Hajime to Matte Model: Move Before the Grip

If you have to be a target, be a moving target...

In a recent post, I mentioned the "Hajime to Matte" model that Sensei Nick Lowe shared with us at the camp.  If you go to Akari Judo, we're going to be spending the month of July working on this Hajime to Matte model, so I wanted to devote some posts to my thoughts on each phase.

The first phase of this model is "Move before you grip."  The basic idea is that once you hear "Hajime" (Japanese for "begin") you need to move to get the right position - position relative to your opponent, and position relative to the mat area - to set yourself up for success in the next phase:  the grip.

So what are those aspects that you need to consider when thinking about moving before the grip?  Well, first you'll want to think about how to move, to be sure that you are moving the right way - that is, in a way that will keep you mobile and won't set you up to be thrown.  Then, you'll need to think about where to go - and that will be determined by where your opponent is and what part of the mat you want to be near (e.g., a corner, a sideline, the middle, etc.).

How to Move:
  • The Balls of Your Feet:  I've talked about the importance of the balls before!  I focused mostly on throwing, there, but you should be staying on the balls of your feet even before you touch your opponent.  The same reasons apply:  balance, power, and mobility are all improved if you are on the balls of your feet vs. flat footed (or worse, on your heels!).
  • Keep Your Feet Apart...:  If your feet touch, your weight is supported with a very narrow base.  That narrow base will decrease your upper body mobility, and make you suceptible to a pre-grip throw!  That's embarassing.
  • ... But Not Far Apart:  My students have heard me yell "Too wide!  Too wide!" thousands of times.  If your feet are too far apart, then you are very sweepable, and not that mobile.  I'll catch someone with a pre-grip Deashi at least once per month because people are taking big steps towards me, and they can't recover.  So no long steps, no wide stances.
  • Tsugi Ashi:  Tsugi Ashi (following foot) is a style of walking that involves doing all of the stuff I mentioned above, and walking by first sliding the foot that is closest to the direction you want to move, then sliding the trailing foot into place.  For instance, if you are standing with your right foot forward, and you want to move backwards, you would first slide your left foot further back (because it is the closest to the direction you want to move), and then slide your right foot back.  Read this post to find out more about the benefits of Tsugi Ashi.
  • Hands Up!:  Keeping your hands up won't change much about how you move, but it will keep you ready to grip and defend while you move.  Remember, you are moving to get a grip, and having your hands up (in front of your shoulders, let's say) will help with that.
  • Pace Yourself:  Depending on where you want to go (and many other factors), you may want to move at a faster or slower pace.  There are situation-specific advantages and disadvantages to both... Just give it a thought.
OK... You know how to move.  But where should you go?  Well...  That depends on a number of things:
  • Your Grip:  You can try to position yourself at the right angle to take your grip.  Also, if you assume that your opponent will be moving in reaction to your movement, you can use this reaction to help set up your grip. 
  • His Grip:  Are you playing someone that will nail you if he gets his right hand on your back?  Then keep your back away from his right hand!
  • Your Throw:  You'll still probably want to move again after you grip, but you should be thinking about your throw from the get go.  Do you need lots room to your left side to execute?  Then you probably don't want to have a sideline to your left.  Do you need uke to be reaching forwards?  Maybe you should back away a bit. 
  • His Throw:  Same points as above, just this time, if he needs room to his left, you may want to pin his left side to the line.
  • Penalties:  Is he a sucker for stepping out of bounds?  Then get him over that line!  It may not be beautiful Judo, but it is a way to win.  And reverse applies if he is great at making others step out...  Stay away from that line!
  • Time:  As time starts to wind down, the player who is ahead starts to get a little wild, and sometimes unpredictable.  If you're ahead, you want to avoid getting boxed in or taking any penalties, so you may want to stay near the center.  And if you are behind?  You get the idea... 
OK... that should cover the basics...  What did I miss?


Greatest Judo Training Camp on Earth Recap

So now that it's over... what do I really remember?

Ok... my last post that is just about my camp experience... How would I sum things up?  Well, let me first look at the instructors:

