Exercises: Buddy Lifts

Throw your partner through the ceiling!

I'm starting an "exercises" series for different warm-up exercises that I like.  The key for me to like them is that they have to be Judo-esque... Thus, you'll never see my promotion of running.  Not that there is anything wrong with running, but if you find yourself running a lot in contest, I think you're doing something wrong...    I want to use Judo mat time for Judo things.  Anyhoo, I think I came up with this first one myself!

This exercise develops:

  • Explosive leg strength.
  • Strength through the full range of motion in the legs
  • Pulling power
What do do:
  • Two players in right natural posture grab each other with a standard sleeve/lapel grip.
  • Both players squat - Player A squats as far as possible without sitting down, Player B touches his butt to the ground
  • As soon as B's butt touches the ground, he tries to jump up as high as possible.
  • Player A simultaneously tries to lift B out of the ground and launch him through the ceiling.
  • Player A tries to help B land as gently as possible.
  • Then start over; both players squat with Player A touching her butt to the ground.  Repeat till you can't stand up any more/someone vomits.  Or just pick a number of reps.
  • Maintain good posture - keep a straight(ish) back.
  • Counterbalance your partner - you'll need to lean back some, so it will help to have your feet close to each other.
  • I opted to avoid having the lifter touch her butt to the ground as I think that will help avoid back problems...  Feel free to tinker.
  • Change how you lift (e.g., elbows in vs. elbows up)
  • Change stances (e.g., classic righty- right foot forward with right hand on lapel, or classic lefty - left foot forward with left hand on lapel, or righty vs. lefty)
  • Experiment with your grip (e.g., high collar, double sleeve, etc)
Try it, and let me know what you think...


Uke's Job, round 3: Reference Points

I keep telling ya - Uke isn't just a throwing dummy!  He's got a job to do!

I've written a couple of times already (here, and here).  The short version:  if you are the Uke (the one getting done unto), don't just stand there.  You have to be mindful of a lot of things.

Read the other posts for more detail, but one of the things I talk about is offering consistency of experience for repetitions, and another is just generally helping Tori to learn Judo.  Sensei Bernie offered another piece to that:  Uke should set himself up with a consistent orientation on the mat.  For instance, Uke should should find a specific place on the mat, and face a specific direction.  This will allow Tori to use the Dojo to orient himself, rather than looking down at his feet.  This will allow for Uchikomis that use better posture, and will help Tori develop his sense of feel...  Try it!


Greatest Judo Training Camp on Earth: June 21-23 2012

Another of my annual shout-outs for the Greatest Judo Training Camp on Earth!

This year, the GJTCE will be from June 21-23 in Matthews, NC (just outside of Charlotte).  It's $215 if you register in advance, $245 if you don't - and that INCLUDES FOOD!  You can't afford not to go!  Pretty much the only other thing you need is a place to sleep, and they have worked out a deal for $65/night for lodging... you can get 4 folks easily in these rooms (2 on cots), so that's nothing!

The headline instructor is Shenjiro Sasaki, and he'll be joined by one of my favorites - Igor Yakimov will be back, as will Nick Lowe, who's also awesome.  Jeff Giunta will also be there... I've not met him, but if he rates with Igor and Nick, he must be awesome, as well.

I may even be able to make it this year - though it will likely be my last trip for a while with a third young'un on the way.  I need somebody to learn Ju No Kata with me... who's down?


Stepping Behind the Tape

The most useful part of Shiai may be that moment when you step back behind the tape...
Before I get to the topic at hand, let me first give some props:  shortly after I moved to Richmond, I met Sensei Bernie Gill, a Godan who would visit class from time to time.  His official line was that he was "retired" from Judo, but that he liked to come hang out with us every once in a while.  If you've never met Bernie, here's a short version:  He's a very humble guy, he's a badass, he's fun to be around, he's 73, he has awesome stories, he can still blast people with Harai Tsurikomi Ashi, he was a student of Takahiko Ishikawa, and I think he's a ninja.  Anyhoo, Sensei Bernie has recently started coming back around (coming out of retirement, perhaps?) and has been sharing some of his ninja magic with us.  I am going to make an effort to start writing some of it down, perhaps turning some of that in to blog posts.  So when you see the "Bernie Gill" label on a post, then it came from something he mentioned in class.
Step Behind the Tape
Onward...  If you aren't familiar with the structure of a Shiai (tournament contest), once the match is over, the contestants will stand across from each other in front of a white or blue piece of tape (similar to the designated corners in a boxing match), the ref will award the victory to someone, both competitors will step back behind their tape, bow, then walk off the mat.  Bernie mentioned today that one of the most important moments of Shiai is that moment that you step behind the tape... 

