While the purpose of Judo is to make better people, not just champions, there have been many greats in Judo. As with any sport, there is a simple but difficult road to greatness in Judo. Simple because there are only a few things the athlete needs to know, but difficult because of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to truly master these simple truths.
So here is the easy part:
Find inspiration in the achievements of those who have gone before you
Make the commitment to your chosen activity or sport
Set goals that are a series of attainable steps
Study the skill sets required for any given activity
Become brilliant at the basics and work to master the fundamentals
Enjoy your achievements but learn from your losses and mistakes
Work every day to improve your performance, fitness, stamina, and strength
Now the difficult part: Follow the above plan six days a week for at least four years to enter the world of the elite athlete.
A significant part of surviving a lethal encounter is a combat mindset. The other components are reality-based training and a willingness to use it. So how does one develop a combat mindset?
You do not have to be former military or law enforcement to adopt a warrior ethos and to improve the probabilities of surviving a dangerous confrontation. You just have to accept that your personal survival is your responsibility, and then commit to doing something about it.
The newspapers and nightly news carry literally dozens of accounts of assaults, street muggings, robberies, home invasions, car jackings, stabbings, rapes, kidnappings, and murders, so it would be foolish to believe that you or your loved ones will never be a victim of street crime. And now, with the police being forced to stand down by leftist politicians, weak mayors, and gutless city councils, it’s even more important that regular citizens develop the skills and mindset to protect themselves. Face it, the police aren’t coming!
So developing a warrior ethos and combat mindset begins by accepting that it could happen to you. Next it is necessary to do your research on attack methodology to better understand how these violent thugs and criminals operate and the tactics they employ. This process of educating yourself serves two purposes: 1. It allows you to tailor your choice of weapons and training to meet the threat, and, 2. It will improve your ability to recognize a dangerous situation or emerging threat.
An additional part of your education is developing an understanding of the legal constraints for self-defense and use of deadly force. In essence, deadly force should be used in “defense of life” only, or imminent risk of grievous bodily harm. You must be “in fear of your life” or that of your loved ones. But each state has different “home & castle” and “stand your ground laws” related to threats, intruders, home invasion, and self-defense. It is therefore essential that you seek out training, such as provided in most concealed weapons courses, on the laws specific to your location. The reason for this is your need for moral and legal clarity as to the use of force, which in turn will reduce hesitation in the heat of the moment.
Part of your mental preparation is to refine your Situational Awareness. One of the single most important skills for personal protection is the power of observation which provides the ability to recognize and avoid danger. Unfortunately, most people go about their everyday lives with little appreciation for what’s happening around them. They are focused on what they are doing or where they are going, while talking on their cell phones, plugged into music, or just day dreaming. These are the easy, soft targets that street thugs and criminals profile and seek out. It is not surprising that a person who has ear-buds in or wearing headphones is easy to approach and surprise, plus that thousand dollar cell phone is a valuable prize in itself.
On the physical side there are several levels to training, the first of which is basic physical fitness. Being able to out run a threat is a valuable street survival skill, but if you can’t run, then you need the strength and stamina to meet the threat head on. You will be fighting for your life, so you need to train like your life depends on it. Being morbidly obese, chain smoking, and simply doing yoga or Pilates is not going to cut it. The foundation of the warrior ethos is personal fitness and becoming hard.
The extension of physical training is skills training. This includes fight training, martial arts, firearms training, self defense classes, and even driver training. Martial arts need to be practiced at least twice a week to develop the required muscle memory, and firearms training should be both frequent and realistic. Plinking with a .22 rifle at 50 yards is not the same as engaging multiple man-sized targets at close to medium range in less than ideal low-light conditions. Keep in mind that bad things happen at night, so close quarters low-light training must be a part of your training routine.
In addition, part of the fight or firearms training should be the conditioning to act or react decisively and not to freeze. People react differently under stress – Freeze, Fight or Flee. Fleeing and avoiding the confrontation is often preferable, but Fighting is the option you must train for. Essentially, reality-based training should instill the reactions and reflexes to block, pivot, strike, draw, or engage – depending on which the situation dictates.