  • Nick Lowe:  His lessons/demonstrations were very clear and uncomplicated.  Taught at a level that a beginner could easily follow along, his lessons were nonetheless valuable to experienced players and instructors...  One of the things I noticed is that he never does the "1-2-3 Judo" - it is always a dynamic approach.  Accordingly, he teaches in a manner that I would expect to build randori/shiai skill very quickly.  He's also a very engaging, very motivational guy.  And it's funny every time a large, highly trained Judoka says the word "tummy" in an English accent.
  • Shenjiro Sasaki: As I mentioned before, he was the most explosive Judoka I have ever seen.  His lessons were very technical, and more advanced than most, not teaching to the lowest common denominator.  Almost none of what he taught can be found in any book I own (and I own a bunch). I think the coolest thing with Sasaki was that he demonstrated creativity, artistry and a real mastery of Judo - he has really made it his own, and it is neat to see the potential of our art in guys like him.  My favorite saying of his?  "Thatsu ma trap!"
  • Igor Yakimov:  In addition to being a cool guy, Igor is a great instructor.  And he brings a very different style of Judo than the others resulting from his roots in the Russian system.  I'm not sure why, but his techniques always seem to stick with me more than others, and I have more success with them... Lord knows I'm not built like Igor, but his stuff is still very relevant to me.  Maybe it's because I have historically had a difficult time with grip fighting, and his grips are so unorthodox here that most haven't developed great defenses for them?  Idunno.  Favorite Igorism?  Hmmm...  too many to choose from, but "Just straaaight his arm, guys!" is up there... 
  • Stan Wentz:  Stan's lessons focused on simple (though not readily apparent) solutions to common problems.  "You're in their half-guard?  Flop over, and you win!"  "They have a strong collar grip?  Grab their back, move their elbow, and you win!"  And damned if I didn't pull those both off in Randori!  I was amazed.  And, as I mentioned before, he's a wizard with grips.  While Stan doesn't have a cool accent like the other guys (he's from boring old Texas), I do have a favorite expression of his:  "They're going to pull my Lefty Card for teaching you guys this one..."
Aside from the instructors, there are lots of other things that I really appreciate about the camp:
  • It takes away your excuses.  Going to the camp, I see plenty of younger guys with greater skill and understanding of the art, and I see older guys who are in better shape...  So there's really no excuse for me not to be in better shape, and I need to keep developing if I want to be of any use as an instructor...
  • I can just be a student: I enjoy teaching - that's why I do it.  But I really do enjoy the opportunity to just be a student.  To practice and learn and have fun.  And that's pretty much all I did for the three days of the camp.
  • I really learned some stuff.  There's a difference between being taught something and learning it.  Any jackass can show up to a class and be taught something, but to learn it, you have to internalize it, and - in the case of Judo - have some ability to execute.  While I certainly didn't "learn" everything that was taught, I did find myself nailing several of the techniques they showed us.  For instance, I probably got Shenjiro's Sasae -> Osoto Gari combo about 8 times in the final Randori.  I hit his Sode Guruma Jime, too, and Stan's "flop over" arm bar from the half guard... and a couple of others.  I'm proud of that.
  • You get to meet and work with some cool folks.  There are tons of folks there, so you can find someone of the skill level and size of your choice.  And pretty much everybody you meet is a cool person to hang out with - and the CAJA folks set the camp up so that you get ample opportunity to hang out at dinner or drinks afterward.  The camaraderie is one of the things that I really love about Judo.
So... once again, I want to give a big shout out to the CAJA folks.  The camp was a great use of my time and money.  Other than the surreal experience of doing Judo while a Christian Rock band practiced - loudly - in the same room, I had no complaints.  The CAJA folks work hard to keep costs down and to bring in great talent.  Thanks again, guys!  And thanks to the instructors -  you guys were great, as well.


Letters from Camp, Day 3

Hello mother, hello father / Greetings from camp, in North Carolina

Day three of three at the Greatest Judo Training Camp on Earth.  It's been tough on the body, but totally worth it.  Here's a brief recap:

  • Nick Lowe started the day with what he called his "Hajime to Matte" framework...  There is more to it, and I'll probably devote another post just to this, because it really is a useful way to think about randori, shiai, etc., but the short version is this:  Once you hear "Hajime!", there are up to 6 phases (and you want to win all 6, every time) before you hear "Matte!":
    1. Move before the grip
    2. Grip
    3. Move before the throw (create Kuzushi/Tsukuri)
    4. Throw (Kake)
    5. Transition
    6. Ne Waza
  • Shenjiro Sasaki then showed us more of his wizardry with a Jujijime defense that can lead to a nice Juji Gatame.  He then showed a turtle rollover that can lead to Sode Guruma Jime, and another that leads to a particularly uncomfortable turnover.  Then we moved to standing techniques, looking at a Kouchi Makikomi (like you've probably not seen), then a Tsurikomi Goshi (off of a more tradition Kouchi setup), then an arm bar and a choke from standing, and finally a spinning entry to Harai/Tai Otoshi/Uchi Mata (and it can work for several others).
  • Hap Wheeler ran us through some nice groundwork drills, focusing on three key aspects of groundwork:
    1. Transition - Getting from standing up to Ne Waza; we did a drill where tori would attempt a throw, uke went to ground (either having been thrown or having turned out), and then newaza randori from there.
    2. Recognition - We did a "freeze" drill where the action was stopped to allow a contestant to identify a particular type of opportunity (e.g., an arm bar).
    3. Speed of Execution - We did a drill to maximize the number of repetitions within a given amount of time.  The drill was set up to allow a quick transition from one partner to the other.
  • Igor Yakimov then showed a nice gripping sequence involving cross-gripping the lapel and "crunching" your opponent's arm, and several throws and subsequent grips from there.  As always, stuff I can use.
  • Nick Lowe then came back to end the camp by trying to kill everyone.  =:>  Amongst other intensive drills, we ended the day with 20 minutes of intense randori...  Okay, it wasn't that bad.  Thankfully, I drive a pickup, so I was able to air out my gi on the way back home to Richmond.
So that was the end of camp...  As I mentioned before, I'll post videos sooner or later (probably later, as it isn't going to be one of my top priorities) to fill in details on all of this stuff.  And I intend to write up another post with my "key take-aways" from the camp...  The main stuf that hit me.

