Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Wojdan Shaherkani – follow-up

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

A few notes following up on my post about Wojdan Shaherkani.

The universality clause

There's a special rule that made it possible for Shaherkani and the other Saudi woman, a runner named Sarah Attar, to compete:

A second International Olympic Committee spokeswoman, who declined to give her name, said both Saudi athletes were accepted under the Olympics’ “universality” clause. It allows athletes who didn’t meet qualifying times to compete when their participation is deemed important for reasons of equality.

The clause was invoked most memorably for Eric “the Eel” Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, in the 2000 Olympics.

Attar's first Olympic race will be on Wednesday, August 8.

Double elimination

I notice Shaherkani did not fight again. No reason has been given that I know of, nor does there need to be as far as I'm concerned. [Update: A correction from Yonah: "The olympics are not double-elimination, they are modified single elimination. Only those that make it to the round of 8 are given a shot at a medal. Of the last 8, the first 4 to lose can only win bronze."]

Head covering

I can't imagine the head covering that Shaherkani wore will work as a long-term solution. It would surely come off in any serious matwork. I've seen matches where one player had a bandaged head, but if that bandage came off it was "only" an injury being aggravated, not a strict religious rule being violated.

Maybe someone could design a head covering similar to the headgear wrestlers wear to protect their ears? Could it be adjusted to allow for legitimate attempts at choking without injuring the opponent? What about sports hijabs like this and this — could they be modified to work for grapplers?

I thought it odd that fear of choking was one initial objection to allowing headscarves in judo:

judo officials claimed a headscarf could cause choking, in a sport that involves grabbing and throwing.

I'd imagine the more serious issue would be an adjustment to the rules so that the headwear may not be used to inflict a choke, as one may do with parts of one's own or the opponent's uniform.


I disagree with this description at

Before the fight, some other judo fighters worried that Shaherkani wasn't qualified to compete and suggested it could be dangerous for her to square off against Olympic athletes in the violent sport.

Those concerns faded quickly when the bout got under way. Shaherkani used a defensive strategy, trying to deflect Mojica's advances. She succeeded a few times before Mojica grabbed hold of her and swung her to the ground.

That's not how I saw it at all. I didn't see a "defensive strategy" succeeding a few times. I saw Mojica being extremely kind to an awkward and terrified teenager. Mojica was gentle with gripfighting and gentle with the throw, just as any experienced player with a shred of decency would treat a beginner in the dojo. Maybe I'm imagining this, but to me she made a point of finishing the match without hurting or humiliating her opponent. I was touched by that, and by her respectful bow as she shook Shaherkani's hand.

Wojdan Shaherkani

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

On Friday, August 3, 2012, a 16-year-old judoka named Wojdan Shaherkani became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in the Olympics.

I'm glad the precedent has been set, but seeing Shaherkani's judo, and reading that she's not terribly experienced and has never competed nationally, makes this weird for me. What I expected to see was an athlete sick of cultural obstacles and hungry to fight. What I saw was a girl who was in way over her head and could have gotten hurt. As I watched the match, one thing I liked very much was that her opponent was kind to her. [Update: The video at is no longer available. The only other video I've found of the match is here.]

I was surprised at her uniform. Her country couldn't provide her with one that fit? Or was the loose fit needed because of Sharia law? I know sleeves that are too short are not allowed; I thought there was a similar rule for sleeves that are too long. Was an exception made for her?

I have a feeling I'm missing the point, and her goal was never to fight so much as to break a barrier. It's not her fault if I made up some image of her in my head. If she does want to fight, I hope her country will let her train properly for 2016. And regardless of her future in judo, I hope she's duly proud of what she did today. You could argue that precisely because she isn't a seasoned competitor, it was that much braver.

Update: I heard the cheers when Shaherkani stepped on the mat, but I didn't see this part after the match:

For Shaherkani, stepping down from the mat after her contest to a standing ovation, it all got a little too much. She walked into the arms of her father, a judo referee who is also her trainer, and broke down in tears.

A very short post

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

I'm behind on blogging as usual. For now, I'll just quickly mention that I need to get back to basics in my judo. At least, that's how I feel.

One of those good nights

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Did you ever feel crappy — not sick, not overtrained, not seriously injured, just kind of crappy — and make yourself go to judo practice anyway, and end up feeling great afterwards? I had one of those nights tonight.

Today I was sleep-deprived and had trouble staying awake. I had a nasty pain below my right shoulder blade — maybe I'd pulled the trapezius muscle on Monday? — which made it hard to take a deep breath. I was in the middle of a big pile of work that needed to be done soon. I was making good progress, which made the work a tempting excuse to skip judo.

I went anyway, and I'm glad I did. We had a good crowd tonight, including several folks I hadn't seen in months or in some cases years. There's something about seeing judo friends that's cheering.

I enjoyed getting clobbered as usual in newaza. I really enjoyed my randoris. To my relief, the shoulder felt fine once I warmed up. By the time Sensei told me to do an exercise after class, I'd actually forgotten all about the earlier pain. We'll see how it feels in the morning when the endorphins and the Aleve I took earlier wear off. Regardless: I'm happy I went to practice, and I know I'd have felt even worse if I'd skipped it.

[Update: It's the day after, and the shoulder feels fine. I suspect I didn't really pull a muscle. More likely I pinched a nerve which is now unpinched.]

