Monday, January 28, 2008

Being a Judo Dad

As I've mentioned a couple of times before, I have 3 sons, the oldest of which, my 6-year-old, is currently a Judoka. As a father, one of the toughest things that one does is take a reality check whenever you want your children to start an activity to determine if this is something that they would want for themselves or something that you want for them to live vicariously through them. The minute that someone suggested he try martial arts as a means to build up his discipline and self-confidence, was the minute that I began looking into Judo options for him.

Yes I considered both TKD and Karate as valid options for him (of course I would have never consented to some of the McDojoes that I had visited in the process), but once my own dojoes class schedule changed to make Judo available to him, I jumped in with both feet. My son is 6 and has an attention span to match. So clearly his focus is not as good as that of a 9-year-old. Yet at the same time, each week, I see him making steady progress, and although he occasionally complains on the mat when things don't go his way, I've never heard him complain about Judo - until last week. Our dojo was closed because of MLK day (our dojo is run out of a Community College and we're beholden to their schedule, with all due respect to MLK, I am sure that he would want a sport that sees no color to hold classes on his birthday). He turned to me and said - 'Daddy, I don't like Judo, I don't think I want to go anymore'. He seemed pretty serious about it, and admittedly, I was hurt. I didn't push the subject, but I mentioned to him that why doesn't he stay for the rest of the semester and then see if he likes it. He really let the issue lie fallow, and didn't say anything about it. Yesterday we just went along to class. Yes there are a million things he needs to improve at, and yes, he still sometimes gets frustrated - but then there is this smile on his face - that tells me how much he enjoys playing. How much he enjoys his friends, competing against them in Randori, Ne-Waza or sumo-wrestling, and I know that I made the right decision.

Then there is the middle one. Because of the newborn, my soon to be 4-year-old son tags along as well. I will be the first to admit that its hard to keep him off the mat, and I am sure that some of you will flame me for trying to juggle helping out on the mat, and keeping an active toddler off of it at the same time, but unfortunately, this is the reality I need to address. Whenever I ask my little Mikey about taking up Judo, he emphatically replies "Judo is not for me!"  His only concession to the notion of his participation in Judo is when he asks me if he can get a Blue Gi. But on the side of the mat, one would think that he's gleaning a thing or two. Yesterday, I watched gleefully as he was trying to do the warmups from the side of the mat. Then, when I was showing some of our younger students basic Katame-Waza, Mikey wouldn't get off the mat, so I used him to help teach. (don't worry, I was only teaching had positioning, and not dropping my weight on him). Even at the very end of class, Sensei asked all of the kids to Duck Jump and Duck walk across the mats. I tried to cajole Mikey into doing it too. He was in a shy mood, and asked me to hold him - so I did. I wrapped him around my waist and did the Duck Jump with him on my lap. He loved it, it was like a horsey ride for him. I then repeated it for the duck walk.

On the way home, I asked him if he liked Judo and wanted to try it. He still responded "Judo is not for me!" - of course, this is such a canned reaction, and I couldn't wonder if he really felt that way even after all of the fun he had.

Hmm.... I wonder if Toraki has a blue gi in size 000?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Making The Most of Randori

Balancing Judo and my family is a hard deal - especially with the new baby. My wife groans when I go to Judo - now 2 nights a week. And I have been getting there a little later than usual as I plan on getting a handful of things done at home before going to class so that my wife doesn't feel like I am leaving her out in the cold.

I showed up about 25 minutes late last night, and quickly warmed up. Everyone was doing Uchikomi and Sensei had me work with a Yellow belt who was working on Koshi-Waza - Namely Tsurikomi Goshi and Harai Goshi. I was giving him instruction, and indicated that some of the Kuzushi and entry and form of Tsurikomi Goshi would be useful for Tsurkomi, Harai, Uchimata (to a lesser extent) and Hane Goshi. As I walked him through the motions, I noticed that my technique has actually improved. To the point where as I explain the theory to him, I am actually practicing it as well (as opposed giving him the  'do as I say, not as I do' speech before showing him anything).

I also had some good challenges in Newaza, one Black Belt, two Brown Belts and a strong yellow belt. In all three cases I was fighting from the turtle a lot. Sensei was getting on me to attack more and not play so defensively. Still, I managed to not get pinned or subbed, and I got 2 subs in the whole process. My favorite submission of late is extending uke's arm in Kesa-Gatame, and it is still new enough that I can pull it off on a couple of people in the dojo without too much trouble.

In Randori, Sensei was telling me that I was too passive as well. I started to play a little more intensely. I managed to get a few good O-Uchi's off, as well as a nice K-ouchi, and I have also improved my timing for Seoinage, but not quite to the point where I feel I can pull it off.

Sensei told me to keep working on the O-Uchi as it is a great technique to follow-up with Uchimata, Tai Otoshi, and of course, K-Ouchi. Yet I still want to get the Seoinage going. I'll let you know what happens next week.

