By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

strength Yamamoto


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.


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More on Repetition in Judo

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.

Lonsdale Judo Training

 Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

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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.


Judo Training Development

Judo Training Development

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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.

Kelvin Bradford, Nobuhiro Fuji, Mark Lonsdale - 1971

Kelvin Bradford, Nobuhiro Fuji, Mark Lonsdale – 1971

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.

Racing Club de France Head Sensei Shozo Awazu; Assistant Instructor and RCF Team Member Mark Lonsdale; RCF and French National Coach Serge Feist

Racing Club de France Head Sensei Shozo Awazu; Assistant Instructor and RCF Team Member Mark Lonsdale; RCF and French National Coach Serge Feist

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.


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Columbus & Judo

The first rule to progress in judo, or any worthwhile endeavor, is you have to keep turning up for training…


Enough said….

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By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

As we discussed in the previous article on fighting fitness, there is fit and there is fighting fit. So this begs the question, which muscles do we need for fighting and for judo? We already know that judo is one of those sports that requires almost every muscle when doing randori or competing, but which ones are the most important?

To explore this question, let’s start with a novice to judo. The first thing he or she learns in judo is usually ukemi (breakfalls), which does not require any particular muscles, but the rolling and falling does help to strengthen the core and build confidence. Therefore, the first real strength comes in gripping, and as you will often hear in judo, “No Grip – No Throw.” In other words, if you lose your grip you often lose the throw. Therefore grip strength found in hands, wrists, and forearms, is important and often a weakness that must be addressed with female athletes. The novice will develop this strength with regular judo practice but elite athletes may want to supplement this with more specific exercises, such as rope climbs or pull-ups with judogi sleeves over a pull-up bar.

Teddy Riner (FRA)

Teddy Riner (FRA)

However, the novice also learns quite quickly that it requires leg strength to lift someone, particularly with the thigh muscles. Leg power is also important in reaping throws such as osoto-gari, plus the legs are integral to developing attack speed and balance. Balance comes from all the small muscles and tendons in the toes, feet, and ankles. Again, uchi-komi, nage-komi, and randori help to develop these areas over time, but this can be supplemented with exercises on a bongo-board.

At the more advanced level, when you watch an experienced judoka execute a throw, you will see the drive that he or she develops, mostly coming from the lower leg and calf muscles. This driving power is a critical component to finishing many techniques. Toe lifts, sprints, running stairs, and plyometric jumps all help to develop the required explosive leg power.

Many throws also have a turning or twisting component which requires good core strength in the abdominals, obliques, and back. Strong back and abs also prevents an opponent from bending you over, while allowing you to block attacks and execute counters such as ushiro-goshi. The pulling and lifting component of a throw should come from the trunk and legs, but it does not hurt to have strong arms as well.

Where arm strength becomes even more important is in ground fighting (newaza). Often times, escaping from a hold can be similar to executing a bench-press movement, combined with a bridge-turn. Working for a turnover, breaking out an armbar, or digging for a choke or strangle all require good hand and arm strength, particularly in the forearms. The force multiplier for the arms is in the shoulders and upper back. Ground fighting also draws on abdominal strength. If you are trying to resist a choke or strangle it is helpful to have strong neck muscles, which are also important in those bridge-turn escapes.

So in a one-page description of judo, you will have realized that the judoka uses almost every muscle in judo. This is not by chance but by design. Jigoro Kano put a lot of time and thought into selecting the techniques for judo, not just to limit injuries but also to exercise the entire body. Professor Kano’s goal, all along, was to develop a comprehensive form of physical education and human development, embodied within the value system of bushido and the martial arts.

To conclude, if a judoka has limited time for supplemental strength training, then the priorities would be core strengthening exercises, grip strengthening, and developing explosive leg power. All of these can be done in the judo dojo with a minimum of equipment, in most cases with just a training partner.


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If you have never read Kazuzo Kudo’s two books, JUDO IN ACTION, you should. His concept behind attack and defense is that defense should not be defensive in nature, but shaping the action for a counter-attack. In other words, your kaeshi-waza is actually an attack on your opponent’s attack.

Similarly, when you attack you are actually preventing your opponent from attacking you, so the attack also works as a defense. The goal is to shift your mindset from thinking defensively to thinking in terms of constantly attacking. By staying on the offensive you are keeping your opponent on the defense. This is also the principle behind good ippon judo.

kudo_attack-defense Mark Lonsdale

Mark Lonsdale – Judo Training Development 

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“Losing is merely a stepping stone on the path to success”

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

While some will call it strength of spirit, others may call it dogged determination, but either way, developing this inner strength is critical to success in judo and in life. Fortunately, one does not have to have this strength when beginning judo since a significant part of the judo process is developing the tenacity, perseverance, and strength of character that builds spirit.

Kyuzo Mifune, 10th dan, and author of the Canon of Judo put it well when he said, “Seven times down, eight times up.” From this we learn that it is not how many times we throw someone that marks us as good judoka, but how many times we are willing to get up after being thrown. And be assured, you will get thrown hundreds, if not thousands of times each year.

