The Genius of Kano

For me, the thing that differentiates Genius from just the "Really Smart" is that a Genius has a great ability to reject commonly accepted "reality" where it is wrong.  A good example is with Einstein and relativity.  As a quick side note, I think that is why so many geniuses go crazy (and/or are perceived as being crazy)...  This predisposition to reject reality can go too far.  But that's for another day.  Today, I want to talk about our buddy Jigoro Kano and how he was, IMO, a genius.

The biggest genius of Kano, I think, was that he could make a more effective martial art by removing the most lethal/damaging techniques.  The eye gouge is an amazingly effective way to end a fight, sure, but you only get to practice it at most two times with your partner - and even then you have to be pretty persuasive to get that second rep in.  You can fake it - go right up to the point of gouging the eye - but because you can't practice an eye gouge in a live situation, your ability to pull one off in a real confrontation would be in question.  So Kano took those techniques that he felt could not be safely executed in a live situation, and he gave them the boot.  Striking?  You can only kick someone in the face but so many times before they want to stop playing with you (and by the way, stop saying that Judo has atemi waza...  the Nage No Kata head bop is a useful training tool, but it isn't meant to teach people how to strike).  Neck breaks?  Only 1 rep per partner.  Gone.  And on down the list. 

What you are then left with is a martial art where you can go all out with your full range of techniques (or, in the case of submissions, until they tap, and you simply have to disregard the tap to finish the technique).  Now, you can attempt to apply your knowledge against a resisting, moving, and attacking opponent, without fear of breaking him or her.  And by getting to practice in this live situation (aka, Randori) over and over and over again, you are now much more likely to be able to apply your knowledge in a "real" encounter.  So by taking out the "effective" techniques, Kano made Judo more effective.  Genius!

As a quick side note, I have always wondered why he took out leg locks.  BJJ has shown that leg locks can be practiced safely, similar to how we practice arm locks...  Anybody know the answer?

As another side note, Sensei Kano, in addition to being Genius, was also Really Smart.  He was a brilliant marketer.  He took the time to create this nifty new art, but it could have easily died on the vine, like so many other great ideas.  But he was able to get his message out effectively by working with the Tokyo Police, using his position with the Japanese Ministry of Education (and how awesome would it be if we could get Judo included in PE curricula in the US?), working to get Judo into the Olympics, and sending his top students to be Judo emissaries around the world.  And there is probably more, but I just don't know about it.  Anyway, the existence of Judo today owes itself to both Dr. Kano's genius and his cleverness.  It's pretty rare to find someone who has both...


More About Uke's Job

Sensei Pat Parker just posted a great entry in his blog about the role of uke.  Well, technically, it is about "uchidachi" which evidently has something to do with poking people in the head with sticks (another hobby of Pat's) - but for our purposes, just read the article, and when you see "uchidachi", think "uke", and when you read "shidachi", think "tori."

A paraphrased sample:  Uke's role is like that of a parent helping their child to learn...  Good stuff.

See Pat's blog post here.


Drills, Mastery, and Multitasking

Turn your judo into a reflex - push it to your subconscious.

Lots of people have been pressing the importance of drilling, lately.  Several posts from Ann Maria DeMars' blog stress this, Sensei Bernie Gill recently mentioned you need 5,000 reps to make something a habit, and, of course, this lowly blogger tries to stress in every class that if you drill lazy, your Judo will be lazy.  I really don't think you'll find anyone that disagrees that drilling in some shape or form is important.  But Bernie's comment got me to thinking about something else I had read recently...

I have read in a number of places that humans can't actually multitask - we can switch our focus back and forth quickly, but our brain simply doesn't focus on more than one thing at a time.  So, you can't read a newspaper and listen to a conversation at the same time.  You can read a little, listen a little, then read a little more, and each switch takes time.  Same thing would apply to listening to a coach and executing a new technique... they don't happen simultaniously. 

