets”, for a while I trained Judo about once a week and BJJ 3 times a week. I also dabbled with MMA and SAMBO, but I ended up deciding there’s only so much I can train with a credible chance at making significant progress.

As a middle-aged guy who neglected his once very fit body for a number of years, the more cerebral and deliberate pace of BJJ suits me best, but Judo kept me honest with its explosiveness, sense of urgency, strong grips, solid takedowns, and emphasis on controlling from the top. Meanwhile, BJJ’s guard work, both in terms of playing and passing guard, is more developed than time-constrained judo. BJJ has a larger variety of joint locks while judo restricted itself to just elbow locks a long time ago. And BJJ is arguably the best at chokes, and I love chokes! Ideally I’ll also develop good transitions from standing to ground work, such as Sumi Gaeshi into mount, or Tani Otoshi into side control or back mount.

2021 edit: I first published this entry when I was still a BJJ white belt and judo orange belt. I’m now a BJJ purple belt and assist with coaching. I haven’t done much judo in years but I do integrate judo concepts and techniques in my coaching.

1. Arbitrary Rulesets

I’ve been reading a lot about the history and idiosyncrasies of the various grappling arts/sports, and found that each has its blind spots and myths:

  • Over its lifetime Judo severely limited its submissions, sometimes because a freak accident led to a sweeping rule change, other times to speed things up for purely cosmetic purposes in (Olympic) competition from the perspective of an international spectator sport. I find it crazy that judo no longer allows leg locks (for the most part, there’s a leg lock in Katame no Kata, and some clubs do mention them for self-defense purposes), wrist locks, or shoulder locks (though in practice they get a pass as they come from submissions that also attack the elbow). Some Judo refs think pulling on the head while finishing an arm-triangle choke (sankaku jime) is a neck crank, which is not really the case. But they’ll let you pull on your shin, which is functionally the same thing. This is completely arbitrary, as is the ban on leg grabs from standing.
  • How is lying flat on your belly with someone back mounted on top of you not considered a pin in judo? It’s the most powerful pin! If you have someone like Luke Rockhold or Khabib Nurmagomedov sinking their hips on your lower back you’re dead!
  • Why doesn’t sport sambo have chokes? That’s just weird, especially considering combat sambo does. And they consider the closed guard a stalling position, which I think is their way of keeping things moving like in judo. But closed guard can be very dynamic. And – presumably because they wear shoes – sambo prohibits heel hooks even though they were once the leading grappling art with leg locks, back when they were neglected or even frowned upon in BJJ circles.
  • BJJ only started overcoming its fear of, and disdain for leg locks a few years ago. Then there are strange fetishes like the IBJJF’s obsession with knee reaping [finally revisited, alongside with prohibiting heel hooks, starting from 2021] or the fact back control with two hooks gives you 4 points but a back triangle doesn’t. On the other hand, they forbade jumping guard relatively recently, and only did so at the white belt level, even though a bunch of people got their knee wrecked because of it. And why am I responsible for the safety of someone jumping guard or a triangle on me? These rules are incoherent.

    Also, BJJ specialists tend to look down on the hon kesa gatame scarf hold, claiming it’s just a pin and it exposes your back. Wrong and wrong, if you know how to do kesa gatame it’s a crushing control position with several submissions available to you, and no you won’t get the back of someone who knows what they’re doing, you’ll want to tap from pressure. See this Bloody Elbow article on the “Hybrid Attack of Josh Barnett.”

I’m not advocating groin strikes, finger locks, or head butts, and I do think some techniques should be either forbidden or limited to black belt competitions for safety purposes. That’s the essence of judo as a “sport” meant to be safely practiced against resisting opponents, as opposed to old jujutsu as done by samurais with intent to kill on the battlefields of medieval Japan. If you allow body slams from head height or full-speed neck cranks, you risk inflicting crippling injuries or worse. On the other hand, wrist locks for instance can be practiced safely and at a controlled speed that lets your partner time to tap, so why forbid them altogether?

You do need to put some rules into place to preserve yourself and your partners if you want to be able to keep practicing! A bit like doing competitive driving at full speed but on a closed track in a strengthened car while wearing a helmet. I know firsthand as a capoeirista friend broke my ankle with Kani Basami (tesoura), we should have agreed on a ruleset first!

