Newaza and Kosen Judo

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

The cavernous main dojo at the Kodokan is humming with activity as the assembled competitors sized each other up from a distance. Most are elderly Japanese judoka but there are a few grey-haired Europeans sprinkled about. The public address system calls the next competitors to the mat with, “Rick Littlewood” being one of the names called. If you were standing close enough to the venerable Japanese veterans you would hear them saying, “Newaza, newaza,” as they pointed at the 72 year old New Zealander stepping onto the green tatami.

The two old warriors bow respectfully and the referee calls, “Hajime!” Littlewood moves in cautiously, takes a grip on his opponent’s sleeve with his left hand, steps to the left and immediately drops in for a yoko-tomoenage; or at least a rather weak attempt at the sutemi-waza. But before the referee has time to consider it an illegal takedown, Littlewood has thrown a leg over his opponent’s arm and transitioned into a juji-gatame armlock. His opponent taps out and the match is over. The Japanese veterans watching from the sidelines nudge each other and murmur, “Newaza, newaza,” as both competitiors bow out and leave the mat.

NZ Masters team at the All Japan Championships, 2008. Rick Littlewood is front right

NZ Masters team at the All Japan Championships, 2008. Rick Littlewood is front right

Rick Littlewood, 8th dan, has been attending the All Japan High Grade Masters for twenty-five years and medalling every year. In 2013 he took another gold medal in his division. Rick is the head sensei at University Judo in Auckland, a former New Zealand national judo team member, and represented NZ at the ill-fated 1972 Munich Olympics. Rick is a dedicated Kosen judoka and was one of my former coaches, back when I was competing internationally in Seniors. Then, when I lived and trained in France, I had the privilege of training under Maitre Shozo Awazu, 9th dan, and national coach Serge Feist, 8th dan, both renowned for their ground fighting skills. To this day, at 69 years, Serge is still deadly in newaza and can be found at the Racing Club de France working over the younger guys on the ground.

Rick Littlewood and Mark Lonsdale at University Judo, 2013

Rick Littlewood and Mark Lonsdale at University Judo, 2013

So when I turned up at the Kodokan for summer training this year, I was thrilled to learn that Matsumura sensei, 8th dan and one of the last of the Kosen masters, would be running a series of evening classes on Kosen judo. The point to all this, is that Matsumura sensei is 88 years old and still an active ground fighter and instructor. Rick Littlewood sensei, in his sevenites, is also still active in Masters championship judo, winning mostly with newaza. So for the aging veteran judoka, newaza may offer options for competitive judo, long after they become unwilling to take a hard fall in tachi-waza.

Matsumura sensei demonstrating ushiro-sankaku-jime on Matsumoto sensei at the Kodokan summer training program

Matsumura sensei demonstrating ushiro-sankaku-jime on Matsumoto sensei at the Kodokan summer training program

Fast forward to today, and we now have Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey (USA), the “Armbar Assassin,” winning all her UFC fights with armbars (juji-gatame). Even though all her opponets are experienced MMA fighters, and they know ahead of time what she will do, Ronda is able to throw and submit her opponents, often in the first round. How can she do this? It is not the juji-gatame that everyone sees and remembers that makes her successful, but the dozens of approaches, setups and combinations that she has drilled to get into position for the armbar submission.

This is a lesson that can be carried across into Masters and Veterans judo. A veteran who chooses to become a newaza specialist can definitely win matches and championships, provided he or she is willing to put in the time developing a range of newaza techniques and approaches. Training in newaza also carries with it a lower probability of injury. But there is a catch; first you have to get your opponent on the ground. In some cases an opponent may simply stumble or can be tripped with a skillful ashi-waza, but in most cases, as with Rick Littlewood, it is necessary to use an attempted sutemi-waza as a takedown. Now, understand that direct take-downs are illegal in judo. The attack must be a legitimate standing technique, that when failed can be transitioned into newaza, oasekomi-waza, shime-waza, or kansetsu-waza. This is where techniques such as yoko-tomoenage work well.

Other sutemi-waza, such as tomoe-nage or sumi-gaeshi, can work, but they risk bringing your opponent down directly on top of you if the technique fails. Yoko-tomoenage, on the other hand, places you off to the side of your opponent and ideally placed for the juji-gatame or hiza-gatame armbar. The recommended grip for yoko-tomoenage, as used by many past champions, is a double sleeve grip (gripping both sleeves at the elbow). This allows Tori to go either left or right side and prevents Uke from putting a hand down to spin out.

As with light standing randori with weaker opponents, the best way to develop a ground game is practicing with weaker opponents. This will give the veteran judoka the opportunity to develop a range of turnovers, holds, transitions, armbars and strangles with confidence and relative safety from injury. If working with juniors, be sure that they are old enough for strangles and armbars.

Finally, best of luck to all the Masters and Veterans who will be competing at the Asian Grand Masters at the Kodokan in September, and the 2013 World Veterans in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in November this year.


About Mark V

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