Old news.  But a recent article added to that:  once something is a reflex/habit/subconscious activity, you can do it simultaneously with something that requires focus.  So... when a baby is first learning to walk, he'll *really* focus on those first steps.  And the next few.  If he loses focus, he generally screws up and falls down.  But as he gets older, walking becomes reflexive, and he can now walk *and* carry on a conversation. 

Well, the same thing should apply to Judo, right?  When you start out, you can learn a bunch of techniques, get some basic proficiency with them - but your Judo will still be a very conscious process... "Okay, I'm going to try to make him step here, then go for my Osoto... I'll put my left foot here, and OHCRAPOHCRAPOHCRAP!  He's attacking!  Drop my weight!  Phew! Okay... where was I?"  Might go through a Judoka's head in this phase.  But once you have practiced something a bajillion times (or Sensei Bernie's 5000 times), you get to a point where you don't have to think about where to put your foot in relation to your opponent - your body just does it.  Same with defending that attack:  your body can just do it and launch a counterattack without much in the way of conscious thought.  That's always been the goal of drilling in any sport.  But there's more...

Once we move our Judo into the realm of subconscious actions, we now get to avoid that multitasking problem, at least to a large extent.  In any given Judo encounter, there is usually at least one attack we want to launch, and at least one attack from our opponent that we want to avoid.  Usually, it is many of both.  Throw in things like boundary lines, gripping timing rules, etc., and you have even more things that require your attention.  The un-drilled brain will have to jump from one to the other to the other, and hopefully fast enough that it can come out ahead.  But the well-drilled brain (too gory?) can drop the fastest moving and least controllable of these (the opponents' actions) right off the list, and much of the other stuff falls out as well (like finding the right timing for an attack, the steps in launching an attack,  etc) because they can "reflexively" react, instead of consciously react.

Now, with less stuff that requires attention, the Judoka's brain will be in a better spot, and the Judoka has a much better chance of coming out ahead.  You'll never eliminate all of the multitasking that needs to go on, and you'll never drill enough for every possible situation, but you can really help your Judo by doing lots and lots and lots of *quality* drills.


GOOOOOOOOAL(s) - That Which Gets Measured Gets Improved

As a coach, one of the things that frustrates me is that many... possibly even most of my students aren't dedicated to their practice. And by dedicated, I mean, they show up to every class, and work to make improvement. Now, I don't necessarily look down on folks who aren't dedicated... jobs, family, school, etc., can (and sometimes should) get in the way of coming to class. And if you are just doing Judo to have occasional fun, then that's cool, and I am happy to have you. But the problem for me comes when *most* of my students don't show this kind of dedicated... It comes down to motivation.

The short version of my thinking on motivation is that the folks with goals tend to be more motivated, and those who make progress towards those goals are more motivated.  So step one is understanding what the motivation is.  The good news for us, as coaches, is that almost everyone will have some sort of motivation - we just need to find out what it is.

Step two, then, is figuring out how to measure progress towards that goal.  "That which gets measured gets improved" is an adage in industry.  Basically, once you start tracking the data on something, that makes it easier to see when and how progress (or failure) is made.  So you figure out how to track it, and then you track it.  Want to improve your physical fitness?  Well, 2 weeks ago, you couldn't go more than 2 minutes in randori before you were tapping from exaustion, and now you can go 4 minutes strong...  Want to win tournaments?  Well, in the last tourney, you didn't execute any offensive techniques, and this time you scored 2 yukos!

And once you have the goal and a way to track progress, you can then start recognizing gaps, devising strategies to improve, and, most importantly, creating the opportunities for that improvement.  Once your fitness-seeker gets to where she can handle a round of randori, start with endurance drills and multiple sessions of randori.  Take your victory-seeker to tournaments, and watch his performance... Etc.

Theoretically, this should be a good way to boost the dedication of your students.  And as they get more dedicated, they show up to class more regularly, and that improves the general esprit-de-corps of the whole dojo, and you have your virtuous cycle.  I say theoretically because... well... I haven't really done this.  Yet.  But I'll give it a try, and will let you know if it works.  Any tips from you more seasoned coaches are always appreciated.


