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Judo: the wand chooses the wizard

In Judo, we have the concept of the tokui-waza, or your “signature throw.” It’s like in the comics (every character has this one power move?).

Every Judoka has a tokui-waza or two. Even at the highest level of competition, they usually stick to one or two throws. All they work on in training is different ways to get a dominant position to set up their signature throw, and ways to defend against different throws. They simply polish it until it matures into a terrifying move that they become world-famous for.

Most people, when choosing their tokui-waza for the first time, just pick the throw that they like, or that suits their body (eg: “if you have long legs, you should do uchi-mata”).

For the longest time, I had decided that my signature throw had to be the uchi-mata. It’s called the “king of all Judo throws”, and I have long legs. So it felt like a match made in heaven.

Olympic gold medalist Arai Chizuru demonstrates her repertoire of uchi-mata attacks.

Except that it was not to be. I consistently struggled to make it work, no matter how much I practiced it. It always felt just out of reach.

On the contrary, I always felt like my weakest throw was the ippon seoi nage. It always felt too difficult even in practice — I couldn’t get the armpit in my elbow and even the throwing motion felt awkward, more like the opponent slipping to the side than a proper “throw.”

Until recently.

I just so happened to try the ippon seoi nage on the opposite side (my tsurite) as opposed to my hikite. And boy it worked — fitting like a glove. I even tried it in randori and threw one person with it, without even really training for it (and what’s interesting is that I had never successfully done a real forward throw in randori up until that point with all the throws that I did train for).

3-time Olympic gold winner Nomura happens to have the same ippon-seoi-nage as mine — on the tsurite as opposed to the hikite!

The same thing is happening with my backwards throw — I was always a believer that it’s osoto-gari for me, but recently it appears that the kosoto or ouchi or ouchi are strong rising contenders.

The more you learn Judo, the more “aha” moments you have that upend the whole paradigm of what you think you knew about a certain throw. I was watching a video of a former world champion in Judo last week, and what was interesting to me was how she was still learning about basic things — the “aha moments” — the same way as we do as white belts in class. She looked like she could have been another one of us, as if she too was merely at the beginning of her journey. No matter how far you go, there are still treasures waiting to be unlocked — which explains why there are people in their 80s and 90s who still do Judo religiously in Japan.

Natsumi Tsunoda is a world champion in Judo, and is still having “aha” moments everyday.

So which throws will end up being my tokui-waza? It’s still early to say, but now I know for sure that they will present themselves to me eventually, the longer I train judo. They might even change a few times over the course of my journey.

The signature throw will choose me when the time is right — not the other way around.

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