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Memorizing the nage-no-kata

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Recently I started studying the nage-no-kata. As Sensei points out, it's something I should know by now. Over the years I've seen friends practice it in preparation for their shodan tests, but I never tried to learn it myself until now.

The first small but nagging hump to get over is memorizing the order of the throws. Some people pick these things up easily enough just by going through the physical motions, but for me, I find it helps to look for patterns and progressions.

The first thing I noticed was an easy way to remember the order of the five sets of techniques. That alone helped a lot. Then I started looking for patterns within and between the sets of techniques.

The five sets — top to bottom

There are fifteen throws in the nage-no-kata, organized in five sets of three:

  • Te-waza (hand techniques)
  • Koshi-waza (hip techniques)
  • Ashi-waza (foot techniques)
  • Ma-sutemi-waza (rear sacrifice techniques)
  • Yoko-sutemi-waza (side sacrifice techniques)

The first three sets are tachi-waza (standing techniques) and the last two sets are sutemi-waza (sacrifice techniques).

To remember the order of the sets, bear in mind that the "hand" techniques are really "shoulder/hand" techniques and the "foot" techniques are really "leg/foot" techniques. You can see that the emphasis of the five sets progresses downward from the shoulders/hands to the hips to the legs/feet to the ground (where you drop to do your sacrifices). It helps if you picture the hands held up at shoulder height.

You can even take this downward progression one step further, considering that the nage-no-kata is the first of two kata that make up the randori-no-kata. (Thanks to Jeff for pointing this out.) The second is the katame-no-kata, which is all done on the ground.

Andy Pernambuco pointed out another overall progression in the nage-no-kata, which is that the throws become more animated, less linear, and less direct. In both sets of sutemi-waza, tori throws uke in large, high-energy circles, and the final set introduces misdirection.

Te-waza (hand techniques)

With each hand technique, tori stands taller.

  • Uki-otoshi: you kneel on one knee.
  • Seoi-nage: you stand, but not straight up.
  • Kata-guruma: you stand all the way up.

Koshi-waza (hip techniques)

With each hip technique, tori's hips rotate more when they contact uke.

  • Uki-goshi: your hips turn somewhat more than 90 degrees.
  • Harai-goshi: your hips are almost square with uke's, but not quite.
  • Tsuri-komi-goshi: your hips are slightly past square with uke's.

Ashi-waza (foot techniques)

With each foot technique, tori's body rotates more leading up to the throw.

  • Okuri-ashi-barai: you don't rotate (just move sideways).
  • Sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi: you rotate 90 degrees to start the throw, and continue to rotate until you finish the throw at 180 degrees, facing the opposite direction of when you started.
  • Uchi-mata: you take two steps that rotate you a total of 270 degrees before starting the throw. On YouTube I've seen some variation on how the two initial steps are done, and on how you finish, but in all cases you start the throw at 270 degrees (a three-quarter turn).

Ma-sutemi-waza (rear sacrifice techniques)

In both sets of sutemi-waza, uke varies the height of his approach to tori.

  • Tomoe-nage: starts with the basic sleeve-lapel grip, at normal standing height.
  • Ura-nage: uke comes in high, with an overhand attack.
  • Sumi-gaeshi: uke comes in low, in jigotai.

Yoko-sutemi-waza (side sacrifice techniques)

Note the parallels to ma-sutemi-waza.

  • Yoko-gake: starts with the basic sleeve-lapel grip, at normal standing height.
  • Yoko-guruma: uke comes in high, with an overhand attack. This not only parallels the ura-nage in ma-sutemi-waza, it is in fact tori's response to uke thwarting ura-nage.
  • Uki-waza: uke comes in low, in jigotai. Unlike in sumi-gaeshi, the active leg is placed outside uke's legs instead of inside.

Final notes

If anyone has corrections or other tips I'd love to know about them. Are there any judo scholars out there who can point me to discussions of how the order of the techniques in the nage-no-kata was decided? I don't mind if the answer is that there simply aren't convenient rules of thumb for everything, and I need to just memorize as I had to memorize the alphabet.

I did a search for "memorizing nage-no-kata" but it didn't turn up the sorts of tips I was looking for, although it did turn up a great article on JudoInfo entitled "Helpful Guidelines for the Learning of Nage no Kata".

Of course my goal is to internalize the kata so that I don't have to consciously think about what comes next each step of the way. Until I reach that point I think it will help to have these mnemonic crutches, and in the future they may be useful for explaining to others or refreshing my own memory. For now I can proceed to the much bigger challenge of actually executing the throws properly. And at some point, maybe at the same time, I need to learn how to be uke as well.

YouTube links

In addition to bugging Jeff, Andy, and Will (who corrected me in a couple of places regarding tori's rotation), I've been using these YouTube videos as study guides.

It's also interesting to watch videos from kata tournaments.

A visitor from Hong Kong

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Kin Lee sent me a link to a blog post by Scott Smith, a visitor from Hong Kong who practiced at Oishi Judo this winter. Click the photo to see Scott's full post.

I always like it when we get visitors from other parts of the world. Unfortunately I didn't meet Scott, but if I'm ever in Hong Kong maybe I'll run into him at the Hong Kong Judo Kan.

Matt Thornton on "aliveness"

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Matt Thornton on "Skepticism & Spirituality in the Martial Arts":

I came across this video by way of a tweet by, of all people, the atheist philosopher Sam Harris. I'd read a blog post by Thornton some years ago in much the same vein, but hadn't followed him since then.

On Thornton's topic of "aliveness" — I think part of being a good uke is judging how much resistance to give, which means being sensitive to tori.

Even during simple static uchikomi I try to gauge how easily to be pulled off balance, depending on the tori. I may adjust resistance during one session of uchikomi as my partner either warms up and picks up speed or maybe slows down to work on a particular detail. I have no idea if my partners can tell; I just know I try to be actively helpful, not a passive practice dummy.

Hopefully I'll be back on the mat actually practicing what I preach some time this decade.

Gil and Jay passed their shodan tests

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Big congratulations to Gil and Jay, who passed their shodan tests this weekend. Will was their uke.

Much thanks to Will for passing along the news, and for giving me an occasion to post on JudoNotes after a much-too-long absence.

Radomir Kovacevic

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Thanks to Andy P for pointing me to this great documentary. It's in six short parts:

Owl uchikomi

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Lex Fridman's blog

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Here are a few good articles from Lex Fridman's training blog from just the past couple of weeks:

I see Lex is not only a judo competitor, he's a computer science researcher, a poet, and a general all-around thinker. I came across his blog via comments on AnnMaria De Mars's latest blog post, "Luck of the Draw is (usually) a Load of B.S.".

Last chance to smash Reuben

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

News from Reuben: his job will require him to spend the next two years in Canada. He writes:

I am leaving on Wed Dec 8th and so Monday evening 6th will be my last workout at the dojo for a while. As such if anyone wants a last chance to smash me then I would gladly oblige them that night !!

Its hard to believe I have been at Oishi for almost 11 years now. In fact I had my first workout on the very first day I moved to New York – 1st June 2000 (as it was the only New York dojo that had a website !! ….. thankfully) and fondly remember almost dying from the Leonard Street summer sweat box !!! Good times.

I expect to be back to NY every few months and will be sure to drop in for a workout. I also welcome ANYBODY to visit us in Calgary – I have already found a good dojo up there – one that I think Sensei would approve of.

Monday night, folks. Let's see our friend off in the manner he deserves.

If you want to stay in touch let me know and I'll send you Reuben's email address.

Comments were broken

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Sorry about that. You should be able to leave comments now.

John, Karim, and Mike made shodan

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Congratulations to John Harris, Karim Wahib, and Mike P on passing their shodan tests!