Monday, July 18, 2011

Teaching Sankaku/Ude-Garami

Due to classes and general busyness, heat and the fact I exercise for four hours a day…. I haven’t put up a blog entry in a week! Naughty naughty; I’ll try to behave better. With this in mind, I have something particularly near and dear to my heart I would like to share.

I’m not sure I’ve adequately expressed my love of newaza—ground fighting—over the course of my posting. Ground fighting is, however, where I feel the strongest. Maybe it is because of the close proximity of my opponent, but I feel like I can better read my opponent’s movements while on the ground than when standing and fighting. Of course, I must work to develop both aspects of my judo; I wanted, simply, to share my enthusiasm for the technique I am about to show.
This technique is both a sankaku (triangle choke) and ude-garami (arm bar). A friend taught me the technique three weeks ago and I have found it to be extremely effective, even against people who know exactly what I’m about to do.

The volume in this video is quite low and my explanation is in Japanese, but please
And I’ll give a more detailed description below.

When an opponent lies flat on the tatami, he is probably stalling and waiting for the referee to stop the match. In Judo, very little time is allowed for ground fighting. This turnover, however, is quite fast.
As you sit on the opponent’s back, you want to grab the back of their collar with your hand and, if you’re particularly nasty, try to dig a few knuckles into the back of your opponent’s neck. This will make them more willing to move momentarily. With your other hand, try to pull your opponent’s arm away from their body. Obviously, your opponent wants to stay huddled up and probably won’t let you push their arm out. So, it helps to use a knee behind the elbow. Believe me, your leg is a lot stronger than their arm.

Once you have opened a small space between the opponent’s elbow and body, lift the opponent using the hand at the collar and back of the elbow. Shoot your foot around, under the opponent’s neck, and put your foot into the space you opened before. In this case, my right heel must touch my left knee.

Now, fall to the side and roll your opponent over. While in this motion, try to shoot your foot inside the bend of your knee to form the triangle. With the leg that is free—my left leg, in this example, I use my foot to hook the opponent’s hip and turn my body. I turn simply to better position my leg across the opponent’s neck.

In this position, you are ready to choke. Just squeeze your legs and lift your hips. The triangle has to be quite accurately placed in order to choke the opponent and often times I fail to hit the mark. The benefit of this turnover, however, is the option to make an arm bar.

The opponent has their left arm within your triangle and, therefore, it is rather isolated from the rest of their body. You can easily sit up and wrap your arm around theirs. Then, try to find the opponent’s elbow. Place your hand on their elbow and, using your own elbow, press down to bend the arm backwards.

I change one detail in this turnover in my second demonstration. As I lift the opponent and bring my right leg around, I catch my own ankle with my hand. There is a reason to do this. Most likely, at this point, your opponent will have figured out what you are trying to do. They will try to close the space you have opened by bringing their elbow close to the body and blocking your leg. When you slide your hand in that space, however, the opponent cannot stop you from catching the ankle. As you do the turnover, just pull your own leg through and hook it with the opposite leg as before.

AS I mentioned before, I have had a lot of luck with this single turnover; more, in fact, than with any other technique I’ve ever been shown. It is fast, simple, and allows for either a triangle choke or an arm bar. I hope the explanation has been clear and that the video is likewise understandable. I will try to edit the video for volume in the next few days; I wanted to get this post up as soon as possible.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Under Pressure

I love Judo. There is something about the beauty of a perfectly timed throw that sings of poetry in motion. Here you have these two people who both want to throw the other, but every move one makes could be opening a throw for the other. Judo is, after all, a game of using an opponent’s force against them. It’s the competition I really admire in Judo; where the other martial arts I practice are mere demonstrations, Judo is pure application.
Despite what I have just written, I will now make a confession: I hate competing. It is both what I most admire and most dislike about the sport. When the referee yells “Hajime” and the match begins, somehow my brain shrivels up, my heart and lungs stop functioning properly and my world is populated by two people: myself and my opponent. I have to rely on instincts I’ve gained during training to carry me through the match. Fortunately, I’ve done enough conditioning over the past few years that I can survive three or four minutes without air.

