Sunday, June 17, 2018

First Sunday training after Raya

Nice group of judokas back to training after the Raya break.

For the whole month of ramadhan, our Muslim players had to train while fasting on Sundays because our Sunday sessions are in the afternoons. Today we had our first training since Hari Raya.

Since no one is fasting anymore, we had a lot more randori than usual. I had our more experienced players do motodachi, which is to basically stay out there for many consecutive randoris while new partners would come onto the mat to take them on. This is very tiring but exactly what they needed.

Today was also the start of our koshi-waza series. Over the next few weeks we will be focusing on hip techniques. Today, we covered Ogoshi, Koshi-Guruma and Tsuri-Goshi. All are very similar with only the gripping being a bit different.

I had the players do uchikomi followed by nagekomi on the crash pad. It's important that they do the full movement and throw with full impact to learn how to throw properly. For that, you need a crash pad.

For newaza, we worked on the Matsumoto Roll, a turnover synonymous with Olympic and double World Champion Kaori Matsumoto. It's actually quite a rare turnover. Not many people do it besides Matsumoto. And even she doesn't do it all that often. Even people who are aware of it find it hard to deconstruct the move. I recall when I first saw it on a highlight clip, I asked myself: "How the heck do you do that?"

I had to look for more clips of her doing that technique and there weren't many. But from the few that I was able to find, I was able to deconstruct and reverse engineer it.

Next week, we will work on harai-goshi and trap choke (a strangle done from a similar gripping situation as the Matsumoto Roll).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Matsumoto Roll & Koshi-Waza

The newaza technique that we will work on today is the Matsumoto Roll, a fairly rare but highly effective technique made famous by Olympic and double World Champion Kaori Matsumoto of Japan. Here she is doing her famous technique:

For tachi-waza, we will work on hip techniques.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The start of Koshi-Waza (Hip Techniques) training

So far we haven't done much with hip techniques. Beginners are usually taught Ogoshi, which is the most basic of hip techniques, but the other hip throws are not as well-known. This Sunday we will begin work on hip techniques. It will probably take several Sunday sessions before we manage to cover them all.

There are 11 established hip techniques. Some are regularly seen in competition. Some are rarely. Some are almost never seen or are too similar to other established throws. One is actually illegal. I will only be teaching the popular and relevant ones. Here's an overview:

Ogoshi (Major Hip)
As mentioned earlier, Ogoshi is the most basic of hip techniques. It's one of the first few throws taught to beginners because it's relatively easy to learn and it teaches them all the fundamentals of what hip techniques are all about. As basic as it is, Ogoshi is still a relevant throw and it is seen in modern competitions, although it's usually by heavyweights. Ogoshi is done with a grip around the waist and it can be done with either a belt grip or just a grip on the judogi. A belt grip is more secure but if tori accidentally grabs below the belt, it's a shido penalty. A good grasp of Ogoshi will help beginners to understanding of Koshi-Waza in general and will make it easier for them to learn other hip techniques.

Uki-Goshi (Floating Hip - will not be taught)

You would be forgiven if you thought the picture to the right depicts Ogoshi. That's because Uki-Goshi looks very much like Ogoshi. Tori's arm goes around the waist and grips the belt just like in Ogoshi. The difference is that in Ogoshi, tori loads uke up on his hips. In Uki-Goshi, he merely rotates uke over his hip. The difference is really academic because in randori and competition, you don't really think about whether you actually load the person up or merely rotate them over the hips. The difference between Uki-Goshi and Ogoshi is so minor it's not worth teaching as a separate technique. So, we will focus only on Ogoshi. If uke manages to step around and avoid the loading-up action, maybe tori can just rotate him over. Doesn't matter. To me it's Ogoshi.

Koshi-Guruma (Hip Wheel)
One of the most famous proponents of Koshi-Guruma is the legendary Toshihiko Koga. Well-known for his standing Ippon-Seoi-Nage, he would sometimes surprise his opponents with Koshi-Guruma when he had difficulty getting an entry for Ippon-Seoi. Koshi-Guruma has since emerged to be quite a popular competition technique and is used by heavyweights and lightweights alike. Like Ogoshi, Koshi-Guruma is quite an easy throw for beginners to grasp. In fact, the entry and loading up is very similar to Ogoshi. Only the gripping is different. Instead of gripping around uke's waist, tori grips around uke's neck. This throw must be done with full commitment though otherwise uke might be able to counter with Ura-Nage.

