Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The foundataions

A friend asked a question about the foundations of Judo that is a great one.  Are we teaching a collection of techniques, or something else.  This is my answer to him.

I believe we are teaching something else.  My old dojo had a joke, “The only thing I’m going to teach you is how to breath and how to walk” which becomes more true for me every day.  The techniques are just pointers on the way to learning Judo, they aren’t Judo themselves.

I think focusing on the foundations of moving and breathing are important and not nearly enough time is spent on them.  It’s assumed that you’ll pick them up spontaneously from your technique training.  Personally, I think this is a backward approach.  The more I train in Judo and other budo, the more I believe that drilling the fundamentals of movement, posture and correct breathing are essential to developing good Judo (I almost said “great Judo” but the only way I will ever experience great Judo is in being thrown by some of the greats). 

If you take apart any of the throws, proper use of the body is essential.  You can’t do any technique well by bending over at the waist, and if move with a bounce in your step, you’re partner will bounce you off the mat.  Learning to stand in a relaxed, upright, well-balanced manner, and to move so that you maintain that is essential to doing everything else in Judo well.  However, just practicing standing and walking would bore even the most dedicated student out of the dojo.

The trick is to find ways to practice the fundamentals in such a way that the students can see the connection between the practice of the fundamentals, the techniques, and the application in randori and kata.  In iaido, I’ve broken out some of the primary movements that are commonly done poorly and we use 10 repetitions of the isolated movements as part of our warm-ups.  The students can see how the warm-up applies to the practice and can spend a little time focusing on the fundamental action before we incorporate it into the kata practice.

I think you might have some luck teaching basic tai sabaki movements as individual actions as part of your warm-ups.  The entering tai sabaki for osotogari and the turning tai sabaki for seoinage for example.  Students can readily see where these movements are applied and will do 10 repetitions without protest because they can understand why they are doing it.  Once you get them to appreciate the obvious tai sabaki such as for osotogari and seoinage, you can start introducing movements that make less immediate sense.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

When to specialize

A friend asked about when is it appropriate for a Judo student to start specializing in one technique.  He’d been talking with other instructors who emphasize that students should pick one technique and specialize in it.

I think the defining thing about this discussion is that the other instructors are building their entire discussion around competition.  For competitive judoka, there are really only a few techniques that have been proven overwhelmingly to be the strongest in the competitive arena.  I don’t remember the exact list, so I googled it. http://www.bestjudo.com/article/0924/frequency-judo-techniques

Harai Goshi
Tai Otoshi

If you are a competitor, based on the evidence, these techniques are clearly the most effective under the rules of judo competition.  For a competitive orientation, I think it would be a fairly simple procedure to introduce these 6 techniques and then let the student discover which one best suits that student.  I don’t really think it is too early to start specializing as a green belt if competition is your goal.  I don’t think you should stop learning other techniques, but those should be part of the variety of training, while you spend some time every practice polishing your primary technique.

If you are learning Kodokan Judo, or you want a more rounded self-defense base, then you will need to learn a variety of techniques that can be used in conditions other than those of the competition mat.  Competitive judo is great at close gripping range, but it teaches nothing about techniques and timing at other ranges.  That’s what kata are for.  Kata teach a lot of things that are useless to the competitor, but vital in self-defense, such as understanding striking ranges and timing, dealing with non-competition standard attacks and assaults, and what the range and distance of a variety of weapons are.  Too much specialization may actually be detrimental to this type of training because you have to have flexibility to change your responses to suit the conditions.

Competition is a very specialized activity and it makes sense to specialize if that is where your focus/interest lies.  If your interest lies elsewhere, heavy specialization may actually interfere with applying the appropriate response.

Thanks Frank.  This was a good question.