Today I participated in a shodan shinsa shiai [初段審査試合] or shodan examination tournament. This is a tournament in which you earn points toward obtaining your first degree black belt. Under the university rules, which are recognized by the Kodokan, a person needs six points to earn their shodan. Entering a shodan tournament immediately earns you one point and each consecutive win is then worth another point.

My first match was called three minutes after the tournament began. I quickly grabbed the sensei in charge and explained, “I have to start from kumikata”. Under official rules, blind fighters start with both opponents having an equal grip at collar and arm. The sensei made sure to explain this to my opponent and before I was even aware they were ready, the referee yelled “hajime”.
My opponent was a very muscular rugby player who we’ve seen in the gym… lifting more than my body weight. I was taken a little off-guard by the sudden start of the match and before I knew it my opponent was shoving me around. He finally threw me over his hip and landed on top of me, ending the match.

Frustrated would be a mild way to put my feelings after my early loss. I took this frustration, therefore, and carried it into my next match. Here is a video; be careful not to blink:
Second match

The technique I used is something between an ashi-guruma and a koshi-guruma, (leg or hip circle).

My third opponent seemed to think he was going to win. He certainly tried to out muscle me anyway. This time I was more prepared, though, and I attempted a sacrifice throw. This is when you try to pull the opponent on to your leg and flip them. It’s a great throw when someone is pushing hard into you. As you can see in the video
Third match

My tomoe-nage was not successful. The kosoto-gari (outside foot sweep), however, was very effective. My favorite part of this match came right after the video ends. My opponent looked to the side toward his friends and yelled, “Majide?” (Really?) As in “Really, I just lost?” I wanted to tell him, “Well, you are the one on his back now.”

My camera man left after this match to support some of our other friends, so I do not have videos of my fourth and fifth matches. Neither one lasted more than thirty seconds, however.

One person went home today saying “I just beat up a blind man."
Four people went home today saying, “I just had my ass handed to me by a blind man.” Just the thought warms my little heart. I scored five points in total, which means I will be guaranteed my shodan at the next tournament I enter.

I would have liked to win my first match. If I had played the same person during my second or third round, I think I would have. Judo, for me, is partly a game of beating my opponent and partly a game of beating myself, however. Losing one match and thinking I was done for the day really put things into perspective. Its just one more step up the latter; one more experience under my belt.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Further Training with the Ladies

A friend of mine put it this way:
"Well, you can come over here with the girls and train for three hours… or you can go over there with the guys and watch for two."

If you harbor any doubts to the value of a man training in the women’s dojo, allow me to share with you the results of the recent Judo ZenNihon Gakusei Taikai [柔道 全二本 学生 大会] or All Japan University Judo Championship. The Budo Daigaku’s women’s team took third place… the men failed to place within the top ten. I wonder why that is. Could it be the fact that the women judoka train harder? Could it be the influence of a training session that includes technique drills, conditioning exercises as well as the normal randori? Maybe they’re just better.

I believe the breakthrough from “visiting guest” to “more or less regular member” of the women’s judo club came a couple weeks ago on a particularly hot afternoon. During two hours of training, I was never short a partner. AS soon as the whistle blew, someone was waiting to grab me.

When a welsh friend of mine—a man who also trains regularly with the girls—finally had the opportunity to spar with me, he said, "Well, I see we’re feeling patriotic today; I’ll have to throw you extra hard for that."
"What?" I asked, not following his logic.
"Ahem; I can see the stars and stripes of your boxers through your pants."

Allow me to reiterate: I am somewhat lacking in the sight department. How was I supposed to know my American flag boxers would show right through my wet dogi? But I’ll say: I never lacked for a partner that day. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise.

Training is almost comical, now, for the sheer efficiency with which the girls include me in their drills and exercises. As I step back from one drill, one of the girls is waiting to push me into the next line where a second girl pulls me along. You can almost hear the clockwork precision of their movements:
"This is Cheri, you ready Aya?"
"Aya here, we’re waiting,"
"Here he is---"
"Ready in five… four…. Three… two… one… go go go!"

