Why Are There No Leg Grabs in Judo and Why They Aren't Coming Back!

By Joshua Hagen

I am writing this not because of my stance one way or the other as to whether there should be leg grabs in judo, but rather because I believe I now better understand the IJF’s changing the rules to put an end to them. The story that I had always heard was that the IJF wanted to differentiate Judo from wrestling, and simultaneously force everyone into, what they considered, a more beautiful Japanese style of judo.  Kata guruma is of course beautiful, and is performed in the first set of Nage-No-Kata.  Not to mention there are already plenty of differences between the two sports: the uniform, the scoring system, the ability to perform chokes and armlocks, the origins, and on and on. So I figured that there must be more to it.  

The IJF hired Thierry Loison to do statistical analysis of World Championships and the Olympic Games.  In his study, they see how many different techniques are attempted and the success rate of those attacks.  He had an interesting note in the breakdown of the 2014 World Championships

“Before rules changed, especially on grabbing the leg, the reproach made to athletes was they did not turn their backs any more.  It is no longer the case, with 79% of techniques where tori turns his back to try to throw.”

Now, read that quote in the context of the success rate of attacks versus that of counter attacks. Attacks at the Rio Olympics, for instance, were successful 11.4% of the time, while a counter attack was successful a whopping 30.3% of the time.  All that without the ability to grab the leg.  Now, I don’t have the statistics to prove this, but imagine what the success rate of counters must have been if you were still allowed to use techniques like te-guruma. Was it 40%?  It could conceivably have been even higher.  This would obviously lead to many athletes just waiting for counter attacks.  Which then lead to the other athletes not wanting to attack, as the counter attacks were so successful.  This would clearly lead to a number of matches that wouldn’t have any “real” attempts to throw.  A lot of athletes would do just enough to look busy, with matches being decided by whoever received less penalties.  

Now, I’m not saying that I agree with the IJF’s decision, but I don’t know what other options there are to try to ensure that athletes continue to use techniques like harai goshi, uchi mata and seoi nage.  When I first heard that they were banning leg grabs in judo to make judo look less like wrestling, our cousin in a much more “fitted” uniform, and I thought it was absolutely ridiculous.  Leg grabs were not being banned for athlete safety, but for aesthetic reasons? This was tantamount to telling the judo community that sukui nage, te-guruma and morote gari were ugly techniques.  

I have seen some absolutely incredible ippons at the time when leg grabs were permitted.  A good friend and former training partner of mine, Nick Tritton, OLY (Beijing 2008, London 2012, 2-time Tokyo Grand Slam medalist) took Best Athlete in the Swedish World Cup in 2005, winning the final match with one of the most spectacular throws I had ever seen. There is a video posted below this post. To call that te guruma “ugly judo” offends me to my core, but being offended won’t bring leg grabs back.

In light in the increase of attacks where the tori turns his back to his partner, as well as the IJF’s obvious enthusiasm for such an evolution, with a saddened heart I must admit that I do not see a time where these techniques return.

 If you would like to read how the German team uses video review check this blog out

Author's note:

As a number of people asked what exactly the numbers were prior to the rule change in regards to how many attacks people attempted where they turned their back.  I have some very interesting findings.  

I used the 2012 London Olympics stats as my reference point, when grabbing the leg was legal and my counter for statistics will be the Rio Olympic Games.  As I also have that data at my disposal.

In the London Olympic Games the total number of attacks in the whole tournament was 1,932 total attacks.  In the Rio Olympic Games the number was 3,588 total attacks.  

Next I estimated that with people able to grab the leg the success rate of the counter may have been higher then in Rio, my suggestion was possibly as high as 40%.  The successful execution of a counter in the London Games comes in at a 54.2%.  

Finally the total number of attacks where the tori turned his back during an attack in the London Games was 1,511 total attacks.  While in Rio the number of attacks where tori turns his back was 2,691.


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Nice alternative theory and empirical support in this article. Also good point by the above comment.
In Boxing they don’t change rules to keep fighters agressive…the market incentivizes fighters. So fighters must decide if they could make more money winning while boring, or losing in thrillers. Keep in mind a boring win, and you might not get many more fights. Since Judo is more tournament purse, no PPV, the free markets don’t get to correct things.
BJJ is learning and now with Metamorphis, Quintet, etc they are doing invitation only, boxing style promotion, where they choose exciting match ups.
Martial arts should be “if it works, do it”; in which case waiting to counter is a good way to do stand up grappling. IJF is not martial arts, it is business…so they should just follow the boxing model in that case and no have their balls straddling the fence.


You are propably right with the falling numbers of turning attacks (throws with tai-sabaki). However I’m saddened with how judo is forced into a mold instead of letting it evolve as an effective grappling sport. Seems like every bit or realism in fighting is sacrificed for a big uchi-mata? What if we’d just admit that maybe there are more effective ways to throw a man to the floor than big turning throws like a goshi-guruma or an uchi-mata?

This IJF’s corporate way to regulate creativity and natural evolution of grappling is one of the main reasons why my previous side-sport, brazilian jiu-jitsu is now my main sport and the arena where I’m building my career. Bjj has its rules (and problems) too but the general philosophy is “use whatever works and create some more”. Also the role of the referee is still minimal compared to judo. Technique is evolving rapidly and it is fascinating to be a part of the process without worrying if rules will be banning my “tokui-waza”. Also, having different organizations with different grappling rulesets for the bjj athlete (IBJJF, ADCC, EBI) the top grapplers lead the evolution of the sports by fighting and seeing the outcome in fights (instead making decisions in of some “referee committees” with men in ties&suits).

I still do judo once a week as side-practice for the stand-up-game of my bjj but the current ruleset makes it questionable if it is worth it? I really hope all the best for judo and I’ll be back in the dojo when leg grabs are allowed again.

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