Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 2: Grip Strategy and Leg Grabs

Judo tactics are closer to striking than BJJ

At least in terms of the stand up portion, which is why it’s not common to see high level BJJ athletes “carry over” BJJ expertise into the take down world. Yes, at the essence a good throw employs good leverage and body to body positioning, concepts familiar to a BJJ person. But a throw only takes 1 second. A lot of the action in judo that is non-throw related is highly tactical/deliberate, similar to boxing (read some Jack Slack for some nice breakdowns). The set up to create an opportunity to throw someone (especially an elite judo player), and really the “gist” of judo,  involves a good understanding of:

a) angles/planes of attack (covered this in part 1)

b) distance/space (ie boxing’s “being in the pocket” vs being an “outside fighter”)

c) specific tactics based on the opponent’s stance (like in boxing’s “guard”, is he orthodox or southpaw)

d) mat awareness (something like “octagon control” in the UFC or “ring generalship” in boxing, ie trapping your opponent in the corner or against the ropes has advantages)

e) use of combinations and fakes to set up power/major throws

f) blocking/angling out of throws (ie circling out away from your opponents “power side”, “stick and move” tactics can be done in judo even)

IMHO – Rodolfo is not “elite” at judo, but his opponents commit many errors in the above list (without Rodolfo having to force them) that he really is capitalizing on the difference in “judo awareness” with his opponents.

*As an aside, this is why I think Ronda Rousey has a good chance to develop as a striker (ok not talking about her punching power or chin). Many people focus on her judo and think this carries over to take downs only. The understanding of angles/footwork/distance/stances in judo has a direct carry over into striking as well.

Rodolfo is a Left Handed Judoka

To cover all the above would take months but I will just focus on one for now. Which is stance fighting, item (c). The two situations one encounters most often are (1) two orthodox stances or (2) left v right stances.

Orthodox stances (two right handers):

Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 2b 2

In this situation, both players are able to get mutual lapel and sleeve grips and still remain neutral. The issue now is foot work to get your opponent moving/circling towards your power throwing side. There are many ways to execute a forward throw, but in general, when your lead right foot is in front of your opponent and he is circling/moving towards your left, that’s a good time to throw. This is why you frequently see all this shuffling and shifting in judo, both players are trying to step in front of each other’s right foot and get the opponent moving to your left(or his right).

Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 2b 3
In orthodox contests, both can get their favorite grips, but there can only be one guy who gets the preferred “movement” towards his power throw side.

This is where mat control/tactics come in. If you can back someone up to the edge or corner , you can force him to step towards his non-power throw side and moving in the direction of your power side. It is a penalty to leave the mat area unless you are attacking or stepping out of an attack. You can’t wander aimlessly with no consequence in judo.

Left v right handers:

Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 2b(*white ready to stiff arm, not letting blue’s foot be inside his lead foot)

Like boxing, tactics now become specialized. Weak planes are now exposed to each other so it’s open season  and hiding by footwork is not so effective (notice both want to move in the same direction). Here only one person can get his favourite grip now and the priority is to secure that. Typically you want the “inside” lapel grip and your foot inside (contrasted to boxing where you want to always want to have your lead foot on the outside). This makes turning in a lot easier. The player left with the “outside” lapel grip now has to make sure he stiff arms to stop the opponent turning in and needs to frustrate sleeve grips from being established. Because judo rules stop you from playing “one arm” judo for long (refusal to engage is harshly punished), many typically break the lapel grip and try to re-grip again hoping to get inside. So just like how left vs right boxing matches become jabbing contests, in judo it becomes a grip fighting war as once you win (inside grip and foot), you typically can turn in to finish.

This whole topic on stance fighting can get pretty complex (you can incorporate certain throws like ippon seoi nage to prevent one arm tactics, uchimata variations etc), but that’s the general idea.

Being the left hander, Rodolfo frequently encounters the latter left v right situation.

Rodolfo typically has no problem throwing a right hander, but sometimes he can get stalled out by a right hander who will not give him the sleeve control and stiff arm him on the lapel side. Normally in judo stalling rules prevent such defensive behavior (so in BJJ this can go on forever) but Rodolfo has a more direct solution – which is to simply change stance. Typically in judo this is suicide (it’s like trying to play tennis with your non-dominant hand mid-rally) but his opponents simply don’t even notice. Even if they did, they often aren’t able to fire off a throw quickly enough mid-switch (which typically happens in judo). Being able to switch from judo finesse to the direct (and sometimes ugly) attack of the legs is very useful.

