The Kazushi

The Candid Imbalance of Dan Walsh

Category: Judo

Judo Journal: First Tournament

I participated in my first Judo tournament yesterday. It was double elimination with 700+ contestants. I lost both of my matches before I even stepped on the mat.

Practice on Wednesday was discouraging. I wasn’t moving right, I couldn’t finish a throw – I was ineffective. I began thinking I would get destroyed on Saturday. I started expecting to get destroyed. I lowered my head and lowered my expectations. Really, I just wanted to not look like a complete fool during the competition. It’s too bad that became my mindset, because I think I could have beaten both of my opponents. The dialogue running through my head was more “don’t fall down, don’t look dumb” instead of “make him fall, make him look dumb”. It may seem like semantics on the page, but I think it made all the difference in the world.

After my first match, Sensei looked a bit baffled and told me that I had my opponent in a perfect O Soto but didn’t execute. All I had to do was follow through with the throw, but instead I yanked my opponent out of the throw and back into a balanced position. Looking back, it seems like I was pretending at Judo. I wanted to not look dumb, so I was more focused on posturing than being effective.

My second match was a little more difficult, but I still feel like I had the upper hand. Had I only attacked a few more times, I think I would have had him. I kept Uke fairly off balance for most of the match, almost got a leg sweep and a Tai Otoshi. I attempted a Yoko Tomoe Nage but it didn’t have enough torque to flip Uke over – I didn’t pull the arm enough. I knew what to fix, but I didn’t try the throw again because I didn’t want to look like I only knew one move. How ridiculous! The brown belt who beat Tom tried a Drop Seo Nage on him at least 6 times.

Sensei told me to stall after I got partial points for the Tai Otoshi, but I made one wrong step and Uke won. (I’ll post the video once I upload it)

What To Fix

I received a few items of advice after the match, as well as identified shortcoming on my own.

  1. I bend over too much. I need to work on positioning my center of gravity. I’m sure it will be obvious in the footage.
  2. I am still not light enough on my feet. I plant on my heels and don’t move around enough. I need to be more diligent with my rope training. Perhaps I can use super light feet as part of my style?
  3. I maintain too much distance from my opponent. This has been a problem since day one, and I really need to get more comfortable keeping Uke tight. Not only will my throws be more effective, but Sensei said I’ll be able to react faster to attacks if I can feel them coming.
  4. I need to improve my killer instinct. As I mentioned above, I didn’t come into the competition with a winning attitude. I’m also in the habit (from practice) of giving into the throw if it feels like Uke’s got it right. This is bad for competition as I stop defending even if I could escape.
  5. COMBOS! Yanking Uke around works alright in practice, but not so well for sparring. Some of my reversals are based on this concept as well, but rarely does anyone get pulled 2 or 3 feet. I need to learn how to use a feint or a setup throw to get Uke halfway into position, and then move MY body the rest of the way.
  6. I am too used to performing throws in a vacuum. There are no perfect setups and I need to start recognizing openings when they present themselves.

Closing Thoughts

It’s a bit odd to me that I’m not MORE disappointed with my performance. I mean, I lost, right? Shouldn’t I be upset at my poor performance? Instead, I’m sort of pleased with myself. I was really anxious about this tournament. I was worrying about it all week, nervous as all hell. Yes, I lost. But I guess that’s not really what I cared about. I could have increased my odds of winning by waiting another 6 months before competing. No doubt. But I forced myself into a situation I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, proved I could handle it, and accelerated my skill as a Judoka in doing so. I don’t think it’s out of line to say that I’ve improved 100% since signing up for the tournament 6 weeks ago. I also think it’s correct to say that this weekend alone improved my skills and focus by 25% or so.

So… when’s the next tournament?

Judo Journal: New Bread & Butter

This entry pertains to my practice on April 27th.

I learned a great move today that might be my bread and butter attack. I don’t know the name, so I’ll describe it below. It’s another leg drop technique.

  1. Normal grip, step back with left leg, keeping opponent close.
  2. When they step forward with their right leg, step behind it with my right leg while my right arm goes over their right arm and grabs my own leg.
  3. Sit.

Great move, but I had a hard time getting a good opening. I either need to keep opponent closer and take a bigger step back and/or I need to be more aggressive and really lunge in there.

My single attempt at Tomoe Nage failed. I did not swing enough.

My low reversal is still holding up, but it often leads to ground work, at which I still suck. I need a follow up to finish it off. Can I move quickly enough into a pin?

