The Difficult Way

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"?

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

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

May 2012 Hudson Promotionals

May 13th, 2012

Here's a YouTube playlist with 27 videos from the promotionals last week.

The tournament was held in a new building next to the one where they used to be. I haven't been out to Tech Judo in quite a while, so I don't know how long this has been the case. I have a sentimental attachment to the old room, having seen so many friends compete there, but the new facility is clearly a step forward.

For one thing, they had four mats going instead of three, so things could move along faster. Women and masters brown belts started at same time as sankyu, nikkyu, and ikkyu.

In another nod to progress, scores were displayed on computer screens instead of flipcards. Again, I'm not sure how long that's been going on.

One more thing I hadn't seen before: all competitors wore white gis. Blue gis were prohibited.

It was great to make it out to a tournament again. Congratulations to all!

Spring 2012 promotionals coming up

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

April 24th, 2012

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

Memorizing the nage-no-kata

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

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"

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

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.