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:
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.
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.
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.