Dakiage - Just SLAM! Let the boys be boys! Maynard was ROBBED!

Onyx, anyone?  No?  Whatever.  So, I was thinking about Dakiage (aka, the slam, aka, high lift) in the shower (don't ask), and I thought about these two bad examples from the UFC:

Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton (go to about 45 seconds in):

First, what was he trying to accomplish by putting him up against the fence *like that.* I am no MMA fighter, but that seems stupid. And Matt didn't really slam him, he was losing (or had lost) consciousness. Newton's legs pop open right away, and Hughes didn't know that he was knocked out, so he would have popped up and started punching him, etc. if he had the wherewithal to do that. And the next one I thought about...

Gray Maynard vs. Rob Emerson

The story here: as you can see, Maynard (the slammer) has his head in a not-so-great position, and he is heading straight for the ground. What ends up happening is that Maynard slams Emerson and knocks him out, but he then rolls off of Emerson and lays there, and they call a no contest because they think Maynard knocked himself out. So I will say first that this is a stupid and dangerous position to slam someone from. But I don't think that Maynard knocked himself out - I think he rung his bell, but I don't think he was KO'd, and he was robbed. Find a video and watch... Anyhoo, while I don't think that slamming someone should be legal in Judo, I do think that if you can get someone up to shoulder level with control, you should be declared the automatic winner. Just don't finish the slam.


So How Would I Run a Tournament?

Alright... so if the IJF rules are awful, what does a good tournament look like? 

In a recent post I pondered what the underlying principles should be as I seek to create a tournament...  The very brief summary is that tournaments should foster:

  • Self-improvement
  • Self-assessment (per Gerry Lafon's comment)
  • Innovation within the Art
  • A sense of community within the Art
  • Publicity - that is, a connection with the non-Judo public
  • The core principles of Judo
So, using that as a touchstone, here is what I came up with:
    Lose the Japanese:  Let's start with what I imagine will be the most controversial.  As we want to use the tournament to help publicize the sport, we should not use a foreign language to narrate the competition. Ippon is the only thing I think we should keep in Japanese; it's part of the Judo brand, and, in any case, it will be pretty clear to the non-savvy onlooker what just happened (if not why it happened).  We should even replace "Hajime" and "Matte" with "Go" and "Stop".  It doesn't change a tiny bit about the competition itself, which is, after all, the main thing.  And I'm just talking about tournaments, here.  Feel free to keep the Japanese in classes.
    Have a Flyer: Not at all controversial, but sticking with the publicity/community outreach thing, tournament hosts should create a 1-page flyer that goes briefly over the rules, how to win, how the tournament is structured (e.g., double elimination, round robin, etc), perhaps which divisions are on which mats, and some basic info about what Judo is.  And of course, don't forget to tell mention when and where they can find a dojo.  Make the flyer succinct and interesting.  Catchy, in other words.
    No Harm, No Foul:  If it isn't unsafe, and it doesn't clearly oppose the spirit of Judo (which is a nebulous thing, I understand), keep it legal.  Weird grips?  No harm -  legal.  Head-diving?  Much greater risk of neck injury - illegal.  Leg picks and other things that involve grabbing pants/legs?  It's embarrassing that I even have to ask - legal. 
    Bring Back Dakiage - Sort of: Dakiage, if you aren't familiar, is basically "the slam."  Quinton "Rampage" Jackson used to be famous for this, as seen here (@ around 40 seconds in):   Now, obviously slamming isn't safe - there are no good breakfalls from that, and after your head hits the mat, it will often bounce into the slammer's head for a guaranteed KO.  But one of the old rules went something like "if you can get them up to shoulder level with control, you win."  I like this rule.  They got rid of it, and now have a rule where if you can make the guy on bottom break contact with the mat, then you both have to start back on your feet. The rule isn't completely useless, but does lead to silly behaviors like "escaping" an arm-bar by lifting your opponent a centimeter off the mat. So, here's what I think: 1) If you can't get your opponent higher than your knee, the action continues, because it is hard to do a ton of damage to someone from that height (I think). 2) If you can get your opponent up to shoulder height in one decisive movement (with control), you win. Because they are basically pwned at that point (for my older readers: "pwned" in this case = finished). 3) If you get past the knee, but not to the shoulder (in ONE DECISIVE MOVEMENT), you just start back from standing. Reasoning is there is a risk of being spiked on your head, but it isn't guaranteed doom like shoulder height would be. And most importantly, 4) If you actually slam or spike your opponent - even if by accident, you are thrown out. This is to encourage control. By making this change, we would a) bring back a great technique that is super-duper useful, b) eliminate some more of the garbage, by-product behaviors like exposing yourself to an arm bar in order to stand your opponent back up, and c) possibly improve the quality of people's guard
    Use Points:  So here's another controversial one.  I don't have a huge issue with the Waza-ari and Yuko frameworks (or, in my no-Japanese version, "Big Score" and "Minor Score"), but I also don't think that it really adds that much to a judo competition.  And people intuitively understand points.  So, if it isn't adding that much, and a change will make it easier to grasp, why not?  Now, I'm honestly not completely sold on the idea myself...  I need to sleep on it I guess.  Maybe we can have "Big Points" and "Minor Points"?  It still preserves the quality over quantity principle, but is spelled out more clearly for the lay-audience.
    Deflate the Referees:  Too often, Judo referees remind me of that stereotypical neighborhood association guy that just lives to fine you for your grass being .02 inches higher than regulation.  They don't so much care that you are a good neighbor, they just live to punish and show their knowledge of the rules.  Honestly, I'll bet a lot of Judo referees *are* that neighborhood association guy or gal.  It's not about the ref, it's about the Judo, so I really like the approach of Freestyle Judo (and most other contact sports), where the ref will give instructions, then warnings... then penalties, unless something is just atrocious. 
    Work to Pair Up Comparable Ranks:  I recognize that this isn't always possible, especially in smaller tourneys or with certain weight classes, but if we accept that self assessment is one of the things we want our tournament to promote, we shouldn't just have our white belt face off against two sandans before going home for the day.  There are a few things you could do to help this, for instance... 
    Get Rid of Pre-Defined Weight Classes:  I don't have anything against grouping people of similar weight, but the current system has at least two bad by-products.  1) The guy that weighs X pounds may have only 2 other guys in his division, while the guy who is 5 pounds heavier is squaring off against 20 folks, and 2) It encourages cutting weight, which is at best not healthy, and at worst bad for you or even lethal.  So that guy who is X+ 5 pounds ends up fighting folks who walk around at X+20 lbs.  So just group people by weight and/or skill level, putting the cut-offs where ever is necessary to create the most balanced/fair divisions.  And the balance you place between skill level and size may vary - you could even get rid of weight classes altogether!  Now, it may be that having no defined weight classes could actually cause worse weight-cutting, and if we find that this is the case, then go back to the old way.  But we can help prevent that by ...
    All Weigh-Ins on the Day of the Tourney:  The purpose is to discourage weight cutting, which is not a judo skill, and to get rid of the home-field advantage for the local club who can cut more weight than the out-of-towners.
    Get People as Many Matches as Practical:  You come to a judo tournament to compete against others, and it really sucks to pay $40 to spend 20 total seconds on the mat against two vastly superior opponents. "OK - then get better" I can hear you thinking.  Fair enough, but let's let the guy or gal get some more matches in.  One tourney I liked (in Lafayette, LA?) had 2 pools of 5 people each in my weight class.  The pools would play round-robin style, then the top 2 from each pool competed in double-elimination.  It was fun.  A German beat me for 1st (GERMANS!), but it was a lot of fun judo.  Don't have time for that?  You can always just set up "funsies" matches between two folks that want to compete.  Just do something.  Find a way to help your competitors get more competition.
    Lastly, Invite Everyone to Dinner: You don't have to pay - just invite people.  Make them feel welcome.  Get to know these folks.  You have to eat, right?  And heck, maybe you can cut a deal with the local Sizzler to cut you a deal on the price if you can bring them 30 hungry customers?  Or maybe if you can get RSVPs, you can cater it, to help folks get back on the road more quickly... It's a small thing, but I think it will help build the spirit of community in Judo.  That was honestly my favorite part of going to competitions back in the day - the camaraderie. 
So that's what I'm thinking.  What do you think?  What did I miss?  Where did I go too far?


