The Gentle Way: From Tatami Mats to the Octagon

In this article, we are going to look at the relationship between judo and Mixed Martial Arts with reference to a couple of fighters who have successfully crossed the bridge between the two, completing a successful transition between the two disciplines.

Not commonly viewed as a traditional gateway to the world of MMA, Judo has nonetheless provided the perfect background for a number of eminent and preeminent stars.

A gold medallist Judoka in the +100kg category at the 2008 summer games in Beijing, Satoshi Ishii catapulted himself onto the MMA scene after taking his judo game to the very top. Winning four MMA bouts via submission without ever suffering the ignominy of being forced to tap out, Ishii has adapted the requirement of judokas to constantly keep ‘going in’ to MMA, submitting opponents in the first round in all aforementioned four submission victories.

Sharing a birthplace with Kanō Jigorō ((嘉納 治五郎), Ishii has managed to carve out his own place in the halls of combat sports, after a successful transition which saw him at one point boast a competitive record of 12-2-1 before consecutive losses to Croatian heavyweight, Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipović, have somewhat tarnished Ishii’s MMA résumé.

Judo and Mixed Martial Arts has not always made for a harmonious association; recently the French Judo Federation (la Fédération Française de Judo) has moved to ban any fighter known to be involved with MMA from competing in the sport of judo. The President of the French Judo Federation, Jean-Luc Rouge, spoke out in an interview conducted by L’Equipe in February of 2015, damning MMA:

“MMA is illegal in France. Anyone [in judo] caught teaching MMA, will be removed from the French Judo Federation. These new combat sports [MMA] seem like they come out of a video game, These guys are stupid enough to kill each other in front of everyone in a cage and they are well paid, so they would accept. ”

This controversial rule has, perhaps not too unexpectedly, split opinion amongst those involved in combat sports. Bertand Amoussou, a European Judo Championship medallist, spoke out against the ban stating “As a judoka, I am saddened because I know that the opinion of French Judo President Rougé is not the opinion of all the followers of judo in France. Judo coaches that teach MMA have found that this new discipline is a way of developing their clubs by welcoming both older and new participants.”

Ronda Rousey, a name which continues to attract a seemingly endless stream of superlatives from all corners of the world, and for good reason. The current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, actress, model and feared practitioner of the armbar, is also a second generation Judoka and followed the example of her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, into the world of Judo.

Like Ishii, Ronda also featured at the 2008 Summer Games, picking up a bronze medal in the -70kg category. The California native has rocketed to mega stardom since, using her unique combination of prodigious MMA ability and judo background to dominate the field, forcing through boundaries and smashing glass ceilings on her way to becoming the biggest current draw in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Her trademark aggressive, submission-seeking style is a skill set traditionally developed by judoka and when matched with the level of athleticism you’d expect to find in an athlete who has reached the top level of the sport of judo, has resulted in an exceptionally one-sided women’s field; already the question being asked is can anybody even hope to be competitive against a competitor of Ronda’s calibre? That question was last posed before her bout with Cat Zingano and was emphatically answered in the negative, defeating her in a record setting 14 seconds. It will be asked once again after talks of a match between Ronda and undefeated Brazilian fighter, Bethe Correia, continue to gain momentum. Another emphatic victory in this bout and the current #1 pound-for-pound fighter in women’s MMA could struggle to find competition that will pose any kind of serious doubt. Of course, that is not the draw of Ronda Rousey, like Tyson in the 90’s, the casual audience of combat sports salivate to see a dominant, charismatic, trash-talking fighter destroy an opponent in double-quick time.

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