I think I can develop my Tomoe Nage into a very useful armbar combo (more on Juji Gatame later), which should shore up any of my shortcomings with the throw.

Judo Journal: Need For Speed

This entry pertains to practice on April 25th, 2011

I’ve gotta get FASTER!

The preliminary move list I’ve created (which I’ll post as soon as I get it into the computer) is almost entirely comprised of reactionary throws. Speed is not one of my strengths yet, and a reactionary strategy relies on being faster than my opponent. I was twice already half-way into the receiving end of a forward throw before I even realized what was happening. I can’t counter with Tani Otoshi if I don’t react quickly enough.

I seem to have also forgotten all of my Ne Waza ground work. I don’t know how to pin, and am out of the habit of continuing onto the mat if a throw is sloppy – which mine usually are.

I re-learned three moves which I remember used to be very useful for me. They’re leg hooks, but I can’t seem to find their names. They’re similar to Yoko Otoshi.

These exercises look useful for developing my speed.

Judo Journal: Heavy On My Feet, Embracing Sacrifices

I’m going to start keeping notes on each of my Judo practices. This is the first such note, and pertains to my practice on April 18th.

Things I Did Well

  1. I went all out and got a killer cardio workout.
  2. My footwork is getting faster.
  3. My Seoi Nage might me salvageable.
  4. I reversed a brown belt – HARD!
  5. My Tomoe Naga is turning into a great throw!

Areas Needing Improvement

  1. My forward entrances are weak, weak, weak.
  2. I pretty much forgot all but three moves during randori.
  3. My muscles were screaming for fuel halfway through practice.
  4. I did not prepare a practice agenda before class.
  5. I am heavy on my feet.

I have chosen my first tournament. It has done much to light a fire under my ass. I have less than 40 days before the weigh-in, and I will be gone in Costa Rica for 13 of those days. I can solve 2, 3, and 4 with just a little preparation before class. Items 1 and 5 will be a little more challenging.

Sensei Miguel’s most common critique of me is that I am too heavy on my feet. This has many obvious negative impacts on my Judo prowess. I’ve done a bit of research and have found that boxers jump rope especially as a way to stay light on their feet. I will obtain a jump rope and add it to my morning workout regime. I have also (just today!) purchased a pair of Vibram 5-Finger shoes, which should help keep on the balls of my feet, and should also be useful for wet jungle hikes in Costa Rica. This was also a great way to rationalize the purchase!

As for my forward entrances, this may be blasphemous, but I am forsaking forward throws. That’s right, NO FORWARD THROWS. I am not naturally inclined to them – for whatever reason –  and trying to get them combat ready for the tournament will only take valuable time away from my throws that already show promise. I will focus solely on Sutemi-Waza sacrifice throws, and counter attacks. I need to hurry up and decide on a solid move list set. I’m going to work these into a sort of kata workout by combining it with J.P. Muller’s no-equipment routine (recently featured on LifeHacker). I will use this workout and my very portable new jump rope to provide practice and exercise while in Costa Rica.

Judo – Chapter 1: Introductions

There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

-Bruce Lee

I’ve been practicing Judo now for almost 2 years. That sounds impressive, until factoring in my 12 month hiatus in 2010, and that on average I miss at least 4 of the available 8 classes per month. All in, I’d say I have about 30 hours under my belt – which isn’t all that much.

I usually catch on quickly whenever I start learning a new skill, but then just as quickly plateau. I get frustrated, I get bored, and then I lose interest. Judo has been no exception. During instruction I can almost always perform the moves – which nets me praise from my sensei  - but I can never remember the moves, and I’m practically useless during sparring matches. My skills don’t build on each other, which means I never improve.

I am determined to use this opportunity as a means of getting past my own personal plateaus, and given what I find to be a general lack of in-depth Judo resources on the web, perhaps my forthcoming thoughts, experiments, and approaches will be useful to others new to the sport as well.

Assessing Common Assumptions

Almost every endeavor of merit is steeped in dogmatic assumptions that are blindly accepted. Judo has been around since 1882, so it’s no exception to this rule. The following are a few common assumptions that I’ve observed.

  1. It takes years and years of dedicated practice to become a black belt.
  2. It can take hundreds of hours to perfect a given throw.
  3. A high level of strength and cardiovascular endurance are required to be a competitive Judoka.
  4. A large repertoire of throws is required to be successful.
  5. An iron grip is a necessity for performing throws.
  6. Practicing with a partner is the most effective way to learn.

I will test these assumptions over the forthcoming months to see which hold up, and post what I discover.