Incidentally live sparring (aka randori aka aliveness) is essential to proving that techniques actually work, and its absence in how most traditional martial arts are usually taught is their great weakness. I tried Aikido for a few months and stopped pretty much because it was so choreographed with little credible, practical application. There’s a time and place for technical drilling and katas, but in my opinion there’s no genuine martial practice without live sparring.

It’s all about adapting to the ruleset!

2. People Working Across Boundaries

Fortunately, there is a number of both judokas and BJJ fighters who are cross-training and bridging a gap that shouldn’t exist in the first place within what historically and logically is the same martial art. After all Mitsuyo Maeda who taught Carlos Gracie and Luis França was a judoka under Kano Jigoro. Among people training and teaching both judo and BJJ:

  • Dave Camarillo and his brother Daniel. When Olympian Marti Malloy cross-trains jiu jitsu, that’s where she goes. How can you not like this: “Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu is a comprehensive martial arts system, combining the technicality and fluidity of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the explosiveness and timing of Olympic Judo, the persistent mentality of wrestling, all while holding true to the essential function behind any martial art: self defense.
  • Jimmy Pedro. An Olympic medalist and coach with good stuff on takedowns and grip fighting. In this WSJ article on Kayla Harrison, Pedro explains how he focuses on grips and ne-waza as ways to counter athletes from countries where judo is much more prevalent than in the US. John Danaher – the famous Renzo Grazie BJJ black belt coaching the likes of George Saint Pierre, Gordon Ryan and Garry Tonon – commented on Pedro’s shaping of a judo style that’s working well for US athletes. See also these two podcasts with Dave Camarillo.
  • Travis Stevens, Rhadi FergusonDaniel McCormick. American judo Olympians with an interest in BJJ. Over his career Stevens trained with Pedro, Camarillo, and Danaher.
  • Leonardo Leite, “possibly the most successful Judoka to have entered the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”
  • Osvaldo Alves. The cross-training pioneer?
  • Saulo and Xande Ribeiro. BJJ elite champions who are also judo black belts, their books and instructional videos are great. A couple videos: Xande Ribeiro On How To Combine BJJ & JudoXande Judo Randori Session at Tenri JudoJimmy Pedro and Saulo Ribeiro on Ko Uchi Gari and Drop Seoi Nage Combination (and grip fighting); training including Uchi Komi (notice Kano Jigoro on the wall). Saulo’s friend Rafael Lovato Jr also advocates cross training.
  • Flávio Canto. Top level Brazilian judoka and BJJ black belt with outstanding ne waza who’s rumored to be a killer on the mats . In the Arte Suave documentary you can see Xande Ribeiro (sporting a green belt at the time!) training with Canto.
  • Claudio Calasans. Elite Brazilian jiu jitsero with a judo black belt. Interestingly, like Travis Stevens he often elects to pull guard in BJJ comps. Calasans’ father reportedly gave his first gi to André Galvão who did judo as a teen.
  • BJJ star JT Torres trained with Galvão and with Ferrid Kheder (seen here together as JT passed his brown belt test), the rare high-level French judoka with extensive MMA experience. In this long interview [in French] he complains about judo rules taking the sport away from its martial roots.
  • Matt D’Aquino. An Australian judo Olympian now competing in BJJ, has good videos including BJJ takedowns. The other prominent Australian cross-practitioner is Dan Kelly, a judo Olympian, BJJ black belt, and UFC fighter. Here’s a video of his tips for judokas doing MMA.
  • Stephan Kesting. Good grappling teacher who keeps an open mind across disciplines, has some content on Judo meets BJJ.
  • Steve Scott has been running a freestyle judo/jujitsu/sambo academy for a long time in Kansas City. In his own words: “From a practical standpoint, good judo, jujitsu and sambo are pretty much the same.”
  • Vlad Koulikov. SAMBO champion, judo black belt, BJJ black belt, MMA practitioner, the dude does it all.
  • John Baylon. 6th degree judo black belt from the Philippines who trained at the Kodokan, then got a BJJ black belt from Leo Vieira.
Claudio Calasans
Flávio Canto
Kayla Harrison, now killing it in MMA
Travis Stevens

3. Commercial Break: My Recommended Grappling Gear List

To help pay for my blog’s hosting fees, a few of my longer posts like this one include Amazon affiliate links. I only recommend products I’ve personally bought and used. Here are the products I use during grappling and for recovery. I appreciate your support if you do buy something through these links:

3.1. Protective Gear

  • Mouth guards from SISU are so light that you’ll forget you’re wearing one, unlike regular thick mouthguards that make you drool or gag. Get a mouth guard!
  • I have a Futuro knee brace, I pretty much forget that I wear it when I roll but it’s good support. I also have their elbow support but I only use it if I hurt an elbow.
  • I bought Grappz gloves as I hate to mess with tape.

