Inactivity, Waste, and Irrelevance

It doesn’t take long to realize that there are so many different skills to learn in Judo that you can’t imagine ever having enough time to address them all. Every time I mention to a coach that he or she should work on this or that, I get the same dejected look, and reply, “I know what you are saying, but I just don’t have enough time to fit everything in.”

If you can’t increase the number of practices or can’t lengthen the training session, then you must make your practices more efficient. Actually, you should make your practices more efficient anyhow, even if you can increase the number of practices (usually a good thing) or lengthen your session (often not a good thing.)

Two of the learning principles that I cover in my coaching courses are activity and transference. Understanding these principles will help you plan more efficient training sessions by cutting out inactivity, wasted time, and irrelevant training. You’ll be able to fit more relevant training into the same unit of time.

The principle of activity states that in order to learn a sport, you must actively do the sport. A no-brainer, right? A general guideline is that participants should be actively practicing their sport 80% of the time, while resting and listening the remainder of the time. I’ve been to enough clubs to know this 80-20 ratio doesn’t exist in many programs. If you want to know how much activity goes on during your class- and a good coach should want to know this- have a few monitors sit on the sideline, observe your class, and use a stopwatch to record the time that your class is actively engaged in doing the sport. Warning! Be ready for a surprise.

The first step to cramming more learning and training opportunities into your existing schedule is to decrease inactivity. This is an easy task since many coaches suffer from kuchi waza. Kuchi waza, a Japanese term that means technique of the mouth, is that special ability of coaches to go on and on talking about Judo, but not doing Judo, while their students sit bored out of their gourd. To decrease inactivity in class, coaches need to cut down on their kuchi waza.

The principle of transference, also called specificity of training, suggests that the skills we practice need to be the ones we actually use in the performance of the sport. Time spent on training that doesn’t transfer to the performance phase is deemed irrelevant practice and wasted time. Traditional Judo is replete with irrelevant training. Tackle this beast and you’ve found enough time to work on a whole bunch of skills you previously couldn’t cover.

Wasted time and irrelevant training start with your warm-ups. Too much time is devoted to warm-up exercises in general, and to exercises which do little to warm you up or develop athletic abilities. Can we honestly look ourselves in the mirror and state that traditional neck, hip, knee, wrist and ankle rotations warm us up or make us better athletes? And is there a need to make warm-ups the conditioning phase of Judo where hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups and burpees are performed? Do you really need to spend 25% or more of your practice warming-up?

More time is wasted during solo ukemi practice. Is there a rational reason we need to do tens of back falls from sitting, squatting and standing positions, before moving on to side falls from the same positions all without involving a partner or actual Judo throws? I can’t think of one. Judo ukemi is predicated on how tori throws uke. Tori has a vote on how uke lands. It makes perfect sense to me that ukemi practice should be done in conjunction with throws. Solo ukemi practice is a total waste of good training time. If you simply can’t get solo ukemi out of your system, for heaven’s sake, do just a few and then get going with Judo that involves a partner and throws.

More irrelevant training is found in those dreadful static uchi komi we are so strongly enamored with. How in the world does doing half of a technique in a static position prepare you for the dynamic Judo environment we call randori or shiai? Once again, if you can’t get static uchi komi out of your training paradigm, do a few and then move to real Judo in a real Judo environment.

The math involved in inactivity, wasted time, and irrelevant training is staggering. If your class meets twice a week for one hour, by eliminating even just a few minutes each of kuchi waza, warm-ups, solo ukemi practice, and static uchi komi- perhaps eight minutes per one hour class- you gain over thirteen hours of training time in one year! That’s like thirteen more classes- almost two additional months- that can be devoted to training that is relevant and makes a difference in the development of your students. How can you not dig that?

3 thoughts on “Inactivity, Waste, and Irrelevance

  1. Excellent points. You’re slowly winning me over on the static uchikomi debate… though I use it as my warm-up and conditioning phase as well, doing static uchikomi for about 10 minutes then moving on to randori or specific skill practise or whatever is on the menu, so it’s not a completely inefficient use of time.

    Something else occurred to me–you’ve mentioned many times that a common rejoinder to your ideas is “well, the Japanese do it that way!” But I’ve realized the obvious response to that–they may well, but any Japanese with serious competitive goals also practise judo 6 days a week–so they’ve got a lot more time to play with.

    Thanks for these excellent essays–very enjoyable and thought-provoking.


  2. Hi,
    I’ve only just found your blog and I have to first say it’s really great, thanks for putting the time and effort into it. I have just added it to so hopefully you will attract some new readers from there.

    I would love for you to expand on the static uchi komi area.
    On some levels I agree, but for a majority of Judo students I disagree for a few reasons.

    1. Waste and Inactivity. As you rightly point out there is a lot of watsed time in a Judo session. And having watched a lot of moving uchi Komi, I have to say that it can be even more wasteful. In the time it takes to do 5 moving uchi komi, you can do 10+ static.

    2. Specificity. Sprinters practice their starts from the blocks. Tennis players practice their serves. Gymnasts will practice one aspect of a routine. So I feel there is some relevance to Judo players practicing the “start” like a sprinter. We can focus more intensely on the kuzushi or other aspect. And as per point 1, they can repeat it more.

    I’d be very interested in your expanded thoughts on static uchi komi and the points I have outlined briefly. Of course, it’s all about the situation and the people specifically.

    Broadly i would agree on all the points including moving versus static uchi komi. But static vs. moving uchi komi is an an area I want to see explored more. I’d love to know your perspective in regard to people doing moving uchi komi who do not have the technical level to really benefit from a more dynamic environment. Is the return from a more “realistic” training via moving uchi komi delivering enough versus development through static uchi komi?

    I really hope you can take the time to expand on your views in this area, it’ll be a fascinating read.

    Once again, love the blog and hope to read more.


  3. Same problems exist in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but I love training Judo. I see there’s some traditionalist outlook that’s ingrained in the warm-up that’s held sacrosanct. In a 1.5 hour Jiu Jitsu class, we waste close to 20 minutes running around and warming up. There’s value to shrimping and breakfall drills for beginners to show them general solutions to a fall or pin, but after a certain point it’s better to just practice pin/mount escape drills with a resisting partner and just get used to getting thrown.

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