The most common question beginners ask is: "How come my techniques don't work in randori?"
Typically players are shown a throw and then asked to do tons of uchikomi, to give them a feel for the entry of the throw. After that, they are asked to do nagekomi, to give them a feel for the finishing of the throw.
Note that both these exercises involve uke fully cooperating. That means uke is standing in a square stance and giving tori the grip tori wants. It means uke is not resisting when tori is entering for the throw. It means uke is taking a beautiful breakfall instead of trying to counter or spin out of the throw.
If you practice enough times, your uchikomis can become perfect and your nagekomis can look amazing. But why don't your throws work in randori then? The answer is obvious. In randori, uke is not cooperating anymore.
In fact, not only is uke not cooperating, uke is actively resisting. What does that mean? It means uke is no longer standing in a square stance but at angles that make it difficult for you to enter into the throw. It means uke is denying you the grip you want, and breaking off your grips before you can settle down. It means uke is not standing still but is moving about to disrupt your flow. It means uke is ready to block and counter you. It also means uke is proactively looking for opportunities to launch their own attacks on you.
With all that happening, no wonder it's so very difficult to throw someone! Famed podcaster Joe Rogan, in talking about judo, once remarked about how difficult it was to even to pick up an unconscious, motionless person, let alone someone who is moving about and actively resisting. Well, that's what you have to do to get a throw done. It's hard!
So, how do you develop a throw? Let's break it down.
It starts by learning the proper mechanics of the throw you want to do. This is not the hardest thing in the world to do but it's not easy either. The reason why it's not so easy is that many instructors will teach you the classical version of a technique (we usually refer to this as the Kodokan version). These classical versions are based on how judo was taught in the 1960s (and earlier). Judo has evolved so much since then.
For some throws, the classical version is not the most effective or efficient way to do them. And in some cases, the classical version doesn't even work. A really good example is ippon-seoi-nage, where the classical version is the antithesis of how modern ippon-seoi-nage is done.
Let's start with the grip. In the classical version, you are taught to throw off the sleeve. Nobody does that anymore. In competition, almost all ippon-seoi-nages are done off the lapel.
Next, let's look at the legs. In the classical version, you are taught to do a squat. Again, nobody does that. If you watch modern competitions, you'll see that players either drop to their knees completely or they enter with straight legs. There is also a competition variation where players do what they call a "split hip" or leg insertion, where one leg goes deep in between uke's leg and the other leg does what looks like a lunge. Whatever the case, nobody squats.
Even the lifting portion of the classical approach is not correct. In the classical version, you enter into the throw and then you lift uke onto your back. But if you watch modern standing ippon-seoi-nage players, they start lifting as they enter into the throw. They don't wait until they've entered to only start lifting.
As you can see, there are too many things wrong with the classical version. No wonder you cannot get the throw to work in randori! The classical version just does not work. This is true of many (though not all) throws, by the way. If you try to do osoto-gari the classical way, for example, it's an invitation to be countered.
You have to get the right instruction. If you are lucky, and you have a competitive coach who understands the mechanics of modern competitive judo, they can teach you the right way to do throws. But if you are stuck with an old-fashioned coach who still teaches 1960s Kodokan judo, you're out of luck unless all you want to do are nice uchikomis and nagekomis.
If you don't have a coach who is up to date with today's judo, you can turn to video resources. Be careful about simply relying on YouTube videos though. There are good ones out there and there are ones that teach you the wrong things.
The fact that it's a famous player showing the throw is also no guarantee that the right mechanics are being taught. It's well-known for example, that many great Japanese champions tend to teach the classical version(s) of their favorite techniques rather than how they actually do them in competition. That's super frustrating and somewhat deceptive too. But for some reason, they feel compelled to teach what is deemed to be classical.
I recall reading an online commentator sharing that he had just read a book by the great World and Olympic Champion Yasuhiro Yamashita, in which he demonstrated his favorite technique, osoto-gari. The commentator said that in the book, Yamashita shows four or five versions of osoto-gari and not one of them resemble how he actually did it as a competitor!
This is common. So, be extra wary of relying on instructional videos by Japanese champions. This is especially true if the videos originated from Japan. More likely than not, they will show classical versions of techniques.
Fighting Films videos are pretty good though, and they seem to be able to coax Japanese champions to demonstrate how they actually did their techniques. The good thing about their videos is that they also accompany the instructional clips with competition clips, so you can see that what was taught is how it was actually done in competition.
One way to determine if the instructional video you are watching is any good or not is to compare what is taught with what is done by top players who are renown for doing that particular technique. Let's say you want to learn how to do standing ippon-seoi-nage. Look at competition clips of Toshihiko Koga or Alexandre Iddir or Travis Stevens. These are players who are well-known for doing standing ippon-seoi-nage. Does the instructional video of ippon-seoi-nage you are watching resemble anything these guys are doing?