What is Judo? or, "Judo: The Metaphorical Path of Laziness"

Sensei Lafon left a comment in a previous post that before we tried to articulate what the purpose of a Judo competition should be, we should first articulate what this "Judo" thing is, itself.  An excellent suggestion.  There is never unanimous agreement when one tries to define a thing like Judo, so there is a bit of "relative truth" here.  Judo is in the eyes of the beholder? 

WARNING:  I really go off on tangents on this one.  I apologize in advance, but I hope that it is still interesting.  In case you don't want to read the whole thing, here are some of the key points:

  • Judo is a "way" - part of what that implies is that there are things not meant to be included in the Art, even though they may be useful, so that you can more fully explore what is included.
  • There is more to Judo than just hand-to-hand combat, but make no mistake:  physical conflict is a core component of Judo, and we need to do a better job trueing back to that.
  • Because of it's background, Judo should give emphasis to throws over groundwork, and when groundwork is done Judo should encourage decisiveness.  BJJ, on the other hand, should place no particular emphasis on the throw, and should not have concerns about techniques that are slow to develop, or periods in a contest where little or no progress is made.
  • You'll have to read the article to see what I was talking about with the title of this post...

Ju + Do = Judo!
Anyhoo, a simple definition, borrowed from the Akari Judo web site is this:  "Judo, translated as the 'gentle way', is a martial art which teaches the use of balance, momentum, and timing to overcome your opponent."  Not bad for a starter.  The whole "gentle way" business is always problematic, though.  If you've seen Judo, it clearly isn't gentle.  I don't know enough Japanese to dispute whether "Ju" really means gentle, but I do have a good idea of what it implies:  One aspect is... well... "Lazy."  Sure throw the guy, but don't go out of your way.  Don't try to simply impose your will, but listen to what his posture and movements are telling you do.  Are his hips in front of his shoulders?  Then he probably "wants" to be thrown backwards.  Is she really reaching for that high grip?  She wants to be thrown with Seoi Nage!  Dr. Kano liked to talk about Seiryoku Zenyo - minimum effort, maximum efficiency.  That is really the Ju part of Judo, IMO.  Of course, "The Lazy Way" might attract the wrong kind of people.  And of course I am over-stating that - "minimum effort" doesn't mean that participants should exert as little effort as possible, and just lay down on the mat.  I usually go with "minimum effort to put the other guy on his back" - and when that guy is good, the minimum might be a lot.

But that's only half of the word!  Then, there's the "Do" part.  Literally, it means "the Way."  Ok...  Maybe not so useful.  If you are at all familiar with Chinese philosophy, it's the same as the chinese Tao (pronounced like the "dow" part of "down," so you start to see the relationship).  So... the "Way," as it is used here, is in the sense of a street, or path.  A metaphorical path.  A path is something that helps you travel, generally towards a destination.  A path is constrained...  that is, it isn't miles wide... You can move a little to the left or right, and more so in some parts of the path that others, but there are very definitely places you shouldn't step if you want to stay on the path.  And the path may not be the shortest way to get to wherever you are going, but the point is that by being on the path, you will see things that you wouldn't have, otherwise.  Practically speaking, this implies that there are techniques and practices that may be effective, but they should not be included in Judo.