Two parts of the combat mindset worth developing are the ability to make a cold, calmassessment of the situation, followed by an aggressive, even ferocious, counter-attack. An individual in a panicked mental state can neither think rationally nor react correctly. This is what the thugs and scumbags are counting on – that you will freeze. This goes back to the importance of reality-based training that exposes you to dangerous situations based on real world attack methodologies. In these situations you need to be able to tap into your primal rage while maintaining control of that aggression. Make the bad guys feel like they have kicked a hornets nest.
When you combine all of the above, and after a suitable amount of training time, you should develop the confidence and ability to handle a variety of street level situations. It is that confidence that will allow you to think clearly and react correctly to the threat.
Finally, once it is “fight on,” never quit, never give-up, never surrender. Inflict so much damage that the assailant(s) realize that the return is not worth the effort. In addition, the more injuries you can inflict, the greater the probability that law enforcement may catch them. But at the end of the day, your survival depends on your training and mindset.
What makes a winner, and more importantly, how do you become a winner?
First and foremost, you need to believe in yourself. You have to believe that you have what it takes to succeed at whatever you set your mind to. Ask yourself if you are a fit, motivated, and tenacious individual. In other words, couch potatoes need not apply.
Next, not everyone can be good at everything, so select an activity that fires your imagination. Keep in mind that you are about to embark on a journey that will consume many hours of each day, five to six days a week, and years of your life. Accept that you will have to sacrifice other activities and personal interests to achieve your goals. Your training will become your passion.
Be prepared to train longer, harder, and smarter than your peers. Every day that you slack off, your opponents are training and improving. That said, it is also important to allow time for muscles to rest, recover, and adapt to the new demands.
Become a professional student of your chosen sport or activity. Read books and articles from those who have gone before you. Attend training seminars and clinics with national and international champions and coaches. Part of the journey will be trying new things and experimenting with your tactics and techniques.
Set training goals. These should be small incremental steps that you can meet and exceed in a reasonable amount of time. These will often be based on improved performance in training, to include strength and stamina, and then replicating that performance on game day in competition. Goals can also include placing at the local level, medaling at the state level, and then ultimately taking gold on the national stage.
Be prepared to travel and to attend every competition you can. There is no substitute for competition experience and having the opportunity to observe and compete against the best. Competition experience also builds the mental toughness essential to becoming a winner.
Have a friend or coach video your performance in competition for post event self-analysis. The objective is not to celebrate your successes but to analyze your failures and flaws. Future training should be designed to turn weaknesses into strengths.
Notes on Randori in Judo by Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Wisdom from Kyuzo Mifune, Kodokan 10th dan. “A chance to try your technique is in one instant never to be regained. So try it without hesitation.”
This speaks to the importance of using randori to hone and perfect your techniques. All too many students and judoka treat randori as a ‘life or death’ challenge match when, in actual fact, they should be attacking without fear of being countered or thrown. Fighting defensively for 3-5 minutes in each dojo randori is counter-productive.
Granted, one objective of randori is to win, but the greater goal is to practice your attacks and develop timing. A judoka could stiff-arm his or her opponent for 5 minutes without attacking, and then win by the slightest knock-down (yuko). This is not good judo and they have wasted the opportunity to practice their attacks and develop timing. The primary purpose of randori is free practice not winning. At the dojo level, I prefer to see my juniors attack relentlessly in randori, even if they get countered. This is especially true when matched up against a stronger opponent. Even though there may be no hope of winning, judoka should still attack with every technique they know and counter decisively when their opponent attacks.
One useful exercise is half randori where only one player attacks and the other must avoid the attacks. The defender (Uke) is permitted to step around the attack and hip check, but may not use strength or stiff-arming. This gives Tori the opportunity to work on attack techniques and timing without fear of counter. The coach or sensei may also require that Tori attack with a particular combination of techniques, again to give sufficient opportunity to find the timing.