This brings us back to one of the first rules of judo training – you have to keep turning up. It is only through regular attendance at training that a judoka can advance in skill and grade. You will often hear people ask, “How long does it take to get a black belt?” Well, that depends on how often you attend training and how much effort you put into that training. The individual who attends training three times per week can be expected to advance three times faster than someone who only turns up once a week. Similarly, standing on the side of the mat with your thumbs in your belt will not bring about advancement in judo. You have to put in the effort, and anything less than 100% is unacceptable.

It is said that there are two types of people in the world: those that find excuses and those that find a way. Judo is all about finding the way, but this requires that we use not only our bodies but also our minds and spirits. While the body is sweating and toiling on the mat, the mind is analyzing our opponents and seeking solutions, and our spirit keeps us going, even when the body and mind become fatigued.

It is this spirit that keeps us coming back to the dojo, even when we are tired, our muscles ache, and we would rather be relaxing in front of the television. It is this spirit that gives us the courage and confidence to take on stronger opponents in randori and shiai. It is spirit that keeps us attacking even when we know we will ultimately lose. But we also know that losing is different to being a loser. A loser is someone who lacks the spirit and courage to try, while losing is merely a stepping stone on the path to success.

Professor Kano said that the lessons learned from judo must be carried outside the dojo, and we see this in the spirit and determination we apply to our everyday lives. Society respects the individual who has spirit more than the person who is merely strong. While the obviously strong man is expected to be able to move heavy objects, it is the smaller man who shows grit and determination that we admire more. We see this in judo every evening when the smaller child or judoka invites the bigger and stronger player to do randori; or in the novice who is willing to enter a shiai knowing that they will probably be beaten. When this level of spirit and determination is applied to their education, job training, or careers they are virtually assured of success. Initially they may not be the most talented person on the team but, in time, they will out work and out last their team mates. As they say, “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

The lesson to be learned here is that the spirit that you develop through judo is equally valued and respected outside of the dojo.



Takamasa Anai & Mark Lonsdale

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FIGHTING FITNESS: Adapting to the Demands of Championship Judo

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

There is fit and there is “fighting fit. In other words, there are individuals who are fit for their chosen sport or activity and then there are those who are fit for fighting. Judo falls into the latter category.

A runner, for example, is assumed to have strong legs and good endurance, but even within the running world, there are sprinters who have tremendously powerful legs and minimal need for endurance, while marathoners have lean body mass and phenomenal cardio-vascular development. At the other end of the spectrum we find anaerobic athletes, such as power-lifters, with massive explosive strength but minimal cardio or running abilities.

The fighter, however, is a unique type of athlete in that he or she must have the correct balance of strength, endurance, resistance to injury, and mental toughness. In addition, unlike other athletes who may use a limited number of muscles of muscle groups, the fighter is using virtually every muscle and muscle group simultaneously, while having to have flexibility, lightning reflexes, and the endurance to go the distance.


To develop this type and level of fitness requires a well designed reality-based training program. This means that the training must be driven by the real world needs of the competition. In physiology and kinesiology studies this is often termed Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID). In plain English this means that the coach must train the athlete so as to adapt the athlete’s body to the demands imposed upon it in championship judo.

This requires that the athlete’s training program be divided into a number of modules to include endurance/cardio training and strength/resistance training. This is in addition to essential technical, tactical, and mental development.  Fortunately, in judo, we have one exercise that works all of these simultaneously – randori. When correctly structured and managed, multiple sets of randori, with opponents of various experience and strength, are without doubt the single best tool that the coach and athlete have for judo training.

So why do we need to supplement judo training with road work, stairs, weights, cross-training, and plyometric exercises? The short answer is that our bodies simply cannot handle too much hard randori training. Time on the treadmill or lap swimming does not breakdown the body like judo training. Swimming, in fact, is a great low impact way to rehabilitate injuries or just exercise tired muscles, while plyometrics are great for developing explosive leg power.


Injuries are a perennial problem in judo training that haunts every competitor. As a result, the coach and athlete must structure the training to avoid or at least limit injuries. This is where newaza randori and standing randori with weaker opponents become useful. Training with weaker opponents allows the athlete to work on technique and timing while limiting the probability of injury.

But the fundamental principle of sports training remains the same – progressive over-load and recovery. After the appropriate recovery period, load, over-load, and then recover again. Whether it is endurance or strength training this principle applies. In judo we are able to do this by alternating hard randori training days with technical and tactical training days. We are also able to begin the season with four or five 3-minute randori(s), working up to championship levels of eight 5-minute randori sessions. This serves to develop both strength and endurance, while nage-komi sessions and randori with weaker opponents are used to hone technical ability.

Finally, to quote Thomas Jefferson, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” Or, to paraphrase, to achieve more you must be willing to do a little more each day, each week, each month, each year, and each quadrennial. But, at the same time, never underestimate the value of rest, good nutrition, and recovery periods.


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