4 Types of Losing/Winning
Whether you won or lost, it is helpful to reflect on what just happened.  Bernie used to tell his son that there were ways to lose (which you could reverse and think of as four ways to win):

  1. The other guy was better:  That's going to happen.  But!  If you can learn from him or her - if you can figure out what they did to beat you and recognize a new way to do a technique or a new hole in your defenses, then you win (although you will still have to tell the score table that you lost). 
  2. You made a mistake:  That happens, too.  No excuses - it shouldn't have happened.  But if you recognize the mistake, identify where you need to drill, you can claw something good back from your loss.
  3. Bad decision:  It happens.  Sometimes there are bad referees, some situations are really tricky...  Either way, it doesn't really matter...  It doesn't really count as a loss - call this one a no-contest.  (Of course, check and make sure there isn't something you can chalk up to #s 1 or 2, first... don't be too eager to blame the ref).
  4. You step behind the tape without considering what happened:  If you lose, and you don't give any thought to why you lost - that is, you don't try to put your loss into categories 1, 2, or 3, and take any corresponding actions - then this is an unmitigated failure.  You didn't get a win and you didn't learn anything.  The good news is that this is avoidable...
So there it is.  I think that is a nice framework...  What do you think?


Club, or School?

Are Judo "clubs" really clubs?

In most of the US, the place where you go to learn Judo will likely have the word "Club" in its name, such as our very own Akari Judo Club.  There are a few "Academies" and maybe a few (more pretentious) "Universities" out there, but by and large, we're looking at "Clubs".  But I was thinking, on the way to my club... Is this really a club, or is it a school?

The Club:
A club is tyically an association of people with a particular similar interest who generally hang out together with some regular frequency.  And when they hang out, they usually do something associated with their interest; e.g., a model airplane club meeting would probably see a kit if people putting together model airplanes.  They aren't going to *learn* how to put them together, per se, though they will share knowledge and may ask for tips on their current project.  Someone new to model building may visit a club to learn more about it, and will probably need someone to give a guiding hand at first.  But everyone's kind of doing their own thing.  They may have a president (and treasurer, secretary) to handle any necessary administration, but they probably don't have a designated teacher.  There's no start and no finish.  Members generally come and go as they please - some will be more hard core, some will pay their dues, but only show up every so often.

The School:
A school, on the other hand, is where people go for the express goal of learning something new.  Typically, there is one instructor (at a time) with possibly a few lab assistants.  Lessons are taught.   People showing up to class are expected to be participating in the lesson.  Lesson plans are constructed to progress students to new levels (and *typically* the students don't miss many classes, so that the instructor can reasonably progress his folks).  The lesson plans will typically target people with a certain range of knowledge/skill level or who desire a specific skill (e.g., beginner woodworking, intermediate ebony whiste carving, etc.) to get them from a general starting point to a reasonably defined end.  Progress is typically measured with tests.  That sort of thing.

My "Club":
So is my "club" really a club, are we a school, or are we something else?  Honestly, when I sat down to write this, I was thinking that we were definitely a school...  But now, I think maybe we are a hybrid, and not a well thought out hybrid...  We have an attendance structure like a club - lots of coming and going.  We have designated instructors, and lessons are taught in just about every class, and there is the general expectation that if you are there, you are participating in the lesson...but the lesson plan thing kind of falls apart because of the attendance issue (the target audience tends not to be there).  As a result, lessons *tend* to skew towards the novice.  But either way, lessons tend to be too remedial for the advanced, or too advanced for the novice...  This may be a part of the attendance issue...

