Thursday, March 31, 2005

Neural Networks, Reflexes, and the Importance of Practice and Combinations

Our dojo is pretty small, and generally speaking we can only get 3-4 Randori sessions going at one time. When there are 6-10 people at a particular class this is great, but when we get more than 10, you have to wait your turn to play. Needless to say, it isn't that bad waiting around as you can cull ideas from your colleagues and also assess how to play them when your number is up.

I was watching one particular match where one of my dojomates was executing a beautiful combination from Uchimata into Tani Otoshi. I have seen Jimmy Pedro actually demonstrate this in a video made to teach the American audience about Judo for the Olympics, and this guy was great at it, he must've hit it several times yesterday. Watching him got me thinking, not just about the combination itself, but the concept of Combinations in General as well as the concept of reflexes.

Any one will tell you that the key to performing effortless Judo is all in the timing. If you do not agree with me, or don't believe me, try executing De-Ashi-(H)Barai in Randori or Shiai. Hard isn't it? Of course your answer to that question is proportionate to the amount of time you've spent in Judo, and how much time you have devoted to practicing foot sweeps. In reality we are not talking about dance-move style timing, but rather reaction time - or in another word - reflexes.

Essentially a reflex is an action triggered by a stimulus - just like the little kick we give when the Doctor hits our knee with that little rubber hammer, or how our pupils dilate when we walk into bright light. For the most part, these are unlearned and involuntary - or are they? None of us were born walking, yet once we start (assuming we don't have other impediments) we ultimately get the hang of it and it becomes second nature. None of us are born talking either, yet again, barring any other impediments, we learn and ultimately are able to talk as if we did it straight out of the womb. So clearly, reflexes can be learned. Depending on your level in Judo, you may already be noticing this in yourself or have noticed it in your dojomates.

Another interesting thing about reflexes is that the more you practice the quicker they become. Why is this? In theory you aren't able to detect the action any quicker, nor is your body becoming faster, so why does response time improve? The answer of course is in the brain.

You see our brain is really one massive computer network. When we want to raise our hand, a message from the part of the brain which we think with travels from our brain to the necessary muscles to get them to move in the right direction. These paths that the impulses traverse are known as neural networks. But unlike computer networks that have fixed bandwidth, the speed at which the impulse travels is increased with the frequency of a particular action - In other words the more often you do something, the quicker you will be able to do it because the frequency will prepare your body to boost its execution priority. Obviously, we will hit a wall with speed at some point, but by continuously practicing something over and over again, both as a motion on its own, and as a reaction to uke's action, we will improve our reflexes and lower our response time.

I am sure that this is evident the first time any of us learns a new technique. We go slow the first 10, 20, 50, 100 times and then ultimately as we get the motion down pat we start to pick up speed. This why Uchikomi are important, and even more important are combinations - why you might ask? It's very simple. If you just study simple Uchikomi, your attacks will be single-faceted. But as we all know humans take multiple reactions to the same action, therefore, one move is not enough. By practicing combos you are further training your mind to deal with what steps lie further ahead.

Ultimately, by putting together various combinations from a specific starting move, your body and brain will learn the appropriate action to take in response to a specific reaction from uke. Obviously, the possibilities are endless, which is why practice in Judo is so very important.

The bottom line: keep practicing, and you will even begin to amaze yourself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Circle to the Right ....

When I injured my wrist a few weeks ago, I had to almost completely switch over the the left-side, because I wanted to go easy on the right hand, and using it as my Tsurite (Lifting hand) was quite painful. I think that it has healed enough for me to be able to go back and try the right again, I will let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mystery Solved

I know that once you get to Shodan and above, you need to successfully perform Judo Kata to reach the next Dan. However, I wondered when and where those Kata are taught and practiced.

As I was leaving class today, I noticed that my Sensei had a 'Kata' class listed on the schedule. Although I am not yet ready to study Kata, I know that it is there for me when the time comes.

Visible Progress...

