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My Second Shiai

By June 26, 2024July 12th, 2024No Comments

It finally happened — a month after my humbling first shiai (bout) where I lost by ippon twice within 10 seconds each, I had the opportunity to go again.

Leading up

This time I approached the day from a place of surrender. I didn’t care how it went. If I lost, so be it, I’d continue my Judo journey as it is, with no hurry to progress. If I won (which I had very little confidence in), so be it too.

In my heart of hearts, I didn’t believe I would win. I couldn’t visualize victory. In fact, I only registered for the shiai because a classmate encouraged me to (“This time your chances are >95%”).

The night before the shiai, I played through a few scenarios in my head. Mostly, I planned to play defense first, move my opponent, and hold out. I’d only go for a throw if I saw one.

On the day

I was calm and still in surrender mode. This time, the room was full of test takers — more than 25 people showed up (only 5 people at my grade though including myself).

I was fully prepared to go first this time. But as luck would have it, I got called later! I’m wondering if during my first ever shiai, sensei had called me first deliberately, so that I would have my worst experience from the get go. Or maybe it’s just the way it works in Judo — the lowest rankers / juniormost test takers always have to go first. Somewhat draconian, but maybe it’s for the best!

By the time I was called, thankfully, my first opponent Grant Baker had just had a tough bout and was fairly gassed.

The first bout

As soon as the sensei signaled “Hajime!” it felt like something switched on inside me — I approached him like an attacking player, and was the first to engage.

I took fairly high, tight, dominant grips — on the tricep for the hikite, and a high grip above the collarbone for the tsurite. He gave me a little bit of trouble with grip fighting (at one instance he prevented my right hand from getting to his collar), but thankfully I was able to snap his hikite off and punch-grab his collar.

I also took one of the most effective (and annoying) stances that you can in Judo — I hung onto him with my heels up, transferring like 50% of my bodyweight onto him. It made me quite light on my feet, so I could move around easily. But it made him even more tired than he already was, and unable to move in for any attack.

I moved him around a bit, and tried to go for an ashi-waza a few times. Grant has a habit of crossing his legs when he moves, so I hoped to catch him when he did that. 🙂

But the sensei suddenly stopped us, and apparently warned Grant for taking an illegal grip on my right hand (apparently his finger or thumb was inside my sleeve). I hadn’t even noticed! I guess that’s the benefit of taking a dominant grip.

We engaged again (somehow I was very aggressive today in taking grips), and the sequence played all over. In the end, neither of us threw the other, and we drew.

The second bout

I was asked to remain, and they called my opponent over — Kudo, a Japanese kid from high school.

I aggressively took dominant grips again. The hanging really works for me, so I felt very safe.

This time I felt a little better positioned to attack, so I played a more offensive game. I went for a few ippon seoi nages. Didn’t get it, but I kept trying to force it through, even switching to a harai or something.

At a certain point, I fell/dropped forward on my knees. I planned to instantly get back up, but this became the turning point in the bout.

We went straight into ne-waza. I tried to hold him off and get an armbar (because he stretched his arms out), but he managed to recover and hold me in kesa-gatame.

I tried to escape in the wrong way — instead of using a proper technique, tried to use strength — but it didn’t work. He held the osaekomi for dear life and won by ippon.


1 draw and 1 loss. Didn’t get taken down, didn’t get injured, and didn’t go blank.

The loss wasn’t even embarrassing — I was dominant for most of the bout, played both defense and attack, and only lost because of a couple of easily corrected mistakes and impatience.

But Judo has suddenly become a lot more fun, and my path forward has become a lot more focused. Here’s how.

(UPDATE: I passed the test and graduated to 3rd kyu!)

Narrowing the pool of approaches

As I said in my previous post, there are many many things that I could do to improve my Judo.

But I was looking for how I could apply the 80-20 rule — i.e. finding the 1-2 things that would push me the farthest along the route. And I think I’ve found them:

1) The hanging stance

I’m tall AND lanky (<65kg), so most opponents are either shorter and similar weight but with a stable center of gravity, or they’re of similar height but physically much stronger and heavier.

So transferring my weight to my opponent works well for me. It helps to even the playing field a little, and keeps me light. It’s also fairly easy to do, so I can just make this my default.

2) More focused uchikomi

I’ve found my default stance, but I realized that I haven’t practiced attacking from it.

Attacking from a defensive stance is a little more complicated, because you aren’t starting from a neutral base. First, your feet are behind you, and there’s a larger distance to step in. Second, your weight is already on them — so you have to release the weight before you can apply it again in a different direction.

As soon as you release the hang, your opponent experiences an instant weight shift which creates some kuzushi (i.e. they suddenly go from a little crouch to a more upright posture, and straighten their knees), and you have to practice how to use this momentum against them.

So, going from the hang straight into a waza is the name of the game, so that you can capitalize on this tiny window of opportunity.

The first step is to simply get used to the reaction people have when you release the hang, and do an explosive half-uchikomi (i.e. just close the distance, open their arms up, and get them on their toes ideally). Once I can reliably get kuzushi on people, I’ll focus on how to chain attacks.

My uchikomi just became a lot more directed and motivated!

3) Choosing a few staple techniques

I’ve already been going in this direction, but I’m at the point where I need to zero in on a few techniques that make sense for me, based on the height and weight difference.

The weight shift opens up many interesting possibilities, so the next month of uchikomi against all kinds of opponents will reveal which will be my go-to.

What I can say is that the morote seoi-nage is a tough one for me, mainly because of how some people have very tight gis where there’s a risk of injuring the right hand while turning.

I’m seeing a lot of potential to develop my wrong-side ippon seoi-nage and ouchi/kouchi. and harai or hane-goshi or uchi-mata for shorter opponents. Also sasae and osoto gari.


The biggest issue with learning Judo as a beginner is the large number of things that you can focus on to improve technique, and also how individualistic the sport is.

While learning Japanese, I was able to steadily improve and make tremendous process over time by sticking to a singular activity — reading and listening to native content — and showing up every single day.

In Judo, I didn’t have that clarity of process yet. But now I feel like I’ve found my training process. A lot of the small strategic/tactical things, such as posture, grips, moving opponent, staying relaxed, attacking consecutively, etc are settling in place. But these alone can only take you so far in Judo.

Without good technique and kuzushi, you won’t throw people. And my uchikomi training so far was just not transferring well to randori. But now that I know my starting point for every attack (the hanging stance), and the kind of kuzushi I will have to begin with (the sudden weight shift), I can drill this move a thousand times and build muscle memory.

On to the next mini-chapter of the journey!

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