If we lived in a society where judo was popular and judo clubs were brimming with players, it’d be possible to have separate sessions for beginners and for experienced players. And a separate session for adults and for kids. But the harsh reality is that in Malaysia, where participation is low, for most clubs, it’s not really practical to have separate classes. The numbers just aren’t there.
So what can you do if you have a few players who are absolute beginners, a few who are mid-level and a few who are competitive? And to further complicate things, what if you have a couple of children who want to learn but they’re not enough to form a class (say there’s only two or three of them)?
The obvious answer is you have to have a mixed class where everyone trains together. Of course that’s problematic because different players have different needs. Beginners need to learn basics, kids have short attention spans and respond better to judo games, and competitors need to refine their competition skills.
We have that kind of situation at KL Judo Club and it has taken us a long time to find a formula that works. For a long time, we just did competition training but that didn’t work for the recreational types. So over time, we tweaked our system until we got something that most people are happy with. Our approach is not perfect but so far it works pretty well.
Most of our players are adults but we have two kids who train with us. The majority of the players are beginners but we have a few experienced ones. Most do judo for recreation and just a handful like competition.
Obviously, you can’t have a session that caters to everybody’s exact needs when there’s a jumbled mix like this. What we do is go through fundamental techniques which are useful for beginners but also good for the more experienced ones to review and re-learn.
We try to partner players according to size rather than experience level. So the kids will partner with the kids, the small-sized players with the small-sized ones and the big ones with the big ones. Since what we do is go through the fundamentals, it doesn’t matter if a player is experienced or not. They have to go through the motions anyway. So pairing a white belt with a black belt isn’t an issue. Size is though. If you pair someone small with someone big, it just won’t work.
When it comes to randori, we make sure that everyone takes part, even the beginners. The seniors are there to take care of them, so they are in no danger if they train with an experienced player. But even when beginners spar with beginners it’s generally OK. Randori is very important for technical development we make sure everyone does it. Besides, it’s fun. Nobody wants to do drills for hours on end and not get a chance to try their techniques against resisting partners.
This approach works really well for our recreational player but our competitors find it beneficial too. Of course it’s not enough for them and we do have a specific session on another day specifically for competition training. This type of training is less “fun” compared to the recreational class because the emphasis is very much on competition-skills development, which means lots of drills. And doing lots of the same thing over and over again until muscle memory sinks in. It’s not the kind of thing recreational players like to do.
Also, it’s a much smaller group. Recreational players naturally tend to prefer a bigger group as it’s more fun when you have more people to train with. As they say, the more the merrier. But for the competition group, they don’t mind if there’s just a handful of players training because they are focused on developing their competition skills. They are not there for fun per se. Sometimes it’s literally just two players training.
So, I think the key to running a successful program when you have a mixed group of people is to have a general (recreational class) once a week where you play games, go through the fundamentals and get everyone to do randori. People will leave the mat feeling they’ve learned something useful and had a good workout. But to satisfy the needs of your more competitive players, organize smaller, more focused and goal-oriented sessions. That one can be done with as few as two or three players who really want it.