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First randori after my first shiai

In my last post I reflected on losing my first two shiai in spectacular fashion.

Today, 3 days later, I finally got a chance to randori and put my learnings into practice. We did around 5 rounds.

Here’s what I learned.

Moving your opponent is easy and you should constantly do it

Relaxing my arms, and moving my opponent around, was very helpful.

It’s surprisingly difficult to think strategically and make decisions when the situation is constantly changing around you — which is what your opponent has to deal with when you’re moving them unpredictably. As soon as they decide on a throw (in fact, before), you’re somewhere else!

It doesn’t even take too much movement; in fact, just a few flicks of the wrist here and there do more than enough to keep their brain on alert and prompt a reaction. It’s very instructive to watch when that happens.

Breathe through your nose to keep your stamina

I ran out of gas by the second round, because I was exerting myself. Then I reminded myself to breathe through the nose, and managed to keep the same (weak) pace for the next 3.5 rounds! If only I did that from the start.

Enough said.

Smile during randori

I’m not even kidding. It helps you relax and keep your stamina.

Watch your opponent’s neck

The only times I got thrown were when I was so tired that I stopped watching my opponent, and also stopped moving them around as a result.

Instead of looking at their feet, or worse, your own feet, looking at their neck gives you a view of their entire body. And this is when you find way more openings.

Attack deeper

Partly because of being tired, partly out of looking at their feet, and also partly out of habit, most of my attacks were quite shallow — they didn’t look like the combos we trained in uchikomi practice.

For example: while going for osoto gari, chest contact is essential. You can start from afar, but if you don’t close the distance afterward and connect your chest, it will be very difficult to finish the throw. But I believe I will get better at this with more uchikomi.

As I’ve written about before, every throw requires a certain amount of “space” (or lack of), and if you just keep that in mind, judo becomes much easier as a whole. The more I train, the more I become aware of this fact.

Another aspect of deep attacks is that they should be explosive, and made with the intent to throw. It’s better to wait for an opportunity and then explode periodically than to constantly make little shallow attacks that don’t go anywhere.

A new focus for uchikomi

My best throw in randori will never be prettier or cleaner than my average throw in uchikomi. This fact has become dauntingly clear to me.

For example with the seoi or ippon seoi, I’m good at the basic technique, but as soon as I speed things up a little, my uchikomi form declines considerably and only 4/10 times do I manage to lift my opponent gracefully. I still have a long way to go before I can automatically adjust the distance etc with my opponent and keep doing each move accurately.

It’s painfully obvious that if you can’t enter a throw gracefully in uchikomi, how can you expect to confidently do it in an instant in randori?

In summary: PRESENCE is the way

The main realisation over the last few days is that there is so much that I can improve in Judo before I even have the luxury of complaining how hard it is. Judo is frustrating yes, but it’s not an opaque wall. There is a path, a method to the madness and if I simply improve and keep practising and getting better, the results will come.

That’s why I like what they say on the Kodokan website on a short, dedicated page about “mental requirements” for joining the school: The most important thing is to never give up.

Another big realisation is about PRESENCE. If you can be fully in the moment in judo, fully aware and appreciative of your partner, like in a ballroom dance — completely in tune with every twitch, breath, and step they make — your judo will be ferociously strong. Losing this presence and having your head inside your own ego (“I just want to throw this person, I don’t want to get thrown, I am scared, I want to attack, I will look weak or stupid if I don’t perform, yada yada) is the root of most of my issues.

My journey of learning Judo is helping me get better at life itself.

Let’s keep improving!

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