So... that's clearly not an optimal hybrid.  I kind of like the club approach.  After all, I only teach adults and teenagers, and they are capable of directing their own learning.  That would also free up time for me to work on the stuff I want to work on.  That said, the people who show up to class have some expectation of education, I think.  So the lesson model isn't entirely out of place...

A Workable Hybrid?:
So what about offering classes, perhaps in a series, that target a range of knowledge/ability or a specific skill. Those who fall within that range or want to work on that skill can participate.  Everyone else can do their own thing...  work on the stuff they were working on from whatever lesson they last participated in, for instance.  At my club (er... school?), we generally have at least 2 instructors plus a range of "color belts" to offer guidance.  We could publish the schedule of when we want to have particular lessons, and if the right folks don't show up for the lesson, the instructor just gets to do his/her own thing.  We could even introduce a forum type thing for people to weigh in on how a lesson went, or what a lesson should be, or when we should offer a particular lesson.

This approach will help us balance our focus on novice vs. intermediate vs. advanced development (which is currently out-of-whack, IMO), which should help with the engagement of the color belts.  And getting more time to do their own thing may drive higher engagement...  Any thoughts?


Thoughts on Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey won the Strikeforce Bantamweight Championship last week in only her 5th pro fight, and she did so spectacularly.  Everyone has to respect her talent at this point, though not everyone likes the "trash talk." 

Love her or hate her for that, here's another thing that I think everyone has to respect:  in a very short period of time, she has accomplished some audacious goals.  In about one year, she has gone from nothing to top of the ranks in Women's MMA.  Say what you will about the talent pool, but she went from nowhere, rank-wise, to #1 fighting people who fight for living - and she did it in ONE YEAR.  That's crazy.  Equally impressive, though, she has almost singlehandedly skyrocketed the interest in Women's MMA.  In this interview, she said "I'm doing all I can to try and make WMMA seem more profitable," and she has otherwise made no secret of her desire to boost ratings by hook or by crook.  But holy crap... she did it, and she did it all by herself!  The internet was abuzz about this fight both before and after it happened... How many women's fights have gotten that kind of attention?

So here's a weird comparison - Kano.  Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo.  The guy on the right.  Don't see the resemblance?  Well, he was a badass from a technical martial arts perspective, he had some crazy ambitions which he achieved in a crazy-short period of time, and he understood both the importance of marketing and how to succeed at it (see this post for more thoughts on Kano).  Of course, his tactics didn't feature shit-talk and tight shorts, but that probably wouldn't have worked so well for him, even in his younger years.


Throwing Principles: Keep Your Hands Where You Can See 'Em

You are stronger the closer your hands are to your center line... and if you can't see your hands while looking straight ahead, your hands aren't as powerful as they could be. If you find yourself losing power/control in your throws towards the end, ask yourself whether your hands are in front of you.

Have you ever done a pushup, or bench press?  If the answer is no, stop reading and go do some pushups.  They're good for the soul.  But if you have, read on...

Question:  Looking at these two images, imagine that the lifter wants to do ten reps moving his weight up or down only 2" at a time.  At what position is it harder, and where is it easier for the lifter?

 Or here:

Answer:  He is working much harder with the weights low.  There are a few reasons, but the key one is that as you stretch a muscle, it gets weaker.  In the lower position, both his pecs (chest) and his triceps (pushing muscles in the arms) are pretty well stretched, and these are the key muscles he needs to push.  And for any throw that involves putting uke on the ground in front of you (Osoto Gari, Seoi Nage, etc) your power hand needs to push at some point. 
So we are stronger if we avoid stretching the muscles we need to perform an action.

On a related note, it seems that as your hands get further from your center you start having to rely on fewer/weaker muscles.  I'm not a physiology expert, but I do know this:  when we (humans) do things with our hands, we usually orient ourselves such that our hands are in front of us, and we evolved to perform better at this position. If you want to pull something with your hands at your center and arms somewhat bent, you get to use the large lattisimus dorsi and biceps, but if your hands are sticking out to your side you are now using your smaller deltoids, and maybe your trapezius.  You won't be able to pull nearly as much.  If you want to push something, with your hands at your center and your arms somewhat bent, you can use your comparatively large chest and your triceps, vs. with your arms out, you'll rely much more on your smaller deltoids (thouth the chest is still definitely engaged), and your triceps won't come into the picture nearly as much - possibly at all.  Similar problems with your hands too high or too low.  If you want to push or pull something with your hands in front of your crotch or over your head, it's going to be more difficult than if your hands are somewhat in front of your chest.
So we are stronger if our hands are placed somewhat in front of our chest.

