Monday, June 23, 2014

Today I Injured a Kid

(Another excellent guest post from Andre Goran...)

It’s only the second time my partner got seriously hurt in randori since I took up judo, and the first time in years, since I was a brown belt or earlier. It surprised me because I think of myself as a very safe opponent, but that wasn’t the case tonight. I did not do anything illegal or intentionally mean but I knew better. As the senpai, the responsibility to keep training safe was mostly with me, so of course I feel terrible. But feeling terrible isn’t going to help anything, so I’m trying to learn. 
My opponent is a very skilled guy. He has crazy 18-year-old strength and speed, and the few techniques he specializes in he can take from almost any position. His uchikomi has such snap and power that he knocks the wind out of you with every fit, and he can survive a fall. He isn’t a jerk, and he knows how to tone it down and work safely with beginners. However, he is very competitive when he works with higher ranks. 
I don’t prefer playing rough, but if that’s what someone wants, I give it to them , so when I met this fellow and got slammed hard every time I came in light and slow, I decided to meet him at his level of play. That was a mistake, because...
  • I outweigh him.
  • I had no reason to think he had particularly good ukemi, and
  • He was already bringing so much energy to the equation that adding anything more was neither safe nor necessary. 
When he threw those explosive hip throws his weight was rooted, his whole body was applying maximum force in one direction (which is really unstable, see aikido), and he was determined to finish the technique no matter what. I knew this after the first time he threw me, or at least I had felt enough that I should have known it. I also knew after the first time I threw him that, while his ukemi was ok, he never gave in and accepted a throw, but fought for his life until he was millimeters above the mat.
But I didn’t want to get slammed again damn it, I wanted to get some throwing practice too, and if he was going to snuff all my techniques with speed and power then I would have to do something about it. 
Stupid stupid stupid. 
The result was that he came in for a dynamic harai, I was partially pulled off balance but attempted tani otoshi anyway, he tried to spin to his stomach to avoid a back landing (why, oh why ever do this randori!), and we landed in a big messy pile. Since my weight was off my feet, I was fine. He fell trying to hold up both of us, and somewhere in the process his knee got wrenched, bad. He went to the emergency room, and I went to go figure out how I just let that happen. 
I’m still working out what I need to change in my practice to be a safer partner, but this I know...
  • Many people can survive big throws, but it’s much harder to survive messy throws. If there is resistance, energy, and power going on in randori, only throw from stable dominant positions which ensure you can control the throw all the way to the ground. Assume your opponent will do anything they can to make their own fall worse and account for it.
  • Fall for your partner. If you are healthy and able to take falls, take all that you are sincerely offered. Once your balance has been partially broken, the safest thing is to find your way to the mat and start fresh. Two people both on the edge of balance struggling to stay on their feet is just too risky.
  • Since you cannot simultaneously fight a throw and go with it, fighting and losing means no chance to adapt and pull out good ukemi. This is obvious, but often forgotten.
  • Watch yourself for any flicker of ego or pride. If you see it, go soft as a noodle and offer no resistance whatsoever. If someone younger and lower rank ends up thinking they kicked your ass, it does you no harm at all. There is nothing to lose by that.
  • It’s ok to tell people to lighten up if you’re not comfortable with the level of play. Not only is it ok, it’s obligatory. Even if the person going too hard is smaller, lower ranked, less skilled, a person you should be able to “handle”, you must insist on a level of play that feels right. If they won’t lighten up, decline to continue working. Not doing so is irresponsible

Andre Goran is an enthusiastic martial arts nerd. He has studied Tracy lineage Kenpo, Judo, and Shodokan Aikido, and holds the rank of shodan in the latter two with Kaze Uta Budokai, as well as shodan in judo with the USJI. He currently lives in Philadelphia, where he trains at Osagame Martial arts under Ray Huxen Sensei and Alma Qualli Sensei.

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Patrick Parker
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