For many reasons, I decided to go back to playing right-handed today (for the most part, anyways). In addition to testing out how well my wrist has healed (it's like 80%, still can't use it to bridge and do certain throws), I also wanted to test out some of the techniques I have been doing on the left side on the right side as well. I was amazed at how much progress I am making with my Tsurikomi-Goshi, and even my Hane Goshi has improved a bit.

But in Randori, I really surprised everyone, including myself, as I almost pulled off an Uchimata. I was going for Ashi Guruma, and my Uke stepped out, so I immediately switched back to Uchimata, but he managed to avoid my sweep. Later on, I also almost managed a Ken-Ken uchimata, but in the end, I got reversed and thrown.

Nonetheless, my uchimata was so bad just a couple of months ago, that people asked me not to practice it.

Maybe by the 1-year anniversary of my return to Judo I will have it down pat.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

My Bag

On Mondays and Wednesdays - my two Judo days, I carry my Judo gear bag with me to work. Of course on the way in and out I look like a pack mule - With an overnight bag slung over one sholder and my Backpack - with my laptop, work stuff, and lunch - on the other. Although it isn't a problem to find a seat and ample space for my gear on the commuter train I take from my suburban home to NY's Grand Central Station, it becomes a huge hassle on the two subway trains I take between GCT and my office.

For those who haven't lived in New York City, you need to understand that carrying these two oversized bags through some of the most crowded subway stations (Grand Central, Times Square) is a hassle in of itself, even there wasn't the stigma associated with large bag carriers. You see, given the crowds at rush hour, the bigger the bag, the more hated you are - and I have two, so I am one Notch above the Devil, Osama Bin Laden, and whoever is currently living in the Mayor's Mansion.

When I first returned to Judo, I simply found a small square duffel in the house that my wife had gotten from work - it has both the logo of a Golf Company and a Financial Services Company on it - it was big enough to hold two gis and my other assorted gear. Part of me wishes that I had a Mizuno bag or one that Said Judo on it, so people would part like the sea for me. But on the other hand, such a bag might also cause them to take more umbrage with me. I can just picture some pissed-off guy saying something like 'Hit me with that bag again Karate Man, and I will introduce you to old-fashioned whoopass'.

Of course some of the guys at my dojo leave their 'washable' gear at the laundromat next to the Dojo. But they charge $5 to wash a gi/towel/underwear that I would put in the bag. While it may not seem like much - $5 twice a week is about $500/year, which is a lot of Judo classes and tournament entry fees. (Although I recently started keeping a spare gi in the office, in case I forget my bag, which I do once in a blue moon).

I think for now, I can deal with being 'that guy' on the subway for two days a week.

What is in my bag you might ask? Well, if you are that curious:

  • My Gi and Belt

  • A Towel

  • A Change of Underwear

  • Various Braces - Wrist, Knee

  • Deodorant

  • Hand cream - don't make fun!!!

  • Instant Heat Patches



Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Outhinking Myself

While there are many people in my club of various shapes and sizes, there really aren't too many that are within my weight class. There is one guy that I like playing who is about, if I had to guess - 30-40 lbs heavier and a couple of inches taller than me. I really enjoy playing with him, simply because his size advantage is a big challenge.

I played against him a lot today, and couldn't even get the slightest concession, he kept beating me with more moves, and kept overpowering me - so I foolishly tried to counter with harder moves and more force. Which only led to both of us being tired out. In Randori week after week he continually throws me with Tai Otoshi, and I keep trying to counter it, but then he gets mad when I don't take the slap when he throws.

I think I need a new tack. Part of the tenets of Judo is 'Maximum Efficiency' or 'Best use of energy'. I need to get a little more cunning and mix it up against him, at least so that he doesn't get in for that throw.

I also need to prevent my adrenaline and frustration from getting the best of me.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Another point about Constant Attack

In January, I talked about the importance of constant attack, and how the timing of your attack in concert with one by your opponent can tip things in your favor.

However, I recently realized another element of why it is important to constantly attack - because it puts your opponent on the defensive. I love to counter - sometimes I will sit and wait for my opponent to try something before I counterattack. I am seeing more and more why this is a bad idea. The minute my opponent throws me on the defensive he is at an advantage.