So the moral is this:  You generally want to keep your hands somewhat centered to your chest to be more powerful, whether pushing or pulling, on the ground or standing up.  The rule of thumb that I give to my students is if you are looking straight ahead and you can't see your hands, then you have let your hands get behind you.

Where we make our mistakes:
  • Turning in for our throw:  You may start with our hands in front, but as you turn, do you leave your hands behind you?  You've just lost power (though there are exceptions that make this okay on occasion).
  • Pushing the bad guy off of you (particularly on the ground):  When bad guy is on top of us, Judoka often try to push the bad guy away and/or to roll over.  It's when we try both that that arm can tend to stay behind...
How to fix it:
Try to avoid even a moment when your hands are out of position.  The issue is that once it gets behind you, it is hard to get them back.  I see it a lot with Tai Otoshi.  If you are having trouble with it, when you do your right-sided Tai Otoshi reps, make sure that you aren't letting your left hand (the pulling hand) get too far to the right side of your body.  And see if you can keep your right hand (the pushing hand) in front of your shoulder.  With a right-sided Osoto Gari, try to keep that driving hand (right hand) in front of your shoulder, and not sticking out to the side...  And see if this advice helps for any other throws you are having problems with...

What do you think?  Missing anything?  Anyone think I am flat wrong?



No, this isn't a hygiene post.

I've never been a huge fan of our rank system...  Know this subset of techniques, get a yellow belt... Know this additional subset of techniques, get an orange belt...  It always seemed kind of arbitrary to me.  Debating whether green belts should have to know Uchi Mata is about as useful as debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.  And then there are the differences in what a black belt means.  In some places - and I think this predominates in Asia - it means you have a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals.  You can get your Shodan in a year... Of course, that's a year of 10 hours of judo per week...  Others view the black belt as the sign that you are ready to teach.  In some places, you get your next rank based on beating enough others of your rank (e.g., the UK).  So... there is no standard, other than a black belt should be more skilled than a white belt.

At some point (and maybe still going in some parts of the world), I understand that there were just three ranks:  white, brown, and black.  That gets closer to something I can understand. 
  • White:  you don't know much of anything. 
  • Brown:  you know something, but not a ton.
  • Black: you know lots.
Still a reasonably arbitrary difference on where to draw the lines, but much less arbitrary than the white/yellow/orange, etc. scheme.  But I think we can do better...

In Jiu Jitsu University by Saolo Ribeiro (which I will review sooner or later, and you can purchase via the Amazon side bar), he lays out his philosophy on rank in BJJ, which I think is awesome.  I don't recall the specifics and don't particularly feel like looking it up at the moment, but it went something like this:
  • White:  you can't really do much of anything very well
  • Blue:  you can survive - i.e., you have a grasp of defensive techniques such that you aren't tapping every 5 seconds
  • Purple:  you can achieve position - i.e., you have a good grasp of how to pass guard, sweep, etc
  • Brown:  you can submit folks
  • Black:  ... I don't remember... Maybe it was along the lines of you can submit brown belts pretty well...?
Anyhoo, these are decidedly non-arbitrary standards.  The way he lays it out, you are looking to gain certain skills in a logical order.  Now that's useful.

So how do we apply this to Judo?  I don't have a great answer.  Yet.  But here's a first stab at it:
  • White:  you can't really do much of anything very well (ok, this is a useful standard)
  • Yellow:  you can survive - i.e., you can fall with some skill, you can avoid throws, and you don't keel over and die during groundwork
  • Orange:  you can create opportunities - i.e., you can move your opponent, you show some handle on kuzushi, and you can gain position on the ground (which includes pinning)
  • Brown:  you can win - i.e., you can throw with some proficiency (in a non-cooperative situation), and you can submit your opponents
  • Black:  you can handle brown belts with some proficiency
Differentiation between black belts, then, is how good are they at teaching...

