Monday, September 25, 2017

The KL Judo Training System

The European Judo Union's slogan is "Judo - more than sport!"

In Europe, they have a slogan: "Judo - more than sport!" Anyone who has ever done judo knows what that means and knows it to be true. Judo is a sport but it's more than that. There's a moral code involved. Unlike some sports where there's a lot of trash talking (aimed at opponents and even referees), respect and good behaviour is emphasized in judo. And despite the fact that judo is a full-contact combat sport where players fight fiercely on the mat, off the mat they are friends. That's what makes judo more than sport.

There are those who pooh-pooh the sporting aspect of judo and think judo should be more like a martial art. Those are the ones who usually complain about the IJF rules prohibiting leg grabs and so on. They feel that as a martial art, judo should not have sports-centric restrictions. Such people would prefer for judo to revert to its jiu-jitsu origins. But by taking out the sporting aspects, judo would then become "less than sport" (thanks, Lance Wicks, for enlightening me on this). And we can't have that!

A lot of those martial arts types are fond of saying Jigoro Kano would roll in his grave if he could see what judo has become. They probably aren't aware that Kano was a member of the International Olympic Committee and the last thing he would want is for judo to become "less than sport".

Crash pads

At KL Judo Club, we view judo as a sport and we approach training from an athletic perspective. This is why we use crash pads extensively. I noticed in many judo clubs, including those that actually have crash pads, the coaches do not like the players to use crash pads ostensibly because being thrown on the tatami makes players tougher.

Actually what it does is two things:
i) It punishes uke who has to take multiple falls on a hard tatami
ii) It causes tori to assist uke on his way down so as to alleviate his suffering

What is the purpose of that? What value is there for uke to take 30 throws on a tatami? And what value does tori derive when he's not able to do a throw with full force?

So ingrained are players who are used to "no crash pads" that when they are asked to throw with full commitment on crash pads, they still end up assisting uke on the way down. We see a lot of that when visitors come to our club.

When I was in college, I did some  wrestling and for throwing drills, we always used crash pads. When I trained in Europe as a competitor in the early-90s, we always used crash pads for big throws.

So, I don't care if people think that "real" judokas don't use crash pads. I want my players to learn how to throw properly and for them to do that they need to throw with full force all the time. The only practical way for that to be done repeatedly is with the use of crash pads.

It is said that judo players prefer to throw rather than do groundwork. This might be a stereotype but there is some truth to it. Yes, we all know of judokas who love their groundwork but those are actually a minority. Most judo players prefer standing techniques and some absolutely hate newaza.

When I first did competition training at the LA Judo Training Centre, my coach always had me start off with newaza training and then only tachi-waza. We tend to follow that routine at KL Judo (not always but usually). All of my players are conditioned to do lots of newaza, so very few of them fall under the "I hate newaza" category (though maybe one or two exist).

There are practical reasons for emphasizing newaza. Firstly, when your newaza is strong, you feel more confident with your tachi-waza. If your throw fails and you end up on the ground, you are not worried because you can handle yourself in newaza. And if your opponent throws you, and it's not an ippon, you can actually win the match by continuing the action in newaza. So, having good newaza  is crucial to competition success.

Gripping is an important skill in judo yet it is rarely taught. Most judo players with good gripping skills (kumi-kata) are usually those who are exposed to a lot of randori. When you are able to do a lot of randori, you get exposed to all kinds of players with all kinds of gripping styles.

If you do plenty of randori day in and day out -- like the Japanese -- you'll eventually develop sound gripping skills through trial and error. But for the rest of us, who don't have the benefit of doing 10 to 15 randoris a day, gripping skills need to be taught.

At KL Judo we really emphasize gripping and players are taught how to do techniques from different gripping situations, how to break grips (legally) and how to impose grips effectively. There's an art and a science to gripping and players who are not equipped with sound gripping skills are at a vast disadvantage.

American judo coach Jimmy Pedro said in an interview that it's impossible for American players to do more judo than the Japanese simply because there are not that many players around to do randoris with. If you go to a top Japanese judo university, you can have as many as 40 or 50 black belts on the mat. They are known to do up to 15 randoris per session. In such a situation players come across all kinds of gripping, attacking, defending and countering situations. As they learn how to cope with these situations they become effective fighters.

In most Malaysian clubs (aside from the sports schools) there are not so many players. When randori opportunities are scant, and players fight with the same old training partners all the time, they don't get to encounter the different gripping, attacking, defending and countering situations. So what can you do?

Drills is one way to address this situation. Drills are designed to mimic situations. For example, most players are not used to fighting left-handers because most players are right-handed. If a player happens to be in a club where there are only two or three randori partners and they are all right-handed, that player would never learn how to fight a left-hander through randori alone. As such, it's important to do drills where you have partners purposely attacking him with a left-handed grip. This exposes the player to a situation that a free-flowing randori would not. Drills are crucial when your club doesn't have many players.

Nothing replaces randori for preparing players for competition. You can do all the drills in the world but if you don't get enough randori, you would not be ready for competition. But if you don't have a lot of players what can you do?

One solution is to take them to visit other clubs. I realize this is actually not a common thing in Malaysia. Clubs tend to be very insular and stick to themselves. Perhaps some coaches are worried their players might leave them if they are exposed to other clubs. But if those coaches are providing good training why should they be worried about such things?

I always encourage my players to visit other clubs and we have travelled to other states and even to Singapore just to get more randoris.

Of course there's no point in visiting another club if their training philosophies are so vastly different. For example, if another club doesn't like to do randori, what's the point of visiting such a club? Or if a club likes to mix their judo training with other martial arts like BJJ, MMA etc, I don't think there's any point in visiting them if your purpose is to do more judo randoris.

When other clubs ask to visit us, we try to get as many of our players together as possible in order to give them a good randori experience. If guests take the trouble to visit our club, we feel it's our obligation to give them a good randori.

As a modern sport, judo competitions are won and lost not just on skill but on strategy as well. The rules are there whether you like it or not and it's up to you to work the existing rules to your advantage.

Players naturally tend to focus on technique when training. They want to be better at throwing and better at groundwork. And that's good of course. But if they are oblivious about strategy, they might find themselves losing to a player with lesser throwing and groundwork skills. A really strategic player can win a match without scoring a point through the clever use of shido play.

Of course as judo players we want technique to prevail and yes, it is more satisfying when you win by ippon. But sometimes that is not possible and sometimes you have to resort to tactical play to win the match. Strategy can be something as simple as learning how to keep uke on the ground when you're ahead by points and there's only 30 seconds left in the match. You might think that's common sense but if players are not conditioned to do this they might forget about this in the heat of competition.

The KL Judo Training System
In a nutshell, the KL Judo way is to treat judo as a sport and to emphasize:
a) nagekomi on crash pads (not tatami)
b) newaza
c) grips
d) drills
e) randori
f) strategy

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