The exception to the above is “hard randori” training in preparation for shiai or upcoming championships. With hard randori, as found in national squad training and international training camps, the focus is on physical conditioning and testing one’s skills against uncooperative opponents of various weight, height, strength and experience.
I received an email some time back from an individual declaring, “I want a black belt in judo.” That was the total extent of the email, to which I assume I was expected to respond. My less than patient response was, “Then get off the computer and go find a judo dojo.”
But the lesson here is that too many people want the reward but have no understanding of what it takes to earn it. The email I would have preferred, should have read, “I have been reading about the philosophies and practices of judo and feel this is a martial art that I would like to try.” Or, “I have been training in judo for five years but there is no one in my area to test me for black belt. Can I come to your club to be evaluated, and if I am worthy, get promoted to Shodan?” Or, “My 12 year old daughter saw Marti Malloy and Kayla Harrison on television and expressed an interest in representing the United States in judo at the Olympics. Can we come by and discuss this with you?”
That said, it is not unreasonable to assume that many students and parents think how wonderful it must be to have a black belt, and then go in search of a martial arts studio. Others just go out and buy a black belt and declare themselves Masters of the Universe in whatever style and organization they pull from thin air. I was reading an individual’s online resume recently that had him listed as a 10th dan in almost every martial art including judo.
To the point – it is important for judo instructors to understand the various expectations, and misconceptions, that prospective and current students may have concerning their judo training.
Modern judo training is not a “one-size-fits-all” sport or recreation. Successful clubs and instructors have come to realize that judo students have a wide variety of reasons for taking up judo, and an equally wide variety of expectations as to what they hope to gain from judo. Those expectations may also change as the student comes to understand and appreciate the full range of judo philosophies and practices.
Thinking back to my early days in judo, when it was one-size-its-all, I recall how I thrived in the rigid, traditional training environment. As a twelve or thirteen year old I felt like a young warrior in training, following in the footsteps of the Japanese samurai. And to this day, I am grateful for the discipline, respect, and tenacity that judo instilled in me. But now, as a professional trainer and educator, I can see where those early training methods left considerable room for improvement, and some are not appropriate in a 21st century dojo. Just look at the scandal over the treatment of the Japanese women’s Olympic team.
Judo training back then was a process of “monkey see, monkey do” – and I was the monkey. We learned by watching, and sensei seldom asked if we had questions. Techniques were demonstrated once or twice, and then we did them endlessly until we mastered the move and the throws became reflexive. Uchi-komi were dispensed by the hundreds and we threw a lot and got thrown even more on hard tatami. No crash pads or soft gym mats back then. But I don’t ever recall getting hurt from being thrown, except one time when a very heavy black belt threw me with soto-makikomi and cracked my ribs. My shins were forever bruised from randori and shiai and muscles ached from hard work, but that was accepted as part of becoming a judo warrior.
The first time I recall a sensei taking time to teach anything in great detail was when I had to learn nage-no-kata, in anticipation of promoting to Shodan. In fact, up until then, I believe I learned more techniques from books and training partners than from my sensei. My favorite books back then were Kazuzo Kudo’s two-volume set, JUDO IN ACTION (now a collectors’ item). It wasn’t until I was on the national team that coaches and former champions took time to demonstrate and discuss competition techniques, tactics, and newaza in more detail.
Back in those days of hard judo, the sport was thriving and clubs had strong memberships. But this was before the arrival of other highly commercialized martial arts and strip-mall dojo. So in the past thirty years, judo clubs and memberships have been on the decline, as much as 80% in some regions. As US judo politics and infighting became detrimental to judo, the sport failed to change to better meet the expectations of the modern student, even as clubs withered and died. What we see today is that the instructors and clubs that saw the proverbial writing on the wall, and adjusted their training methods to suit their students, continued to do well.
So, can a better understanding of judo expectations aid in student retention and reverse the decline in judo?
