Judo is a martial art focused on grappling and is commonly practiced today. On the other hand, mixed martial arts (MMA) is a relatively modern form of unarmed combat. This begs the question: What techniques (if any) can a judo practitioner bring with them into an MMA contest?
Judo has plenty of techniques and moves often used in MMA competitions. Inside trips, foot sweeps, and Ura Nage are all used in high-level MMA bouts. Fighters use judo techniques to control fights and put their opponent on the ground from a standing or clinched position.
This piece will look at the most effective judo moves in MMA contests. We’ll explore the techniques mentioned and explain why they’re effective in MMA, a combat sport with vastly different rules and regulations from judo. But first, we’ll briefly explain what sets these two fight disciplines apart.
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The Differences Between Judo and MMA
The most significant difference between judo and MMA is striking. Punches, kicks, knees, and elbows are a substantial part of MMA but will generally get you disqualified if used in competitive judo. Judo, on the other hand, focuses on controlling an opponent with grappling techniques on the feet and the ground.
Grappling is also a significant element of MMA. However, as strikes are also allowed, fighters must use specific grappling techniques to avoid sustaining damage.
Judo techniques are excellent for this as they mainly consist of throwing an opponent to the floor while the fighter and their opposition are in close contact.
Students of judo can go on to have excellent MMA careers as long as they receive training in other aspects of the sport like striking. A prime example of a judoka (judo expert) that has also conquered MMA is UFC legend, Ronda Rousey.
Ronda Rousey won bronze in judo at the Olympics at 21 years old before switching to MMA. Where she went on to become the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, her judo skills led to some impressive victories while defending her championship.
Best Judo Techniques for MMA
Now that you know the differences between judo and MMA (specifically, the techniques and rules that set the two apart), it’ll be easier to explain which judo techniques transfer best to MMA bouts. Without further ado, let’s go into 11 judo techniques that MMA fighters can also use.
1. Body Lock Trip
Body lock trips are standard practice in MMA, especially by judo experts and wrestlers. To fully understand this technique, you must first understand the body lock position.
A body lock is when you and your opponent are on your feet, and your arms are wrapped around their body while keeping your body close to theirs. This position is excellent for gaining control of your opponent. However, that while you’re in the body lock position, you’ll need to make another move to gain power.
This is where the trip comes in. While you’re latched on to your opponent’s body, you use your leg to hook your opponent’s leg. Next, you push all your weight onto your opponent while they are off balance. This causes them to fall back, giving you complete control over the ground.
UFC hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov often used this technique to dominate his opposition.
2. Inside Leg Sweep
The inside leg sweep is another judo maneuver MMA fighters love to use. This technique involves sweeping the leg underneath your opponent, causing them to fall to the ground quickly.
Inside leg sweeps typically come from the clinch or by a fighter who is attempting a takedown but has failed to do so. Inside leg sweeps happen when a fighter quickly moves a leg out from underneath their opponent by placing one of their legs between their opponent’s legs and moving it to one side or the other.
Fighters can use the inside leg sweep to put their opponent on their back while remaining on their feet. Alternatively, the fighter can go to the ground with their opponent to gain a dominant position or pull off a submission.
3. Harai Goshi
Harai Goshi is a hip toss maneuver that has its roots in judo. This technique is deployed by a fighter while in an upright clinched position. When pulled off correctly, this move will leave the opponent on the floor and offer the fighter an excellent opportunity to attempt a submission.
An effective Harai Goshi consists of throwing an opponent across your body, using your hips to put them off balance, while relying on your body weight to do the heavy lifting. However, before a fighter can start the throw, they must first gain an overarm position, where their arm is on top while gripping their opponent with their hand.
The overarm position allows the fighter to easily transition to a headlock when the two fighters hit the floor. While street fighters and high school bullies often use headlocks to little effect, a headlock performed by a judoka is a devastating move that could end a fight.
4. Osato Gori
Osato Gori is one of the original judo throws and a crucial skill for any judo practitioner seeking to transition to MMA. Osato Gori is a technique that involves tripping your opponent while using a collar hold and hip toss.
Osato Gori starts with one fighter standing directly opposed to another. One fighter will place their arms across onto their opponents’ shoulders in a collar grab or clinch. From this position, the fighter will step to the side and put their outside leg around their opponents.
The fighter must transfer their body weight across their keg, throwing the opponent off balance. The move finishes with the fighter in a dominant position on the ground. This move is an effective takedown in MMA, especially against clinch fighters.
Check out this short YouTube clip of an Osato Gori:
5. Uchi Mata Defense
The Uchi Mata is likely one of the most common judo moves practiced throughout MMA. However, there are two versions of the Uchi Mata on display. The first variety of Uchi Mata that we will examine is the defensive Uchi Mata.
