I Can’t Do That Judo Technique Because…

When I was first learning judo, not only was I older and shorter than every other adult in the class, I had never done anything remotely like this before. I studied lots of judo books and paid close attention in class, asked lots of questions, practiced everything we were shown and still could not do many things. I became frustrated when I couldn’t accomplish a technique easily, or as easily as others in the class.

As I became more involved in the classes and realized my abilities, I learned to compensate for size differences such as height, weight, and body mass.  Traditional judo throws are taught a certain way; however, if you are five foot two, how can you be expected to hoist that six foot guy onto your shoulders to do kata guruma? If you have arthritis in your fingers, how can you do those chokes which involve grasping the lapels and collars? If you have short legs, how can you do a figure-of-four around your opponent’s torso for do jime (body choke)? If your opponent is barrel-chested, how do you accomplish tate shiho gatame (full mount position) without being tossed to the side?

We all must show proficiency in techniques in order to attain our belts in judo; however, in randori, whether tachi waza or ne waza (standing or ground techniques), when fighting with another person, there are no rules as to which technique you may use. That is when you employ those techniques which suit your body type, body mass, height and weight.

I tend to dwell on those judo techniques which I do well and alter the way I do those techniques which don’t come naturally or, for whatever reason, are difficult to do. For example, my throwing Dave with kata guruma (shoulder throw or fireman’s carry): we do a version in which I have one knee on the ground the whole time. I don’t stand up; I wouldn’t be able to anyway. Rob is so strong that kata guruma is child’s play to him, so it suits him completely.

If you are very tall, throwing a short person with forward throws, such as seoi nage or o goshi, may be extremely difficult; getting low enough to be under uke’s center of gravity may be uncomfortable or impossible. Backward throws may suit far better, such as, o soto gari (major outer reaping), o soto guruma (major outer wheel) and many others. Foot techniques are ideal for those among us with big flippers.

The arthritis means that I can’t choke people with the gi, but hadaka jime (naked choke) and others are fair game.

That short-legged fellow who can’t do the figure-of-four in order to do do jime dwells on his abilities: he’s very strong and agile and despite his short legs has developed little manoeuvres and holds (ankle locks, for instance) when grappling that more than compensate for the techniques which he cannot do and make him extremely dangerous.

Dealing with that barrel-chested guy when applying tate shiho gatame (vertical four quarters lock or hold, also called North-South position) involves posting an arm or leg, even though that may be considered unorthodox. When grappling a guy whose body mass is bigger than yours, you have to modify your moves.

Applying ashi gatame (leg arm lock) may be difficult for the long-legged to apply to someone who has short, stocky arms, but ude garami (entangled arm lock) works just fine. 

Since everyone is different, we must work with the individual to determine which judo techniques best suit him or her. That may involve changing the technique drastically from the traditional judo, but the purpose is to apply the technique, win with it, and to enjoy the class along the way. Perhaps that is one reason we like our classes so much: we can study and alter a technique until we can get it to work in a certain situation against a particular person or position. There are limited rules to follow and almost unlimited variations which can be applied.


February 17, 2009

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