Every student and parent that walks into a judo dojo has a different perception of judo, and varying expectations as to what they hope to get out of the training. For example, one evening two teenage girls came into my club begging to be taught how to fight. They went on to explain that a gang of girls at their high school was planning to beat them up the next day. Judo was not the immediate solution at that time, but it illustrates how some people see judo as a form of self defense. (And yes, we did take care of that bullying problem at the school)
Parents often see judo as a good sport for children that may be shy, lacking in self confidence, a little overweight, or lacking in basic coordination – and they are correct. I have lost count of how many times parents have told me about the positive effect that judo has had on their children; changes that ranged from just learning left from right, to overcoming shyness and becoming more confident. Kids that had never shown any interest in sports or physical activity suddenly discovered a love of judo and coming to training. The dojo is one place that they would never be teased or bullied as they found their inner tigers.
For little kids (4-6 years), they just want to have fun, but in the process we can impart some basic discipline and respect, along with agility, balance and coordination. From six to eight years old, the judo training is more structured and the students begin to learn real judo techniques. The parents are just thrilled that the kids are away from the TV, computers and video games, but in the process they are learning about focus, perseverance, team work, and the importance in judo of getting up after being thrown (tenacity). Other expectations at this age are weight loss, socialization for the shy ones, and possibly even anger management issues. The structure, discipline, and respect that are integral to judo come into play here.
From nine to twelve years students are able to grasp the more technical aspects of judo and enter into more serious training. For teens (13-17 years), they may be drawn to the competitive aspects of judo. They see the other teens that make up the club’s competition team and want to be a part of that group; and the importance of that “sense of belonging” should not be underestimated. Teens are constantly struggling with peer pressure, appearance, fashion, bullying, etc., but as part of a “judo team” many of these issues are washed away. The individual is not judged on ethnicity or looks, but purely on their willingness to train hard and support the team. If the sensei or coach manages the team correctly, then winning or losing at a tournament takes second place to their courage and willingness to step onto the mat and give it their best shot. In judo we reward effort.
Next is the Senior competition group, 18 to 30 years of age, who are wholly focused on competition judo, squad training, national and international championships, and making the US team. Their expectations from judo will run to competitive development, hard randori sessions, training camps, and raising the funds for travel to championships. To meet these needs, the judo instructor will want to develop and hone his or her high performance coaching skills.
Older adults, for the most part, take up judo as a form of exercise and recreation. They are attracted to the safe, non-threatening environment and sense of camaraderie exhibit by other club members. They seek exercise in a clean, safe, well structured environment, as opposed to walking into a “fight club” and getting thrown to the wolves. But again, how the sensei manages the class will have a significant impact on student retention.
As an example on how not to manage an adult judo class, I had a friend in his early fifties who had been an Ikkyu in Aikido but thought he might like to try judo. I pointed him at a local club in his area, but his first night did not go well. Without any real introduction to judo, within the first half-hour, the head sensei selected my friend for newaza randori and literally ground him into the mat. He then made him do newaza randori with a heavy-weight brown belt who was a former wrestler. Once more my friend was put through the proverbial wringer. That was the first and last time he ever tried judo and, unfortunately, indicative of how not to handle a new student.
This same problem is found at other clubs where they see anyone who walks through the door as “fresh meet.” This fight club mentality is not part of judo, unless the class is advertized as national squad training or a competition-focused hard randori training session.
Women may share some or all of the above expectations, but quite often they are seeking a self defense component to their training. At my club we run separate women’s self defense classes, but we also teach what we call “applied judo.” This refers to applying conventional judo techniques in a self defense environment. This usually begins with the applications of osoto-gari, o-goshi, and ippon-seoinage as a defense against a variety of strikes and grabs. We also show how grip breaking techniques can be used to break contact with an attacker, and how the stances and steps (tsugi-ashi) used in judo provide superior balance in a street fight. Then, through judo training and randori, women become more comfortable fighting with their male counterparts. In the process they develop the fitness, strength, self confidence, and mental toughness to survive a street confrontation.
