As I write this, I’m travelling in Japan. I’ve already taken in three days of the Tokyo Slam. Yesterday, I received a chiropractic massage from a traditional practitioner of Muso Taijutsu. And today, I climbed 1373 steps to reach the last shrine of Kotohiragu in Kagawa Prefecture. I hope there is no Judo club nearby as I fear a crazy Judo coach might consider the ascent a great daily conditioning regimen for his high school Judo students.
I can picture crazy sensei making his students run up the steps, then carry each other back down, or maybe even carry each other up the steps, then do one-legged hops back down. For the record, it took me 90 minutes to get to the top.
Within the next few days, I will visit the dojo of a former student of mine in Yamagata City, and the Mifune Museum in neighboring Iwate Prefecture. Upon my return, I’ll have lots of information to share with you. In the interim, let’s talk about cold feet.
A week before I left for Japan, I was warming my cold feet by a space heater as I watched my players randori. Another ojisan (old timer) came over and joined me. Soon the conversation turned to a “wouldn’t it be nice” moment. In this instance, I wondered whether there was a material or fabric that would have the friction properties of human skin. If there were, we could then create Judo booties to keep our feet warm, and possibly start minimizing some of the toe injuries many players incur. According to my reasoning, if you are more comfortable and incur fewer injuries, you are more likely to keep playing the sport.
I know that some of you are thinking that Judo booties don’t sound very macho or very bushido. I, on the other hand, don’t think we need to freeze in order to play Judo, develop good skills, and become mentally and physically tough. I am reminded of a story I heard about Takahiko Ishikawa, the 1949 and 1950 All-Japan champion. Back in his days, training extremes were in vogue. One such method of toughening the body was to stand under a cold waterfall. So, one year before an important tournament, he stood under a waterfall. Shortly after that, he came down with pneumonia, and missed the tournament. That was the last time he played around with cold water. Being cold is one of those things that we could safely discard without turning us into pansies.
After a few moments of discussing with my fellow ojisan how it would be nice to have booties that would not make players slip on the tatami, my coaching mind kicked in, and I had a “wait a minute” moment. What would happen to our Judo development if we play Judo in socks that slip more than our feet do on the mat? Could this become yet another productive training modality to add to our teaching toolbox, like no-gi training, or playing with smaller or larger Judo gis?
Since I haven’t had time to play around with the idea, I don’t know if it’s a valid one or one that should be discarded as too far fetched. My initial thoughts are that playing Judo in socks could possibly improve movement patterns (tai sabaki), stances, and posture. With a more unstable (slippery) surface, movement and stances would have to be more precise and controlled, and posture would have to be more upright.
There is precedence for this type of instability training drills. Olympic weightlifting coaches will apply pressure to the bar when it is in the top position of the snatch or jerk to destabilize the bar and the lifter’s stance. This forces the lifter to scramble to regain full overhead control of the bar, something that happens frequently enough during competition when technique is not absolutely perfect.
In Judo, perhaps one player could be handicapped by wearing socks, while the other wasn’t. Drills could be cooperative or competitive. Or they could merely involve solo agility exercises to improve body movement and control. Would having uke wear socks improve tori’s ability to learn foot sweeps without having to maim poor uke’s legs in the process? Who knows until training in socks is tried, and given ample time to succeed or fail?
As far as the booties are concerned, I still think it might be a good idea. After all, Sambo has shoes, so why can’t Judo have booties? Booties will keep our feet warm, keep our toes safer, and help grow a Judo industry that pretty much only relies on gis and belts. Wearing booties would be an option, just like wearing a T-shirt under a gi is. If it keeps a few more players on the mat, I’m all for it.