Leg grabbing isn’t very complex skill so Rodolfo has no problem pulling it off on his non-dominant side and it actually works quite well catching right handers (who lead right foot forward). At the brown belt level Rodolfo actually tried to be a leg grabber staying left handed (ie holding the lapel with his left hand) but he had a lot of problems grabbing the far left foot of right handers. So he actually has consciously abandoned this tactic to go for the stance switch instead. You also won’t see him trying to go for a right leg grab with the left hander’s sleeve grip , as the pull is not as strong as the lapel grip. He has zero successful take downs trying this and almost never tries now.

If leg grabbing works so well, why don’t all judokas do it? They did.

For those not in the know, it was precisely because it worked so well that these tactics have been banned in judo. Fact is, once you can get legs, takedowns can be finished in a variety of ways that don’t involve the “beautiful” use of weak planes. In fact at one stage it became advantageous to not actually initiate throws but wait for someone to turn in and throw you so that you could latch on to a high crotch/single/double and clean someone off the floor. One can only wonder the reasons why these changes were made to Judo but since leg grabs are not illegal in BJJ, why not just do them. Combined with traditional judo, grabs make a deadly combination.

Judo remains unexplored in BJJ (or maybe it took a backstep recently)

Judo is misunderstood by many BJJ people because many think it is mainly about the throw. There is a lot that goes on prior which is deliberate and why judo is really a strategic game of pieces moving on a board.

This is why I feel many people find competition footage of BJJ hard to break down. They focus too much on the moves/subs/finishes (who knows, maybe it’s the DVD/youtube culture of “moves” over tactics). If you don’t look at the non-highlight stuff you will miss the bigger picture of the tactics and strategies. Like Lo’s DLR knee posting/counters or active posting. Things which a “highlight” cuts out. Lo set the guy up for the knee slide a long time ago, the moment he locked on his DLR knee post and grips. Likewise at elite judo, no one gets “lucky”. The winner typically has maneuvered his opponent into exposing his weak plane, either by clever footwork, “cornering” his opponent, or a combination, thus forcing a bad reaction. The throw is simply the consequence of the set up occurring earlier.

We have yet to see elite judokas enter BJJ and adapt advanced tactics at a high level but BJJ always evolves so who knows. In the meantime, perhaps the areas judo has abandoned/banned are a wealth of strategic options for BJJ players.

I leave you with some Chanel Sonnen (in an interview on wrestling in MMA here):

“Here’s what you want to do, in any (combat) sport: you want to find out what’s illegal, and whatever is illegal is what you want to do in MMA.”

I can think of several things banned in judo already that would work well in BJJ:

– Russian tie grip/Belt holding/same side sleeve and lapel grip (already seen in BJJ).

– sweeping the thrower’s leg out forward mid throw (Marcelo Garcia does this)

– Makikomi (wrap around throws, Shinya Aoki)

What do you think would work well in BJJ? Let me know!

This article (and video) was more about judo’s intricacies rather than Rodolfo itself, but it was a good chance to shed some light on the “beauty” of judo for those new to the martial art. Check it out.




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7 comments On Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 2: Grip Strategy and Leg Grabs

  • Pistol grips, leg-assisted grip breaking, and just snapping down bent-over people into a turtle would probably work well. The last bit is legal in judo, but it isn’t seen too much for obvious reasons.

  • oh yes leg assisted grip breaking, that is pretty effective. Also in judo the interlocking fingers during grip fighting in not allowed, not so in bjj, another good stall tactic v a stronger judo guy

  • andrew johnson

    Again very nice breakdown. Suggest some improvements? You are putting text at the very top of the screen – when I pause it, the title bar of the video covers the text and I can’t read it. Otherwise awesome job.

  • Leg assisted? 2 handed would be nice!!

    Honestly anything banned from Judo works and works well. Pistol grips, leg grabs, belt grabs, leg entanglement, scissors sweeps, morote nage, any forbidden waza, “ducking under” an opponents lead arm, same side grips, bear hugs, greco-roman style clinches, leg locks, shoulder locks, “head diving”, small digit manipulation..

    More of Judo is banned than is legal now. 🙁

  • Thanks for the feedback! Didn’t even realise that one. Will work on that!

  • Pingback: The Left-handed Fellows: Discriminated, misunderstood or just unique? | Okore Luther MK ()

  • Wrestlers are usually taught to attack the forward leg, regardless of what stance they’re in.

    For example, if you have a right-foot forward stance, and your opponent does also, you’re probably looking for double legs and high-C’s. If your opponent is a lefty, you’re going to attack with singles. This is the principle that I see Vieira applying when he goes for the legs. He doesn’t “become a right-hander”, he simply shoots from the left-foot lead side to the lead leg.

    However, the way he forces an outside grip to make a path to the leg is really interesting. Great insight, and look forward to more!

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