Although not new, Masters/Veterans Judo is going through a revival, so it is important for a judo club to cater to older judoka and competitors. Again, it is important that randori sessions are age-appropriate and that every effort be made to avoid unnecessary injuries. Then there are other aspects of judo, such as kata, refereeing, and coaching that older judoka may choose to pursue. A well rounded instructor should be able to handle all of these needs, or at least facilitate the club members’ attendance at the required training and certification clinics.
To conclude, every effort should be made to make judo training a safe, enjoyable, and all-encompassing experience. It is also recommended to divide students into groups and classes to better focus on the various age-appropriate aspects of judo. Having five-year olds on the mat with teenagers can be dangerous, especially if the mat is small; and adults prefer to train with other adults of a similar level of experience. Similarly, kata training does not meld well with randori training, and some self defense classes are best run for women only. So when a new student walks through the door, take the time to ask him or her what they expect to get out of judo; then be honest as to whether you can meet those expectations.
One of the fundamental principles of learning is that the teacher or instructor provides 10% of the process while the student must shoulder 90% of the workload. A teacher instructs, guides, and mentors, while the student must listen, learn, practice, train, and master what he or she has been taught.
As they say, “What you get out of Judo is directly proportionate to what you put in.”
In past articles we have discussed the importance of age appropriateness in training, and in understanding the expectations of your students. Just as training children differs from training teens or young adults, each age group or individual also has different expectations from judo training. In this article we will look at the character traits of one particular age group – six-year olds.
One of the great joys of teaching judo is seeing young children learn, develop, and gain confidence through judo. While this can be a frustrating process at times, often compared to “herding cats,” it can also be extremely rewarding, especially when they begin developing levels of agility, balance, and coordination (ABC) not seen previously. Kids that came to the dojo unable to do a simple forward roll or somersault suddenly have the confidence to do dive rolls into the crash pads, cartwheels across the mat, and forward rolling breakfalls.
But more important than the physical development, it is immensely satisfying to see them develop character traits such as confidence, tenacity, and fighting spirit. However, by understanding the development of children at various ages, it is possible to better structure the training sessions and to anticipate behavioral issues. As experienced judo sensei, many of you will recognize and appreciate the following points, but for others it will be like the proverbial light coming on. Suddenly, by appreciating the uniqueness of your youngest students, you will be able to optimize their experiences with judo.
While some clubs take students as young as three or four years old, these programs are generally centered round FUNdamentals (fun and games), designed for exercise and socialization, as opposed to structured judo training. But by six years these students begin to grasp concepts, can follow instruction, and are able to execute judo techniques, provided the training is fun, challenging, inclusive, and dynamic.
Most of the following notes and observations are mainstream thinking in child development with some drawn from earlier pedagogical papers distributed by the French Judo Federation.
As most parents will know, a six-year old can often go to extremes with little to no moderation in play. They will throw caution to the wind if they feel they are in a safe environment. This can be seen when they begin climbing and find themselves in precarious and sometimes dangerous situations. In judo the danger is that they can be too rough with smaller or weaker students without even realizing they are doing it. This is neither intentional nor bullying. The advantage we have as judo instructors is that we can pair the more aggressive students with other students who are slightly bigger or stronger. We can also pair a student who lacks confidence with a slightly weaker student so that both benefit from the experience.
Six-year olds like to be first and are not above cheating to be the first. They also revel in attention so will try harder or show-off to win the approval of others. Children are also affected by the pressure put on them by their parents to win. This periodically drives them to be overly aggressive in games. The problem is not the child but the parents’ misunderstanding of the principles of judo. The parents see throwing and randori as a “win or lose” contest, while, in reality, judo is about cooperating with a partner and trying hard. We value effort, persistence and tenacity over winning, so should constantly stress this in the dojo. Do not allow the parents to cheer on their kids during randori sessions. In fact, don’t allow the parents to interact with the children at all — unless there is a serious injury.