Needs some work... but what do you think?  Anybody have a better idea?


Book Review: The Twelve Winds of Aikido and Judo by Karl Geis

A disappointing book written by a great Judoka.  Well... they can't all be winners.
The Twelve Winds of Aikido and Judo

The Upshot:
Honestly, I'm a little bitter about this one.  First, the book should have been called "Stuff Karl Geis thinks about life and martial arts, and how it sort of relates to Aikido!" - though I guess that may not have sold as well.  But it really irks me that the "Judo" in the title is approximately 1/3 of the total mentions of Judo in the book.  If I'm exaggerating, it isn't by much.  I guess somebody told him that adding the word "Judo" to the title would get him more sales.  And it worked on me, I guess.  Fool me once...  That said, it isn't devoid of merit and does contain some interesting thoughts.

What's In It and How It's Organized:
This is a book of musings about, I suppose, the "soul" of  Aikido, broken into an intro and 12 winds (get it?):

  • Introduction
  • The Graceful Wind:  How to put the "art" into being a Martial Artist.
  • Wind is Wind:  Don't worry about the different flavors of Aikido... they all have merit.
  • Our Invincible Inner Winds:  Thoughts on Self-Discipline, Self-Confidence, and Self-Respect
  • The Wind of the Mind:  Thoughts on personality development, culture ("Oriental" vs. Western), how the West needs to consider how to apply this art developed in the East, and how Aikido can help the individual. 
  • The Pure Wind:  Geis's thoughts on why martial arts should not be combined.  Not sure whether I agree with him, but it's definitely an interesting argument.
  • Nature's Wind:  The importance of being able to execute in real situations.
  • The Flowing Wind:  Thoughts on Ki.  (He doesn't seem to view it as mystical energy with which one can zap someone across the room, but his views do seem to be somewhat mystical...)
  • The Miracle Wind:  Multi-channel communication and Aikido.  And how Aikido helps you know who to trust.
  • The Safe Wind:  Aikido as self-defense.
  • The Wind of Life:  Aikido keeps you healthy.
  • The New Wind:  Thoughts for the fledgling Aikidoka.
  • The Divine Wind:  Thoughts on mastery.
The Good:
He had some really interesting things to say on the combination of martial arts.  He is decidedly not in favor of it, believing that an art focuses on the path (a.k.a., the "Do" - the way, or the path), not on the end (e.g., ridding yourself of an assailant).  Each Do distills its own path into some core principles and fundamentals that manifest themselves in the techniques of the art.  Combining arts, then, contaminates what had been a pure path, all for the sake of the wrong goal...  There is other interesting stuff in here, too, that you certainly won't find in any other book that I have read.

Could Have Been Better:
That said, I don't believe that because you are a genius with martial arts (while I have never met him, I heard enough to make me believe that he is) that you are necessarily qualified to tell me how to live, and that's what I feel is going on in a lot of the book.  And it gets to psuedo-poetical for me, at times, with passages like "The Miracle Wind of Aikido is like a jet stream high in the sky that, if ridden by us honestly and with humility, will carry us into and allow us to see a larger and more exciting world.  Come, let us join hands and fly this wind together."  And lastly, the whole deal with the false advertisement in putting "Judo" in the title.  Sure, a lot of it can apply to Judo as well, but that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  But who knows... maybe I will appreciate this more as I progress down the path...

One Thing I Learned:
Well, it may be a bit trivial, but my first instructor (Chris Dewey) used to tell a story about a guy who wanted to learn Uchi Mata while he was in Japan.  This guy's instructor sent him to the resident expert in Uchi Mata, who proceeded to blast him with it for a few years straight.  Well, a funny thing happened during this blasting.  The unexpectant uke got so familiar with the path to his demise - the wrong step he'd take, the feel of the off balance, the contact at the load point, etc - that he subconsciously got really good at Uchi Mata.  Plus, after being thrown by one of the best, *nobody* else could throw him with it.  Well, evidently that guy was Karl Geis.  Either that, or there are a few people with that story... But my money is that he was talking about Geis.