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Judo Destroys BJJ

By Roberto Pedreira

 November 27, 2017


The age-old question has now been answered.

The question derives from the oft-heard internet assertion that a BJJ blue belt can beat a judo black belt in a BJJ competition.

Not many people would deny that other things being equal, BJJ guys are better at ground, and judo guys are better at stand-up. But what if other things are not equal? Suppose that BJJ guy is a typical blue belt and the judo black belt is an Olympic gold medallist.

Merely hypothetical! Could never happen! 


It happened Sunday November 26, in Samukawa [寒川], Japan (a small town about 30 minutes south of Yokohama).

The occasion was the ASJJF Dumau Japan Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2017.

The blue belts were typical blue belts. At least one had been training for 16 years (don't ask why), competing sporadically but successfully. He represented RB Academy in Yokohama. 

The judo black belt was two-time Olympic (2004 and 2008, 66 kg) Gold medallist Utishiba Masato [内柴正人].

Utishiba (that's how it was romanized on the posted brackets) had just gotten out of prison about three months previously, so he probably didn't have much time to develop an all-around BJJ specific game.

He didn't need an all-around BJJ game.

It was a reasonable prediction that the BJJ blue belts would not try to exchange stand-up with the two-time Olympic champion. That turned out to be a correct prediction. It was also predicted that Utishiba would not himself "pull guard". That left one alternative, which was that the BJJ blue belts would try to pull guard. The questions were, could they do that, and what would happen after?

Utishiba competed in the 82 kg. class, and open class, blue belt. He was representing Alavanca Jiu-Jitsu in Zama-shi (famous for its U.S. Army base and recent serial murders).*

Roberto was one of those who ignorantly predicted that Utishiba might have problems with the blue belt BJJ game, based on his presumed paucity of experience with the nuances of BJJ competition, which was in turn based on the assumptions that as a hard-core super successful judo competitor he hadn't sacrificed precious judo training time to learn something that he wasn't going to use at that time, and the fact that he had been in prison for the past several years.

Despite not being a genuine judoka himself, Roberto has trained judo and trained with numerous judoka over a 20+ year period (here). His assumptions were based on that. But he had not trained with a two-time Olympic gold medallist. Olympic gold medallists are (obviously) on a different level. Also, Roberto mistakenly assumed that Utishiba would be as shunned in the BJJ world as he was in the judo world hence would not have a full range of BJJ instructional options. That was a mistaken assumption. Utishiba was obviously welcome at Alavanca, and the tournament participants and fans seemed more hero-worshipful than scornful.

Utishiba's game plan was simple and logical: Don't let the opponent pull guard. If he somehow does, let him have half-guard, then pass it with crushing pressure. He did this in all five matches and it worked all five times. The first match was finished with a cross collar choke from mount. The next four were finished with Japanese arm-bars.

It was obvious that Roberto's initial prediction was going to be wrong from the first seconds of the first match. The opponent tried to pull guard twice, but Utishiba had solid grips and used them to stop the guard-pull. The third time, Utishiba took him to the mat with an uki-waza type throw. From there, side control, mount, choke. Judo resembled classical BJJ, not by coincidence. 

Utishiba's next blue belt antagonist was Takuwa Yukawa. Yukawa was watching the first match intently and remained upright longer than his predecessor, and even managed to "pull-guard" but Utishiba had little trouble powering through it into half-guard, which only slowed him down briefly. From there it was mount, a threatened choke, and an arm-bar to wrap up.

Roberto asked Yukawa-san  (wearing black kimono in picture below) for a comment after the match. The vanquished BJJ representative's comment was, "やっぱり, 強い", ["as expected, he was strong"]. There wasn't much more to say about it, after all.

Later in the afternoon, Utishiba was back for the open class. His three opponents were all about his own weight and the results were identical to those described above.

The Japanese sports press was there in full force. BJJ tournaments are small potatoes in Japan generally, but Utishiba had been a popular hero up to the time of the incident that landed him in prison. (In Japan, BJJ is viewed as a  sub-school or variant style of Kodokan judo**). The story of Utishiba's comeback was too tempting to pass up. It made it onto the Sports News website, but not Monday's news, being drowned out by the results of the Winter sumo tournament and Hakuho's triumphant return to form. And of course, the horse racing results.

There are several useful lessons in this story. Everyone knows them already, but we tend to forget what we know in favor of what we see and hear frequently, so it is worthwhile to restate them from time to time.

Lesson 1. Grips are important. Judo is a game of grips and throws. There are no throws (well, not many) without grips. The quality of the grips determines the success of the throw. Easy-to-get grips usually yield hard-to-finish throws. You can't be thrown if the adversary doesn't have good grips, and you can't throw without good grips. Good throwers are people who have good grip-getting and grip-keeping skills.  If you have good grips and the opponent doesn't, you are way ahead. To paraphrase wrestling legend Dan Gable, "you have to train skills that don't score points".  To paraphrase Gene Lebell, "everything is a handle".

Lesson 2: Don't let opponent close his guard on you. 

Lesson 3: Force your opponent to try to pull guard when it is disadvantageous for him to do so.  Take advantage of his guard-pull.

Lesson 4: Passing the guard is often more energy-efficient in two-steps, rather than one. That means you need to have good half-guard passing, and half-mount survival skills. (The difference between half-guard and half-mount is roughly the relative position of the two bodies.)   

Final Conclusions: (1) A Two-Time Olympic judo champion can beat recreational blue belts in BJJ matches. At least, one such champion did so on November 26, 2017, and (2) não esqueça as pegas.


2004 and 2008 Olympic Judo Utishiba Masato  内柴正人 competing as BJJ blue belt, November 26, 20017, Samukawa, Japan. 









*No connection is implied between Alavanaca Jiu-Jitsu, the city of Zama, the U.S. Army, and the recent serial murders. 

** BJJ as a sub-style of Kodokan judo [亜流], or "underground judo" [裏柔道], see Judo vs BJJ 1  

More on Judo and BJJ: 

Judo vs. BJJ 2

Negative Judo (when gripping defeats judo)

Judo Training for BJJ

"Judo and BJJ are the same", says Oswald Alves

Matt Furey describes Dan Gable's training philosophy and other things.

Gene Lebell talks about handles and other important grappling topics here and here.

*** Need Portuguese vocabulary and cool slang for train jiu-jitsu in Brazil? Click here (nothing for worry, it's all free).


(c) 2017, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.



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