The origins of modern MMA lie in Brazilian ‘Vale Tudo’ fights where men with great pride and even greater fighting skills would battle it out to see which style of fighting was the most effective. This led to the first UFC which ran with the idea of ‘style versus style’ and certainly in the first decade since it’s inception in the early nineties, the title of most effective fighting style would change. First it was Brazilian/Gracie Jiu Jitsu, then wrestling and ground and pound, before the Chuck Liddell era of ‘Sprawl and Brawl’. Judo always took a back seat.

Modern MMA sees the style lines much more blurred and fighters much more rounded but in the last five years no fighter in the UFC has had more of an impact or has become more famous than Ronda Rousey. And Judo is Ronda Rousey’s thing.

The contradiction of using the art of judo in the Octagon though is that it was created in the late 1800s as a less brutal version of Jiu Jitsu and the word Judo itself literally translates as ‘Gentle Way’. Many see judo more as a sport and less of a way of fighting. I visited my own old judo club in South London, Metro Judo, and spoke to coach and founder Mick Murphy to get his thoughts on the use of judo in MMA.

Mick Murphy and Metro Judo Club background

Mick has been involved in Judo and martial arts for four over decades. The club he helped found was started 38 years ago in Greenwich, South East London – just a few miles from the Olympic park that would spring up a few decades later – and was originally called ‘Metro Gas’ as it was on the site of the gas board. The club was set up for gas workers at the time to bring their children to learn judo.

The gas board sold the facilities but the judo club, now called just ‘Metro’, continued in a local community centre for many years with much success at National and International level, before moving to new state of the art facilities (that the club helped to design) in May 2012. A few months later Metro would have its greatest ever success at the London 2012 Olympics with Metro’s own Gemma Gibbons, who started with the club aged just six, picking up a silver medal and providing one of the events most enduring images.

Another of the club’s former pupils, Emma Delaney, has gone on to fight professionally in Mixed Martial Arts.

Mick on Judo as a Sport

“I consider judo to be a sport. To get into the Olympic Games you have to be a recognised sport. You have to have a structure around the world, a recognised structure. I always say that we are a sport. We can be classed as a martial art but I consider us to be a refined sport that has got an Olympic spot.”

On MMA and the use of Judo in it

“Watching the Irish sensation in MMA, Conor McGregor, he is a boxer. I hadn’t watched him a lot but out of curiosity I watched him and yeah, he did well. I haven’t seen all his fights but I don’t know how good he is on the ground. But (I think) you’re either good standing up or good on the ground and if you go on the ground with someone good then you’re in trouble.

“I think no sport holds the rights to a movement of the body. Judo evolved from Jiu Jitsu and that is a sport where they tend to do more arm locks and strangles; they do other things to us. I always explain martial arts as like the church; you have the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Two totally different churches that both believe in the same thing.

“There are only so many ways you can move the body and you can’t say that (a particular move) belongs to judo. If you can move the body in that direction then anyone can use it. If it’s a skill then use it.

“I think the point boils down to, where is the sporting element in it (MMA)? Where is the standard in it becoming a sport or a kicking match, a brutal attack on a human being, where is the sporting element to that? When you throw (in judo), there are rules. There are rules in Jiu Jitsu. Mixed Martial Arts, when you watch them punching the head repeatedly of a player, where is the sporting element? I think it is man being brought to its lowest common denominator.

“My own son, David, became British Thai Boxing champion and he used his judo skills in Thai Boxing. If you have a judo background then it is going to help you in MMA. What is MMA? They haven’t invented anything new. They have taken the skills from judo, Jiu Jitsu, boxing etc and created this animal like lowest common denominator as far as I am concerned. It is my personal opinion, I know it might not be others’ opinion.

“I think it is like watching a pub fight. They are in a ring instead of a pub but they have very small gloves on…

“Most people who do judo do it for the skill factor, the enjoyment. Once you start mixing martial arts, you completely change it. It is the difference between a lion and a zebra. It’s a different sport and you have got to be prepared for some pain. Is that what you want out of sport?

“Most judo techniques would work in MMA. They are designed to throw people. You won’t get Ippon (judo equivalent of a KO) in MMA but you’ll get them to the floor and it gives you that advantage as you’re on top.

“Using judo (in MMA) depends on the background of the fighter. If they are from a judo background then yes they should try to use it but if they come from a boxing background then they will more likely look for the knock out. My son, when he was Thai Boxing, he trained with a boxing coach as he knew that when he hit them they would go. Joining the boxing skills with the Thai boxing skills.

“Yeah, he (my son) mixed them. K1 took on the judo model with a number of fights in a night, including the final. Boxing now does it with Prizefighter but this came from Judo. All sports borrow from other sports. My son’s boxing really helped his kick boxing.”

On Ronda Rousey and her impact in both judo and MMA

“I can honestly say no (Rousey has not brought new members to the club). We have had the odd mixed martial artist come here to learn groundwork skills and we have taught them. I would think a majority of people at the club do not watch MMA. Her (Rousey’s) judo was good, she got a bronze medal in the Olympics but she was nothing great, she was not the greatest judo player. Fair play to her she has gone into a new career in MMA and used those skills to make herself the star that she is and this has reflected on judo. But only in the respect that she learnt the skills in judo.

“Rousey’s success probably has been a positive for judo. It has reflected on judo, she learnt her skills (in judo), she was an Olympic bronze medalist. So yes, it has reflected on how good judo is. She got her core skills in judo and every time she is on they mention judo, judo, judo. It is not a bad thing for judo, even I can see that. Some people may see her and decide to learn judo. Fair play to her, she has used her skills and promoted herself.”

On teaching judo for MMA purposes and the change in judo

“There is no such thing as MMA focused judo. Judo is judo. The skills you learn in judo you can take into MMA and refine those skills.

“Judo has evolved in that a lot of the things the MMA fighters do, judo had a lot of leg take downs…

“After the Beijing Olympics, a lot more Eastern European nations appeared and they all have more wrestling based styles of judo with the leg grabs. Everybody was then trying to grab the legs and people thought it was boring to watch. It was decided it would be cut out and that you’d have to throw with big techniques. Now you have to get out there and you have to throw, there is no argument, it is big throws. The skills (double leg takedowns) that you would have learnt from judo are gone.

“It has made it more entertaining and brought more excitement back to judo. Judo has really progressed. People want to see the skill factor, the big throws.”

As an MMA fan and writer, I obviously do not share all of Mick’s views on MMA. However Mick is certainly a man to be respected with a long history in traditional martial arts. Many in the boxing world also have strong views similar to Mick’s on MMA and fans of the sport can only hope that MMA will one day be as respected as the more traditional forms of combat – after all it is an evolution of them in the same way that judo was an evolution of Jiu Jitsu all those years ago.