DEVELOPING A WINNING JUDO TECHNIQUE
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Ever wonder how judo champions can run a ten-man slaughter line using only a limited number of techniques, winning six out of ten fights with their signature uchi-mata or tokui-waza? Even though everyone in the lineup already knows that these techniques will be used against them.
I wondered the same thing when former World Champion and Tokai University coach Nobuyuki Sato bounced me all over the mat for 10 minutes using nothing but tai-otoshi. Granted, I was only 20 years old at the time, but if you want to learn their secrets, read on….
Developing a winning judo technique and becoming a champion is not rocket science. In theory it is quite simple but, in practice, not so easy. It is in the attempted implementation of the following that the judoka will discover whether or not he or she has the dedication and perseverance to make the grade.
The short answer to the super-waza puzzle is to simply train harder, longer, more often, and smarter than your opponents. To expand on that, here is how it works:
- Select and develop a nice clean “big ippon” technique, for example uchi-mata (commonly used by many champions)
- Practice two or three different lines of attack, such as a direct entry, a circular entry to the right, and a step-back spinning entry (just examples).
- Do more uchi-komi than the other judoka in your dojo. If they are doing 100, then you do 200 or 300, but keep the movements clean and correct. Remember, it is not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice that makes perfect. Uchi-komi can also be done at home with a belt or uchi-komi bands around a post or a strong hook in the wall.
- Incorporate forty or fifty nage-komi each day, throwing into a crash pad, so that you can develop the feeling of throwing at full speed and with full power.
- Practice applying this technique relentlessly in randori, to the exclusion of other techniques while you are perfecting this one. Begin with easier opponents to work on your timing and technique, and then work your way up to more experienced fighters.
- Develop several setups and combinations (renraku-waza) that end with this technique, for example, ouchi-gari to uchi-mata, or sasae-tsurikomi-ashi to uchi-mata, etc.
- Develop the stamina and endurance to attack relentlessly for 5 minutes in a match. Keep in mind that endurance in judo is a combination of both aerobic and anaerobic capacity.
- Develop the physical strength equal to other competitors in your age and weight division; this includes arms, legs and core. For example, when competing at a light-heavy weight I knew that most of the top competitors could bench-press 250 pounds, so that became my first strength development target.
And there you have it! Within a few months, and with the appropriate intensity and frequency, you will begin down the path to becoming a superior athlete, with a superior technique, that will come reflexively in randori and competition. The more you make the conscious effort to attack with this technique, the sooner it will come automatically in randori and shiai.
If this sounds simplistic, it is. But if you are not willing to follow this advice, then you will fail at the higher levels of competition. Why you may ask? Because the other serious
competitors are already doing this, therefore you need to be doing more than them. So train hard, train often, train smart, and listen to your coach.
DE-CONSTRUCTING THE JUDOKA OR COMPETITOR
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Most followers of Judo Training Development, whether student, competitor, or coach, will have some understanding of what it takes to build a competitor in Judo, but what does it mean to de-construct a competitor? Anyone who has trained with elite level coaches in Europe or Japan will understand this process, but the process is equally valid for the club level sensei or coach.
The purpose of de-construction is to rebuild the foundation.
Using a high-rise building as an example, if the structure is built on a soft, sub-standard foundation it is sure to fail. Construction may begin well for the first few levels, but as the building gets taller, the weaknesses in the foundation will become more apparent. Eventual the weight of the building will exceed the strength of the foundation and the building will crack, sag, and topple. This is why buildings are constructed on solid ground, or the foundations are sunk deep enough to reach bedrock.
The same is true for competitive judoka. If the foundational training in the principles of Judo is absent or weak, then the competitor will eventually hit a point where he or she is not advancing or improving. This may be mistaken for a training plateau, but simply training harder will not solve the problem. The elite athlete who consistently places 5th but never 1st or 2nd year after year, may want to ask why they are not improving? The astute judo coach should probably make the athlete take several steps back, to break bad habits or improve weak techniques (de-construction), before rebuilding the technical foundation needed to support forward progress.
An example that comes to mind was a junior blue belt visiting from another club. He was thirteen years old, and going by the back-patch on his judogi, he had fought at the USA Junior Nationals. At first glance he exhibited all the characteristics of a seasoned junior competitor. He was solidly built, had a good appreciation for grip fighting, and attacked as soon as he had a grip. The problem was that he had no effective judo techniques and no concept of set-ups or combinations. Therefore, he was unable to throw any opponent in randori. In talking to him, it became evident that he had never been schooled in Kodokan Judo, did not know the difference between a tai-otoshi or a harai-goshi, and knew none of the Japanese terminology for tachi-waza or newaza.
As it turned out, this boy was from a non-traditional fight club that also practiced wrestling, Sambo, and MMA grappling. None of his instructors were formally trained Judo sensei or coaches in the true sense, and Judo was simply one of the many activities offered at their grappling club. The result was that this young fighter would probably plateau at the junior level and never grow into a well rounded judoka with a comprehensive repertoire of effective Judo techniques. The prescriptive training, if this was one of my students or athletes, would be to step back from competition for 6 months to a year, and begin developing this young athlete’s technical Judo skills.
