Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kihon in judo

So, the founder and the early generations of judoka left us several huge piles of techniques but little in the way of organization or clues about how to teach them. In a way, this was good because it freed successive generations to be creative, and that creativity has been successful in large part because of the emphasis on the randori system. Coaches taught, for the most part, what worked for them in randori/shiai, and players used it if it made sense and dropped it if it didn’t make sense at the time.
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I guess one reason that this surprises me so much is the fact that Kano and Tomiki, et al. were educators. Kano had this idea that “what one man can learn, he can teach 100 generations of men.” With this current structure of “try it, use it, or ditch it as it pleases you,” there is nothing to keep judo from becoming a system of three techniques (i.e. osotogari, single leg pick, and seoinage for instance), and if that happens, then the knowledge that Kano was trying to preserve and pass on will fade away. I had a pastor tell me a while back that you only have to fail to teach something for about one generation (30-40 years) before it is gone.
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The first thing that judo apparently lacks in its curriculum is a set of kihon. If you look at all the other systems for teaching martial arts that I am familiar with (aikido, jodo, karate) they all have these sets of fundamental building blocks that are practiced at the beginning of every single class as a sport-specific warmup. Shotokan has a set (taikyoku) of identified stances, blocks, strikes, and transitions that the masters identified as comprising most of the rest of the system. Tomiki has a set (variously called tegatana, unsoku, or tandoku undo) of kihon. Jodo has their own set of kihon building blocks. This type of constant basic review makes sense from a teaching point of view – even in non-martial activities. In every church service we attend we say the Apostle’s creed (“I believe in God the Father Almighty…” In the Saxon math program every lesson begins with a short review of much more basic material.
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So – what should a set of kihon in judo look like? Here we get to a sticky point. Judo is really two systems – a groundwork system and a standing system. So it is difficult to identify a single set of foundational material – Judo should really have two sets of kihon. But that is almost an oxymoron because kihon should be representative of most of the system. So, the two sets of kihon should be strongly and functionally integrated into each other – almost one set. Additionally, for purposes of review and warm-up you’d want your kihon to be significantly shorter than the entire system – otherwise you might as well run through the entire syllabus every class. Cognitive theory guys suggest that we easily remember chunks of 7±2 things – so a good size for a kihon exercise would be between 5 and 9 separate things.
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If you do nothing else, you should have a set of kihon that is representative of the vast majority of the system and you should practice it as a sport-specific warmup every class. When you scan over the majority of the system like this at the beginning of every class it is much more difficult for knowledge to drift or die out and the repetition helps to make it stick.

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