Why? Because even if I am waiting to counter, I am still thinking defensively, and If am in 'defense' mode, it is hard to spot the opportunities for attack.

I think I will need to be more aggressive. The worse that can happen is that I get thrown :)

Friday, March 18, 2005

One wash can make a huge difference

So I shrink-washed my two new Gis yesterday, and although I thought that my gis would change with the wash, I didn't imagine that one shrink washing would make such as huge difference.

The sleeves shrunk to the perfect fit with just one washing and between the shrinkage and airing out of the fabric the fabric expanded to a considerable heft - it now feels a lot more like my Double-weave Toraki Silver in terms of thickness. Of course, as has happened in the past, my skirts are just an inch or two too long. I will wear them for a couple of weeks and/or possibly shrink them again (although I am a little worried about the sleeves) before I take them to the tailor. Even if the tailor only charges me $10 bucks to shorten the gi, it would kill some of the value. Still $38 bucks for a double-weight Gi is an awesome price!! (Besides, if I like these gi and get mileage out of them, I might save the $10 for some emboridery :) ) Of course, the skirt is made of a lighter material than the jacket, which definitely affects it's shrinkage - the denser the fabric the more it shrinks it seems (which is why many people do not wear the same size gi in a double weave as the single.

The pants are a bit on the flimsy side, but to be fair, I usually drip-dry my pants so they normally seem stiffer.

As for the blue color, it faded in the first wash to a lighter shade of blue, and now the color in-line with what I'd expected. To be more precise, the pants and top half of the jacket faded, but a lot more than the skirt. The gi now has a two-tone look to it that I have seen in many other Blue gis.

I will hopefully get to use them for the first time next week, so I will let you know how it goes.

As an aside, the woman I bought them from on e-Bay, is no longer selling them. Simply put, she found that selling gis and shipping them from taiwan, in addition to dealing with customer service and long lag times, makes selling gis less profitable, and she has decided to concentrate her efforts on Judo DVD's. She'll soon be opening a website to do just that at www.judo-bjj-dvd.com. I am sure that if you write to her, she will be more than willing to get you the same gis (but probably not at the 'bargain' price that I paid for them :)).


Monday, March 14, 2005

Murphy doesn't like me...

So I get an e-mail yesterday from one of the exmainers on our local Yudanshakai's promotion board (I will explain this in my next post). His e-mail included the application packet for the next promotional competition - to be held on May 15th. This is one week to the day before the Competition that is literally in my backyard that I wanted to compete in. While competeing in both would be great, somehow I don't think it is going to happen. I will need to talk it over with Faigy and figure out which of the two I will attend. Who knows, she may say yes to both!

One little detail can make a world of difference.

When I bought my new gi the other day, I also got along with it a DVD of Instructional Judo as well. The DVD was created by former US Olympian and World Champion Mike Swain for the purposes of teaching instructors how to teach Judo.

There were some small little details in his video that I picked up on on how my Kuzushi wasn't working properly, and in particular, effecting my ability to throw with two throws Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi and Hiza Guruma. I picked up on these details - a little twist of the wrist when pulling, and turning your head to the side slightly - and BOOM! A throw which I had great difficulty performing before suddenly became very easy. It's still far from perfect, but those two little pointers made a world of difference.

Interestingly enough, I don't think that anyone who has no clue about Judo techniques could possibly learn such a complex throw simply by watching a video. I think that the point Mr. Swain makes is simple if you could learn from a video, why not make a video for beginners instead of for instructors? The answer - because you really need to learn these throws hands-on.

The details helped me because after years of instruction on how to execute this throw, I was still missing something that I needed to spot for myself and myself alone. And now that I have it is amazing how much difference these details make.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Initial Gi Review

Close-up of the Blue Fabric

My Gis arrived yesterday in the mail. To make a long story short, I one an auction for two gis - one blue and one white - on Ebay for $75. Considering that these were billed as double weave - it seemed like a two for one deal. Even at that rate - most size 5 singles are at least $45 - so it is definitely a good deal.

Here are my impressions so far - bear in mind I haven't washed or worn the gis short of an initial try-on.