Tsuri-Goshi (Lifting Hip)
In the picture on the right, Tori's right-hand grip is on uke's belt with tori's right hand coming under uke's left armpit. This is one way to do Tsuri-Goshi but another, more common, approach seen in competition is where tori reaches over uke's left shoulder (as opposed to under the armpit). This is the approach used by many top European players. France's World Champion Stephane Traineau used this a lot throughout his career. The arm over the shoulder approach is the one that will be taught as the lifting motion required is easier to achieve with such a grip than one under the armpit.

Tsurikomi-Goshi (Lifting Pulling Hip - will not be taught)
Tsurikomi-Goshi as taught in its traditional form, as seen in the picture to the left, is totally impractical and is never seen in competition. The more practical version is done almost exactly like Tsuri-Goshi with an arm over uke's shoulder except instead of gripping the belt, tori grips the back of uke's jacket. The difference is so minor (like the difference between Uki-Goshi and Ogoshi) that I will not teach this as a separate technique. If tori gets the belt, it's Tsuri-Goshi, if he just manages to grip the back of the jacket, it's Tsurikomi-Goshi. The difference is purely academic. The action is the same.

Sode-Tsurikomi-Goshi (Sleeve Lifting Pulling Hip)
This is by far the most popular hip technique in modern competition today. Some competitors do it as a standing throw and some as a drop technique. The standing version is very popular among the Japanese and many of their top competitors such as Naohisa Takato and Kaori Matsumoto have made it one of their tokui-waza (favorite technique). The traditional version calls for tori to lift uke's arm up high (as seen in the picture on the right) but the modern version is done by pulling tori's arm straight across the chest. The drop version meanwhile resembles drop Seoi-Nage so much that many TV announcers will mistakenly refer to a drop Sode as a drop Seoi. The drop version is extremely popular among Europeans and the South Koreans do it a lot too. We will learn both standing and drop Sode.

Harai-Goshi (Sweeping Hip)
In doing Harai-Goshi, tori doesn't at any point load uke onto his hips. I guess it is classified as a hip technique because tori's hips are square in front of uke's hips during the throw. But the action of the leg (sweeping) is very crucial, so much so that I think it should be considered a leg technique. In fact, there is a leg technique called Oguruma which looks very much like Harai-Goshi except it doesn't involve a sweeping motion. Harai-Goshi's sweeping motion is very much like that of Uchimata (also another leg technique). In fact, many Uchimata specialists like the legendary Kosei Inoue and World Champion Takamasa Anai use both Uchimata and Harai-Goshi. It tends to be used by bigger players but Japan's lightweight World Champion Ami Kondo uses it too.

Hane-Goshi (Spring Hip - will not be taught)

This technique looks very much like Uchimata. It's almost never seen in competition. There was one famous case where Japan's Shohei Ono launched his opponent, Ugo Legrand of France, in the final of the World Championships with what looked like a Hane-Goshi but it probably was not intentional but an Uchimata that reached out a bit further towards uke's far leg than his near leg. Other than that one instance, you really never seen this technique in competition. For this reason, this technique will not be taught.

Utsuri-Goshi (Switching Hips)
Utsuri-Goshi is a fascinating technique that used to be almost never seen in competition. It is a complex technique that requires tori to first life uke up as if he was going to do Ura-Nage and then -- as its name implies -- switch the hip position from being behind uke to being in front of uke. Mind you, all this is supposed to be done while uke is mid-air! It seemed like an impossible sequence to pull off but in recent years a modern variation of this has become incredibly popular especially among the Europeans. Ukraine's Georgii Zantaraia is famous for this. Many Mongolians do it too. It's seldom seen among Japanese except for Naohisa Takato who counts this among his tokui-waza. The modern version is done as direct attack as opposed to a counter and usually ends up with an Uchimata-like finishing. It's a fantastic throw.

Ushiro-Goshi (Rear Hip - will not be taught)
This throw starts off exactly like Ura-Nage but the finishing is different. Instead of a throw (Nage), it involves what is essentially a drop (perhaps it should be called Ushiro-Otoshi). After tori picks uke up (using his hips for leverage), like he would do with Ura-Nage, he essentially drops him down. It's really not practical. If you already have uke up in the air like that, you'd want to ensure the ippon by throwing him backwards, not dropping him in front of your two feet. It's an impractical approach that's not useful for competition so it will not be taught.

Daki-Age (High Lift - will not be taught)
This technique is essentially a body slam and is illegal in judo. In fact, if you do this, you'll get hansoku-make (disqualification) straight away as you can seriously injure your opponent. It goes without saying we won't be teaching this technique, which belongs more in a professional wrestling ring than a judo mat. KL Judo is very competition-oriented and we regard judo as a sport. Safety is of paramount importance. As such we won't teach techniques that are dangerous even if they are traditional judo techniques. This includes things like Kani-Basami.

