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Creativity in the heat of the moment

To me, the really impressive competitors are not the ones that can get their tokuiwaza (best/favorite throw) in a lot of situations, but the ones that invent the majestic perfect ippon throws on the spur of the moment with such unexpected, unusual motion that the opponent (and every observer in the arena) is totally surprised.
These competitors don’t appear to throw named judo techniques – rather they just adapt to the opponent, pick him up, and put him on his back. Sometimes the observers are able to say, “That was sorta like technique-x so that must be what he just threw.” But the competitor wasn’t thinking “technique-x” during the thing. He just threw the man down and later said, “Yeah, I must have meant to do that technique.” See the following video for some examples of this type of surprise throw in judo – particularly the guy with the single leg picks towards the end.

This sort of spectacular inventiveness in the heat of battle seems to occur more with amateur wrestlers than with judoka. Why would this be? It’s not like the domains of these two arts are really significantly different - you grapple standing and grounded with the goal of getting the guy on his back or throwing him onto his back.
One possibility is the system of groupings into which techniques are placed in judo. For instance, the judo guy has to learn a half-dozen specific hip throws, each of which looks significantly like some model presented by the instructor, and each of which is recognizably different from the others. The wrestler, on the other hand, might learn one or two principles (like back-under or hip-heist) that allow him to lift and project the man using the hips as a fulcrum. So, the wrestler does not have to try to identify the tactical situation and figure out which pigeonhole to put it in (which specific throw to use). The wrestler has to figure out how to adapt his body to the situation to express a few basic principles.
Most judo guys (I’m guessing here) would probably know significantly more named techniques than experience-matched amateur wrestlers, but the wrestlers seems to be able to more easily adapt more creatively to competition situations.
Hmmm. Makes you think…I’ve demonstrated in previous posts (click on 'Divine Nine below) that of the forty to sixty-something named throws in judo, virtually all competition throws come from about nine or ten of these throws. Might we do better teaching just a few basic forms of throwing than with a throwing syllabus of four-to-six times that many techniques?


  1. Hi Patrick!

    The “simple” is the best technique you have. If your movements are not “simple” and “straightforward” you are dealing with a “style”, but not martial art. ;)

  2. Of course, in my opinion, a "dirty secret" of Judo is that no throw ever happens the way it is "supposed to" in an actual randori or shiai situation. I mean, every once in a while you'll be all like "wow, that was a textbook harai goshi!", but usually there's debate as to what throw was actually used. The way I see it, the forty-something standard throws are just ways to teach typical throwing positions, and then when you do things realtime, you have to figure out a way to make something happen, which may or may not look like a "real" Judo throw.

  3. i think youre right, kurt. no throw looks exactly like the textbook model in shiai.

    But look at how we -teach- people to do judo. what i'm sorta asking is, should we teach them a few general model throws or a lot of more specific models?

    if you use the 2-legged hip throws as an example, we learn kubinage, ukigoshi, ogoshi, koshi guruma, tsurigoshi, tsurikomigoshi, etc... but these are not really a lot of different throwing principles. they are really just one mental program, which is something like "feet together, get low, hip against him, throw"

    in the wrestling texts i've seen (i'm sure not an expert on wrestling) they essentially teach all of this as one technique. They might call it different names, like back-in or whizzer or pancake, but it is something essentially similar to "feet together, get low, hip against him, throw"

    if you look at competition videos of both styles, the wrestlers often _seem_ to me to be more creative at pulling spectacular, point-scoring techniques out of unfamiliar, unexpected places.

  4. I can't speak for judo, but when it comes to doing tuite, it seems to be more or less expected that you will develop your own techniques, or develop your own versions of techniques, as you gain skill. Mastery comes more from anatomical knowledge, practice of the fundamentals and kata, knowing where your mass is, than from knowing an exhaustive catalog of techniques.

    Just my impression. Others may (and probably will) differ.

  5. I think some throws are done actually as practiced. I know people who do very textbook judo and are successful throwing a lot of people. I can think of numerous times when someone I taught has done a throw exactly as we practiced.

    On the other hand, I also know people (and I was one of them) who are equally successful capitalizing on opportunities that present themselves.

    One day, back when I was still young enough to move, I was doing randori, did drop seoi nage, the person didn't go over so, I cupped his heel,lifted up and he fell down.

    Afterwards, he was asking me to show him the technique I did. I tried to explain that it wasn't a technique I practiced, it was just a technique that was there.

  6. Good question... I'm not sure if it is because they limit the teaching to the core principles, or if there is something else in their training methods that brings that out. I actually think it is more the latter... But I agree that you do see it more often with wrestlers. By the way, the guy doing the leg picks in the video was Rhadi Ferguson. Insanely strong dude (just in case you can't tell from the video). I would hate to be on the receiving end of one of those...