Book Review: Judo Inside Out by Geof Gleeson

An oddly arranged book that seems almost stream-of-consciousness at times, but you can get some pearls out of it.  Two Stars (out of Four)
Judo Inside Out

The Upshot:
This, like the last book I reviewed, is not meant to give instruction on any technique - rather, it tries to explore the essence of Judo.  Even apart from that, this one is certainly different.  It has 6 chapters, though there is barely a unifying theme within chapters.  He jumps from his theory on how the brain launches a judo attack to a discussion of Itsutsu No Kata to a discussion on taxonomy within the same section.  OK.  From what I can gather, Gleeson seems to be an iconoclast - one who, in order to make progress, attacks the things that others hold sacred.  But many iconoclasts have the same disease that the overly reverent have, in that they can't see any value in the other side; that is, iconoclasts tend to think that *all* common knowledge, *all* traditions, and *every* sacred cow is without value, and it is up to them to reinvent every aspect of the thing...  Anyhow, there are a bunch of (IMO) half-baked notions in here which don't add much to anything, but there are also some great ideas that benefit both sensei and student.  And unlike the 12 Winds book, I'd say that this one is worth slogging through (it's short, so not that much of a slog) to get the good stuff.  I didn't particularly enjoy the book, but given that there are a decent number of "Gleesonites" in the world, I'll give him another shot and read one of his other works.  Anyone have a recommendation?

What's In It and How It's Organized:

  • Forward/Acknowledgements/Introduction:  In addition to standard intro stuff, he gives a nice (though partial) intro into how he evaluates/classifies throws.  Going beyond the normal hand/hip/foot categories, he also considers:  the 'handedness' (e.g., left or right) of the throw, pivot foot movement, driving foot movement, grip, line of atack, direction of throw, and the 'opportunity' (the trigger for the attack).
  • Some Differences between Skill and Technique:  He gives an explanation of the difference between the terms, and expounds on why the difference is important.  And then he goes off on an aside about taxonomy, and a few other unrelated tangents.  But  he largely stays on point.
  • Countering Skills:  The skills of counter attacking.  And he groups counters and combinations together as the same thing.  More tangents in here, too...
  • Let's Start Again:  Here, he recommends tailoring instruction (particularly the beginning of instruction) to the objectives of the participant.  For instance, teach would-be competitors first about the scoring system, and how to achieve different scores.  Start those interested in fitness on the ground
  • The Psychology of Competition:  Really goes off the rails in this chapter.  He gives his theories on brain and nervous system function.  He ties Uchikomi to the writings of St. Augustine.  Some decent thoughts on classification.  And there's a bunch of other stuff in here.
  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words:  Here, he analyzes pictures to guess what was happening, what kind of score might have resulted, etc.  I *think*, though, that the point of this chapter was to show that people of execute techniques with meaningful differences from how those techniques are taught.
  • A Summing Up:  A brief conclusion.
The Good:
Folks like Gleeson take nothing for granted, and challenge assumptions that most would overlook.  This will spur you to think - even if you disagree with his conclusions.  And to be clear, I think he has some good notions in here.  And I reckon that everyone will take something different away from their reading.  And it's a bit beside the point, but there was one line that I particularly liked, regarding how one should go about answering a question without a definitive answer:  "The individual answerer can but allow his prejudice full reign, but hopefully it is one of those better, more educated prejudices that has had its intake of substantial knowledge."  Kind of Twain-esque, though a bit clunky.

Could Have Been Better:
Well, it was poorly organized - almost stream-of-consciousness at points diving off on random tangents (note - if you are going to write a book, get a good editor) - he even has frequent sections titled "A by-the-way".  His writing gets pretty clunky at times, and he seems keen to prove his erudition, so you get lots of references to history, philosophy, etc, that seem to be there primarily to show you that he's well-read.  Aside from that, there's a decent helping of half-baked ideas that don't contribute much, in my opinion.

One Thing I Learned:
He includes a great explanation of Itsutsu No Kata, which had never really made sense to me in any way, shape, or form.  I always viewed it as some sort of interpretive dance, but Gleeson believes that the 5 movements are representations of 5 types of force in Judo:
  1. Dominant, overpowering force (Go)
  2. Utilizing force (Ju) - The attacker's out-of-control force is used to Tori's advantage.
  3. Centrifugal force
  4. Accelerating force - as with combos where uke eventually can't keep up
  5. Existential force - that is, just by 'being' (in the right place at the right time), you can thwart Uke's attack.

I'm not sure if he's right, but it seems a decent explanation to me.



kodokanjudo said...

The same contents were also released as "All About Judo". I have copies of both books, identical exept the covers and the publishing pages.
Good review!

kodokanjudo said...

Gleeson certainly deviated from the teachings of his very traditional mentor T. P. Leggett and his time at the Kodokan as a "special research student", in his attepts to "westernize" judo.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I read Gleeson's Judo for the West when I was a teenager and I can definitely say he had a HUGE impact on my judo. Some might say it was for the worse, but hey, it worked out for me.

I never read Judo Inside Out, though

Chad Morrison said...

I ordered Judo For the West, but it never came... I'll give it another try.