A perfect judo footsweep is beyond satisfying. With almost no effort on your part, your sparring partner finds themselves laid out wondering what the hell happened. Incorporating judo footsweeps into your Brazilian jiu-jitsu training is well worth the time spent. They aren’t necessarily hard to learn, they just take a lot of practice and a strong understanding of happo no kuzushi (breaking balance).
First off – credit where it’s due. Thank you Sensei David Waterhouse for introducing me to judo through your U of T course “Judo in Japanese Culture”. Next, huge thanks to Sensei Donald Smith, who was my footsweep mentor during my time at the Hart House Judo Club at the University of Toronto. A 25-year-old skateboarder typically holds their balance in high regard, so it left an impression when a white-haired senior citizen – who I outweighed by about 20 pounds – repeatedly kicked my feet out from under me with very little apparent effort. Hey pride, see you later. Eternal gratitude to Senseis Don and David.
What is a Judo Footsweep?
If I learned one thing while studying towards a B.Sc. in human biology, it’s that categorization is your friend (Kind People Can Often Find Gold Specks, if you know what I mean), so here comes the framework.
Judo throwing techniques (nage-waza) are broken down into five categories:
- Hand throwing techniques (te-waza)
- Hip throwing techniques (koshi-waza)
- Foot or leg throwing techniques (ashiwaza)
- Sacrifice throws (ma-sutemi-waza)
- Side sacrifice throws (yoko-sutemi-waza)
Judo’s list of foot and leg throws includes:
- Osotogari (large outer reap)
- Ouchigari (large inner reap)
- Hiza-guruma (knee wheel)
- Oguruma (large wheel)
- Ashi-guruma (leg wheel)
- Osoto-guruma (large outer wheel)
- Osoto-otoshi (large outer drop)
- Kosotogari (small outer reap)
- Kouchigari (small inner reap)
- Deashi-harai (advancing foot sweep)
- Okuri-ashi-harai (sliding foot sweep)
- Sasae-tsurikomi-ashi (supporting foot lifting pulling throw)
- Harai-tsurikomi-ashi (lifting pulling foot sweep)
- Uchimata (inner thigh reap)
Of these, kouchigari, deashiharai, okuriashiharai, harai-tsurikomiashi, and (depending on your style) ouchigari are classic judo footsweeps, meaning that they involve sweeping your opponent’s foot the split second before or after a weight transfer.
A throw like hizaguruma (one of my personal favourites) is considered by some to be a sweep, but it’s more of a block – breaking an opponent’s balance and forcing them to step, but then blocking the foot they have to step with, sending them to the floor. Osotogari is also sometimes referred to as a sweep, but it’s a reaping throw, meaning that you load your opponent’s weight onto one of their legs and then kick that leg out from under them.
The Judo Footsweep Concept
The beginner version of the footsweep involves hacking at your opponent’s shins and feet until you decide that footsweeps don’t work or you sprain their ankle. While attacking the ankles and feet is great for self defense or MMA (as proven by Marco Ruas when he fought Paul Varelans at UFC 7), it won’t endear you to your training partners in a friendly judo or BJJ class. It’s also a lot of work.
The secret to a good footsweep is timing. Footsweeps that attack an advancing foot – deashi-harai, kouchigari, ouchigari – are probably the most common. You want to sweep out the opponent’s foot a split second before they commit their weight. Their brain has told them that it’s safe to put their full weight down, but if you’ve done your sweep correctly, their foot isn’t there for them. The effect is like walking with your eyes closed and then stepping on a banana peel or into a hole.
Okuri-ashi-harai (Sliding Foot Sweep)
Okuri-ashi-harai is slightly different, but similar. You start by off-balancing your opponent so that they have to take a big step to one side, forcing them to take an over-wide stance. To regain a stable stance their only option is to slide their other foot back into line, and this is when you strike. As their trailing foot is sliding, lighten them by lifting slightly with your arms, then sweep their trailing foot into their other foot. If you do it correctly, they’ll end up horizontal in the air.
In the following video okuri-ashi-harai is demonstrated in the classic way – sliding sideways. This is the best way to show the principle of this footsweep but isn’t realistic in sparring. In a real situation you’ll have more success if you change your footwork a bit. Experiment with taking a smaller step to turn yourself in a small circle while using your arms to pull your partner off balance (kuzushi!) and swing them in a larger arc around you. If you do it right you’ll be forcing them to take a big step – there’s your opening.
Judo Footsweeps in MMA
So they sound great in theory and seem to be effective in judo, but do footsweeps work in MMA? Yes they do. These two examples are different from the judo throws covered above, but the concept of the timed sweep is exactly the same.
Renzo Gracie vs. Frank Shamrock at EliteXC: Destiny
During his fight against Frank Shamrock at EliteXC: Destiny on February 10, 2007, Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend Renzo Gracie nailed a beautiful MMA footsweep. At about the 3:15 mark of round one (~7:22 of the video below) Renzo grabs for a single-leg and drives forward, forcing Shamrock to hop backwards to maintain his balance. After about three hops, Gracie sweeps out Shamrock’s foot and down he goes. Notice how easy it looks? That’s because Renzo timed his footsweep and hit it when Frank Shamrock’s weight wasn’t fully on it.
Jacare vs. Luke Rockhold at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, a world-class BJJ competitor, treated viewers to another primo MMA footsweep during his title fight against Luke Rockhold at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey. Jacare’s tactic was similar to Renzo’s – grab a single leg, drive your opponent off balance, and sweep the other leg. Check out the footsweep action starting at the 1:35 mark of round three (around 21:15 of the video and just after Jacare recovers from the direct groin kick). Very slick.
So round up a few of your Brazilian jiu-jitsu training partners, start drilling footsweeps, practice your timing, and work towards internalizing the footsweep concept. At first you’ll get frustrated and your training partners will resent you for chopping at their ankles. But before you know it you’ll be hitting slick judo footsweeps on unsuspecting opponents in BJJ, grappling, MMA, sambo, or whatever combat sport happens to float your boat.