Book Review: Judo Formal Techniques by Tadao Otaki and Donn Draeger

It's not exactly light summer reading, but but if you want to learn Nage no Kata or Katame no Kata, this is your book.  Three stars (out of four)
Buy it here.

The Upshot:
Everything you ever wanted to know about the Randori no Kata (Nage no Kata and Katame no Kata).  It gives you the details for Uke and Tori in an easy-to-follow manner.  And when I say that it gives you the details, it even covers how to sit up after you are thrown.  450 pages, over 1,000 illustrations...  lots of detail.  Not one that you will want to read cover-to-cover (God help you), but if you want to investigate a particular technique, you'll almost assuredly find what you need in here.

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

  • Historical Background
  • Outline of Judo Kata - A very brief overview of the official Kodokan Kata as well as a mention of the unofficial Kata
  • Understanding Kata - Making the case for studying Kata
  • Famous Japanese Judoists on Kata - Other people making the case for studying Kata
  • Kata Fundamentals - Notes about things like mindset, breathing, and adjusting the gi... general aspects that don't apply specifically to one Kata or the other
  • Technical Aspects of Nage no Kata - Think of this as general tips specific to Nage no Kata
  • Technical Aspects of Katame no Kata
  • Nage no Kata - The nitty-gritty
  • Katame no Kata
  • The Study and Practice of Kata - How to make the most of Kata training
The Good:
As I mentioned, if you are studying Nage no Kata or Katame no Kata, this has what you need.  The photos and illustrations are all very helpful (showing both the right ways of doing things as well as common mistakes).  More than that, the non-technical sections are great, as well, particularly the last chapter.  I have grown to appreciate this book more and more over the years, and this last chapter is one of the big reasons why... it gives great advice on how to make Kata a useful part of your practice, rather than just that mandatory thing that you have to do in preparation for rank tests.

Could Have Been Better:
One thing I would have liked to have seen is more on the historical development of these Kata - how they changed and evolved over the years, what different variants were popular, etc.  Otaki and Draeger definitely present this as "the one true way" with little tolerance for variation, which seems stifling to me... That said, they do advocate variation in some of the non-technical chapters. The layout of the chapters was a bit odd (e.g., why not put "Technical Aspects of Nage no Kata" next to the "Nage no Kata" chapter), but given that this is more of a reference book than one you would read front-to-back, that doesn't detract too much.

One Thing I Learned:
Nage no Kata. But seriously, folks...  I already wrote about it here, but the most important thing I learned recently was the differences between the various incarnations of the 3-push attacks.  The 3-pushes never made sense to me before, because I couldn't figure out why Tori was doing Kata Guruma instead of another Uki Otoshi. The explanations in "Formal Techniques" (largely contained in one brief section where he reviews the differences) helped the 3-push attacks fit in with my conception of what Kata was supposed to be.

If you are just learning the Kata, you probably don't need this book.  If you think Kata is a complete waste of time, and nobody can persuade you otherwise, you can do without this book.  If you just need to be able to make it look good enough for rank examinations, skip it.  But if you are curious about Kata in general or Nage/Katame no Kata in specific, if you want to figure out how to make Kata a useful tool in your training repertoire, or you are in a serious study of Nage no Kata, you should get the book.  There is not - and has not been - any book in English that even comes close (I don't know about other languages).



kodokanjudo said...

There are not many judo kata books out there, making this one the bible of judo's randori-no-kata. I can not remember the year of publication (1982?), but inadvertently, this book single handedly started the "cookie cutter kata" phase several years after publication.
Nnk prior to that time was more alive and personalized, with each individual performing it as it worked for him/her. I am a firm believer that such freedom to make each technique one's own can improve your personal judo.