Archive for May, 2012

The Fleshy Way

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Recently during nagekomi I got painfully whacked in the shin by a fellow doing sasae-tsurikomi-ashi. Of course the pain was not intentional, just a moment of sloppiness on his part. Who among us has never been sloppy, right? But it did remind me very vividly of the distinction between hard and soft parts of the leg — the bony and fleshy parts, if you like. Judo always uses the fleshy parts.

A sample of ashi-waza techniques illustrates what I mean:

  • In ashi-barai, sasae-tsurikomi-ashi, and hiza-guruma, you catch uke with the arch of your foot.
  • In ouchi-gari, you reap with your calf.
  • In osoto-gari, you reap with your hamstring.
  • In uchi-mata, you lift with your thigh.

In the various ashi-waza you might attack a hard part of your opponent, like the ankle or knee, but always with a soft part of yourself.

I feel this is representative of a fundamental difference between judo and the striking martial arts, where bony parts such as heels, knees, and shins are the primary weapons.

I can't think of many judo techniques where you apply force to your opponent with a hard part of your body. The best example that comes to mind is hadaka-jime, where the edge of your wrist presses painfully against uke's throat. There's also a choke whose name I don't know, where you slide your hands like knives along both sides of uke's neck. Maybe you could count tai-otoshi, where the knuckles of your lapel hand can press against the side of uke's face. Also maybe tomoe-nage, where the bottom of your foot supports your opponent's whole body for a moment.

This is just a handful of techniques out of the whole body of judo.

I'm ignoring atemi-waza, since it isn't relevant to how judo is practiced by anyone I know or know of.

There are some small tactical moves that use "hard parts". In newaza, pressing with a fist or elbow can be used to create discomfort in the opponent, or the side of the wrist can be wedged in like a crowbar to get an opponent's chin off their chest. In grip fighting, the edge of the wrist can be used to help strip the opponent's hand from a lapel. In high-level competition, fighters have been known to "accidentally" punch or bludgeon each other in the head while ostensibly reaching for a grip. I'm sure "accidental" shin-kicking happens too. But these moves are not full-blown textbook techniques. They're just tricks to gain a bit of advantage.

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

May 2012 Hudson Promotionals

Sunday, 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!