It’s a little awkward being pushed and pulled around. Under normal circumstances it would probably bother me, but the girls are man-handling me with the intent of including me. When it comes time to train, though, they fight me every bit as hard as they would another dojo member.

I train with the girls twice a week; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I still practice at the men’s dojo. This gives me a nice balance of technical and physical training. The boys are stronger, physically, and this gives me the opportunity to try the techniques I’ve drilled with the girls against a different type of opponent. In the end, it’s just nice to feel welcome at the dojo, men or women.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Goju-Ryu [剛柔流] or the Hard-Soft Style

"The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness." [From the poem Hakku Kenpo]

Goju-Ryu [剛柔流] or the Hard-Soft style is a traditional Okinawan style of Karate. It is unique for its blend of both hard techniques, such as closed-hand strikes and kicks, with soft techniques such as circular blocks, locks and even throws. Goju-Ryu is also characterized by an emphasis on correct breathing as well as body strengthening and conditioning drills. Many partner exercises exist in Goju-Ryu to help build strength and sensitivity.
Karate, in its origins, entered Japan from China by way of Okinawa. The Okinawan isles served as a center of trade between the two countries and several styles of Karate were developed and practiced there as a result. Goju-Ryu has its beginnings with Kanryo Higashiana, a native of Naha who spent some years training various styles of boxing while living in China. When he returned to Naha in 1882, he founded a dojo characterized by its mix of hard and soft techniques. Higashiana’s most prominent student, Chojun Miyagi, decided upon the name Goju-Ryu in 1929.

While visiting friends in the south of Japan, I was invited to train at the Shidokai dojo and experience some Goju-Ryu training. An hour trainride out from Kitakyushu followed by an hour’s drive brought us to the very remote dojo in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture. We were greeted warmly by Kanari Sensei, an 82-year-old man with an eight degree black belt (in the photo, he is the man standing to my left). As Kanari Sensei invited us into his office, he pulled open his refrigerator an offered us all drinks. After we shared refreshments and introduced ourselves—there were two of us visiting the dojo for the first time—we were inviting to train.

In a room full of 3rd-degree, fourth-degree, and fifth-degree black belts, it’s hard to know where to begin. AS this was a special occasion, however, and Kanari Sensei knew I practiced Judo, he encouraged me to train with another member of the dojo, Jim Baskind, who has practiced Brazilian Jujitsu quite extensively. Jim and I spent an hour “rolling” (the Jujitsu term for Newaza) and he was kind enough to pass on some advice on strategy and positioning while fighting on the ground. Judoka—at least your normal Judoka—rarely spend time fighting on the ground and the knowledge you can gain from a Brazilian Jujitsu fighter is invaluable. AS we discussed BJJ—primarily while he was choking me—two important ideas stuck out in my mind: ground fighting is like a game of chess in which you patiently wait for your opponent to make a mistake and, in another sense, its like mountain climbing where you spend time looking for foot and hand holds.

After a short coffee break mandated by Kanari Sensei, I began practicing with Quint Oga-Baldwin. Together we worked on “Sensitivity Drills” known as Kakie. These drills involve close contact grappling with an opponent and focus on sensing an opponent’s intention through tension and movement. I will dedicate a separate entry to Kakie as it’s something I quite enjoy.
Finally, Nonomiya Sensei—the fifth degree black belt who is second-highest ranked in the dojo after Inari Sensei himself—grabbed me and practiced breaking an opponent’s grip. We began by discussing how Judo players grip and hold their opponent’s gi during randori and Nonomiya Sensei offered me his advice on breaking balance using movements from Goju-Ryu.

At the end of the night, I commented to my friend Lyn, “Wow, that was the most relaxed dojo I have ever seen; people come, they train hard, and the sensei had no problem that I spent time practicing Jujitsu when this is technically a Karate dojo.”

Lyn’s response was simple, but I think really expresses the truth of the situation: “Kanari Sensei is 82 years old; he has an eighth degree black belt. He is pretty confident in his skills and students and he has nothing to worry about.”

---Note: also training with us was Mario McKenna; if you want to read the blog of an extremely well-respected and well-informed budoka, check out his blog at: