Friday, March 23, 2018

Yoko-tomoe-nage & trap choke on a Friday night

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Sunday afternoons always see the biggest crowds but our Tuesday and Friday training sessions are starting to gain traction too. Since we moved into Muayfit DP at the beginning of the month, we've had an average of 10 people or so for our Tues/Fri trainings.

Today, we had three people who had to cancel in the last minute but we still had a nice group of 11 people on the mat.

We started off with yoko-tomoe-nage. I began by explaining why yoko-tomoe was more effective in competition compared to the traditional version. Then I showed the entry. Many of the players managed to pick it up quite fast, which was impressive.

Next, I taught them how to tip uke over to the side. I had them do drills on that from a "lying down" position so it was very static. The reason is I wanted them to focus exclusively on the "tipping over" action rather than be distracted by the entry and falling into the right position etc.

When they got the tipping over bit down, I had them do nagekomi where they did the full action. After 45 minutes of tomoe-nage training, most of them had a working version of it.

Next, we worked on the trap choke. They all managed to learn it very quickly so I showed them two variations. One was what I called the "Matsumoto" version because it involved flattening out uke and climbing across uke's back to get into the position you want, which is reminiscent of the Matsumoto Roll.

The other version I taught was one where you use both of your legs to push hard against uke while maintaining the trap choke. There is no roll involved in this version.

By the time we finished the technical bits it was already 10.30pm. We extended the training by another 30 minutes so we could do a bit of randori before we ended.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Trap Choke

The trap choke is both a strangle and a hold down.
The sankaku is the most versatile strangle because from a sankaku position, you can also do an armlock and a pin. The "trap choke" comes a close second to sankaku in terms of versatility. It's both a strangle and a pin (at the same time).

The reason I refer to it as a "trap choke" rather than by some Japanese name is there doesn't seem to be a Japanese equivalent to it. When I was taught this technique, I was told it was called the "trap choke", so that's what I still refer to it as.

It's interesting to note that in the US, shimewaza are often referred to as "chokes" whereas in the UK, it is typically referred to as "strangles". (With the exception of the trap choke, I tend to refer to shimewaza as strangles, probably because I trained longer in the UK than I did in the US).

From what I can tell, the trap choke is very much a Western innovation. I originally assumed it was American as it was in the USA that I learned about it but later on I saw a video by a Frenchman who did many different variations of this technique.

The closest Japanese technique to this is gyaku-juji-jime and indeed there are elements of it in this strangle but the gripping, the entry, the execution and the completion of this strangle is completely unlike how gyaku-juji-jime is traditionally taught.

In its traditional form, gyaku-juji-jime is done with tori gripping both of uke's lapels when tori is in a "guard position" underneath uke. The trap choke's "gyaku juji" (reverse cross) grip is done in a completely different way with one hand on the back of uke's collar and one hand cross gripping uke from underneath his armpit. So there's already a huge difference right from the start of the technique (everything else about it -- the entry, the execution and the completion of it -- is different too).

I like the trap choke very much, for many reasons. Firstly, it's not that well-known and not that commonly seen in competition. Secondly, when you apply it right, it's a very difficult strangle to resist. Thirdly, even if uke is somehow able to resist, he is unlikely to be able to escape the hold down. It's really a double whammy -- a strangle and a hold-down at the same time.

We'll be working on the basic version of the trap choke on Friday. If the players make quick progress, I'll show them a couple of variations of the trap choke that work really well. It's really a great technique.


Tomoe actually refers to a "swirl"
There are few judo throws that captures the general public's imagination more than the tomoe-nage. You see it in many cowboy movies and it makes a pretty regular appearance in action films of all kind.

Tomoe-nage is often referred to as the "stomach throw" because that's where tori places his foot (or feet) -- on uke's stomach -- when executing the throw. But that's not a correct translation.

A more accurate translation would be to call it the "whirling" throw or if you want to be even more precise, the "swirling" throw. But I guess "stomach throw" rolls off the tongue a lot easier than "whirling" or "swirling" throw.

In its traditional form, the tomoe-nage is done with tori falling onto his back and pulling uke on top of him as he places his foot (or feet) directly on uke's stomach. He then throws uke straight over.

This was the tomoe-nage used by the great Shozo Fujii of Japan. Toshihiko Koga of Japan also favored the traditional form of tomoe-nage.

However, this form is seldom seen in competition these days, where the yoko-tomoe-nage prevails. Almost all tomoe-nage is done in this fashion nowadays.

It's called the yoko-tomoe-nage (side tomoe-nage) possibly because instead of falling straight back, tori drops with his head aimed at uke's far leg. If done properly, tori's body would be at an almost 90 degree angle to uke's body. The "yoko" aspect of this throw could also possibly refer to the fact that uke is usually thrown to the side rather than over the top.

I suspect that the reason this technique is more popular than the traditional one is that it's actually more effective and easier to score with.

The main dangers of doing this technique is if it fails, you could potentially get a shido for false attack or you might get pinned. You very rarely get countered although it has happened on some occasions at top international competitions, where uke actually sweeps away one of tori's legs as tori executes the tomoe (this is very rare though because it requires perfect timing).

The yoko-tomoe is most effective when tori and uke are in a kenka-yotsu (opposite) stance situation. For example, tori is in a right-handed stance and uke is in a left-handed stance. It's an unusual technique in that the throwing leg is usually the weak leg. For example, if tori is right-handed and has a right-handed sleeve-lapel grip, he would throw with his left leg. Similarly, if tori is left-handed and has a left-handed sleeve-lapel grip, he would throw with his right leg.

There are exceptions of course. Karen Briggs of Great Britain was right-handed but she threw with her right leg. This bucks convention wisdom though and I should say the overwhelming majority of right-handers would do tomoe-nage with their left leg.

Tomoe-nage is more often seen in lightweight matches. Many seoi-nage specialists use tomoe-nage which is a good complement to the throw. It's worth noting that both Fujii and Koga are seoi-nage specialists.

However, there are some heavyweights who can do tomoe-nage. France's Jean-Luc Rouge (President of the French Judo Federation) was one of the few heavyweights who used tomoe-nage regularly in competition. Like Fujii and Koga, he used a more traditional version of the throw. Russia's Tamerlan Tmenov was another heavyweight who used this throw but he did the more modern yoko-tomoe-nage.

Yoko-tomoe-nage was one of the techniques my first competition coach taught me when I was starting out in competition training. I guess it's not surprising given that my main technique was seoi-nage. Tomoe is a good complement to seoi.

I'll be teaching the yoko-tomoe-nage to my players this technique on Friday. I have the technique broken down into its constituent parts already.

1. Firstly the stance
2. Secondly the grip
3. Thirdly the drop onto the mat (it's a sacrifice technique)
4. Fourthly, the execution of the throw

Each component has got to be done right. There is a certain amount of finesse and timing required to get it right. It took me literally years to learn how to do it right. It's not an easy throw to do but nothing good comes easy, right?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday night's all right for fighting...

Two new players showed up on Tuesday night. Although it was their first judo class, they did randori with us because we are that kind of club. They loved it and say they will be back on Friday and Sunday.

Tuesday night is supposed to be "Judo Fundamentals" night but the people who have been showing up are mostly competitive-spirited fighters so we are using Tuesdays for randori now.

Of course not the entire session was for randori. We spent about 30 minutes doing some drills: some newaza drills and some gripping drills. Then we moved on to the main event of the night: randori, which lasted about one hour

Two new players, Omar and Edwin, decided to give judo a try. Both are competitive-minded so we threw them into the deep end and had them do some randori. Of course I paired them with experienced players who could take care of them.

Relying just on their basic instincts and their athleticism, they were able to grapple and hold their own. It was an impressive performance by two athletic new members, who are a welcome addition to the team.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Side Takedown & Black Panther Sankaku (March 18, 2018)

We normally start our Sunday sessions with newaza but I turned things around a bit this time in order to give the players some variety in their training regime.

So, we started off with Side Takedown, which is an extremely popular competition technique largely developed in Europe. Not many Japanese do this technique although it's a specialty of Takato (JPN).

I had the players work on the mechanics of the technique. Then I got them to work on securing the grip for it, which is not easy. Lastly, I had them to a "Side Takedown" randori where the only technique they could do is "Side Takedown".

After short break we did some work on "Straddling Sankaku", a version of which can be seen being done by T'Challa in the Black Panther movie. This is a completely new Sankaku for  the players but many of them managed to get it working quite fast.

Next week, I'm gonna show them another Sankaku from the movies: the "Lethal Weapon Sankaku" (Mel Gibson did in that movie).

As usual, we ended randori -- a full hour's worth. What a tiring workout it was. But very fulfilling. Our next training is Tuesday. It's actually designated as a Judo Foundations Class but if no beginners show up, we'll just do randori.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Beyond randori

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a BIG fan of randori. As a competitor, I always felt randori was the most important component of my training. As a coach, I emphasize randori a lot. Every training session must end with randori. At my club, even beginners on their first day of judo do randori.

I've said this before but one of the biggest challenges any judo competitor faces is the lack of randori partners. At KL Judo we are extremely lucky to have a critical mass of randori-inclined players. That doesn't mean we have a huge team. But the players that we do have, all like randori. And at every session we always have enough players of different sizes that everyone gets to do plenty of randori. This is something to be thankful for and I remind myself to be grateful about it every time I step on the mat.