Till next time...


    Letters From Camp, Day 2

    This one time... at Judo Camp...

    Day 2 at the Greatest Judo Training Camp on Earth.  Here's a quick run-down:

    Want more detail?  Fine...

    • Shenjiro Sasaki:  He started the day with his favorite techniques, primarly some CRAZY versions of Seoi.  I'll put it to you this way - it's only a seoi if someone makes you name it.  You throw uke backwards.  It's cool.  He then focused on some great combinations.  Starting with an Osoto from an extreme side stance (cleverly using your hand to lever up uke's head), he then showed an Osoto to Sasai combo, using a little feint hop-step.  A nice Sasai-to-Osoto combo then followed, with another crazy Seoi to combo if the Osoto from the last combo is defended.  I have videos...
    • Nick Lowe:  Sensei Lowe showed some nice rollovers and other attacks when you have someone in your guard.  His focus was in keeping it simple (note:  that was not Sasaki's focus  =:>) and keeping it effective.  Later in the day he showed some transitions from standing->groundwork.
    • Stan Wentz:  He started with some Kenka Yotsu (righty vs. lefty) gripping strategies, then moved into more crazy ninja shit that I'm not going to tell anyone about because I want to keep it to myself and use to take over the world.
    • There was definitely more, but I'm really tired, so...
    Stay tuned for next time!


    A Letter From Camp, Day 1

    Yeah, so I'm a grown man at camp.  What of it?

    As I mentioned a few times before, I am attending the Greatest Judo Camp on Earth.  I haven't been to every camp on earth, so I can't absolutely verify the name, but I'm pretty sure that it's a fair label.  A lot of awesome instructors/badasses are here, and great people to work with as well - which is a good thing, because none of the folks from my club came down.  Not that I'm bitter.  But nobody is ever getting promoted again.

    So, for a *quick* run down of the day (and it was 9.5 hours of Judo, and I'm tired, so quick is the order of the day - I'll post videos later):

    • Shenjiro Sasaki, a small Japanese man apparently made of industrial springs and rebar (seriously, I've never seen anything like this guy... I never understood "explosive" until now...) gave us some good gripping and grip breaking tactics.  Later he gave us some nice standing -> ground transitions, including one that may or may not involve hiding your uke's neck so that the referee can't tell whether the gi is over his chin while you try to choke him. 
    • Nick Lowe then gave us some good drills off of a circling movement to hit: Tae Otoshi, Uchi Mata, and Ouchi Gari.  The real beauty of these drills is that they introduce a simple and effective way to teach these throws (e.g., great for beginners, too), and they don't involve "1-2-3 Judo" (e.g., "first, put your foot here, then pull your left hand here, then...).  He also worked a nice seoi drill that I'll be bringing back home with me, and then came back at the end of the day to demo grip-break/throw combos.
    • Igor Yakimov followed lunch with some gut wrenching guard sweeps that he selected for their usefulness in Judo (e.g., they can get results fast).  For those of you that have worked out at Akari, most of them started with "the Igor Arm Trap" - or at least an attempt at one.  There are several arm bars and chokes that result.  And pain.  You know... 'cuz it's Igor.
    • Stan Wentz (super-stoked that he's here... he's a gripping mastermind, plus he knows a whole bunch of wacky ninja shit that actually works, plus he's a nice guy) shared a whole bunch of whacky ninja shit with us.  =:>  More specifically, there were some great counters to tough gripping situations (e.g., what to do when someone has a powerful grip behind your neck), a super-sweet feint Seoi to Okuriashi (sort of) combo, and a slick - and weird - Seoi Otoshi.
    And now I'm sore, and tired, and my gi smells terrible.  But super-stoked for tomorrow...  Seriously, the instructors are phenomenal...  I know my descriptions aren't going to be that useful to anyone, so I'll try to post videos of all that I can remember when I get back home.

    Nighty night.


    The Newest Judoka!

    My oldest just had a birthday, and I figured it was time to give him special present. 

    "His own towel?" you may be asking yourself?  Well, he would have agreed for the first minute after opening the gift (and to be clear, he was superstoked to have "MY OWN TOWEL!!!"), but it was even better than that... and it was even better than his next guess, after I prompted him to open it up a bit more... "My own robe!!!"

    "A GI!  I've got a Gi like Daddy!"

    Of course, Judo men don't smile, so I instructed him to make his Judo face.

    So look out, world.  No joke, the little bastard kept trying to cinch up a Juji on me, but he didn't control my head (bad technique), so I escaped.  =:>

    I guess I need to start teaching kids now...