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Friday, November 2, 2007

Judo, Day Nine: Coming to Grips

Even before we lined up, I knew something was different about this night’s class. It wasn’t until the whole class was standing in a line, organized by rank, that my suspicions were confirmed. I was the only white belt present.

I wasn’t really sure what that would mean. Certainly, this isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve been the lone beginner in a class. Sometimes it just means spending a lot of time with one of the instructors. Sometimes, it means going through some basic drills on your own, over and over again. This time, however, it meant that it was time for me to step up and join in the class with everyone else.

Of course, I figured this would happen at some point, but I really didn’t know when. I would be lying if I said I was completely confident in jumping in. I know I have a very long way to go before I’m even halfway to being competent at Judo, let lone good at it. Still, when Sensei says, “jump”, you jump.

The beginning of the class, as usual, was warm-ups. Sensei seems to have gotten it into his head that the class needs to be pushed extra hard, so along with our usual running, pulling, shrimping, bridging, and sprinting, we also did some fireman’s carries (where you run with a person over your shoulders), and one odd exercise where you have to pull yourself on all fours while your partner holds onto your belt.

We followed this with “moving” uchikomi, which is similar to the normal uchikomi, but your partner is actually in motion. Not resisting, but taking steps to help simulate the kind of movement you would experience in a competition, or shiai. It was interesting, if a little awkward.

After the warm-ups, Victor, the “co-sensei” (for lack of a better term), broke us up into two five-man groups for grip-fighting drills.

Grip-fighting is one of the most important aspects of Judo, and is also one of those things that makes Judo dull as hell to watch if you don’t know what’s going on. Because Judo uses the gi extensively to initiate and execute most throws, the way in which you grip your opponent’s gi (and vis-versa) is extremely important. A good grip means you’re in a position to control, and potentially throw your opponent. A bad grip means you’re about to go ass over teakettle. The grip-fighting drill isolates this particular nuance of Judo, allowing the Judoka to work on that single moment of entry without fear of actually being thrown.

We did this drill in a fashion similar to the “shark tank” clinch drills we do at Sityodtong. One member of the group is the victim. The other four each grip-fight with him for one minute each. Then, the next member of the group goes in, and is the victim for four minutes. And so on. Not surprisingly, the guy in the middle gets exhausted pretty quickly.

This drill was followed by several rounds of randori, or free sparring (I actually have some thoughts on the nature of that word, but those are going to have to get saved for a later post). Randori is a bit closer to shiai, in that the object is to get a good, clean throw (or ippon). Unlike competition, however, there’s no groundwork in randori. Once someone hits the mat, the action stops.

The final drill of the night was a “koka” drill. There were again, two people who were designated “victims”, at least to start. The object of the drill was to get in and score with some kind of throw. It didn’t have to be a full ippon—even the most minor score counted.

Things got a little confused at this point: for one thing, there seemed to be some confusion about who went out, and who stayed in. I thought that the person who scored got to leave the circle (thereby giving them a rest), but that didn’t always seem to be the case. And while there were two “victims” available at any one time, there was just one group outside the circle, which sometimes lead to some confusion about who was supposed to be attacking whom. At one point, I got thrown, ran out of the circle, and ran back at the next guy in line because no one else was going (to be fair, fatigue contributed to some of this).

And then, class was over. I did a few stretches to cool down after we bowed out, but as far as training goes, that was the whole shebang.

Some general observations:

  • A while back, Fionn asked if I found that habits from previous training were carrying over to Judo. At the time, I couldn’t really answer because I hadn’t been exposed to a situation where I was moving in totally unrehearsed patterns. Having done so, I can say that, absolutely, I revert to some instincts. In some cases, this is good: I’m very used to keeping my hands high, which is just as necessary in Judo as it is in Muay Thai. I default to standing in an Orthodox Muay Thai stance, which is actually a lefty Judo stance. I am now perfectly satisfied that I will not break that habit any time soon, and just need to deal with it.
  • My endurance was surprisingly good. While I certainly was winded, I wasn’t desperately exhausted until the very end. The only thing that really got killed was my grip: my hands and forearms were burning with lactic acid for at least an hour post training. My hands are still sore today. Otherwise, I’m pretty satisfied with my wind, especially since I’m about ten pounds overweight right now.
  • I discovered that there are certain movements from Boxing and Muay Thai that transfer over well. Some of the footwork proved useful in breaking or avoiding grips, and I actually ended up doing a bob-and-weave a few times to get under a gripping attempt.
  • I tried to get in with the two Judo throws that I’ve been taught, but couldn’t quite set them up right. Practice, practice, practice.
  • I seem to instinctively go for foot sweeps, and belt/around the back grips. Both are clearly holdover instincts from Muay Thai, where those positions are very advantageous in the clinch. In Judo, I think they still work, but I don’t have the tools or knowledge to use them properly right now. Again, practice, practice, practice.

Which is, of course, what it all comes down to. Practice. Or, as Calvin Coolidge put it “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” But more on that next time.

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