Don’t get me wrong: I love guard passing and sweeps as much as the next jiu-jitsu guy, but I there is a special place on my heart for takedowns, especially big throws. I have competed in Wrestling (high school level) and judo, but this weekend I finally competed in sambo. Competing in sambo has been on my bucket list for a long time. I have been telling myself I would jump on a tournament for years now but never pulled the trigger. This weekend, I was at a camp run by my friend Reilly Bodycomb, and on the last day of camp he held a small in house tournament.
I was out of excuses.
Let’s rewind. My friend Dave got me to join a wrestling team when we were in high school. I wrestled my Junior and Senior year. We were a small team that struggled to fill all the weight classes. Takedowns were the aspect of the sport that attracted me the most and what I wanted to master the most. I watched Cael Sanderson and tried to emulate his wrestling style, emphasis on the word “tried.” I was not a good wrestler. I wish I had started sooner. Somehow I managed to make it to Regionals my senior year, and I most remarkably got the most takedowns in my team.
Fast forward to when I started training in BJJ. I trained at a judo/karate club in Cranford, NJ. Again, I stepped on the mats because of Dave’s encouragement. My original plan was to train jiu-jitsu with him in the morning twice a week, but I soon realized I was missing out on a big opportunity. The judo instructor was Yoshisada Yonezuka, legend of the sport. He was a Japanese champion, one of the few 8th dans outside of Japan, and was a coach for the Olympic team in ’88 and ’92. I couldn’t pass that up!
I started training judo two to three times a week, especially on the nights where we had an hour of newaza (ground work) before the regular judo class. My love for takedowns made it easy to fall in love with judo throws even if I was on the receiving end for many of them.
In my first judo class, Dave and I were the only white belts on the mat. Everyone else? Black belts, and a few them were ranked in the US and aspiring to make the 2008 Olympic team while others had already been there and done that. I was a young athletic kid, but having a 50+ year-old toss you again and again humbles you quickly.
As I progressed, I worked on the classic Japanese throws—seoi nage, uchimata, osoto gari—but I started to incorporate fireman’s carries(kata guruma) and pick up variations as well.
It’s a twisty road, but this where I started to develop an interest in sambo. Searching for throws on YouTube exposed me to eastern European grapplers. Many of them were Russian judo players, and it was a short hop to diving down the rabbit hole of sambo. While my love for takedowns is stronger than ever, I fell out of love with the judo scene as the rules continued to change, making many of my favorite techniques illegal.
Dropping into a sambo competition as a longtime fan brought me back and it reinvigorated the passion that I had in those early years. The sambo game as a whole is beautiful to watch and a blast to take part in. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find Sambo tournaments in the US. Hopefully more BJJ guys will get out of their guard pulling comfort zone and give a sports sambo tournament a try. Maybe this way they can become more popular.
Because oh man am I jonesing for more takedowns.