The Ultimate Guide to Judo Part 1
After the recent thread questioning if judo should be a recommended art due to its chance of injury, I thought I'd do a series of articles that help people see the art from the beginner level all the way up to national level competition. I want to give people an idea of what to expect when they begin judo, the many idiosyncrasies that are not known by outsiders and how to actually get the most out of your training. This article is going to focus on the first couple of months in a beginner's practice.
White to Yellow belt
So you've decided you want to learn judo, fantastic! You've chosen a great art to get involved in. I'm not going to try and sell you on all of judo's great points, so let's crack straight into it.
How to Get Started
The gold standard way to get introduced to judo is at your typical university club that holds a 6-8 week beginner course. They'll have lots of other beginners there, plenty of senior grades helping out and most importantly, lots of crash mats. If you don't have this as an option, obviously you want to find somewhere that caters as much to beginners as possible.
Showing up for your first lesson in the right gear is pretty important. Seriously, the amount of people that turn up wearing torn clothes, clothes that are far too lose and so on is ridiculous. Wear a well fitted t-shirt, because you'll have a judogi over the top. Down below, I'd advise track pants that aren't too loose, and that end above the ankle. Seriously, you can buy track pants for like $10, and there is nothing worse than trying to learn judo wearing regular length pants that will get caught under your feet. If you want to wear tights with shorts over the top or something, even better. Basically you want to avoid loose clothing - it's going to get grabbed, stretched and probably torn. You'll be far more comfortable in fitted clothes, trust me.
You're going to learn some pretty profound things when you start judo. See, everyone thinks they have some kind of fighting ability when they start. They think they can just use strength (and this is especially true of bigger guys) and make everything work. Here's a newsflash for you - your strength isn't going to help you, and you're more than likely going to feel like a complete gumby for the first year of your training. You'll be slow, stiff and uncoordinated. So the best way to be during your beginner course is as loose and easygoing as possible.
What people don't understand is that judo isn't just about technique, it's very much about proprioception as well. In layman's terms, this is your body's ability to sense itself in space and provide balance, strength and agility. See, the first couple of years in judo, you're learning how to control and move your own body correctly. This is why you're going to have so much trouble throwing anyone in randori. It's the reason the stuff the senior grades do seems like some kind of black magic to you. You can't even control your own body properly for the first couple of years in judo, yet many beginners will ask the question "why can't I throw anyone?". There is your answer.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you take nothing else away from this article, take away this piece of advice - AVOID TENSING UP. People do this because falling is a primal fear. If you want to do judo, you need to be conscious of it and work to get over it as soon as you can. Being tense means throws are going to hurt - and the more you tense up the more it's going to hurt, to the point that you'll never want to be thrown. You need to learn to relax and go with it. This is why I always recommend beginner courses, because you learn to fall on crash mats, which are much less scary. The other thing about tensing up is, it makes you a crappy training partner. Being a good training partner is pretty important if you want to last in this art. You also need to be comfortable being in very close proximity to other people, including of the opposite sex. People are going to be grabbing at you, it's going to be tight, hot and uncomfortable at first. You're going to have to get used to this and get comfortable at such a distance, because it's never going to change.
When you learn your breakfalling, do it enthusiastically. Don't be timid and try to fall lightly to avoid any discomfort. Slap those arms on the mat nice and hard. Get used to the feeling. Get psyched up about it if you have to. Being aggressive in your breakfalling will help your judo immensely, because you're not going to be scared about it. The timid people, those are the ones that end up with broken arms because they try to put a hand out instead of falling properly. You'll be surprised at how quickly you get used to falling, and that it really isn't that bad.
Another important thing is to not get competitive in your beginner phase. There's plenty of time for that later. People that get competitive too early on don't learn well, because they are always trying to muscle everything so they can "win" randori. Avoid this, and avoid those people because fighting them won't help your judo. Focus on learning as much as you can, staying light on your feet and learning what it all feels like. You're better off letting yourself get thrown here and there so you learn about balance and when you're losing it. Learn to feel the flow of movement, rather than trying win anything.
Finally, avoid trying to look good while you're in your first couple of months. Don't try to do techniques quickly or explosively because you want to impress senior grades, instructors or the cute guy/girl next to you. You aren't impressing anyone because right now, you don't know 1/10 of jack, and it shows. Have you ever seen a giraffe right after it's born? Staggering about all over the place as though it's drunk? Yeah, that's what beginner judoka look like, so forget about trying to look good. Go through everything as slowly and as systematically as you need to in order to learn techniques properly.
Yellow to Orange Belt
So youíve finished your beginner course and graded to yellow belt, or if you have a lot of athletic ability and picked things up quickly, you might have even jumped to orange belt. At this point you would normally know somewhere between 4 and 8 throws, a couple of different joint locks and a few pins. Youíve decided youíre having fun and want to stick around, so what can you expect next? The first thing we should probably get into is the sport vs traditional judo debate, which Iíll hopefully be able to sum up succinctly. Understand that has always been one and only one judo. What people are referring to with sports vs traditional is the training methods involved, and what we are really looking at is a spectrum. Sport and traditional are the extreme ends of the spectrum, with most clubs falling somewhere in the middle. Iíve trained at both, and neither is better than the other, it depends on your goals and personality.
For starters, these clubs generally observe the rituals and traditions of judo quite strictly. Youíll find pictures of Kano on the wall, the instructor will be called ďsenseiĒ, only white is worn at training and so on. The training is done in a somewhat academic manner Ė that is, you will generally learn the throws in the gokyo no waza in their prescribed order. These clubs are generally more focused on getting the techniques right in the static sense, and you will spend a lot of time drilling nage komi. While everything is trained in an alive manner, there isnít a huge deal of uchi komi (and if there is it is usually static) and the physical fitness side can range from a few push ups to nothing at all.
