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Stories and Technique With Ilias Iliadis

Stories and Technique With Ilias Iliadis

Ilias Iliadis requires no introductions for Judo fanatics and he’s one of the few that are known outside of Judo circles. He is certainly one of the most accomplished judokas of all times, with 2 Olympic medals - Gold and Bronze, in 2 different weight classes-, 3 World titles and 6 World medals in total, and a long list of wins on the IJF tour spanning almost 2 decades.

He is known for his incredible work ethic, unorthodox and spectacular Judo, and his famous personal leitmotiv: “I must win!”


A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar with Ilias Iliadis in Montreal. There are a few things that I took away from this experience.


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The first is the sheer intensity of the personality of Ilias and his pure determination to be the best he can be at his chosen career. Don’t get me wrong, at that point he had nothing to prove anymore. Well, he probably doesn't have anything to prove since he won Olympic Gold in Athens in 2004 at the age of 17. He just loves the competition with fierce intensity!

At that seminar, he wore us down physically during warm ups, he showed his best techniques, and he made sure we understood why we were there. And it clearly didn’t involve wasting our time… or his!

Funny story, Travis Stevens (another of my Judo heros) was there too. Only watching as he had traveled with a few of team USA athletes and anyway, he probably knew Iliadis’ Judo inside out first hand already. At one point, Iliadis didn’t appreciate the seriousness or lack thereof of some of the participants who were merrily chit chatting along instead of working. He stopped the training.He pointed to Travis, and in a growling accent and broken English, he said, “What you are doing here? Why you talk? I want to talk to my friend Travis, I call Travis on the phone… On the mat I have no friends, I have no family. I just do Judo!” And that was that. Needless to say, the level of focus of everybody went up a few notches right away! I’m sure Travis appreciated too, being the Judo working beast that he is. I’m sure that if he wanted to talk to Iliadis it would be over the phone too.

There are sacrifices involved in trying to be the best in Judo. I think that that is the point he tried to make. You should be ready to make them if you want to walk onto the highest step of an Olympic podium. For that matter, this goes for any endeavor you set high aims for yourself in life.

Iliadis showed his approach to Seionage (Eri style), O goshi variations and Wizer grip Uchimata.

The Wizer grip Uchimata was the same one he shows on this video:


It’s a technique that works best against opposite stance players, as it will be easier to get the wizer grip. Iliadis likes to close gripping opportunities of his opponents by gripping on the lapel with his left hand, instead of the sleeve. This also gives him the right distance he needs to get the Wizer and allows him to better control his opponent’s shoulders as he breaks his posture forward. It is important to control the shoulder of Uke and to put the pressure to keep it trapped. It is also crucial to use the cross grip to put additional pressure on your opponent and to be ready to finish the throw as he gives the right reaction. Uke will try to push back and stand up. Don’t rush this is training. Wait and try to get the right feeling. Obviously, as always, your training partner should give you the right reaction for this to work in the best way.  

Iliadis has spent years perfecting his variations and proofing them on the Judo international scene against the best of the best. They work! 

At the seminar, Iliadis also gave us the reason he developed these techniques in this way. 

There is obviously the influence of his Georgian origins. Iliadis is the cousin of the also Athens Gold Olympic medallist Zurab Zviadauri (clearly Judo runs strong in this family). So there is a personal and cultural affinity for this style of unorthodox Judo. But beyond that, there is a clear tactical reason to Iliadis’ grip fighting style and technique variations: He thought that trying to go head to head with the classical Japanese style of Judo was emphatically a losing proposition for him. He saw no way he could confront the traditional lapel sleeve gripping and classical throws of the Japanese with the exact same approach. He told us himself, “I no can do Japenese style. They do this style since they are little. I no can let Japanese take grip and I take same grip. I lose every time if I do!” 

So there you go, in your Judo journey you should look for the style that works the best for you, and take from each great athlete what you can appropriate to your style. 

Good luck with your training!

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