Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Leg Grabs, Gripping & Freestyle Judo

The following post is an observation and not a rant.

Someone recently posted this video over on the Judoforum and I found myself watching it again and again. It then got me thinking about the leg grab techniques which the IJF decided to ban from all competition in 2013. Back in 2010 they banned leg-grabs as a direct attack which was largely attributed to wanting to differentiate Judo from wrestling to safeguard its acceptance as an Olympic sport. I can’t confirm that, but it’s the widely accepted explanation. In 2013 they went one step further and not only disallowed those techniques as direct attacks, but as follow-ups and counters as well. 

So leg attacks can still be taught in Judo but cannot be used in Competition. But, as most people need to compete to get their black belts, there is little point in spending time learning something that they cannot use, thus the next generation of Judo black belts are unlikely to be able to properly perform throws like Morote gari.

Now I’m sure most of these techniques are preserved in Kata and with the BJA recently making Kata compulsory from 1st kyu gradings upwards some could say that this will in effect ensure the next generation are at least familiar with leg grabs. However there is no substitute for using a technique against a fully resisting opponent in randori or shiai. Its only then that you learn not only how to perform it correctly but also how to properly defend against it.  

A lot of the now “illegal” techniques which have been removed from Judo over the years can still be found in other grappling arts like BJJ and Sambo and it’s been said that to learn Judo, as was originally taught by Kano, one has to turn to these other grappling arts.

The issue I and many other judoka have with the constant rule changes is that they are watering down Judo’s effectiveness as a combat sport and effective form of self-defence.  I would be embarrassed if I attended a BJJ class whilst they were practicing takedowns and I was the one constantly being taken down with a double leg (Morote gari) because I didn’t know how to sprawl. Or I didn’t know how to defend when someone took a double lapel grip on my gi. You could argue that the new rules makes Judo more exciting to watch with a higher percentage of ippons but who actually watches Judo other than people that practice it? If you do Judo you invariably like watching high level Judo whatever the rules. The lay person is never going to be excited about watching Judo unless someone from their country is fighting for gold in the Olympics.

Another problem with the rule changes is that it makes Judo less effective in MMA. Some might ask why this is a problem, well I’ll tell you. With Ronda Rousey being the current UFC Bantamweight champion Martial Artists are seriously looking at Judo as a viable style to learn to help them in the octagon. However Ronda’s Judo was pre 2010 and therefore included leg grabs, which to be successful in MMA you have to know how to perform and defend against as this determines where the fight takes place. In my limited BJJ training the only time I ever did anything from standing was when we drilled how to sprawl against a morote gari. Therefore if someone has intentions of competing in MMA why would they choose Judo over BJJ when BJJ clearly has enough of the wrestling based techniques most widely used in MMA already incorporated in their training?

So what’s the answer? Local clubs could ignore the rule changes and still teach Kano’s Judo but then, as I’ve mentioned already, this will mean a lot of time is spent on techniques that their students cannot use in competition. That’d be a bit like teaching someone how to kick in preparation for a boxing match. Yes Kicking works in a real fight but you cannot use it in the rules of boxing.  In the US they have taken the matter in to their own hands and created FreestyleJudo  which in essence is Judo without all the recent IJF rules regarding leg grabs & Gripping. In addition to the normal way shiai is scored, Freestyle Judo also gives points for things like passing the guard and sweeps which is more akin to BJJ rules but still scores Ippon for Osaekomi-waza. Now I like the idea of this but there doesn’t appear to be a UK equivalent as yet. Freestyle Judo is not a governing body they just have their own competitions which allow Judoka from any org to enter using the Freestyle rules, so you can’t be graded in this form of Judo and neither are any of the competitions point scoring. It will be interesting to see if Freestyle Judo ever reaches these shores.