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.