Friday, September 25, 2009

Mifune Sensei & the True Spirit of Judo

First off, I apologize for my recent absence in the blogosphere. I started a new full-time job that has been keeping me very busy.

In following with my last post about the new Judo rule that was conceived to prevent cross-fertilization with other styles, I want to show you a video that, to me, gives you a little sample of the ultimate goal of the Judo that Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) had intended when he created the style. For those of you who don't know, Judo was conceived of using a subsection of Jiu-jitsu techniques.

The tiny, frail old featured in this video, is Kyozo Mifune Sensei, 10th degree black belt, who is considered by many to be the greatest judo technician ever, after Kano.

I've seen a more complete version of the part where Mifune Sensei goes through 5-6 high ranking Dans (5th-8th), taking each one on individually and finishing each with a clean 'ippon' (in Judo terms, a solid throw that finishes the match). Every time any one of his younger, stronger opponents tries to throw him it's like he's not even there. It's like trying to throw a wispy feather. His body goes up then sails around them, landing perfectly on his feet, even after throws like ippon seoi nage (shoulder throw) and tomoe nage (stomach throw).

Judo was never intended to have weight classes, which is why the open category is still widely considered to be the only place where true Judo can occur. That being said, these days it is largely populated by the heavier weight categories. The idea was that if you had truly grasped the concept of Judo, you don't have to use any energy or strength. It all comes from your opponent, as Mifune Sensei so skillfully demonstrates.

To me, this is the highest form of martial arts, effortless, beautiful and you better believe it's got practical applications. Sigh. Where are masters like these nowadays?

Monday, September 14, 2009

New Judo Rule Introduced to Prevent Cross-fertilization

Recently, the International Judo Federation announced that they were testing a number of new rules at the upcoming World Junior Championships. One rule in particular gave me pause. All techniques below the belt line are banned. Only techniques using leg against leg will be allowed, or if the hand grip in the leg is the continuation of another technique tried (ex. o-uchi gari which can develop into kata guruma). The purpose of this new rule is discourage Judo from being combined with other martial arts like wrestling, Sambo, or BJJ. I think this is a sad development for Judo for a couple of reasons.

First of all, this ban removes a number of techniques native to Judo. Morote gari (double knee pick-up), for example, is a traditional Judo technique. Sure, it also used in wrestling and MMA, but what of it? The argument is that they're trying to keep their art pure, and to do so, they're comprising the integrity of their art. How does that make sense?

Secondly, so what if a few wrestlers or Sambo fighters come in and do well in their tournaments? This is just an opportunity for Judo to evolve and learn to effectively counter different types of attacks. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pride/ego when it comes to the martial arts, and I believe these new rules are a way of ensuring that Judo students aren't tempted to add to their knowledge by cross-training.

That is the problem with competition though. If you look at the Kodokan, the original bible of Judo, there are a number of techniques featured that are no longer allowed in Judo competition, like shoulder locks, leg locks, etc. Because of this, and the emphasis on competitive applications inherent in Judo training, there is little incentive to show to teach these techniques in dojos, causing these native techniques to be lost to the art. I think it's all rather sad.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Defending Against the Shoot: Sprawl or Sacrifice Throw

In my last blog post, Gi Grappling vs. No Gi Grappling, I received many questions/comments about defending against BJJ/MMA takedowns. I promised to do a detailed post on this topic, particularly about defending against the shoot in a self-defense context. So here goes.

The first way I recommend to defend against the shoot is through the use of the sprawl. When done properly, this is the best way to defend as it keeps you on your feet (or close to it) and in a dominant position. It is very important to stay off the ground in a street defense context because of the risk of environmental dangers and of the possibility that there could be multiple attackers who could kick you while the first guy keeps you occupied on the ground. More on why you should stay off the ground in a self-defense context.

Here is an intro to the sprawl care of the the TV series, The Human Weapon:

It's important to note that the sprawl is not just a matter leaning into the attacker and throwing your feet back. Done this way, an experienced attacker won't have much trouble getting under you and forcing you off your feet. To do the sprawl properly you must redirect his energy downward by dropping your hip into them, using your shoulder, chest and arms secondarily for support as well as control.

It's also important to get a good sense of timing when using the sprawl. If you do it to early, an experienced attacker could fake you out and put you in a vulnerable position. If you do it too late, they'll likely get under your weight and take you down.

Here is a video by Tito Ortiz showing some good practice methods for the sprawl:

Note that if you're using the sprawl in a submission grappling or MMA context, you have the option to grapple your opponent from the resulting dominant position you get. Or if your opponent doesn't protect his neck properly a guillotine can be applied for the submission. But in a street defense context, you want to get up from the ground as quickly as possible, so once you've sprawled, strike your attacker to create the opportunity to get free and to your feet as quickly as possible.