3.2. Apparel

  • Sanabul Essentials V2 gis are very good value at about $65, I have three of them as I like to rotate through colors. Fuji gis are thicker and quite sturdy, I own a white and a blue gi from them which I tend to favor when it’s colder. Everyone should have a least one understated white gi, with this you’ll be able to train in pretty much any BJJ or judo academy when you’re travelling. I highly recommend visiting other academies any time you travel.
  • Fuji also makes good BJJ belts, though I found the A1 just a tad short.
  • Raven has fun no gi designs such as these Chtulhu rashguard and shorts. Lafroi is another brand I like, it’s good bang for the buck. Don’t ask me about leggings though, I like to preserve my dignity.
  • These boxer briefs from David Archy are very comfortable.
  • I fold my rash guards with this folding board then store them in BoxLegend t-shirt organizers, both must-haves if you have OCD like me.
  • I carry my gear in this compartmentalized gym bag which I quite like.

3.3. Strength/Conditioning & Home Dojo

  • So far I’ve had a simple grip trainer but I’m getting this kit for more options and will update this entry once I’ve used it.
  • We have a TRX suspension trainer in our home gym which I’ve used mostly when I was recovering from a broken ankle. My son uses it regularly though.
  • We own 4cm (1.6″) puzzle mats, this saved me from a deep depression during more than a year with our academy closed. We steam them after each use, and deep clean them once a week with a Bissell wet/dry vacuum cleaner which is a fantastic device.

3.4. Recovery

  • As far as supplements go, I consume creatine, collagen, and omega-3.
  • I don’t use our foam roller often, but when I do need it, it’s such a relief on tight muscles.
  • ACE has a convenient neoprene compression wrap to hold a hot/cold pack (which comes bundled with it) on the joint of your choice.
  • Grappling is pretty rough for the skin of our hands, feet, and face. I use O-Keefe creams to rehydrate.
  • I’ve had to drain my ears a couple of times after they got really inflamed and painful, which I did with insulin syringes. My ears have now stabilized at a mid-stage cauliflower, so I don’t need to drain them anymore.

4. National Connections: Japan, Brazil, the US, France, and Beyond

You’ll notice the people listed so far are mostly from the US – where everything seems to go back to Jimmy Pedro – and Brazil, where Judo is much bigger than in the US, and, believe it or not, bigger than BJJ. This makes sense because BJJ is not that widespread in Europe (outside of Scandinavia) or most of Asia.

That said, it looks like ne-waza is making somewhat of a comeback in judo competition, and there are great competitors like Dimitri Peters (video) and Alexander Wieczerzak (both Germans, the latter submitted Travis Stevens) or Kaori Matsumoto (Japan) who won many matches with ne-waza. There are probably people expert at ne-waza from, say, the Netherlands or Korea, that I’ve never heard of because they’re not featured in videos in languages I speak. Newaza is more of a thing in women’s judo competitions where ippons from throws are rarer than among males.

In my native France – a country where Judo is widespread, and like everything there, under heavy governmental influence – the powers that be are doing everything they can to denigrate MMA and pretend BJJ doesn’t exist. Someone like BJJ world champion Laurence Fouillat (who graciously let me train at her club last time I was in vacation near Toulouse) would have it much easier if she was a judo coach. But there is hope thanks to individual initiative.

Among French judo higher-ups, Patrick Roux might be the person with the highest profile recognizing what judo can learn (or relearn after having forgotten it) from BJJ. See this excellent article and video, both in French.

Patrick Roux on ground mobility

Larbi Benboudaoud, another former competitor and now trainer, considers that BJJ is “basically just judo” but acknowledges (video in French) that BJJ has the edge in ne-waza because of its specialization. Like Roux, Benboudaoud is teaching BJJ-inspired mobility on the ground, as opposed to passive turtling, or worse, lying flat on your stomach, which is to judo what butt scooting is to BJJ.

