When I was a white belt at my university judo club, there were several black belts and brown belts training there. I remember two of them really well. One was a Frenchman named Dominique, who was roughly my size. The other was an American named Brendan, who was perhaps just one or two weight categories above me (so he wasn't that much bigger).
Dominique loved morote-seoi-nage which he did as a standing technique, while Brendan liked smooth-flowing ashiwaza, which he did with panache.
In my first ever randori with Dominique, I was on the receiving end of his famous morote-seoi-nage... repeatedly! I remember picking myself off the mat five or six times during the course of a five-minute randori. I couldn't believe it, no matter how hard I tried to resist the throw, he was able to fling me through the air and land me flat on my back.
Dominique's technique was excellent and he had such control over the throw that he was able to land me safely each time. Yes, I was airborne. And yes, I landed with a loud thud each time. But remarkably, it didn't really hurt all that much (except for my pride, which hurt like hell).
Brendan was a very different player. Besides judo, he also did aikido. His approach to dealing with me was to use ashiwaza to floor me. I'd take a few steps and he'd sweep my legs from under me. I'd land with a soft thud. I'd get up, and a few moments later, another soft thud. And another. And another. I think I must have picked myself off the mat five or six times during my first randori with him too. As with Dominique, nothing was injured (except my pride, of course).
Far from being demoralized, I was actually motivated to become good at judo. I was amazed at how they could seemingly throw me at will. It was just incredible. But I told myself, these guys aren't supermen. They are ordinary human beings just like me. I can learn to be as good as, if not better than, them.
Their approach to randori influenced me greatly. They did not talk or try to teach me anything during randori. To them, randori is the time for playing judo and you should not be talking or instructing when someone is hard at play.
There are many instructors and senior players who like to teach beginners during randori. In the middle of the randori, they would correct the beginner, telling them how to grip or how to adopt the correct stance or how to make a better entry, etc. You see this happening in every dojo.
I'm sure these seniors mean well. But play time is play time. When you play badminton, do you stop in the middle of a game and try to teach the other player how to smash a shuttlecock? Of course you don't. You play the game!
Randori is usually done after the instructional segment of the class is over, which means the beginner had just endured over an hour of instruction. Do you think what they want is more instruction or a chance to actually try out their techniques during free play?
Perhaps there may be a few beginners who would actually ask for instruction in the middle of randori. But the job of a coach or a senior player is not to give the beginner what they want but what they need. And what they need in order to improve is randori. If a beginner asks me questions, I would tell them: "Don't talk during randori. Try your techniques. We can talk later."
So, thank you Dominique and Brendan for throwing me about instead of trying to teach me during randori. Your brilliant throws is what inspired me to be the judo player that I am today.
Although both players had the same philosophy with regard to playing judo during randori, their styles of judo couldn't be more different. Dominique's judo was dynamic and explosive. He had me flying through the air so much I should have gotten frequent flyer miles. Brendan's judo meanwhile was more subtle and free-flowing. Each time he footswept me, it felt like I had just slipped on a banana peel.
My favourite technique is ippon-seoi-nage which is a lot closer to Dominique's throw than Brendan's. But when it comes to doing randori with beginners, it's Brendan whom I emulate. With beginners, I stick almost exclusively to ashiwaza.
It's a much lighter throw than ippon-seoi-nage. Although I would like to think I have enough control during a big throw that I can land uke safely all the time, I can't be 100% sure. They might twist their legs upon impact. They might forget to tuck in their chin to protect their neck. They might might put out their arms to break the fall and end up breaking their arms instead.
It so happens that Dominique threw me perfectly each time. I'm not as confident that I can do the same with all beginners. So, rather than take the chance I prefer to do something that is much safer, which is ashiwaza. But safety is not the only issue.
I believe the subtlety of ashiwaza, where not much force is required, does a better job of convincing a beginner that judo is not just about strength and power, and that throws can be achieved through technique and timing. So, when I do randori with beginners, I do throw them — and quite a lot of times during the randori — but only with sweeping techniques.