A Note for Akari Judo Students re: Nage no Kata: I've Been Doing it Wrong

Umm... It takes a big man to admit when he's wrong?  Well, I think Nage no Kata will give me plenty of chances to demonstrate my bigness.  

So... quick note here for anyone who has learned Nage no Kata from me:  I have been teaching (and executing) both the 3-push and head bash attacks wrong, for the most part.

For the 3-push, the main culprit, as I mentioned in my discussion of the variations in the 3-push attack, is that I only recently put together the fact that there are actually supposed to be any differences in this attack.  So when I taught it before, all 6 of my 3-pushes were the same - and it was just on Tori to choose a different attack.  This was wrong.  Oh, and in addition to the differences that I mentioned, Uke isn't really supposed to nail the heel/toe foot spacing.  I think he tries, but Tori's actions screw him up, such that the trailing foot is sometimes further back.

For the head bash, my second step has been too big on all but the Yoko Guruma attack...  Uke is supposed to strike with his feet almost at heel/toe, rather than at the end of a giant stride.  The first step is still big, but the second step is usually smaller.  This, of course, means that you must set up closer to Tori than you are used to (provided that you are used to doing it the way I do it).  I've known about the differences in this attack, but I didn't realize that my foot spacing had been wrong.  I think this adjustment will make the first 3 muuuch easier.

I realized this as I went through my source materials to research these posts...  Looking at the pictures, better understanding Uke's adjustments and mindset...  yeah... I've been doing it wrong.  Whoops.

So here's what I need from you, Akari Judoka:  Help me.  I will forget.  I will go back to the way I have trained it for the last 20 years.  Keep an eye on me, and call me out when I do it my old, wrong way.  Then we can all get better!



Nage no Kata Attacks - Uke Gets Smarter #2: The Head Bash

Uke gets smarter... but he never quite gets smart enough to realize that tennis-serving someone's head is not the most effective assault.

Continuing from my last post, in which I discuss subtle variations in the 6 incarnations of the 3-push, I'll now turn my attention to the next most frequent attack:  The "Head Bash."  You know, that great big silly-looking overhead smash of Uke's head...  Just like in the 3-push, each manifestation of the head bash will be different than the one before it, based on what Uke learned in his previous encounter.

  • Ippon Seoi Nage: Similar to the first 3-push, this is a totally reckless attack, where Uke is trying to knock Tori's head into her torso, and has no regard for his balance, extension, and general vulerability.  He puts his whole body into the attack.
  • Uki Goshi: Now, Uke realizes that he was overcommitted to the attack, and holds back.  He better balances his weight on each foot, and straightens up some (as opposed to bending during the prior attack) to stifle any incoming Seoi Nage.  He also posts his left hand to check Tori's hips, should she try to blast him with Seoi again.  All of this sets up Uki Goshi quite nicely.
  • Ura Nage: Now Uke has modified his prior thinking.  He still doesn't want to destroy his balance (as in Seoi), but stiffening up wasn't a good idea (as in Uki Goshi).  Now, he sinks his weight a bit, and adds his heavy follow through back in.  And gets blasted with Ura Nage.
  • Yoko Guruma: To thwart the Ura Nage, as well as the Seoi and Uki Goshi, Uke now lengthens his base (basically taking a larger second step towards Tori). Tori, in one of his most oblivious moments of the whole Kata, doesn't pick up on the change and attempts another Ura Nage. Uke then responds to the Ura by headlocking Tori and shoving her head down at ~90 degrees to the original attack.  This gives Tori the perfect setup for the Yoko Guruma.


Nage no Kata Attacks - Uke Gets Smarter #1: The 3-Push

Uke gets smarter... but he never quite gets smart enough to stop attacking someone who clearly outclasses him.

As I mentioned in my Nage no Kata overview, Uke may repeat the same type of attack (e.g., the 3-push), but he's going to change the specifics of those attacks to address the gaps that got him thrown the last time he tried it. It is these subtle changes, then, that cause Tori to utilize a different throw than the one she tried before.  See below for examples of what I'm talking about.  Before you do that, though, note that this is based a little bit on instruction, a lot on Otaki/Draeger's Formal Techniques, a little on Legget's Demonstration of Throws, and a bit of educated guess.  Add to that that I only recently gathered all of this together, so I'm not even close to having the execution down.  Which is to say that you should take this interpretation with a grain of salt.

With those caveats, here's my understanding of how the 3 push attacks change.