This was a lesson I learned, first-hand, in my late teens training with Japanese university champions and French light-middleweight and middleweight champions. I was a light-heavyweight at the time, and even though they were much smaller and lighter, they were able to consistently throw me with speed, timing, and good technique. This encouraged me to become a better technician.
A similar problem is often seen with novice Senior competitors who may be physically very strong or overweight. At the lower levels of club randori and competition they are able to rack up some wins with pure strength and size, but in depending on strength alone they fail to develop speed, timing, and technique. By the time they begin competing in Senior competition with brown and black belts they are being bounced all over the tatami or being penalized for stiff-arm defensive fighting.
The prescriptive training, in these cases, is de-construction, which involves forcing the judoka to stop using strength and develop better Judo habits. This requires focusing on good Judo: good clean techniques, frequent sets of moving uchikomi, nagekomi, and light randori with higher grades. Every time the coach or higher grade feels the player muscling up, they should throw that individual. The objective is to demonstrate that speed, timing, and technique will beat brute strength. Teaching and mastering ashi-waza (foot sweeps) is also a valuable tool to improve technique and timing.
Only once a solid foundation of good Judo techniques & time has been ingrained into the judoka or competitor, should the coach then allow the athlete to add power. But keep in mind that developing power in Judo is more than just strength. Power is derived from good technique and an understanding of the bio-mechanics of each technique or tokui-waza; not just from using one’s arms to muscle an opponent to the mat.
To conclude, de-construction is a viable coaching technique for both club sensei(s) and competitive coaches. It allows the coach to take a physically strong or heavy individual and rebuild them as a better technician. Only once they have mastered speed, timing and the technical subtleties of their tokui-waza will they be able to grow and advance as judoka and competitors.
Remember the judo training progression: learn the technique first, then the timing, then add speed, and finally add power. Then develop a family of set-ups and combinations around that technique.
When learning a new technique, judo practice begins by thinking through the mechanics of a technique and then repeating the movements, by the numbers, multiple times. This then evolves into hundreds of uchi-komi and nage-komi. But true success in judo is seen when that new technique comes reflexively in randori, executed without thinking. Randori, against an unwilling partner, is the true validation of all that training and repetition. To be successful in randori, or shiai (competition), throws, counters, and combinations must be pre-programmed into the neuro-muscle memory, where they can be triggered by the movements, actions, or reactions of your opponent. The perfect Ippon is often executed reflexively, surprising both Uke and Tori. - Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
This is why Uchi-komi and Nage-komi are so important to the judo training process. I recommend a 4-foot x 8-foot, 8″ crash pad for nage-komi training, since this allows Tori to use maximum speed and power, accelerating through the execution. When doing nage-komi without a crash pad, or well sprung floor, the tendency is to begin dialing back the speed and power mid-way through the technique.
EVOLUTION OF A JUDOKA
How a Judoka’s Motivation May Change with Time
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Back in August 2013 I scribed an article concerning student expectations from judo and, more precisely, the importance for sensei(s) to appreciate the various reasons people take up judo (scroll down three posts). In this article we will look into how judo students’ interests and motivations often change over time.
At 10 years of age I knew next to nothing about Judo but became drawn to it by a British television show called “The Avengers” – which featured the stunning Miss Emma Peel, played by actress Diana Rigg. I had been told that she used Judo to effortlessly throw her adversaries to the ground and, coincidentally, the sign at the local youth center proclaimed that they offered Judo classes. So after a year of pestering my parents my Dad finally relented and enrolled me in the class – once a week on a Wednesday evening and the judogi cost $10, a lot of money back then. Up until then my sport had been swimming.
Being the only white belt and the youngest novice in the class, I quickly found that my size and strength were of little use. There were two teenage girls, both green belts, who could throw me effortlessly so, as a result, I became that student who did randori defensively, bent-over and stiff-armed. Little did I know the life-long journey it would take to become an evolved and upright judoka with relaxed arms….
So at that stage my only focus was on learning the required techniques for yellow belt and surviving the randori sessions. It wasn’t until I began reading Black Belt magazine and the stories of the samurai that I began to appreciate the history of martial arts and the significance of the discipline encompassed in the Japanese culture. About this same time a black and white television show hit the airwaves called “Shintaro.” This was the story of a lone samurai traveling the land battling evil in the form of ninja. But even as a 12 or 13 year old I began to appreciate the enduring spirit of the samurai and their dedication to self improvement, not just in swordsmanship but also calligraphy and art.
As with most junior judoka, by twelve I was doing local competitions, taking my first bronze as a yellow belt, and by thirteen I was winning consistently at the regional and national levels. We also had a new sensei at our dojo, Ivan Willis from England, who expanded training to two nights a week plus Saturday mornings. He also supplemented the Saturday judo training with road work and hill runs and introduced us to weekend training camps. Ivan went on to have a very positive effect on judo in New Zealand, becoming an IJF-A referee and member of the International Referees Commission.