Each of these guys do their standing ippon-seoi-nage a little differently, but there are clear common denominators. All three do their throw off the lapel grip (not the sleeve grip, as taught in the Kodokan version). All three do not squat when they enter the throw (again, in contradiction to what the Kodokan version teaches). And all three start lifting as they enter into the throw (as opposed to lifting only after they've entered into the throw).
I was lucky in that I had proper instruction when I was taught ippon-seoi-nage. My first competition coach, a man named John Ross, showed me a video of Koga doing his famous standing ippon-seoi-nage and asked me to observe his stance, his grips, his leg positioning and so on. And he told me to note how Koga starts lifting his opponent as he enters into the technique (not after he enters but during the entry itself). With proper instruction like that, I had the right understanding of the mechanics of that technique, which made it easier for me to learn this technique.
Having the right instruction is a crucial first step to mastering the technique. If you have a good coach, you're in good shape. If you don't, seek out good video resources and learn from there.
Once you understand the mechanics, you should do some uchikomi, to get the feel for the entry to the throw. I'm not a big fan of uchikomi. I think they are pretty useless once you know how to do the throw, but when you are first learning the throw, uchikomis are indeed useful. So, do your uchikomis to get a good feel for the entry into the technique.
After that, do your nagekomis. Ideally, utilize a crash pad so that you can throw uke properly. The kind of nagekomis done in many traditional dojos, where you throw gently or where you support uke's fall by lifting up a bit just as they hit the ground, is detrimental to the development of your throw. If you want to learn how to throw, you have to do a throw with full force. Not 50%. Not 80%. Not 95%. It has to be 100%. Slam your uke. But do so on a crash pad so they can take the fall repeatedly and not get hurt.
I once asked the late Craig Fallon, a British World Champion, how he managed to develop into a top world-class player and he said his coach had him do lots and lots of throws. So, do nagekomis. Lots of them.
Once you've practiced the throw many times and have a good feel for it, you have to try it in randori. If you are reluctant or hesitant to try (for fear of failure or being countered), you will never learn how to do the throw. You have to try and try and try. And you will fail at first. But keep trying.
Instead of getting frustrated, remember that each time you fail, you've learned one more way how not to do that throw. If you try enough times, you will eventually run out of ways for it to fail. And when you finally get it to work once, it's important to remember the feeling of that moment.
Try to recall exactly what it felt like when you entered into the throw and got it to work. Relive it over and over again in your mind so that the memory of it is etched into your brain. Then try to recreate it the next time you do randori.
There's a good chance once you've experienced that feeling of successfully doing the throw, you will be able to do it again. You know what it feels like to get it right.
If you somehow can't replicate that feeling, try again and again until you are able to do so. You will recognize that feeling when it happens again. And when it does, be mindful of what it was exactly that you did to make it happen. Identify the key success factors that allowed you to make the throw work.
If you are not sure what those factors are, make an educated guess and try to incorporate those factors each time you attempt your throw. Through the process of elimination, you will eventually be able to identify exactly what you did right that made the throw work.
If you have a good coach (or a good instructional video), you can shortcut this process by learning the precursors for the throw you want to learn. "Precursors" is just a fancy word for "set-ups". They answer questions like: How do you set up a throw? What do you do with your grips? What stance do you take? What motions do you do with your body? How do you prime uke for being thrown?
Here are five precursors for standing ippon-seoi-nage:
If you have no instructor or no videos to learn from, you can do it through trial and error. Basically do tons of randori and discover what works over time. It's not the fastest way to do it but once you figure things out, you'll never forget them.
Note that if you have regular training partners, over time they will get used to your technique and develop ways to block it. Don't get frustrated. What it means is you need to discover more ways to make it work. And when you do, you become even more proficient at that throw. In time, you will become an expert at it. You will know how to do it under any circumstances.
Another thing you will have to do is to figure out complementary throws that go well with your main throw. In the case of ippon-seoi-nage, a good complementary throw is kouchi-makikomi, which takes uke in the opposite direction. You need to have a complementary throw like that so you can threaten uke with it. Otherwise, uke will just pull backwards each time you go into ippon-seoi-nage, with no fear of any consequences. But if you have kouchi-makikomi as well, pulling back is not an option because you can throw them backwards as well.
How long does that journey take from starting to learn a throw to being able to use it consistently in randori? Of course it varies from person to person. Some people have a natural feel for certain movements and such people will learn those throws faster than others. But those very same people might get stuck with other throws that they don't have a natural feel for. So, it depends.
It's really hard to put a timeline on how long it takes to master a throw. But suffice to say, you have to put in a lot of training time to get to that point where you can get the throw to work consistently for you even when all those around you know what your favorite throw is. There's no way around it. You've got to put in the work.
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How do you develop a throw?
The most common question beginners ask is: "How come my techniques don't work in randori?"