Six-year olds are high energy, very animated, and often talk constantly. Rather than disciplining the child or punishing this behavior, the judo instructor should channel these character traits. A judo training session for children should be almost non-stop games, exercises, and judo drills with a minimum of rest periods. The use of judo games is a good way to trim some of the energy off the class at the beginning of a session. I routinely open the mat a half-hour before class for the kids to practice their breakfalls into the big crash pads or play judo related games. This makes them quieter and more attentive at the formal bow-in. If you have a young student who is constantly talking, invite them out in front of the class to explain the last technique they learned, or repeat back what you just said. That will often cure the talking within a few weeks.
On the subject of undesirable behavior, six-year olds respond better to isolation than punishment. While using exercises such as push-ups has a beneficial side affect, in that they get stronger, being sent to sit quietly at the other end of the mat is more effective. Children fear being separated from the group, but when I use this I give the student an out. I tell them that they can come to me and ask to rejoin the group when they feel they have learned their lesson. This usually takes no more than a minute or two.
Oddly enough, kids appreciate social habits and like rituals and conventions. This is one reason children respond well to judo and other well structured martial arts. From the first day on the mat they see the other children conforming to the traditions and rituals of the dojo and want to be a part of that. Something as simple as tying the belt correctly becomes an important part of the process.
This learning of rituals is not unlike the small child being permitted to serve the guests at a family gathering or learning the rules of a board game. They feel grown up when they learn these social conventions and take pride in doing them well. With martial arts, the Japanese traditions and conventions also conjure up images of Power Rangers, samurai, and ninja warriors – all useful in maintaining the child’s interest and imagination.
Small children are amazed by magic so to be an effective instructor it helps if you can amaze and entertain the younger students from time to time. Something as simple as a well executed foot sweep (ashi-waza) or a big Ippon into the crash pads are seen as “cool tricks” that will amaze the little ones. Six-year olds are also enthusiastic about learning new things, but easily bored if they do not achieve quick success. This is why it is necessary to teach and practice in small increments with readily attainable goals.
As with most young cubs in the animal kingdom, kids love to wrestle and roll around. In child development this is known as “rough & tumble play” and is a sub-set of Socialization in Play found in the related sciences. One problem with this, as stated earlier, is that the six-year old may not know when to stop. While some will be careful not to hurt the other person, others will be swept up in the moment and inadvertently apply full force. They may also not see the difference between wrestling on the mats and the dangers of wrestling on concrete. It is therefore incumbent on the instructor or responsible adult to moderate the play. While in judo we praise effort and fighting spirit, we must also ensure the welfare and safety of both partners.
One tool that the judo instructor can use is introducing young students to randori through newaza. By spending a few weeks on ground fighting and newaza randori, the instructor is able to introduce the students to low intensity judo without the risk of big throws and hard landings. The instructor can also take this a step further by starting the newaza randori sessions with the bigger and stronger students being held by the weaker students.
On the subject of randori, do not expect an excited six-year old to hear your first command. At this age children need three or four chances to comply with a command, so right from day one the students must be conditioned to respond to Matte! and Stop! immediately. These commands are critical safety mechanisms built into judo training, especially when the mats run up to the walls in the dojo.
When it comes to motivating six-year olds, it is well known that young children do not like criticism but they enjoy praise. This goes back to the age-old principle of coaching which encourages stating two positive things before offering criticism. For example, “Your balance breaking was excellent and your commitment to the attack was much better, but your feet are in the wrong position. Let’s try it again with both feet together and in front of Uke’s feet. Remember the pyramid we showed you?” Or, “You are attacking much more in randori and I liked that throw, but then you left Uke lying on the mat and did not follow into newaza. What hold would have worked well as a transition from that throw?”
Finally, and more important than all the notes above, the judo instructor or coach must take the time to get to know the strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of all his or her students. Each child is different so learns in different ways. Some are thinkers while others are doers. The thinkers must be given time and encouragement to think a problem through, while the doers must be encouraged to keep doing an exercise until they get it right. Similarly, the less confident students will need to be encouraged while the overly confident students may need to learn elements of humility. But through all this, keep it fun, interesting, inclusive, and dynamic, and let your students know that you are there for them.