  • Uki Otoshi: "Unhesitating" advance.  Uke is putting everything into it, not giving much thought to consequences.
  • Kata Guruma: Uke braces with the lead foot to avoid being over-extended - this presents a target for Tori's Kata Guruma. Additionally, Uke tries to have a more relaxed body during the push.  Tori feels this and changes the grip to freak Uke out a bit and to cause him to stiffen up.  
  • Harai Goshi: Uke does a better job of blending with Tori, again seeking to relax, and is thinking to walk around a Kata Guruma attempt, so Tori changes his grip (hand behind the armpit), which then causes Uke to stiffen and helps the Kuzushi. The Harai action, in combination with Tori's pull, is a response to Uke's attempt to go off-line. 
  • Tsurikomi Goshi: Uke hangs back a bit to avoid Harai *and* keeps his elbow in (thus preventing the previous grip change).  Tori's initial grip change (to the high lapel) freaks Uke out a little (and causes some stiffening), and then Tori feints a "normal height" hip throw to trigger an "extreme stiffening" in Uke (an attempted hip check, basically), and immediately drops the bottom out with Tsuri Komi Goshi.
  • Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi:  Uke does a great job blending with Tori... until the Tori's "J-step" (the long withdrawal of her lead foot past her rear foot and out to the side; the step that immediately precedes the lifting of her propping foot), and that causes Uke - once again - to freak out a bit, stiffen up, and allow Tori's additional retreat to unbalance him.
  • Yoko Gake:  Uke again does a great job of blending with Tori, so Tori starts to turn Uke by ratcheting in the elbow.  This screws with Uke's ability to maintain the excellent blending.  Then Uke gets blasted with Yoko Gake.  Poor devil.
One thing that bothers me a little bit with this understanding is that starting in Tsurikomi Goshi, and increasingly through the remaining throws, Uke isn't really doing anything that different than before.  For instance, I can't tell that Uke is doing anything that different in Sasae than he was doing for the Tsurikomi Goshi... so why doesn't Tori just change his grip and bust Uke with another Tsurikomi Goshi?  I *think* the answer is that Uke is continuing to get smarter, and the grip change won't work on him again, but Tori is getting smarter, too, and more intuitive.  So she moves from a Go no Sen situation in Kata Guruma where she's responding to the bracing leg to a Sensen no Sen situation in Yoko Gake, where Tori realizes that the grip changes and fancy footwork won't have the desired effects, so she starts ratcheting in the elbow.

Any opinions on this? If you disagree or have additional insight on this, I'd appreciate a comment!

Next post will be about the differences in the head smash.


Nage no Kata - The Overview

My next several posts are going to be about Nage no Kata, so I figured I would give a brief primer on it first...

Nage no Kata - "Forms of Throwing"
This Kata has 5 sets (one for each class of throw) containing 3 throws each, aimed at demonstrating the breadth of throwing techniques found in Judo.  In my opinion, there are 3 main aims of this Kata:

  1. To promote practice, investigation, and eventually mastery of the breadth of standing techniques
  2. To instill "automatic" responses to broadly different types of attack movements (e.g., pushes, head bops, etc); this is hard
  3. Building on #2, to instill a natural sensitivity in Tori to discern subtle differences between otherwise similar attacks (e.g., a "reckless" push vs. a "halting" push), and to "automate" an appropriate response to these different attacks; this one is really hard
As mentioned, the each 5 sets corresponds to a class of throws.  It begins with the three classes of standing throws (Tachi Waza), followed by the two classes of Sacrifice Techniques (Sutemi Waza) to complete the Kata:
  1. Te Waza (Hand Techniques)
    • Uki Otoshi
    • Ippon Seoi Nage
    • Kata Guruma
  2. Koshi Waza (Hip Techniques)
    • Uki Goshi
    • Harai Goshi
    • Tsurikomi Goshi
  3. Ashi Waza (Foot/Leg Techniques)
    • Okuriashi Barai
    • Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi
    • Uchi Mata
  4. Ma Sutemi Waza (Back Sacrifice Techniques)
    • Tomoe Nage
    • Ura Nage
    • Sumi Gaeshi
  5. Yoko Sutemi Waza (Side Sacrifice Techniques)
    • Yoko Gake
    • Yoko Guruma
    • Uki Waza
There are broadly 4 types of attack that Uke will initiate, with generally slight differences between each manifestation of the attack which then triggers Tori to react with a different throw.  You can think of these differences in attack as Uke's response to his previous attack of that sort. He learns.  E.g. the first time he attempted the head smash, he got thrown with Seoi Nage, so the second time he tries it, he's going to post the non-smashing hand to foil the Seoi and better distribute his weight... unwittingly setting up an Uki Goshi for Tori. (note - the names for the attacks are just what I call them... if they have proper names, I don't know them)
  • Push to the rear, a.k.a., the "Three Push" - 8 (ish) versions... 6 for sure, resulting in:  Uki Otoshi, Kata Guruma, Harai Goshi, Tsurkomi Goshi, Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi, Yoko Gake
    • The "ish" part is because in Uchi Mata and Tomoe Nage, I believe Uke is intending to initiate a 3 push, but never really gets started; Tori steals the initiative.
  • Head smash, a.k.a, the "Bunny Foofoo" - 4 versions, resulting in: Ippon Seoi Nage, Uki Goshi, Ura Nage, Yoko Guruma
  • Sideways drag - 1 version, resulting in: Okuriashi Barai
  • Jigotai grab, a.k.a, the "Sumo Shuffle" - 2 versions, resulting in: Sumi Gaeshi, Uki Waza
    • This one kind of stretches the concept of Uke "attacking" but you can think of this one as another instance of Tori "stealing the initiative"
Uke's first attack will always be "right-sided," but Tori's response will not (e.g., Tori responds to a right-handed head smash with a left-sided Uki Goshi)
There is one good (book) reference for Nage no Kata that I know of that is still in print, and that is "Judo Formal Techniques" by Otaki and Draeger (use the link below to buy the book from Amazon, and I get a kickback!).  "Kodokan Judo" has a good quick overview, but it's really only useful in case you forget the order... it doesn't give much guidance.  And I'm sure that there are some good videos out there, but I don't have any of them.  Any recommendations?
Judo Formal Techniques: A Complete Guide to Kodokan Randori no Kata

Nage no Kata Fun Facts:
  • This is one of the two "Randori no Kata;" the other is Katame no Kata (Forms of Grappling)
  • Kano included Kata Guruma as the final piece of Nage no Kata in it's present form; it displaced Sukui Nage from a previous version
    • As a result, Uke never does a back breakfall in this Kata
  • *I believe* this is the only Kata that demonstrates each technique both right- and left-sided


In Kata, Uke is in the Driver's Seat

Ever notice in the old pictures and videos of people doing Kata, Uke is often has the higher rank...  Ever wonder why that is?  Part of it is because Uke has a harder job than Tori...

You may  have already read my prior posts explaining that Uke has a job.   Nowhere is that more true than in Kata; in most Kata, Uke is responsible for the just about the whole thing.  Uke must...
  • ... create the right circumstances for Tori to execute the desired technique(s).   Uke dictates what throw is to be done by his movement and the other specifics of his attack.  Tori just has to recognize what Uke is "telling" her to do (via his attack), and then do it.  This is really really hard when you get into the finer distinctions...  So hard that I've not yet done it right (even approaching right) for an entire kata. (I'll post more about this in Nage no Kata later)
  • ... set the right spacing between partners.  This is really just a part of creating the right circumstances, but I'm calling it out separately because it happens "in-between" techniques.  In most Kata, Tori just picks a spot on the mat, and Uke then picks the best point from which to launch his attack.  Uke adjusts to Tori, not the other way around.  As a side note, if you are my Tori in a Kata practice, STOP MOVING!  I'm setting the distance I want, so when you inch towards me, I need to inch back.  =:>
  • ... remember the order in which the techniques are to be performed. By setting the spacing and generally moving first, and otherwise creating the right situation for the throw, Uke is really on the hook for remembering the order. In advanced Nage no Kata practice, Uke can intentionally screw up the order of techniques as a check on whether Tori is properly tuned in.
  • ... set the pace at which the Kata is to be performed.  If Uke goes fast, then Tori must go fast.  If Uke goes slow, then Tori should go slow.
  • ... set the mood.  No, not cranking up the Teddy Pendergrass and lighting candles.  I'm talking about creating the right frame of mind for the practice.  Focus, intensity, even the underlying intentions...  Sure, Uke is pushing Tori, but what is he trying to accomplish with this push?  This is really another sub-set of creating the right circumstances, but I wanted to call it out.
Of course, each Kata is different, so this stuff will be true to varying degrees depending on which Kata you are practicing.  I had Nage no Kata and Ju no Kata at top of mind when writing this, and I think every point above applies to those two Kata.  Spacing doesn't apply to Katame, and maybe not to the entirety of Itsutsu, and I don't have enough experience with the rest to say one way or the other.  But you should at least evaluate these dimensions when you are practicing Kata.