It was also during this period that I became an assistant instructor at our club, which encouraged me to learn all the techniques required up to Shodan. However, I really did not understand the biomechanics or finer points of these techniques for some years, since as a club we were wholly focused on winning competitions.
By high school I was a junior brown belt (Ikkyu) and not only dominating junior competition but also ranked third in senior light-heavyweight division. About this same time period, two local judoka, who I had previously not known, returned from 4-year training sabbaticals in Japan, both with exceptional technical ability. Kelvin Bradford had a tai-otoshi that was unstoppable and Rick Littlewood was the master of newaza and kosen judo. The quality of their technical abilities was so dramatic, when view against the other judoka with whom I had been training, that I began dreaming about training in Japan. But as a penniless 15-year-old school boy, those were just dreams since I had no idea how I would ever make it to Japan.
On the heels of Kelvin and Rick came Nobuhiro Fuji, the Doshisha University judo team captain and All Japan university middle-weight champion. He came to New Zealand to learn English and my parents kindly agreed to put him up at our house. In return he taught at my club two nights a week and attended training with our national training squad on the weekends. He also had a technical ability far surpassing the local players, literally cleaning the mat with his drop morote-seoinage and lightning fast shime-waza.
From this I developed an interest in not only winning competitions, but also becoming a more technically proficient judoka and teacher. Unfortunately, back then the predominant method of teaching judo was repetition, repetition, repetition. Instructors did not go into great detail when teaching a technique. They simply demonstrated it a few times and then the class repeated it over and over until it came naturally in randori. While this worked, it was a long, slow, and tedious process. It was not until I trained in France that I would have a true master to study under.
As a newly minted Shodan (age 16) I began representing New Zealand internationally; and as a Nidan was invited to the Oceania Championships in Australia, and later a three-way championship against the French team in New Caledonia. This was when doors began to open. Since I was the only member of the NZ team, other than the manager, who spoke some French (learned in high school), I was invited to dinner one evening with the French team. It was at this dinner that the French coach, Serge Feist, invited me to come and train in Paris. Serge was also the head coach for the prestigious Racing Club de France (RCF) judo team, and they were in need of a junior light-heavyweight (under 93 kg).
The opportunity to train in France came as a surprise but shifted my focus away from training in Japan. At 6 feet 2 inches (188cm) I was told by my peers that training in Europe would benefit me more than training in Japan since, on the heels of Anton Geesink, Willem Ruska, and David Starbrook, the Europeans were perfecting “big man judo.” There was more emphasis on power judo techniques such as harai-goshi, uchi-mata, and maki-komi, as opposed to the variations of seoi-nage being used by the smaller Japanese and in the lighter weight divisions.
In France I was exposed to the rigors of national level squad training at the National Sport Institute (INS), and everything that went with that – hard randori, weight training, running, swimming, and frequent training sessions with visiting European and Japanese teams. But more importantly, I was given the opportunity to work under the internationally respected Maitre Shozo Awazu as a junior assistant instructor at the Racing Club. It was under Maitre Awazu that I came to really appreciate the finer points of judo, kumi-kata, kuzushi, tsukuri, kake, and follow-through into newaza. Maitre Awazu’s love of judo and patience with his students was a joy to behold, having a profound effect on my judo for decades, and to this day.
At the end of my Senior competitive judo career I became interested in coaching and performance development. This took me well beyond the realms of traditional judo and into the sciences of physiology, bio-mechanics, kinesiology, nutrition, sports psychology and the importance of mental preparation (especially in the shooting sports). These were not considered a priority in judo competition development in the 1970s and 1980s, but are now considered essential components of sports development in the 21st century.
However, it took four decades to develop an appreciation for the traditions of judo and kata. In my formative competition years, kata was just one of those hurdles one negotiated for promotion – nage-no-kata for Shodan and Nidan, and katame-no-kata for Sandan, etc. It wasn’t until I attended a Kata Camp at the Kodokan that I came to appreciate the significance of the seven kata covered in the annual, summer week-long program.
So, forty-seven years after first stepping onto the judo tatami, I am just now beginning to feel like a well rounded judoka. Over that span of time my interests have moved from self defense, samurai philosophy, and junior shiai, to national and international championship judo, to sports development and coaching, to teaching and pedagogy, to Masters and Veterans competition, and now to preserving the traditions of Kodokan Judo, technical development, and kata. I still have a love of championship judo, but the next decades will be devoted to sharing what I have learned with future generations of judoka, competitors, sensei, and coaches.
Finally, as instructors we can only influence the students in our dojo and the participants in our clinics – at most a few hundred each year. But as writers we can reach thousands. This is the reason I have gravitated to the use of social media such as Judo Training Development’s facebook page to better preserve what I have learned and to more efficiently share these thoughts with others. So as long as you keep reading, I will keep writing, but I still look forward to meeting you all on the mat in the near future.