A few years ago we had a Danish visitor come train with us. I can't remember if he was an orange belt or a green belt but he had a colored belt and it wasn't yellow. So, he was hardly a beginner.
After the technical instruction bit was over, we had our players do randori. I did some randori with him and so did a few others. At the end of class, I asked him how he found the training.
He said he had great fun, especially the randori bit. He said this was his first time. He had never done randori before. I was shocked. "Why not?" I asked. He said his sensei wouldn't allow it until he had more experience.
I couldn't believe it because we have our players do randori from Day 1. I know that goes against judo orthodoxy. But I consider judo to be a sport, just like wrestling. If you've ever been to a wrestling club, you'll be doing wrestling from the first day onwards.
If you think of it, that's true of most sports. If you join a badminton club, do you think the badminton coach will have you doing drills only without playing any badminton at all?
"Oh, but there's more at stake when it comes to judo (compared to badminton)," one coach once told me. Why? Because judo involves throwing? An experienced player will know how to play judo with an absolute beginner and not bang them up. He can do ashiwaza and footsweep them gently to the ground. He doesn't have to do a soto-makikomi and land on them. And a responsible senior player would never do that!
That's the key. You don't pair absolute beginners with absolute beginners. That's an accident waiting to happen. You pair them with black belts and brown belts who know better and know how to take care of them. Usually the senior players will allow the beginners to attack and parry them off, or maybe they might put in an ashiwaza counter to sweep them to the floor. Nobody's gonna do a Khabarelli on a beginner!
So why is it so important that beginners do randori? Because it is during randori that you are actually doing judo! When you do uchikomi, that's not judo. It's training for judo. When you do nagekomi, again, that's not judo. That's training for judo. When you do randori, that's judo.
Ultimately, it's what's judo is all about. It's not as intense or pressurizing as shiai but both players fighting with full resistance. So, it's very real. If you get a throw in randori, you know you've earned it. Nobody gives a free throw in randori.
We have our beginners do randori from Day 1, with close supervision and always paired with a responsible senior player. And the beginners love it. It's what makes judo fun.
Having beginners do endless breakfalls and uchikomi drills without any randori is the biggest turn off for judo I can think of. I was lucky. When I started judo, I did randori on my first. Yes, I got throws about by experienced senior (black belts) but I suffered no injuries. They knew how to take care of me. And I was hooked. I told myself, this is the sport I want to do!
Beginners who train with us do randori right from their very first day. It's an approach we've used from Day 1. And it's worked superbly for us.
Why we have beginners do randori straight away