Do You Want To Improve Your Judo?

Judo is not much different from driving a car. You learn specific responses to certain stimuli. For example, experienced drivers just know when someone is about to pull in front of them from a nearby lane, and take their foot off the accelerator, and are ready to touch the brakes.

Likewise, good Judoka will without even thinking about it, apply Kosotogari to someone who steps forward and across their other foot. It’s just instinctive, but it’s an instinct that is a trained instinctive response. How do you train such instinctive movements? Constant practice, of course.

But what is not nearly as obvious, is just how do you get this constant practice? Not the way most Judoka attempt to gain it! Most Judoka practice uchikomi, and try training with the best (highest ranking) partner that they can. I’d like to make two suggestions to improve your Judo.

Uchikomi: The classical way to practice uchikomi is to stand in one place, and repeatedly repeat the intended movement or throw. This is wonderful for ‘grooving’ the technique, and works quite well when you are first learning a technique… but as a method to improve your actual randori, this method has tremendous flaws.

In order to improve a particular skill set - you must repeatedly do that skill set. When baseball players wish to improve their batting skills, they stand the same way, they swing a bat the same way, and most importantly, they hit a ball speeding toward them the same way. In other words, they don’t approximate the skill, they duplicate it!This example bears directly on Judo - for practicing a throw without dynamic movement is like swinging a bat without a ball. Here then, is the first suggestion - practice your uchikomi while moving around on the mat. And not necessarily in one direction… When practicing dynamic uchikomi, (uchikomi with movement), onlookers should be able to mistake your practice for randori.

While it isn’t strictly necessary, in my mind, to throw each time, you must actually lift or off-balance uke. Nothing is more of a waste of time than Judoka performing static uchikomi and not bothering to lift their opponent in the air. Only when the lift is performed, can you judge if the throw would have worked or not.

So, to recap: Static Uchikomi is the classical method, where two Judoka stand in one place, and repeat a specific skill, throw, or movement. Dynamic Uchikomi is the more advanced method of uchikomi, and more realistic method of training, where you move around randomly, and apply your skill, throw, or movement. This duplicates the condition you want to improve - your randori/shiai, without having to deal with uke’s defense.

My second suggestion is to avoid the common idea of looking for the higher ranks to do randori with. For most often, what you are learning is your defensive skills. Remember, in order to improve a particular skill, you need to repeat that skill as often as you can. If you insist on always training with higher ranked Judoka, you’re not going to get very many repetitions of your throws performed…

Look for the white belts, and if you’re a white belt, look for the newer white belts. Of course, if you’re a Sandan reaching for a white belt - you’d better be repeating only the very best ’setups’ and throws, and not merely slam your uke every two seconds. If you’re a Sandan, and you reach for a Shodan or newly promoted Nidan, you can clearly train harder than with a white belt, and still get your repetitions in.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that improving your skill REQUIRES you to repeat that skill as often as you can. So, take a break from the higher ranks, and go mix it up with the white belts for a few weeks… see if your randori doesn’t improve because of it!