So, over the next few Sundays we will work on:
i) Ogoshi
ii) Koshi-Guruma
iii) Tsuri-Goshi
iv) Sode-Tsurikomi-Goshi
v) Harai-Goshi
vi) Utsuri-Goshi

We will not work on the following:
i) Uki-Goshi (too similar to Ogoshi)
ii) Tsurikomi-Goshi (too similar to Tsuri-Goshi)
iii) Hane-Goshi (impractical)
iv) Ushiro-Goshi (impractical)
v) Daki-Age (illegal)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

More ashiwaza

Last week we started some serious work on ashiwaza, which tends to be overlooked by judo players in favor of big throws. We will do more of that today.

i) Alligator Roll Drill
- Kami-Shiho-Gatame
- Tate-Shiho-Gatame

ii) Ashiwaza Drills
- Deashi-Barai
- Kosoto-Gari
- Sasae-Tsurikomi-Ashi
- Kouchi-Gari

i) Newaza
ii) Tachi-Waza

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nigel's last session

Nigel's moving on to a new country but we hope to see him again in the near future when he visits Malaysia.

They say all good things must come to an end and so it is with Nigel's stint at KL Judo. Last Sunday was his final session with us. He'll soon be moving to Perth, Australia, where he plans to start a cafe business with his brother. Hopefully, he'll find a good judo club there and perhaps one day we can visit and train with him there.

I first met Nigel when I visited the Melaka Central Judo Club, his home club, last year. We had a couple of good randoris and I invited him to come visit us whenever he was in KL.

One day, he did visit us. We were still a very small club then and there were only three or four players when he came by. Still we had some nice randoris that day. Over time, his visits became more regular. We always appreciated his visits, which was quite an effort since he was still based in Melaka.

Whenever some players would complain that our dojo was too far away from their homes, I would always tell them: "Nigel drives all the way from Melaka so what do you have to complain about?"

Back in the day when I was a young judo player, I used to take two hour train rides from London to Camberley to attend training at the Camberley Judo Club. If you factor in the trip to the train station and the journey back, it was pretty much the whole day gone. But it was well worth it because of the training.

One of the most common questions Nigel and I would get from beginners is: "What can I do to improve my judo?". I'm not sure what answer Nigel usually gives but I always say the same thing: "Don't miss training".

It may sound like I'm being dismissive but it's the best answer I can give because it's true. Players like Nigel and myself did not get good at judo by skipping training. We got good because we trained long and we trained hard, for years.

Even today, we are still training long and hard. I guess we always will despite the inconvenience and despite the injuries because at the end of the day we love judo and we are constantly striving to perfect our techniques.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The many components of competitive judo training

To be a good competitor, you have to take part in a lot of
competitions. There's no two ways about it.
American coach Jimmy Pedro once said that you can't train judo like they do in Japan, Brazil or Russia because you simply don't have the numbers.

Over there, they have judo halls with 50 black belts for you to do two hours or randori with every day. Over here, we're happy if we can get a dozen people to come for training.

When you have few players and not that many who have a lot of experience, it's crucial to have a system. You can't just do uchikomi and randori and hope to get good results.


First and foremost is proper gripping. Typically, gripping is a skill set that is not taught. In Japan and other countries where judo is popular, players develop good gripping through the sheer amount of training they do and the randori they have with all sorts of players. When you have very few players, it's hard to develop good grips just by doing randori because the variety of grips are very limited due to the small number of players. So, you have to teach them gripping techniques and strategies.

Let's be honest, newaza tends to get neglected in judo. That's because judo players do tend to prefer throwing over groundwork (in general). Being good in newaza gives you an edge over other players simply because they probably would have neglected newaza.


I'm not a big fan of uchikomi but I do think it's useful when a player is first learning a technique. When they have no clue how to do something, it's useful doing repetitious drills that teach them how to enter into the technique. Once they've learned the proper entry though, you'll have to start getting them to throw. At that point, you can abandon the uchikomi. Nagekomi is far more important as it trains you to do the whole movement.

We use crash pads. These will allow tori to really slam uke, which is what is required if you want the throw to work in randori or competition. When throwing on tatami, players always slow down the throw and of course they don't land on their partner. They let them down somewhat gently and even lift them up a bit as their bodies impact the tatami. That is the absolute worst way to learn how to throw. If you do that too often, you'll develop a habit of always trying to do cushion your opponent's fall. In randori or competition, you will not be able to throw anyone like that. And you can't just turn it on and say in randori and competition, I will throw harder. You have to get it ingrained into your mindset that whenever you throw, you have to give it all you've got. You can only do that with a crash pad.

Moving Nagekomi
There is a huge difference between doing something from a static position and doing it from a moving situation. Even without resistance, players often find it hard to execute a new throw when their partner is moving around the mat. So, it's important to get them to try to get the from a moving situation. There will be a lot of failed attempts but eventually, you'll learn how to get into the throw even when your partner is moving about.


Randori is the ultimate test because not only is uke moving about but he's resisting with all his might as well. Not only that, he is also looking throwing you. So, it's really not easy to develop even one throw from scratch. It takes a long time. But when it finally works in randori, it's a really great feeling.

Judo is a sport and as a sport it has rules. The International Judo Federation in the past eight years or so has passed a lot of new rules. In general, I think they are quite good and have helped to improve judo as an Olympic sport. However, many players are left uncertain about rules and don't know how to make the most of it. It's important for coaches to update their players on the latest rules and to teach them how they can make the most of the new rules. Sometimes good techicians lose to good strategists. The former has better judo but the latter is more familiar with the rules and can use this knowledge to outplay the technician.

Because there's not a whole lot of competitions in this part of the world, it's important that players are giving opportunities to compete.  I know someone in Indonesia who does something called "Internal Cup" which is basically an in-house competition amongst the players of his various judo clubs in the city. We do something similar except it's far less formal. We have our players fight in a mock competition, with a referee to give scores and shidos. This is an approximation of what it feels like in a competition and it's a good experience especially for those who have never competed before.

Well, there's nothing like a real competition to get the adrenaline flowing. I've seen players who are are great on the randori mat but fail miserably in competition. It's good to test your skills against others to see where you actually stand. If you do poorly, then this is a good opportunity to really analyze your judo and figure out what went wrong. If you do well, it validates all the hard work you put in and makes it all worthwhile. In any event, the more competitions you go to, the more experience you accumulate, the better you get at fighting in competitions.

How to use randori to improve your judo

Randori must be purposeful for it to be useful.
Randori is sometimes translated as "free practice" but I refer to it as sparring because that's basically what it is. You are sparring with your training partner, that is fighting with resistance.

Many people do randori without any game plan or a very simplistic one. They just go in there and try to throw or try not to get thrown. That's the extent of their game plan. But you can't really improve your judo that way.

Randori can be used for two core purposes:
i)  To sharpen your existing skills
ii) To develop new skills

To sharpen new skills means trying to execute your existing moves (a throw or a groundwork move) over and over again against training partners who already know your judo inside out. It will be very hard for you to get those techniques to work precisely because your partners are already familiar with them. They know what you're going to do. Your challenge is to be able to pull off your favourite techniques despite your partners knowing exactly what you are going to do.

For example, one of my favourite throws is ippon-seoi-nage. When I want to sharpen my skills in it, I try that throw over and over again, in randori, against a training partner who knows full well what I am aiming for. They will block it every which way they can, so it's very difficult to get it to work. That's a good challenge.

Of course if all I do is attempt ippon-seoi-nage without anything else, they will be able to successfully block it throughout the four minutes of the randori. If someone is insistent on blocking one particular move and only that move, at all cost, they will be able to block it. But when they are so focused on blocking that move, they open themselves up to other attacks. So I will throw them with other techniques if they focus all their energies on only blocking my seoi-nage. Sooner or later they get tired of being thrown by those other techniques and open up a bit. All I'm looking for is that one bit of opening that allows me to slip my seoi-nage in. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I do. But this exercise really helps to sharpen my seoi-nage.

When it comes to learning new techniques I do something similar in that I will try that technique over and over again. Now, you can't do a throw half-heartedly or be defensive at the same time as trying a throw. It just won't work. You have to go all out. Of course when you do that you are liable to be countered. You must be prepared to accept that if you want to learn a new throw.

I remember when I was learning ura-nage for the first time, what I did was position myself in a vulnerable situation where I'd allow my training partner to have a dominant high grip on me. From that position, I could easily be thrown by uchimata -- and on many occasions I did get thrown. Each time my ura-nage failed I tried to analyze what went wrong and how I could have done it better. Then, I'd open myself up to be thrown for uchimata again, just so I could get a chance to try ura-nage. I did this over and over again until finally I got my breakthrough and managed to pick up and throw my training partner. Over time, I became good at stopping uchimata and countering with ura-nage.

No amount of uchikomi or nagekomi will help to sharpen my ippon-seoi-nage. I have to do it during randori when things are unpredictable and my opponent is resisting my attacks. Similarly, no amount of uchikomi or nagekomi will help me develop my ura-nage. I have to try it against a resisting training partner who is in turn trying to throw me with uchimata.

So, whether you want to sharpen an existing technique or develop a new one, you have to go into randori with a sense of purpose. Randori should not be just a mindless sparring session but a golden opportunity to improve your skill sets. That can only be done if you have a game plan and you do randori purposefully.