Recently a new student in our class has been learning the first group of throws in anticipation of testing for his first belt. This fellow is not especially tall, but really muscular and strong. The throws which he favours involve big movements – o goshi, koshi guruma, etc. – and which do not involve the little movements of many of the others.
Just because yellow is the first belt level in judo does not mean that the throws are easy. Many of the yellow belt throws are complicated and some may be the last which a student manages to do well. De ashi harai, if done well, is performed when tori sweeps out uke’s leg in the fraction of a second before the foot hits the floor. The throws which require tori to step in closely to uke (o uchi gari and ko uchi gari, for instance) when performed statically involve arm movements and multiple small foot movements. Ippon seoi nage and o goshi must have tori’s body placement just so in order to execute the forward throw properly.
This new student has difficulty with the small foot movements (he compares them to ballet movements). To throw uke with o uchi gari, tori steps in between uke’s feet strongly with his right foot, while pulling himself into uke at the same time. He then brings his back foot up behind the front foot (tee-ing up) in order to become balanced forward. The front foot then reaps uke’s left leg to the right.
These minute foot movements were driving this student to distraction. His gut instinct was to move the front leg and leave the back leg where it was, resulting in a very wide-legged, off-balance stance. In order to sweep the leg, he was even more off-balance (not forward, but backward) and the throw was not strong. It mostly consisted of his pushing uke. Granted, uke hit the floor, but that wasn’t the throw we wanted.
During competitions, throws are not static. Even during class randori, once all the movements have been learned, variations of body position are taken into account and the throw may not be traditional. Even the “push” variation I mentioned above might garner a point.
But, as we are still a judo club, and teach traditional judo (along with variations), students who wish to advance to other belt levels must know the traditional movements for throws and all other techniques.
We have many repetitions to do in order to get this student to learn the correct movements, which do not come naturally to him. When he performed the throw with the correct movements, the throw was strong and powerful. He was also balanced properly after the throw. Unfortunately doing a throw once doesn’t constitute learning it. Any body movement which is to become muscle memory must be performed many, many times, and then still worked on and perfected.
One of the reasons judo is still an effective martial art is that there is always more to learn. There are variations of techniques which people have developed and are still developing – Judo is constantly evolving. Sometimes these variations are out of necessity because of body type or ability. Sometimes they come from having worked out with someone else and finding yourself in an unusual position and managing to weasel your way out by doing something new.
One of the reasons we love judo, and love teaching, is that we get to learn new stuff, too.
Click here to go to It’s The Little Things – Pt 3
January 5, 2010