A Way of Life?
Some people talk about the "Way" being a way of life.  That sounds good, but I'll be honest:  I don't get it.  I can see how asceticism is a way of life, but not Judo.  Certainly, many things that you learn in Judo are useful off the mat (much more than, say, things that you learn in tennis), and Lord knows there are enough "Verbal/Mental/Business/etc Judo" books out there, but in my opinion, it is a little too much to expect from Judo to teach us how to live.  Many of my instructors have been good role models, but none has taught me how to live (nor did I want them to), and I am certainly not teaching my students how to live.  So if that is supposed to be a part of Judo, it's something that has been lost wherever I have learned it, and it's not something I want anyway.

But getting back to the point, from reading some of what Dr. Kano wrote on the subject, the "Do" part (which he purposefully changed from "Jitsu" to be clear he was going for something different with his "ju do") does imply that there is something more going on.  Jita Kyoei - mutual benefit and welfare - is certainly a big part of this.  There is more that you are supposed to get from Judo than just learning a set of techniques.  But I will have to give the Do part of this more thought.

Sport or Martial Art?
I don't often make definitive statements, but here's one:  Judo is a martial art.  Period.  A core aspect of Judo is that is has, as it's core, how to deal with physical confrontation, and we cannot gloss over that.  Now, when you look up "sport," it just means "a physical activity engaged in for pleasure."  So, in that broad sense, sure, Judo is a sport, too (as long as you enjoy it, I guess).  People use the term "combat sport" also, which I think is fair.  I once heard, "Well, all of the really effective stuff was taken out so that it could be a sport that people could play."  If you believe that, you are missing the point.  I won't get in to it all here, but Kano removed things so that his students could practice all-out without injuring each other, and make the art *more* effective.

What Judo Isn't
Sometimes it is helpful to define a thing by what it isn't.   So what isn't Judo?...
  • It isn't BJJ:  I love Brazilian Jiujitsu, and it is a very very close relative of Judo.  But they aren't the same.  One thing to think about is the type of combat that they grew out of.  Judo was the direct offspring of Japanese Jujitsu, which was around for centuries and had battlefield combat as a key concern.  BJJ, as a sort of hybrid of Judo and Japanese Jujitsu, was really brought in to form, as I understand it, in one-on-one no-holds-barred fights.  A key difference there is that the BJJ focus was, by definition, one-on-one, whereas the Japanese Jujitsu (JJJ?) could be one-on-one, or you may have multiple opponents to worry about.  So that, I think, is why Judo, by definition, should focus much more on throws than BJJ.  In Judo, it is proper that a solid throw can end a match, and (though it generally pisses me off when it happens), it is also proper that contestants should have to re-start if no progress is made on the ground.  I don't think that the IJF uses the right timing, but Judo groundwork should have more emphasis on decisiveness than BJJ should.
  • Judo isn't wrestling:  Wrestling can also reasonably be called a martial art, though I think it is far enough removed from those combat origins that one need not necessarily call it that (and Judo under the IJF is headed down that path, but the good news is that the IJF can only set international contest rules, and doesn't define Judo itself - the instructors do that).  But I digress...  I am also a big fan of wrestling, and think that Judoka can greatly benefit from cross-training - the techniques are useful, and wrestling practices typically have some great training methods that we Judoka could learn from.  A key difference, though, is that Judo does need to true back to those combat origins.  You can point to a rule set that encourages defenseless turtling and say that Judo has already missed that boat.  But again, I say that the IJF tournament rules don't define the Art.  The problem is that most instructors (myself included) have allowed our instruction to get pigeon-holed by those rules.  After all, you don't want to train your folks in a way that will get them regularly DQd in contest.  Another aspect where Judo isn't wrestling is that... well... we wear clothes, and they don't.  Now, I can't think of any philosophical underpinning on why Judo must be done with gi (though one could argue that it is one of the constraints of the "Do"), so I think that is a gray area, and I don't have any objection to no-gi Judo.