Finally, one of my three Randori opponents was a Yellow Belt, much smaller than I. (Fear not, I haven't given up on being challenged, I played an evenly size-matched shodan and sankyu as well). He was very quick, and liked to fight for grips. I saw this opportunity to try an off the grip Sode - and it worked! It was nice throw, with clean technique, but then I realized it was against someone smaller, lighter and less-experienced. Still, I now know that I can pull it off, so I need to try it on someone bigger, heavier and more experienced.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Everyone one of us, in every dojo that we've ever been to has one - a nemesis. That one (or maybe more, or maybe one every few years) Judoka in our dojo or on the competition circuit who always seems to have our number. Our technique improves and evolves, but somehow, this person is always one step ahead.

They are our goal. Just one match one, or one good unquestionable ippon-worthy throw in Randori. Don't get me wrong, this isn't petty or vindictive, this is about improvement. It's about knowing that no matter how good your technique is and how much you've improved and yet there is still one person that it doesn't work for.

That person is the one person you want to play when it's time for Randori, and the one person you feel the greatest challenge from. You will try progressively harder with them each time, and for a while they might have their way with you.

Then one day, out of the blue. You throw them. It feels so good - and it motivates you even more.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Value of Yudansha

The semester starts this coming week, and I am now going back to my full Judo schedule again - 2x practices a week plus helping out with the kids class. I hope that my wife doesn't protest to much, especially since the Baby's witching hour has kind of gone by the wayside, so that she can actually do things in the house while I am gone.

We had an 'intersession' practice for both adults and kids last Sunday in the regular kids spot. It was a nice practice, especially since when I get on the mat with my son I don't generally get to practice much myself, and most of our black-belts were on the mat as well. I got to do Uchikomi with three of our Yudansha, all of which had great advice for my technique (and Sensei even gave me two or three bits of advice on Seoinage) - and that experience leads me to my topic - The Value of Yudansha.

One of the more common questions that beginners have is how many beginners do you typically have. Yes they want people to go through the ranks with, but some of them are also intimidated by the prospect of going a few rounds in Randori with black belts. They're scared off by the prospect of being the one cog in the class that slows down a group of experienced athletes, and that they might be in over their heads. The reality is, that this mentality is the opposite of reality - the more Black Belts and experienced Judoka you play with, the better off you are. When you practice - be it Uchikomi, Ne-Waza or Randori - with someone more experienced, their experience will rub off.

We all learn a lot from our Sensei, but each and everyone of us has certain little nuances that we apply to techniques. Each and everyone of us has gripping strategies, and combinations and moves that we sometimes share with our dojomates - either explicitly or implicitly by practicing with them. While all that I have said so far holds true for most Kyu-grades as well, obviously with Yudansha, the level of technique and experience is generally better, and it shows. While many of my colleagues have shown me stuff, I have learned lots more from the regular, good-ol' black belts in our Dojo, and I am thankful that we have a good handful of them to help me progress along my journey.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Searching for Seoinage

During my holiday break, I was thinking more and more about improving my Judo, and especially expanding my Randori/Shiai repetoire. One technique, that I keep coming back to is Seoi-Nage. It was a little over three years ago that I returned to Judo, and in my first session, I started doing Uchikomi. I went through the litany of techniques and decided to stick with one of the most basic. I started with Morote Seoinage. Within a few minutes, Sensei commented that I hadn't lost it, and that my technique was still good. But somehow, I have neglected Seoi-Nage since then, focusing more on Uchimata and O-Uchi Gari among others. Yet Seoinage is still that awesome powerful throw.

I guess I am waxing nostalgic for many reasons. For starters, a friend of mine lent me his Koga Video where Koga Demonstrates his winning seoinage techniques, I also saw a phenomenal standing seoinage when I was at the Nakabayashi tournament, and finally
I recently purchased the Masterclass Series 'Seoi-Nage' book on sale and I thought that I would use it to help my technique.

Obviously, there are many elements to a good Seoinage, and first and foremost is form and position on entry - once that's in place, I can begin to work on timing, setup and execution.

I discovered that I tend to lean forward when spinning in for seoinage, as well as don't get down deep enough. So far I have been practicing by doing a lot of squats - while trying to keep my back up and straight - and also adding a spinning element to it - i.e. I start standing, then spin in as if I were going to execute and squat while spinning, so that when I finish my 180 degree turn, I am in the down position - I spring straight back up from there, and then start the spin again, the other way.

Hopefully, this is a good beginning, practice resumes on Sunday. so hopefully I will be able to report my progress.


If you want to help offer advice, please feel free to comment.

Women's Judo is more than Just a sport

I came across an interesting article by way of the JudoForum. A group of women in the UAE have started their own National Judo and Sambo team. Why is this so special? Because this sort of thing is frowned upon in their country! Yet they have found a sport that they love and have decided to promote it.

I am not a women, I have 3 sons, my wife won't step on a mat, and I can count on my hand the number of women that I have practiced with, but at the same time, its articles like these that show how powerful Women's Judo is. It goes beyond exercise, fitness and competition, it goes beyond self-defense - it's about empowerment.

In in this case, because it goes against societal norms, empowerment goes even further. I wish the UAE Judo team well, and I hope that they help promote Judo in their country and abroad.