Rikako Yuasa and the Legendary Lasso

By Matthew Gioia

Within the context of sports, there is nothing that builds excitement and drama quite like a clash between countries and culture. Whether it be The Miracle on Ice, the incendiary rise of Muhammed Ali, or the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, many of the explosions of popularity within different sports stem from nationalistic tendencies. 

The rise of Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are no different as both were primarily built off the back of Japanese and Brazilian conflict within the arena of sport. Japanese born Mitsuya Maeda first planted the seeds of what would become known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu once he took on Carlos Gracie as a student. Perhaps the most famous match in history, Masahiko Kimura vs Helio Gracie was contested at Maracanã Stadium to crown a “World Jiu Jitsu Champion”. The legendary PRIDE promotion’s first main event consisted of a battle between Brazil’s grappling ace Rickson Gracie and legendary Japanese pro-wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, and drew over 47,000 spectators. MMA Icon Kazushi Sakuraba’s legacy was built off submitting the Gracie family’s finest fighters.

While contests that invoked Japan vs Brazil dominated the early days of vale tudo and MMA, Japanese excellence under the IBJJF circuit was rare with Yuki Nakai, the Japanese MMA luminary having the first glimmer of success followed by his protege, Yukinori Sasa who went on to achieve the best placing of a Japanese grappler for over decade, an IBJJF World Championship victory at Brown belt. It was not until his student Rikako Yuasa, that Japan had its first IBJJF Black Belt World Champion, a championship that she would defend for four consecutive years as well as three consecutive ADCC Asia and Oceania Trials successes. 

Yuasa, otherwise known as “Lady Sasa” possessed expert body control allowing her to invert with ease and to win any scramble she found herself in. This was not due to any overwhelming athletic advantage, but due to her dedicated focus to body control. Yuasa was known for training for hours by herself to perfect her own body mechanics, which paid off tremendously throughout her career.

When it comes to pure jiu jitsu, very few athletes can hold a candle to the technical prowess shown by Yuasa. A lasso player through and through, Yuasa utilized the deep lasso as the mechanism to get underneath her opponents.. In order for the deep lasso to be effective, it is crucial that the player controls the non lasso side as various stacks, headquarters, and knee cut passes are available if the guard player does not have the passers squared to them. 

In this sequence, Yuasa shows her overarching strategy expertly. First, she enacts her shallow lasso in order to connect herself to her opponent. Once this connection is achieved, Yuasa looks to control the far side sleeve in order to bring her opponent’s weight forward. When her opponent’s weight is fully on the far side leg, Yuasa places the non lasso leg on the lasso side and underhooks her opponent’s leg, thereby inverting and starting her attack. 

This attack is so difficult to defend against because Yuasa is simultaneously tying up her opponents limbs and getting under their base, making it impossible for her opponent’s to use their arms as a mechanism to post. Therefore her opponents must adjust their positioning via their legs, where any movement causes excess space, allowing Yuasa to invert and attack. Once Yuasa is completely underneath her opponent they are at her mercy, as she typically looks to attack with pendulum-esque sweeps. 

While most of her opponents started completely standing, fighters at Yuasa’s weight class have also been known to attack from the squatted position as the squat allows for tighter control over their own elbows while preventing inversions due to how close the two athletes are. In order to combat this, Yuasa looks to create space by going to the shin to shin position and raising one of her opponent’s legs. This causes her opponent to readjust her base, creating enough space for Yuasa to start inverting and attacking submissions and sweeps.

When Yuasa’s opponent opted to sit while encased in her lasso, Yuasa was given almost free access to the berimbolo position, where she would either attack the back, or to come up into the leg drag position, her preferred style of passing. 

Rikako Yuasa is not only a pioneer in the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but also one of the purest technicians the sport has ever seen. Her deep lasso game was both visually stunning and fundamentally sound as she routinely flummoxed her opponents with constant inversions. By consistently off-balancing her opponent’s, Yuasa never gave them the opportunity to anchor themselves to the ground, thereby allowing herself to consistently create enough space to launch her attacks. While not currently active, you can still see Yuasa’s clear influence on the athletes of today at the lowest weight categories of the women’s division as the leg drag, lasso, and berimbolo are all weapons in the arsenal of today’s best rooster weights.