By Mark Lonsdale

Nishioka-sensei, whom I respect immensely, likes it when I begin my classes and ruminations with a story, so here goes…. The front lawn at my house has one of those ornamental rock rivers flowing around it, made from smooth river rocks. There is no water, it came with the house and is not something I would have taken the time to put in, but visitors seem to like it. I have never had the time or inclination to become much of a gardener, but I have always liked Japanese Zen gardens – the ones where the sand is raked to flow around a large rock or center piece. I find them very peaceful and contemplative. I have also associated martial arts with gardening, ever since I first saw Mister Miyagi trimming his bonsai trees in the Karate Kid. I had also trained under a Japanese sensei that owned landscape gardening businesses, but I digress, so back to my front lawn.

Since work and judo requires that I travel a lot, it did not take long before weeds began creeping into my ornamental rock river. At first I attacked them with enthusiasm, pulling, picking and plucking and then resorting to weed killer. But as weeds are genetically apt to do, they kept coming back, and there always seemed to be other engagements that were more pressing than weeding – gym, training, judo, writing, coaching, travel, etc. So eventually, because of neglect, the lovely river of rocks was lost to the weeds.

So what does this have to do with judo? Recently, I ran two technical development clinics at different judo dojo. In both cases I had black belts on the mat who were in their 40s and 50s. The goal of the training was to review the demonstration quality of their judo skills – something that all judoka, particularly sensei, should work on constantly. When the students and instructors began demonstrating various techniques it became evident that several had not been working to maintain their skills at acceptable black belt levels.

So to get their attention I launched into a spiel about how they had let “weeds” creep into their judo. That at first the weeds may have been small and insignificant, but left unaddressed the weeds had run rampant.

Be assured that I was not telling them anything they had not just learned in the previous ten minutes. They were astute enough to self-analyze and recognize that their throws were sloppy at best. But the line of nodding heads told me that the analogy was sinking in, so for the next ninety minutes we worked on “picking weeds.”

The four key elements were:

1. To be able to demonstrate all the techniques in the promotion syllabus up to 4th Kyu level

2. To be able to demonstrate techniques such as harai-goshi and uchi-mata without losing balance or falling over

3. To be able to select the appropriate set-up or combination for the primary throwing techniques

4. Finally, to be able to transition seamlessly from tachi-waza into newaza, osaekomi-waza, and kansetsu-waza, using ude-hishigi-juji-gatame as the required armbar.

That evening I received emails from the head sensei of both clubs indicating how much their students and instructors had enjoyed the program and, more importantly, that they intended to institute regular technical development and “weeding” as part of their dojo training. Then, some weeks later, running into one of the black belts, I asked how he was doing. His answer was, “still weeding the garden.” This made me smile and let me know that the analogy had resonated with the class.

To conclude, knowing that all physical skills are perishable, we all need to be constant gardeners in our own judo gardens. We must diligently seek to achieve and maintain demonstration quality skills, on the mat, through constant self-analysis (“weeding”), particularly when demonstrating to our students. If for some reason a sensei cannot physically demonstrate a technique correctly, then he or she must ensure that there is an assistant instructor or sempai capable of filling that need.




About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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