Book Review: Winning on the Mat by Steve Scott

A solid, well-rounded book that focuses, as the title says, on "winning on the mat."  Three stars (out of four).
Winning on the Mat: Judo, Freestyle Judo And Submission Grappling

Here's a review for (probably) the first Judo book that I have read cover-to-cover.

The Upshot:
This was a really good book.  While most Judo books out there focus solely on technique, and thus significantly overlap with... most Judo books out there, this book has a heavy focus on the practical aspects of winning a Judo contest.  Mind you, the bulk of the book is technique description, but there are sections on defense, gripping, etc.  Steve Scott (interviewed here) shares a deep knowledge of Judo, and a his framework for "organizing" Judo is fairly unique.  I enjoyed the book (even if the numerous typos were annoying), and I think it is a great addition to your Judo library - even if you aren't a competitor.

What's In It and How It's Organized:
Winning on the Mat covers standing and ground techniques, in addition to gripping, defenses, other tactics, and more.  Each of the technique sections begins with principles, frameworks, and key points on the subject at hand.

  • Winning Concepts:  Definitely my favorite section of the book.  It's here that he discusses "Control Judo" and has tips on things like scouting opponents, mat-side coaching, grip fighting, defensive tactics, and more.  This is the section that really differentiates it from other books.
  • Winning Forward Throws: Not as self-explanatory as one might think.  His classification of "foward throws" describes those throws that, while standing, involve taking an opponent over your body from back to front (e.g., Ogoshi, Seoi Nage, etc), and does not include those throws listed as other sections.
  • Winning Knee Drop Throws:  Basically those throws that involve dropping to one or both knees.
  • Winning Uchi Mata:  3 guesses...
  • Winning Pick Up Throws:  As this book focuses on winning using Freestyle Judo rules which (appropriately) don't forbid attacking the legs, Scott devotes a nice section to pick-ups.
  • Winning O Soto Gari/Harai Goshi (titled "Winning O Soto Harai")
  • Winning O Uchi Gari
  • Winning Leg Hooks (titled "Winning Ko Soto Tani Otoshi"):  In addition to the "Gake" throws, this also includes Tani Otoshi.
  • Winning Foot Sweeps
  • Winning Tai Otoshi
  • Winning Sacrifice Throws
  • Winning Groundwork (title "Winning Newaza Pins):  Includes not just pins, but also general groundwork principles, breakdowns, rollovers, sweeps, guard passes, and basically all aspects of groundwork, save submissions.
  • Winning Armlocks:  Fairly self-explanatory, with lots of nifty entries for Juji Gatame.
  • Winning Strangles: Strangles - including a nice bit of history that mentions how "Shime Waza" originally included a) constricting the neck (same as today), b) constricting the body (e.g., Do Jime - illegal today), and c) smothering your opponent (one of my personal faves - never knew I was still performing Shime Waza!)
  • Winning Final Thoughts:  Primarily Freestyle Judo rules.
The Good:
One of the first things you'll notice is that this is a big book - over 400 pages.  So he's not holding much back.  Among these 400 pages, there is healthy section (~150 pages) on groundwork, which I think often goes lacking in most Judo books.  As I mentioned above, my favorite parts of the book are when he isn't describing techniques; not because there is anything wrong with them - indeed, I picked up some new approaches from this book - rather, it is here that the most unique insight is shared.  There also is a decent smattering of history and language in there, both topics of interest to me (though he does have a definition of Zanshin that is markedly different than everything I had ever heard...  but that's just a couple of lines of text, and it may be that everything I had heard before was wrong).

Could Have Been Better:
I think it is telling that the only two complaints I have about this book have little to do with substance... The pictures in this book are almost entirely competition shots - I like the approach, but in many cases, it can be difficult to see exactly what is going on.  Neither here nor there, but at first, I thought it may be due to low resoultion in the cameras used, but I think it may actually be to low resolution in the printing...).  Another downer is that there are tons of typos in here.  Tons.  Mutiple chapter headings (repeated on every page of the chapter) have typos, and it can be annoying if that sort of thing bothers you.  Other than that, I would have liked to have seen more real-estated devoted to pins, but given the Freestyle Judo approach, it is understandable that he placed the emphasis where he did.

One Thing I Learned:
There was a lot, but I think one of my favorites was a slick rollover into Juji Gatame from when you are sprawled on your opponent after he attempted a leg pick or something similar, such that he is still grabbing your right leg.  It involves swinging your left leg over, and hooking it on to his left leg, grabbing his right arm with both of your arms, and then rolling to finish in Juji.

As a side note, Gerald Lafon recently reviewed Winning... in his blog.  I generally try not to overlap other blogs I read, but in this case, I just recently finished this 400+ page book, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to post my own review after such an investment!



kodokanjudo said...

Looks like an interesting book.