One of my pet peeves when it comes to Judo is how much time is wasted on irrelevant training: practicing skills that in the best of cases will do nothing to improve our game, and in the worst of cases will be counterproductive to bettering our game. Unfortunately, because of our allegiance to traditional methods of training and our lack of skepticism, few of us in the Judo community even recognize the presence of irrelevant training on our mats.
As a Judo educator, I constantly try to point out the disconnect between what the experts tell us to do- the demonstration- with what they actually do in competition- the performance. Geof Gleeson, the author of Judo for The West and Anatomy of Judo, may have been one of the first to recognize and publicly address this disconnect. He pointed out the Japanese tell us one thing then proceed to do something else. This disconnect has nothing to do with variations of technique, and all to do with the systematic alteration of basic technique in order to teach principles, so we are told.
My favorite target is O soto gari because the disconnect couldn’t be any greater than with this technique. See for yourself. Watch the great Yasuhiro Yamashita demonstrate his famous O soto gari in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeoRYZaGGRk&feature=related. Then watch him annihilate his opponents in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuAkl4ia73Y&feature=related. Why demonstrate, and more importantly, why practice O soto gari one way for thousands of repetitions over countless hours if you are going to perform it in an entirely different fashion during the game of Judo?
Following the 2009 U.S. Open, there was an international training camp featuring the great Isao Okano, 1964 Olympic champion. The camp was well-attended for a change; some 120 players for the first day, and an impressive 60 players on the second day. In addition to Okano, clinicians for this event were world champion Mike Swain, Olympic medalist Kevin Asano, and two younger Japanese competitors. This camp would present more examples of irrelevant training.
As I sat and watched from the sidelines, I caught a glimpse of Tokuzo Takahashi, the winner of the 100kg division, demonstrate his Uchi mata. First, players had to practice the high pull like they were trying to hang clothes on a clothesline that was higher than shoulder height. Then the forearm had to be like this, the hand had to turn this way, the thumb had to be pointing that way, and on and on. Because Takahashi plays out of Los Angeles, I was familiar with his Uchi mata, and I knew that most of what he was demonstrating would not be present in his actual performance of the technique. So, I pointed this out to a former student of mine who was showing interest in starting up a club in his hometown. Sure enough, when Takahashi participated in the randori sessions after the teaching session my former student was able to tell me, “Coach, you’re right!” Almost all of the fundamental, biomechanical principles had changed between the demonstration and the performance. This was beyond a mere technical variation. Why?
Mike Swain was up next. He proceeded to tell us that in spite of his being known for his Tai otoshi, he actually scored more with his O uchi gari. So first, players had to practice the “uchi komi” version of O uchi gari! Wow, I had just learned a new term and a new concept! Again, the forearm was here, the pinky was there, blah, blah, blah. Then Mike showed the version that actually works and scores. But why the “uchi komi” version, so biomechanically different from anything that works? Why the irrelevant practice? Why, why, why?
The final clinician to demonstrate the disconnect between demonstration and performance was a young Japanese competitor who had won the All-Japan Weight Division Championships at 60kg. He demonstrated his Morote seoi nage with the classical “hang your clothes on the clothesline” high pull, followed by “pull your opponent to you.” In the randori session, he showed the real thing. You guessed it: the biomechanics were different! No high pull, no pull the opponent to you but rather the more effective move into and under your opponent, and pull the opponent straight over, not up. This was clearly not a technical variation, but another example of the disconnect between performance and demonstration, reality and fantasy.
I have made similar comments on YouTube about this disconnect, and have been ridiculed by the “experts,” mostly mudansha ranked players with limited Judo experience, who regurgitate everything they hear without being skeptical and questioning what really goes on in Judo. In some way, I understand how it might be difficult to question what a world champion tells you. But question is what we must do if we are to improve Judo performance, especially in Judo-poor nations.
So, go to the videotapes and see for yourself. Analyze what is going on during the game of Judo. See if that corresponds with the way you practice the game. Ask yourself if other sports have an “uchi komi” version of techniques. Ask yourself if other sports practice skills one way only to radically depart from that way once in competition? Do they alter techniques in order to convey principles, or do they teach principles while practicing techniques the way they will be performed? To come to the correct conclusion about Judo training you must understand the difference between basic techniques, variations of basic techniques, and biomechanical irrelevance. Once you understand that, you too will see the disconnect.