Good Judo is Ippon Judo where throws are big, clean, and nicely executed. To be scored an Ippon in randori or shiai, a throw must have four components: control, force, speed, and the opponent lands largely on the back. If any one of these is missing it may be scored a Wazari.
Good Judo in competition is when the player is constantly attacking and going for the big terminal Ippon. When the player is successful, Uke soars through the air, crashes to the tatami, and the referee shoots his or her hand up to signal the Ippon. Good Ippons are easy to score and everyone remembers them.
Therefore, Bad or Negative Judo is when a player is bent over, stiff armed, non-combative or continually playing for the smallest of points. Or, as we often see, attempts to make his or her opponent shido, and spends too much time fighting over grips. A negative Judo player will make a minor attack every 25-30 seconds to avoid being awarded a shido, and will drop to all-fours (flop and drop) after an attack to avoid being countered. This is also known as making “low risk attacks,” but it is ugly Judo and not at all interesting to watch. In a constant effort to make Judo more visually interesting for spectators and television, referees are instructed to penalize players for negative Judo.
So the problem for young competitors and their coaches is that if they focus only on competition tactics, and adopt a low risk style of fighting, they will never grow as Judoka. Now don’t get me wrong, I love competition Judo as much as anyone. In fact I devoted a good part of my life to being an international competitor and continue as a Veteran, but I appreciate Good Judo even more and I am not alone in this.
From an article in a 2005 California Judo Magazine, I read how former All Japan Champion, Yasuhiro Yamashita, valued good Judo and admitted to practicing kata on a regular basis. He felt that when he was having problems with technical aspects of his competition performance, that kata helped improve his techniques and made his throws more precise.
This is a radical concept for a competition fighter – voluntarily practicing kata, and not just for grading or promotion points. Here is a World Champion who regularly returns to good Judo, in the form of kata, to hone his techniques for competition.
My story is one of being selected by Isao Inokuma, the Japanese National Coach at the time, to train with Nobuyuki Sato at the French National Sports Institute. For those of you not old enough to remember Sato, he too was one of Japan’s great champions, so I knew I was in for a pounding. But Inokuma Sensei assured me that, “Sato would only use one technique, tai-otoshi.”
This did not alleviate my concerns as tai-otoshi is a very fast, powerful body-drop, and I had seen how fast and how hard Sato had thrown other members of the French training squad. But since he was restricted to one technique, I felt confident I could come up with a suitable block, if not a counter. How wrong I was!!
Even though Sato used only one technique, he was able to enter this throw from several different directions and with an equal number of feints. The result was that in a five minute randori, I was picking myself up off the mat for four of those minutes. But with pain comes gain so I learned an important lesson that day.
A good Judoka can select a favorite technique (tokui-waza) and then build a family of entries and combinations around that technique. Sato would use tai-otoshi in combination with deashi-barai, sasae-tsurikomi-ashi, ouchi-gari, and even uchi-mata. Each of these was just a set-up to off-balance his opponent so that he could finish them with the body-drop – every throw a bone-jarring Ippon.
So for the club level Judoka who is aspiring to be a Judo champion, it is important not to neglect practicing Good Judo. My personal training program called for doing good Judo with lots of big attacks in club randori three nights a week. Then at national squad training, three days a week, I would work on competition tactics and grip fighting. I also taught juniors three evenings a week, which greatly helped in polishing my techniques, since each demonstration for the class had to be technically perfect. In addition, doing light randori with the juniors allowed me to work on my techniques, timing, and footwork, while using absolutely no strength.
So, for the young Judoka (and some not so young) who are reading this, don’t be afraid to try for those big Ippons in club randori, even if you get countered. It is more important to develop the technique, timing and confidence to attack than to worry about winning or losing in randori. In time, that focus on doing Good Judo will emerge in competition with beautiful and memorable wins by IPPON.