Sport judo clubs are the other end of the spectrum. Youíll usually find these at universities, but occasionally you will find specialist training centres as well. These clubs are all competition focused and they train in such a manner. There is high speed uchi komi with timed breaks, and itís not unusual to do a hundred very fast uchi komi in the first few minutes of a class as a warm up. Youíll do agility drills, static and moving uchi komi, more randori and grip fighting. Much of this will be timed so it doubles as physical conditioning. Youíll focus on a very small amount of throws that are useful for competition, but youíll generally learn 3 variations of each of these throws. Youíll only learn the other throws when youíre preparing for a grading, or if you have an interest in them youíll pursue them on your own time. Whilst the basic formalities are there, you generally wonít call your instructor ďsenseiĒ, there wonít be Kano on the wall and people will wear blue or white judogi.
So, youíve finished your beginner judo course, and now youíre out in the big, wide world of judo. Youíve decided youíre going to stick around at least for a couple of years and see how you go. The first thing you need to do is buy a decent judogi. Look at getting a 1.5 or even a double weave gi, unless you live in a very humid area where single weave is more useful. I always find single weave judogi never hold up as well and tend to stretch and warp with time and sweat. Buy a judogi that fits well Ė every beginner seems to make the mistake of thinking they need to buy something with a bit of room in it. Thereís a reason the higher grades wear tighter judogi Ė it makes it harder in competition for an opponent to grab it, but in training when you are letting your partner grab it, it gives them more control and allows both of you to feel things better. It still needs to conform to competition regulations though, so donít go buying something that is super tight and goes halfway up your arms. Likewise with the pants Ė if the pants that come with your judogi are too long, buy a separate pair or have them altered to finish above the ankle.
At this stage of your training, not much has changed since the day you started. Keep this list in mind when learning techniques:
Avoid tensing up
Avoid trying to look good
Avoid trying to rush things or muscle things
Avoid trying to ďwinĒ
Donít slam any locks on too quickly
Depending on where youíre at, you can have anywhere from a couple of classes a week on offer to every day of the week training. You want to get to as many technical sessions as you can Ė avoid randori classes for now, they arenít for you (and most instructors wouldnít let you near them anyway). During these technical sessions, always try and train with higher grades, the higher the better. There are a few reasons for this that will help your judo immensely:
They will teach you how to become a good uke
They wonít tense up and screw your throwing up
They are lighter on their feet
You will learn by feel how throws are supposed to be done
The first one, learning to be a good uke, is so important I canít overstate it. It is, in fact, the basis of becoming a good judoka. When youíre a bad uke (which generally means youíre stiff or you resist being thrown) itís bad for everyone involved. Your partner gets pissed off because he canít throw properly, and because youíre contributing he doesnít know if itís his technique or you resisting thatís causing it. You donít get thrown properly, which means you donít know how the throw is supposed to feel. Finally, your falls are going to be awkward and painful. So learn to be a good uke Ė ask someone higher up how to be better at it if youíre struggling.
Training with higher grades is especially important when you start doing a bit more randori. Stay away from people at your level and try to fight with higher ups. You will start to gain a true feel for judo this way, because when you put two beginners together in randori they usually take a grip, stare at each otherís feet and move around like zombies. Higher grades will force you to change grips, theyíll force you to move quickly and you will really learn balance and how it is gained and lost.
At some point in this time, youíll no doubt have your first competition. The only advice Iíll give you is this Ė donít get yourself too worked up over it. Relax, have fun and use it as a learning experience, because this isnít the Olympics or All Japan Championships. There are a whole lot of things I can tell you about competing for the first time but I wonít, because you need to experience it for yourself. Your first couple of comps are going to be a bit of a crapshoot unless youíve competed in individual sports against someone before. Itís not the same as track or swimming, and it certainly isnít like team sports. So really learn as much as you can Ė monitor how you feel, what physical sensations you have and so on. Take a note pad if you have to. No matter where you come at the end of the day, if you have a whole lot of notes that you can take away to learn from, youíve beaten everyone.
Towards the end of your time as an orange belt, youíll generally have been training for around 1.5-2 years. At about the 1.5 year mark is when you should dip your toes into training on randori nights. This is where youíll discover a very important truth about judo: if you want to be good, there are no mystical secrets to unlock, nothing hidden away in kata or any zen koan like garbage. The secret to getting good at judo is work, and lots of it. Iím not going to lie to you, unless youíve played sport at a high level, a randori night will be a shock and will put you through the ringer for a couple of months until your body gets used to it. Youíre usually looking at 1.5-2 hours a session, with the first third of the class used for uchi komi and a few drills to get you warmed up. The rest is fighting with people for up to 5 minutes with short rest breaks.
My recommendation is to take every second fight (if the instructor lets you do this), and while youíll no doubt be trying to pull your sorry ass off the floor after each fight, rehydrate and pay close attention to the fights that are going on. Learn as much as you can. You also need to fight as many different people as possible, because everyone in judo has their own unique way of fighting, and the more you are exposed to that the better it is for your development. Again, avoid trying to ďwinĒ (I keep putting ďĒ around that word, because there is no such thing as winning in randori) Ė most of these people will clean your clock, so donít tense up in an attempt to avoid being thrown. Take your lumps and instead learn to move in a way so you wonít get thrown.
Iíll leave it here for now. Next article Ė green belt to brown belt.
Last edited by benkei; 01-Jun-2014 at 06:03 AM.
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