Randori is indeed critical but it's not enough. For our competitors, they need many other things in order to be successful in competition:

i) Perserverance
It takes time to become a champion. Many players give up hope before they even give themselves a real shot at becoming a winner. Some give up after they lose in a few competitions and some give up even if they don't do well in randori. Unfortunately that happens a lot in judo. As a coach, it's important to prepare players not just physically but mentally too.

ii) Throwing skills
It goes without saying that technique is important. Strength is also important but you can go only so far with brute strength. One mistake many players make is once they get one good throw to work for them, they stick with that one throw only and are not interested in learning anything new. While it's not necessary (and quite impossible) to be an expert at dozens and dozens of throws, it's important to have some versatility and not rely on just one technique. As a coach I always tell my players, develop at least three core throws and ideally they should somehow be related techniques, meaning one can easily flow into the other (ippon-seoi-nage and kouchi-makikomi are good examples of related techniques)

iii) Gripping skills
Without gripping skills you can't throw your opponent. It's as simple as that. If you get outgripped, you've already lost the match because there's little you can do and it's just a matter of time before you get thrown or taken down to the ground. Good gripping skills can come naturally if you've been doing judo for many years and you have tons of experienced training partners -- like in Japan or France or Brazil where judo is very popular. But if that scenario does not apply to you, you need to be taught gripping skills and you need to do plenty of drills. Which is what we do at KL Judo.

iv) Groundwork skills

It is true that judo players generally prefer to throw rather than do groundwork. That's why being good at groundwork gives you an advantage in competition. At KL Judo we devote half of our training time to newaza. During randori, people tend to get up after a throw but our dojo is big enough that up to six pairs can do randori safely even if they follow up in newaza after a throw or an attempted throw. And following up in newaza is something we encourage in randori.

v) Drills
As mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, randori is very important and we are very fortunate to have a critical mass of players in our competition team that nobody who trains here are short of randori partners. But that doesn't mean we are anywhere near like the situation in a top dojo in Japan where there could be 50 black belts on the mat for you to train with. When you have many, many different training partners, like in Japan, France or Brazil, you will encounter all kinds of gripping situations and deal with all kinds of attacks. But if you live in a country where judo is not that popular and you don't have the luxury of 50 different partners to choose from, you will have to do drills. Even if you have five suitable training partners in your club, you would be considered extremely lucky. How many judo players in Malaysia can truly say they have five regular training partners who are more or less of the same weight class and same experience level? But let's say you do have five or six or seven. That's not enough to give you the variety that you need to become familiar with all kinds of situations. In such a situation, drills will give you the variety you need. Let's say a player only has three training partners and all are right-handed. That player will not be ready to fight lefties because in a normal randori, he will only face right handers. What needs to be done is for that player to do drills whereby he is force to confront a left-handed situation. The coach can implement a drill that requires his partner to purposefully attack him from the left. This is why drills as so very important. It simulates situations that you normally would not come across, precisely because you are not in a dojo in Japan with 50 black belts on the mat to train with.

vi) Strategy
A fellow instructor from overseas recently asked me if I always immediately taught my players new rules whenever the IJF introduced them. "Of course," I said. He was shocked. He then asked if I would apply those rules in randori. Again my answer was "Of course," and again he was surprised. Why wouldn't I? Judo is a sport and every sport has its rules. If the rules change, as a coach it makes all the sense in the world for me to explain it to my players and make sure they play under those rules. There's no point giving away free shidos or getting disqualified just because you are not up to date with the rules. But beyond just obeying those rules, it's important to know how to make the most of them. What that means is how to play to rules to your advantage. And that is something we do a lot of at KL Judo.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

KL Judo launches Judo4Everyone campaign
Our first Judo4Everyone trainee was supermodel Amber Chia, who proved to be quite a natural at judo.

Our competition training class is coming along swimmingly, with a critical mass of our competitive players on the mat training and sparring every Friday and Sunday. Of course, if possible, I would like to grow this team from our current base of about 20 players to an ideal core group of about 30 individuals.

But to grow judo into a popular sport, we need to reach out to more people, including those who may not be thinking of competing but would like to take up judo recreationally -- to keep fit and also to develop some self-defence skills.

It is with this in mind that we have launched our Judo4Everyone program where we will invite personalities from different walks of life to try out judo. We kicked off this campaign last Tuesday with supermodel Amber Chia coming in for a judo tryout.

To everyone's pleasant surprise and admiration, Amber proved to be quite a natural at judo. She was able to pick up basic judo skills very quickly and was very aggressive when doing the drills and during randori (sparring session).

In the coming weeks and months, we will invite many other personalities to come and try judo. We hope that through this program, the general public will see that judo is a fun and healthy activity not just for elite athletes but for everyone. If you are interested in giving judo a try, give us a call.