Challenging the Champ

by Gerald Lafon

Many Judo clubs, especially small ones, suffer from a common problem: how to provide meaningful training opportunities for the exceptional player, the “champ,” who by virtue of his size and skill is infrequently challenged during randori.

The champ usually fares well when it comes to pre-arranged technical drills and to a lesser extent situational drills. After all, training partners need not be world champions to be good uke during technical drills. They only need to be capable of performing uke’s role in the drill. However, when it comes to randori, many clubs are unable to provide the champ with a challenging workout if they resort to standard randori.

During randori, the champ needs to approximate the physiological, physical, and psychological demands of a competitive match, which may last from 3-5 minutes. This might be an exercise in futility if he’s more physical and skillful than his training partners. While some demands of competition can be met through conditioning off the mat, this article focuses solely on Judo drills that can be performed during the course of regular training sessions.

The objective of the drills listed below is to challenge the champ mentally and physically. Keep in mind the requirement to balance the champ’s need for harder training while making sure that training partners are not abused and over-taxed. The drills listed below allow the coach to give the champ what he needs while maintaining the welfare of training partners and the integrity of the club.

2v1 Ne Waza Randori

In this ne waza drill two training partners simultaneously attack the champ.  At times, one partner may momentarily disengage from the drill so that the action remains fluid. For example, if both training partners manage to pin the champ, one should back off and let the action continue one against one. When the champ gets out of the pin it’s time to go two against one again.  Length of this drill is 3-5 minutes.

Osae Komi Escapes

Two to three training partners are required for this drill, in which the champ must constantly and successfully escape from pins. Depending on size and skill difference between the champ and training partners, this drill is conducted in a one against one or two against one format. The champ starts off pinned. He escapes only to allow himself to be pinned again by the next training partner. If the escapes are too easy, a second training partner can add a little resistance by pressing down on the first training partner or by holding the champ’s leg or arm as he tries to escape. Conversely, if the escapes are too hard, training partners must allow the champ to move and to successfully escape.  Use different pins, and attack from both sides as well.  Length of this drill is 3-5 minutes.

Pre-Fatigue Randori

Prior to a round of randori, pre-fatigue the champ by having him do a set of push-ups, burpees, or a 30-second round of one-for-one. When using the one-for-one protocol, have the champ do it with one training partner, and then perform the randori session with a fresh partner.

Fresh Partners Randori

In this five-minute round of randori, the champ fights a fresh partner every minute.  This keeps the pace of the round at a very high level, even if the training partners are not as technically proficient as the champ. It’s important that training partners use grip fighting and movement to force the champ to be active. This also can be performed as a ne waza drill.


The champ and partner throw each other as quickly as possible using a forward throw that facilitates a quick execution, i.e. Ippon seoi nage, Koshi guruma or Tai otoshi. The goal is to perform as many throws as possible in a specific time. This speed drill can be a stand-alone drill or incorporated into any of the previous drills.

As a stand-alone, interval training drill, you can do repeats of 30 seconds every two minutes (1:3 work-rest ratio) or, depending on the fitness of your players and the phase of their training cycle, you may want to tackle the more demanding Tabata protocol. In this case, throw for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds (2:1 work-rest ratio), and repeat 6-8 times. Use fresh partners for each work bout.

Use a 15- or 30-second bout before, during, or after a short round of randori (2-3 minutes) or in conjunction with 2v1 Ne Waza Randori, Osae Komi Escapes, or Fresh Partners Randori. Use a fresh partner for the one-for-one.

It’s up to the coach to decide the “when, how many, how long, how often” part of the training equation.  This decision should be based on the training cycle and fitness level of the champ. Any of these drills also can be used periodically to spice up the training routine of any Judo class. Since these drills are intensive, use them in moderation with your recreational membership.

2 thoughts on “Challenging the Champ

  1. Thanks for this article. I will definitely use these when we have an unbalanced class. Another one I like, similar in concept to one of the ground drills that you mentioned, is to have the less-skilled partner get a dominant grip, and start the standing randori from there. This is another way to get the top dog to practice being in a disadvantageous position, which may not otherwise occur very often…at least in the dojo.

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