  1. The blue is a little bluer than I thought it would be, but then I have seen other pictures of brand-new blue Gis and they look as if they were a lot bluer to start with and I expect it to fade a bit after the first few washings.

  2. The fabric seems a thinner than I expected, but it hasn't been washed. I can tell from the workmanship that this is constructed from two plys of fabric, and more than that at most seams, but I know from past experience that a)Fabric is thin right out of the bag, and thickens up a bit as it is aired out and b)Shrinkage will increase the density, softness, and hand of the fabric.


    If I had to guess the overall fabric weight, I would put it between 400 and 600 gr/m2 - which would put it in the area of a lightweight double weave. But my impression can and will change once I wash it.
    My Gis Hanging in the Closet
  3. The size seems perfect - which means that it is slightly bigger to the point where it will fit perfectly after shrinkage with no additional alterations.




Overall I am happy with these gis, and I would definitely reccomend them to Gi-Seekers on a budget.

I provide additional updates (and maybe an additional picture or two) after I get to shrink them down and play once or twice in them.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Un-sitely

MY wife, and my boss noticed that I spend too much time on the Judo Forum. So I imposed a two-week absence from it on myself. Let's see how it goes. I wonder if my virtual friends miss me?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

My article is picked up by another Judo Club's site...

I just found out that another judo club - the Oakville Hatashita Judo Club in Ontario, has linked my Judo Article to their site as well.

I am working on one or two more articles on Judo that I hope to publish soon

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Working the sleeve side.

Randori is the part of Judo training where we simulate competition and actually see how well our techniques work. Of course Randori in the same dojo with the same people has its pros and cons. For example, it is good because you know everyone's weaknesses and can take advantage of them, but it is bad because you don't see anything new unless someone else joins your club. I have been doing a lot of work using a left-handed grip against right-handed opponents. But since I have been doing this for a while, my partners have caught on, and will now nullify my advantage by playing lefty against me. As part of this style of play, I have generally worked the lapel side of the gi - meaning that my first hand grip goes on my Uke's lapel and then I wait for my opportunity before taking the sleeve-side grip. Of course this too is starting to get predictable.

So I am contemplating a new strategy, working the sleeve-side instead. While I know that I will have greater control to lead uke with a lapel grip, I think that there is a lot of potential opportunity for the sleeve side too. It will open me up to a lot of throws where the primary lifting action is sleeve side and/or the lapel pull is not used - three good examples - Koshi Guruma, Kata Guruma and Ippon Seoinage.

I think I will try em. Hopefully my uke's are not reading this :)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Working with Black Belts

Yesterday one of our regular Black Belts returned after a some time away from our particular class. I was paired up with him during most of our class and he offered a lot of great pointers on my technique. He showed me a couple of ways to improve my groundwork as well as my standing techniques, and he reiterated that I have a really good seoinage (although my left-handed technique needs to catch up to the right hand).

It was just a great day working with him and I felt that I had learned so much just from the one session. It really cancelled out the feelings of inadequacy that I felt on Sunday.

I would like to think that when I get my black belt, I will be like some of these guys who I respect and revere. But first, I will need to get there :)

Just a wee bit of pain...

As i mentioned yesterday, I went to a sunday night training program in a local dojo. During ne-waza with one of their senseis (who I might add, is playing at the NY Open this weekend - which is a relatively high-level competition), and I caught my wrist in his 'triangle'. It hurt a bit but I still played on, I also went to practice yesterday at my regular dojo, and played with a wrist-brace on. Of course, as I was trying to throw a senior Black belt with Seoinage, He tried to pull me down, and I fell flat on my face.

To add to all that, the excercises I did on Sunday were a lot more strenuous than I am used to, and included a lot less general stretching. As a result I am sore in place that I forgot existed. We did like 150 squats (something I never do) and my thighs are so sore that I can hardly walk up and down a flight of stairs. In addition, my neck is sore from Ne-Waza, and avoiding the chokes of that highly-competitive Sensei.


My wife laughs at me - she asks why I pay money to put myself in pain - she's willing to hurt me for free. She just doesn't know how good it feels.