Christian Peden, a 6th dan judo black belt, has been giving BJJ seminars (videos in French) for a number of years, though the choice of wording does convey that from the perspective of the Fédération Française de Judo: BJJ is just a regional ruleset variant. Again, co-opt them if you can’t beat them, that’s how ground work made it into Kano’s curriculum in the first place. There’s a French IBJJF affiliate called the CFJJB, but with 5,000 members, it remains tiny in comparison to the IJF-sanctioned FFJDA.

Christian Derval and Patrick Bittan, who pioneered BJJ in France under Rickson Gracie, and Derval pupil Olivier Michailesco are other cross-trained practitioners worth mentioning in the French landscape. Overall there were lots of French dudes in the European Dirty Dozen, and in the past decade more judo competitors have successfully moved to BJJ such as Mathias Jardin. Some Judo champions like Frédéric Demontfaucon are known for their stellar ground work. Finally, the Amoussou brothers (Bertrand, Karl, and Wolfgang) successfully went into BJJ and MMA from their strong judo base.

Olivier Michailesco
Fred Demontfaucon teaching standing-ground transitions

The relatively weak performance of French judokas during the 2016 Olympics, in contrast to medals won by Kayla Harrison and Travis Stevens in large part thanks to their ne-waza, brought this discussion to the forefront as per this r/bjj thread or an article in L’Equipe [in French]. “Relatively weak” because France still finished with 5 medals, the second country behind Japan’s 12. Slightly less good than in past Olympics would be more accurate.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sweden’s Sebastian Brosche is a former judoka who switched to BJJ with great competitive results. Sebastian is also an enthusiastic promoter of yoga for BJJ. Here’s an interview with him.

In the UK, Raymond Stevens, a silver medalist in the 92 Olympics known for his judo ground game, is a BJJ black belt under Roger Gracie and recently opened his own academy where two other instructors are also dual black belts. Ray Stevens and Gracie used to cross-train with each other at the Budokway (Ben Andersen, a former university judo competitor, has some related thoughts). Sophie Cox, another former judo Olympian, is coaching judo for MMA and BJJ, and she’s started competing in BJJ (though doing so as a blue belt looks like sandbagging to me, ditto for Craig Ewers – in my opinion both should have started competing at least at purple). Jeff “Ippon” Lawson is another Brit working across judo, MMA and BJJ boundaries.

5. Cross-training BJJ, Judo, Wrestling – Drilling vs. Rolling – How to Train Efficiently

You do have to adapt your judo to use it against BJJ specialists, and vice versa, because of how each sport evolved to optimize for its rules. For instance in BJJ people tend to crouch in a wrestler stance and use a stiff arm in a very defensive posture that would get you a penalty in judo competition, so your textbook Uchi Mata might not be successful in that context.

I’d be remiss not to mention that I respect the various forms of wrestling and recognize their effectiveness, especially in the absence of gi grips. Again, there are only so many hours in the day, wrestling is not taught where I live, and many forms of wrestling exclude submissions to focus on throws and pins. Mitsuyo Maeda was influenced by these practices from his bouts in the US, and they made it into BJJ to some extent. I believe that any grappler should have at least decent single leg and double leg takedowns (aka Morote Gari), as well as a strong sprawl.

These days BJJ seems much more open to outside influences than modern “official” judo. It’s a shame because judo used to be about seeking and integrating what works in different schools. The last additions to the official syllabus were made in 1982 and 1997 with the Shinmeisho no Waza batch of techniques (which also reinstated eight old ones). With the recent rise of submission grappling competitions, there’s much more wrestling and anti-wrestling making its way into jiu jitsu.

I went once to a Luta Livre academy and practice no gi grappling fairly regularly. They have merit too, training both with and without the gi is advocated by the awesome Marcelo Garcia. But I have to admit I do like the gi, it helps me slow down young punks, and how can you give up on these sneaky, nasty gi chokes! Working with the gi polishes your defense while no gi is excellent to work your offense.

Speaking of Marcelo Garcia, he first trained in judo, but found jiu jitsu more playful and fun, with its bigger emphasis on rolling vs. drilling. Garcia does not believe in doing separate strength and conditioning either and it obviously works for him. In judo there are endless discussions on the value of uchikomi. Most of us love rolling more than drilling, but I do think that drilling is very valuable for the rest of us hobbyists who don’t live on the mats unlike professionals such as Garcia.

