Rodolfo Vieira Takedown Study Part 1: A Study of Planes

2011 Pan IBJJF Jiu Jitsu Championship

Rodolfo Vieira is an elite blackbelt competing in the pesado division. Coming up slightly earlier than Leandro Lo, he is also a BJJ sensation, with many unique aspects to his game. In particular his take downs and passing techniques are stand outs and will the subject of several studies.

Rodolfo is one of the very few BJJ players with a good understanding of judo. He doesn’t just try to get lucky with throw, but he has a plan. His footwork and throw selection shows a good grounding in the fundamentals of human balance and the principles of judo.

Seeing “Planes” is important in order to understand Judo

You get thrown when your center of gravity is pulled over your feet. Look at the typical split stance.

Planes 1

Your feet protect you strongly along the north-south and east-west axises. Another perspective shows the strong planes clearer:

Planes 2

On the strong planes, your hips (the CG) and your two feet form the vertices of a triangle. As long as your CG can stay centered between your feet, it’s not easy to be taken down. Your CG has to travel a big distance to be pulled over one of the vertices (your feet).

However, because we only have 2 legs, a “weak plane” always exists.

Planes 3

This is the plane where your feet and your hips line up. On this plane, minimal force is needed to cause an imbalance and tip you over.

This weak plane can be “hidden” to your opponent’s throws by adjusting your foot position so that he cannot apply force against the plane, or by using grip fighting to stop him from “turning in” to an exposed weak plane.¬† When you see judo players scrambling all over the mat, they are trying to move into an advantageous position to get to that plane. The opponent’s weak plane could be any position relative to you (360 degrees in a circle) and you need to have the appropriate “throw set” to attack the weak plane in as many directions as possible.

This is why judo is often likened to human chess (as is BJJ). Once the king (weak plane) is taken down, the game is over. Weak planes shift dynamically. There is a lot of strategy, countering and re-countering in judo, and you have to risk exposing your own weak plane to attack your opponent’s.

The Weak Plane is the objective, the throws are the tools to execute your strategy to attack it

Now that there is a goal in mind (attack that weak plane), judo theory and throw selection can start to make more sense. Which should I learn/drill? Which combinations of throws are effective? There is a logical way to answer this.

Judoka “specialise”. Quality not quantity counts.

There are more than 200 judo throws, but most elite judoka focus on 3-6 favourite techniques. The idea here is to use the smallest number of throws to generate the most number of multi-planal attacks. Often uchikomi (throw drilling) will be efficiently focused on a “major” forward throw (uchimata, seoinage), “minor throws” (ouchi,kouchi, de ashi barai) and an opposite side throw (ie a right hander will have a forward throw on the left side). Judo combinations are endless but some common combinations used are:

– Morote seoi nage/Ouchi/Kouchi/left side ippon seoi nage

– Uchimata/Ouchi/kouchi/Osotogari

– Taiotoshi/kouchi/ouchi

– morote seoinage/kouchi/ouchi/left side sode tsurikomi goshi

The idea with uchikomi (drilling) here is to be perfect in the execution of your throws (foot placement/pulling/body placement etc) so the only issue now becomes how well can you use your throw set to access/create the weak plane. Flawless execution along with good strategy is paramount to judo success.


Fact of the matter is, for elite judoka, they may be world class in their chosen throws, but be as good as a white belt in terms of throws they don’t focus on. They simply do not require a multitude of techniques to be effective. It’s not about surprising your opponent with a “new move” but efficiently using your throw set to generate multiplanal attacks without getting countered yourself.

Good judo tactics must include minor throws

One common issue with BJJ “standup” is there is this focus on learning the spectacular “big throws” like uchimata, shoulder throw, body drop, osotogari. Many BJJ players are unaware that minor throws are some of the most important tools a judoka has. If you look at the list again above, Ouchi and Kouchi are almost always included in the “set” of throws an elite judoka uses.

These minor throws are fast and don’t involve turning your back. Also they don’t need full chest contact so your opponent isn’t close to counter. This makes them “low risk” and you will often see these used as “jabs” to cause reactions to open up an accessible weak plane. Minor throws can (1) score an ippon in themselves, (2) open up the plane for the bigger throw, or (3) finish the opponent as he re-steps to defend a major throw.

(1) Kouchi gari is a special throw


Statistics show that Kouchi is highly favored by top level judokas in their set of throws (“Kouchigari was used by 72% of the Champions and was observed being used in all weight divisions.”). This is no coincidence. Tactically incorporating kouchi makes sense to any forward throw specialist. Why?

One way to “hide” your weak plane is to stand feet parallel with your opponent’s feet so that he has to rotate fully in to do a forward throw. With that lead foot out, you can quickly replant forward to move your CG between your feet again to oppose his pulling force.

Kouchi can attack this posture (and the weak plane created) two ways:

(1) when the opponent pre-emptively adopts this defensive stance

(2) when the opponent steps out to plant when the forward throw is executed.

(2) Ouchi gari attacks on the same plane as a forward throw

Ouchi gari is also useful (and often an included throw in a set) because the best time to use it is when a person is standing the same way that opens up a morote seoi nage (or forward throw generally) attack. Because ouchi gari attacks backwards, it can catch opponents that simply react backwards thinking the forward attack is coming. It is not uncommon to see judoka “jab” the exposed weak plane with the ouchi gari trying to bait a forward reaction to set up a forward throw.

Lack of understanding rather than lack of effort when it comes to typical BJJ stand up tactics

Unfortunately, many of the stand up issues of BJJ players  seem to stem from a poor/lack of understanding of planes and human reaction (no offence, just a personal opinion):

(a) wandering the mat randomly with no concept of proper “footwork” (it exists, just like in boxing/striking)

(b) hand placement/grip fighting seems goalless (in judo it’s to “protect” your weak plane if you want to expose it or to frustrate the relevant throw your opponent wants to use vs your plane)

(c) non-optimal throw selection (using all major throws or attacking only one plane)

(d) wasting energy/attacks throwing into a strong plane

Rodolfo understands all that above and specialises like a traditional judoka

Rodolfo’s throw combination is:

(a) morote seoi nage (2 handed shoulder throw)

(b) kouchi gari (minor inner reaping)

(c) ouchi gari (major inner reaping)

He exclusively goes for these throws and you will not see him trying harai goshi, taiotoshi, uchimata etc. He doesn’t need more forward throws when he already has morote seoi nage. While his judo throws are not as “beautiful” as an elite judoka who mainly is focused on drilling throws, Roldolfo uses his set of throws effectively because he understands the fundamentals of planes, balance and human reaction. Kouchi and ouchi are not just “another throw”, but when combined correctly with a forward throw, allow him to generate multi-planal attacks.

Rodolfo may not be doing anything “new” but his approach to takedowns is unique amongst his BJJ peers. Other top BJJ players who have successfully used judo tactics/techniques include Terere and Leo Vieira.

The video says the rest. This was a challenging entry to make even though I’m MUCH better at analyzing takedown footage/tactics (mainly due to judo’s rules, they constrain how crazy tactics can become/evolve vs BJJ’s constant changing) because conveying the abstract/intuitive theory of “human balance” in a concise way took a while to conceptualize. Hope you like the video, enjoy.



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