The Skill Problem

Everything we learn in grappling is “use-it-or-lose-it”. If you don’t keep using the armbar you learned, at some point you’ll forget it. I’m finding myself watching old DVDs for refreshers of even the most basic techniques these days because, quite simply, I’m not using them.

The holidays have kept me away from Saturday BJJ and in judo the only groundwork we do is randori and turtle breakdowns. If you’ve been keeping score at home you’re well aware of how I feel about judo’s emphasis on the turtle.

So this is my latest problem – I miss being able to to do all of the awesome stuff I love to do on the ground and because I don’t have an outlet to practice it, I know I’m starting to suck at it.

Stalling In Judo

I alluded to it in the post about “survival” in BJJ, but stalling is a real problem in judo. There are explicit rules to try to force the action because of it. Let’s start by making a clear distinction – interrupting your opponent’s action by stopping for a moment so you can switch tactics, that’s not stalling. Stalling is getting to a point where you cannot easily attack or be attacked with the goal of the ruleset intervening on your behalf.

In judo it’s not uncommon to see a weaker player not only stopping attacks, but unable to initiate a counterattack so they’re just holding out. Their arms go stiff, their hips drop back, and it’s a heck of time to try to get in on them. There are ways to go about it, but the rules give penalties (shido) for such a defensive posture and for non-combativity. If you’re not there to play judo, why bother being there? But to be honest, my experience is that it’s far more common to see people stall on the ground. A failed throw and just about everyone turtles. In this case, there is no such shido for stalling on the ground.

Because you can safely stall there, we explicitly train it. Whereas the ground drill for the guard is that the person on the top should work to pass while the person on the bottom works to sweep or submit; the drill for turtle is the person on top should perform a turn-over or submission while the person on the bottom simply holds the position. In BJJ, this isn’t the case. Back-mount is 4 points. If you let them get their hooks in, you’re probably now down on points. No one is going to save you (unless the match is close to time) so you need to get out of that extremely prone position. In judo though, it’s an encouraged tactic.

As much as I tend to dislike the addition of new rules and restrictions in the sport, I think it would do us a lot of good to limit stalling on the ground. I’d wager it would make the sport more interesting to watch and encourage a higher-level of groundwork in judo if we issued a shido to individuals who used the turtle or half-guard to stall.

The messy part is when do we stand them up and what is stalling? If someone actively moves from being mounted to having half-guard and can’t do something due to being shut down, it probably doesn’t warrant a shido but they ought to be stood up; it’s not going anywhere. If someone gets half-guard and just hangs out without trying to attack or advance to a better position though… I’d say they should still be stood up, but also issued a shido for stalling. Yes, it’s completely subjective, but the current stalling penalty already is – was that an earnest attack? Are the competitors both working but equally matched? Is one competitor dominating so much that the other can’t recover? We have to take all of these into account standing. The biggest requirement here is really having referees who are comfortable enough on the ground to know what’s a slow setup and what’s plain old stalling, but most of the judo refs I know are good enough on the ground to tell that already – it’s when they determine to stand the pair up.

I think this alone would have the potential to equalize the importance of groundwork and throwing in judo. When you issue a shido for non-combativity to a player, it’s generally the case that both competitors start fighting harder, afraid of that second penalty. I’d like to see the same effect on the ground – issue a shido and the next time they went to the ground both people would actively work for a better position or submission. If the IJF wanted to improve ground game in judo, I’d bet money this would be the best way to do it.