If you fail to do the sprawl, you're going down so your best bet is to go with the energy and reverse it to your advantage with a sacrifice throw. The one I like to use best is the tawara gaeshi (rice bale throw). Here is a video showing its application:

In this video, the instructor uses both legs, but if you first attempted a sprawl, you're likely going to have one leg forward. This isn't a problem though, as the throw can be done with a single leg. If my right leg is forward, I plant the ball of my right foot into my attacker's right hip. Alternatively, you can hook your foot under the hip at the top of the thigh.

In practice, I always try to roll up and end on top of my uke and take the mounted position, but in the context of an attack, you might not get enough control to do this. In this case, you can just loosen the grip you have on the head with your arm and try to drive the attacker's weight over you as aggressively as possible to throw the attacker as far from you as you can.

If you have any further questions, please don't hestitate to ask in the comments. Have fun trying it out!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gi Grappling vs. No Gi: It's All in the Grip

One other thing to come out of my training in Spartanburg was a short grappling match I had against a 220 lb. British shodan named Oliver who, in addition to his training in Shorinji Kan, has spent some time studying BJJ gi grappling. After some chatting at the bar, we agreed to have a go at it after one of the training sessions. I've always maintained that gi grappling favoured larger, stronger people when the face off. Never was this more apparent than when I grappled Oliver. But then it wasn't just the size and strength difference. There was technique on top of that.

When I had grappled world-class BJJ competitor Jennifer Weintz in the past, she was very skilled at using my gi to manipulate me from her back like a puppet master using strings. With Oliver, it was the other way around. Being much bigger it was a simple task for him to hold me down from on top, but the gi added something more. Without a gi on, I'm usually able to use my speed, flexibility and agility to keep myself out of tight spots, even against much bigger guys. Oliver easily got around this by taking grips on my gi that effectively pinned my shoulders to the ground in ways that made it impossible to move the way I usually do. Yes, his size made it easier to hold me there, but the grips he used are technical and could be used effectively even without the physical mismatch. After he tapped me out, I was quick to ask him to show me the gi control he had used.

Upon reflection on this experience, I've decided that I want to devote some time to developing my gi grappling. I've always liked no-gi for its speed and the way you're required to use your body to control the person through weight shifting and body positioning. Gi, on the other hand, uses the same principles but adds in another layer, a fabric layer that can be used for added control.

I've found that generally when people lack skill in grappling, they tend to take a death grip on the gi and forget all about body mechanics, which is why I encourage my students to grapple without a gi first. But now that I've gotten a decent base in no-gi, I want to turn my focus to gi so I can learn more about grips, grip breaks and gi controls. This type of training can have practical applications in street defense too, particularly if you live in a climate in which people need to wear jackets. I'm going to study from some of the books I have at home when I get back to Vancouver, but in the meantime, I started checking out some vids on YouTube. Here is one video I found on YouTube showing a simple grip break from guard:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Featuring Two of My Blog's Readers

One of the coolest parts of attending the Shorinji Kan Jiu-jitsu event in Spartanburg was not only meeting but actually getting to train with two people who regularly read my blog. I'd like to tell you a little about them because they were both great martial artists and very cool people.

Jennifer Higgs has been training for several years and holds a brown belt in Shorinji Kan (seen here on the right). She currently trains in Toronto. From what I've heard of her, she is truly dedicated to the study of Jiu-jitsu, having persisted in her training after sustaining multiple injuries that would have caused most other people to simply drop out of the martial arts altogether. I trained with her a few times over the course of the conference. She trains with both an appreciable level of skill and a keen interest and enthusiasm. She is around the same size as me... ok, maybe she was just a little taller. My point is that being a similar size, it was interesting to see that we moved in similar ways. It's cool for me to discover training partners like her as we likely have had similar challenges throughout our development as martial artists. Jennifer is planning to come visit our dojo in BC in the fall some time. I very much look forward to the opportunity to train with her again.

The other reader I had the pleasure of meeting was Ian Purnell Sensei, instructor of the University of West England Jitsu Club in Bristol, England (seen here on the left). Ian has been training for over 2 decades and was awarded the rank of senior second degree black belt (a high level for this particular style) at the conference for all his hard work and dedication to the art. He is taking the helm in the organization of the next international event to be held in England 3 years from now. I had the pleasure of training at two different seminars that he taught, one on shiatsu and another in which he taught a number of practical self-defense techniques. Both were well-taught, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable.

There was one exchange between him and one of his students I had the privilege of witnessing outside of the seminars he led. His student stepped off the mat having been severely winded from a blow. She was looking panicked as she tried to draw breath to no effect. Without even getting up to his feet, Ian tapped her on the body with an open palm then drove a thumb into a point at the top of her chest, which had the immediate effect of causing her to take a huge breath of air. I couldn't help but be impressed and immediately asked him to explain what he did. Essentially, he drove his thumb into a shiatsu point known as 'lung 1', which can be used to stimulate the breathing process. Ian explained that this point can be used on people having an asthma attack if they don't have an inhaler. He himself uses it on students while they fumble to find their inhalers in their bags, fixing the problem so effectively they have no need of them when they finally do find them.

I'm very glad to have had the opportunity to meet and train with both Jennifer and Ian. I feel very honoured that my blog has attracted such impressive martial artists.