Posts Tagged ‘Learning Judo’

It’s The Little Things – Pt 3

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

When learning a new sport or martial art, your previous experience may help; at other times that experience may hinder you as you have to forget that muscle memory which you spent days, months, or years perfecting. Our class yesterday reinforced how difficult it was to learn a simple movement when another is imprinted on your brain: the little movement of sweeping the side of your foot against the floor in order to execute de ashi harai (advanced foot sweep) is harder than it looks.

De Ashi Harai was developed to take out the lead foot when someone walked forward. On its own it doesn’t look like much: tori doesn’t have to lift uke; tori is in little danger (unless uke knows the counter) as his back isn’t exposed and he is far enough way from uke that there is limited physical contact; uke’s breakfall is not spectacular. Put all the elements together, though, correctly and forcefully, and the throw is a shock to both parties because it happens so smoothly and quickly.

Last night we had four big guys working on this throw. After I explained the individual elements of the throw and then demonstrated the throw on Dave several times, the guys paired up and practiced. The most difficult part of this throw is the sweep. This is not just taking your foot and wiping out uke’s leg; this is coordinating your entire body such that your foot makes contact with his foot and you take him down. This involves sweeping along the floor with the side of your foot, and having a straight leg and a strong hip movement. In addition, with one hand on his lapel and the other on his sleeve, your arms make a turning motion as though you’re driving a bus, in order to torque him over. All of this must happen at once.

The sweeping motion can be difficult to do if your natural reaction is to lift the foot because you played a lot of soccer or hook his foot or calf with your foot or heel because your experience has taught you to take someone to the ground. If you normally would bend your knee doing these movements, having your leg straight and moving your hips in conjunction with that foot and leg would be difficult. These are some of the issues we encountered.

In order to practice the motion of sweeping the side of the foot against the floor and having the hips and straight leg involved in the movement, Dave suggested the guys take small punching pads and kick them across the mats to one another. If the movement is correct the pad whips across the floor smoothly. If done incorrectly, the pad bounces along the mat. In order to move smoothly along the mat, the foot must sweep along the mat, the leg must be straight and the hip coordinated with the leg. After doing this for a few minutes, their sweeps were far better. It’s the little things.

Click here to go to It’s The Little Things – Pt 1

Click here to go to It’s The Little Things – Pt 1 Addendum

Click here to go to It’s The Little Things – Pt 2

Click here to go to It’s The Little Things – Pt 2 Addendum


April 18, 2009

It’s The Little Things – Pt 4

Monday, June 25th, 2012

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