A defensive Uchi Mata is a counter-attacking move that counters your opponent’s offense and turns offense on your opponent. This defensive maneuver is typically used to defend against single-leg takedowns — often with dramatic and effective results.
The Uchi Mata defensive moves come after your opponent attempts to take you down. Now they have their arms in a lock around your waist, attempting to bring you to the ground once more.
To use an Uchi Mata defense, you must move to the side, so you and your opponent are side-to-side. Next, swing your bodyweight forward while swinging your leg back into your opponent’s leg. This will leave them with one leg in the air and off balance.
Now all you need to do is push your bodyweight sharply to the side or bring your keg back down as you move your opponent over. This skill is excellent for shifting momentum in an MMA fight.
6. Uchi Mata Offense
Now that you know about the defensive Uchi Mata, it’s time to take a look at this move in the offense. The Uchi Mata offense is a devastating technique that can put an opponent on their back with lightning speed.
To attempt an offensive Uchi Mata, a fighter must approach their opponent and engage in a clinch. Next, you need to hook your leg around your opponent’s leg, and you’ll go backward. This will put your opponent off balance. Finally, you throw your body weight in one direction, tipping your opponent over.
This technique can be launched from a unique position or when you and your opponent are engaged in a clinch. It’s highly effective for controlling fights and gaining the opportunity to attack using submissions.
7. De Ashi Harai
The De Ashi Harai is often referred to as a forward foot sweep and is a traditional move in judo. While this is technically a sweep, it’s also a throw than can quickly put an opponent on the floor. This move would be helpful for an MMA fighter chasing a submission as it places your opponent in a vulnerable position.
To pull off this skill, the fighter must wait for their opponent to move either forwards or backward. As their opponent moves, the fighter swipes the foot of their opponent just as it touches or lifts from the ground during a stride.
Simultaneously, the fighter must throw their body weight forward into their opposition. The result of this technique should leave their opponent in a heap on the floor and unsure about what just happened to them.
8. Inside Trip
The inside leg trip is another judo technique that’s pretty similar to the body lock trip, except for one significant difference: You don’t need to have a body lock to use this technique. Instead, the inside trip can be deployed from an upright clinch position or as part of a combination that starts with striking the opponent.
Inside trips work when a fighter can hook their opponent’s leg with their leg while simultaneously transferring their weight forwards with force. This pushes their opponent off balance until they hit the floor on their back.
The fighter who performed the trip will land on the ground with their opponent. However, they will be on top and in a great position to capitalize. This technique is popular with many grapplers in MMA, as this technique is also found in wrestling and BJJ, among other martial arts.
9. Ushiro Goshi
Ushiro Goshi is also known as the back hip throw. This technique turns defense into offense when your opponent is attempting to throw you to the ground. As a result, it’s an excellent skill for technical grapplers seeking to swing the tide of the contest to take control of the situation.
An Ushiro Goshi happens when the opponent attempts to throw the fighter while standing in front of them. As the opponent pulls the fighter forward for the throw, the fighter will plant their feet in a firm stance and pull their bodyweight backward away from their opponent.
The fighter uses this shift in momentum along with their firm stance to throw their opponent over their legs and onto the ground beside them. This offers the opportunity to gain control on attempt submissions or land strikes over an opponent.
10. Ura Nage
Ura Nage is a judo move that’s also found in other martial arts like wrestling. However, in wrestling, this move is called a suplex. To pull off an Ura Nage, you need to get behind your opponent, with your arms wrapped around their waist, in a hunched-over posture.
The next step is to stand up while lifting the opponent directly into the air. Once the opponent is off, the fighter will fall backward to slam both their bodyweight and their opponent’s bodyweight onto the back of the head and neck of the opponent.
The force and weight of both fighters landing on the back of one fighter’s head and neck can render them unconscious or cause severe neck injuries. As a result, this technique is banned in some MMA promotions like One FC but is permitted in the UFC.
11. Ippon Seoi Nage
Ippon Seoi Nage is an ancient judo technique that’s classified as a hand throw. This move produces a dramatic spectacle that takes a fighter from a dominant standing position to an incredibly vulnerable ground position, which is likely why it’s so prevalent in MMA.
To complete an Ippon Seoi Nage successfully, a fighter must pull their opponent over their shoulders, up into the air, and hard back down onto the floor using their arm and the fighter’s body weight as leverage.
The end result of this skill is one fighter standing up, holding the arm of a downed opponent. This allows the fighter on their feet to launch an aggressive attack or to mount an armbar, an effective submission technique in MMA.