My academy was closed for most of 2020 and I developed an at-home training regimen with a couple of buddies that we found very effective and rewarding. We watch short video segments on something we want to work on – say, knee pillow kimura trap to chair sit back take – we drill it enough that we’re confident we got the gist of the technique, then we do a LOT of positional sparring, to the extent that positional rolling has become the central pillar of our training. We don’t waste time in random warm-ups, we only do resistance-free technical drilling on techniques we don’t know, and we’re consciously limiting free rolling. It’s a grind, but we feel it’s been some of the most productive training we’ve ever had in terms of acquired skills we’re able to apply against live, educated resistance.

6. None of This is a New Debate!

I will conclude by quoting the preface of Isao Okano’s Vital Judo: Grappling Techniques book from 1976:

“In a manner of speaking, judo today has become narrow and distorted. But the nature of judo is much wider and deeper than most people sometimes think. In connection with developing a judo that more fully realizes the best in its nature, we must devote attention to the theories – even if we do not actually employ the techniques – of the strikes, kicks, and joint reversal holds of jujitsu. […] For the judo man to be as good at grappling as at throwing is the goal toward the attainment of which maximum effort ought to be devoted. But today too much emphasis is put on throws.”

Okano won the Olympics in 1966 and taught old school BJJ guys like Joe Moreira (Roy Harris and Roy Dean in his lineage are well-known for their cross-discipline work). Not much new under the sun… Meanwhile, Kenji Tomiki, a high-level student of both Kano and Ueshiba, already insisted on including randori in Aikido decades ago for the following reason:

“Randori practice is something that is done to give life to the real power of those techniques that were learned through kata.”

Neil Melanson
Karo Parisyan
If Sambo was easy it would be called Jiu Jitsu!
Coach Peterson

7. Further Reading

7.1. Rulesets

Robert Drysdale on the history of Judo and BJJ
More from Drysdale who’s deeply researching all of this

7.2. The Arts, Their Roots, Practitioners of Note, and Cross Pollination

  • Canon Of Judo, a 1956 judo book by K. Mifune. See the extensive list of ground techniques. BJJ guys should always remember that they named the Kimura and Ezequiel after the judokas whom they saw perform these subs.
  • Kosen Judo Ne Waza and the roots of BJJ. With further roots in Fusen-Ryu Jujitsu, which Kano smartly co-opted by inviting Mataemon Tanabe and incorporating his techniques in Kodokan Judo.
  • Mastering Jujitsu, by Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, has good historical notes on this. Read the part about Yukio Tani, and think about a steampunk parallel universe where his partnership with E.W. Barton-Wright succeeded and they went on to turn Bartitsu into modern MMA.
  • Note however that Roberto Pedreira (a pen name I think) disputes a lot of the “official” Gracie self-reported history/marketing. Whoever he is, he’s obviously done his homework based on Brazilian newspaper archives and living in Japan. His thoughts on cross-Training Judo for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Is bjj the same thing as kosen judo – Sherdog thread.
  • Good /r/BJJ Reddit thread started by a judo black belt who just got into BJJ.
  • Judo for BJJ – blog post by Mark Mullen, a BJJ black belt and judo brown belt.
  • The Judokai. A club in Dallas with an ethos similar to Camarillo’s: “No silly IJF rules. No outrageous BJJ prices. No magical “Ki”. No WWE. Just pure “old-school” Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, and Wrestling – all of it.”
  • Interview with Gokor Chivichyan, a grappling and MMA trainer to judokas like Ronda Rousey and Karo Parisyan at the Hayastan academy (i.e. Gene LeBell lineage). Again, in the end, it’s all grappling. National and cultural traditions can often get in the way of looking clearly what is effective, as opposed to fixating on whether people wear a fancy kimono or bow to the mat.
  • Understanding the Judo vs BJJ Mindset. Short article, video, and a meme thrown in as a bonus.
  • Top BJJ competitor Muhamad Aly discussed his experience [crap, the video is now private] training with an Olympian champion from Mongolia and found the judo mindset to be more focused on attacking and scoring.
  • Fernando Terere is another BJJ legend who takes takedowns seriously, below he talks [in Portuguese] about adapting judo throws to the BJJ ruleset.
Heh Tererê

Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 1: A Study of Planes. Solid analysis of judo principles by the great BJJ Scout.

Rodolfo Vieira

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