Black belt promotions, Spring 2012

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Belated congratulations to Alex, Lou (front row left), and J.C. (next to Lou) for passing their shodan exams, and to Bob for advancing to nidan. Arthur and Jeff were ukes. [Update: As mentioned in comments, Matt was there too, as an alternate uke.]

New shodans2

The Difficult Way

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

The Difficult Way is not only a great judo blog; it's one of my favorite blogs of any type. It's written in exactly the way I want to read about judo, with emphasis on fundamentals and frequent areas of confusion, and with arguments well supported by diagrams, photos, and videos, including examples of bad technique (bluntly flagged as such) as well as good.

A lot of attempts to explain judo technique succumb to a common pitfall, which is that they merely rattle off which body part goes where, in a dry, mechanical way. Such descriptions may be technically accurate, but I find them dull to read, and I feel they're poor at conveying the underlying principles. The writing on The Difficult Way avoids this problem, partly by using visual aids, but mainly by quality of writing. I find it a pleasure to read. There are typos and grammatical glitches I'd be mortified to publish on my own blog, but on this blog I don't care even the tiniest bit.

The author prefers to remain anonymous. He goes by the name "A Judoka" on the blog and by the handle "judoka_uk" on the Bullshido web site. According to his profile he's a student and an "Average Judoka in possession of a black belt, a taste for analysis and an unwarranted sense of self-importance."

One thing I like is that while A Judoka's advice is strongly argued, he doesn't try to overstate his credentials. I was amused and inspired by his frankness in this post about sasae-tsurikomi-ashi:

I have a mighty tally of one male white belt and one female brown belt that I have felled with this combination in randori. However, they hit the mat very hard and [so] very unexpectedly that it knocked the wind out of both of them. That’s how powerful a combination [it] can be even in the hands of a spud like me.

The blog hasn't been updated since January, and before January there was a break where it hadn't been updated since September. I see the author has been active on, so it's not like he got hit by a truck and can't operate a keyboard. Maybe he's been too busy to compose a full blog post. Or maybe he hasn't had an idea for a new post that's gotten him interested enough to do the work.

Every blogger who isn't contractually obliged to publish on a schedule knows how it is to let a blog go stale once in a while, sometimes forever. I hope there will be new posts on The Difficult Way.

What is "power"?

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

This is about something that finally dawned on me which I'm sure all of you know already, which is: what do people mean by "power"?

I mean this specifically in the context of explaining a judo technique. Occasionally an instructor on YouTube, or in the dojo, will show how not to do a move because you'll "lose power". I always assumed "power" referred to some intangible energy, which vaguely bugged me because I like to understand judo in terms of tangible mechanics. But now I think I get it.

Consider a basic form of physical competition: arm wrestling. There's a right way to position the relevant body parts, and there are wrong ways. For example, if you bend your wrist back, your hand is at a terrible angle to apply force to the opponent's hand or to resist the force that he or she will apply. Don't bend your wrist back, or you'll lose power.

"Power" in judo technique is simply the same thing, multiplied by the larger number of body parts that need to work together against the larger number of body parts of your opponent.

What made this click for me was this paragraph from "The Difficult Way" about how to do tai-otoshi (emphasis added):

Because uke isn’t properly loaded onto the back as in Morote seoi nage and instead in a halfway house between tori’s hip and upper thigh and because tori’s hands have fallen behind their head. This is a very weak position and to then attempt to complete the throw requires a lot of power to be extracted from joints that aren’t in the correct position to provide power, the result is very weak and will result in injury when attempted on a resisting opponent.

You can see how similar language could be used for the arm-wrestling example.

Sometimes "power" is not only about positioning but about the speed of your movements. In this master class, Hiroshi Katanishi demonstrates how an effective foot sweep doesn't strike the opponent's foot but rather accelerates it. Skip to the 10:00 mark or click here to go there directly.

The whole video is excellent, as are all of Sensei Katanishi's videos.

In summary:

  • To apply a judo technique is to apply force in one or more directions to one or more parts of your opponent's body.
  • "Power" is the degree to which your positioning and speed are optimized to deliver the force you need to deliver.

Again, this was probably obvious to you, especially if you've done other sports. The same principles apply to throwing a fastball or pulling an oar. I've just been dense about it for some reason.

Note to self on Mother's Day

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Let's take a moment to remember
all the times Mom washed your judogis

and loved your stories of amusing things Sensei said

and had dinner waiting for you
when you came home from practice

and didn't let on if she was worried about you getting hurt
even though she has always worried about you being safe
and getting enough to eat

worrying so much that even now
unable to speak in sentences
or to rise from her wheelchair

she refuses to let her middle-aged children
out in the rain
without an umbrella

Spring 2012 promotionals coming up

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

The next promotionals are on May 5, and the kata exam is on June 16th. (Thanks to Bob for this info.) The calendar at still doesn't show these events, but you can get an entry form at the dojo. Ask Sensei, Barbara, or Jeff.

For those wanting to take the bus to Tech Judo for the promotionals on May 5, here's my old blog post with directions. I added the map just now.

Three bronzes from the Nationals

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Owen, Jeff, and Paul took bronze at the Nationals on Sunday. Congratulations, guys!