Sunday, February 18, 2007

What's My Throw?

What's your favorite throw or takedown and why?

Judokas and BJJ players will have two different answers. A BJJ player will probably say either a double leg or a single leg and their reason will be either because that's all they know or that they come from a wreslting back ground. These two takedowns also allow for a nice safe transition from the feet to the ground with little danger to the BJJ player. Or, the BJJ player will not answer the question and instead jump and pull guard on you. Yet, at some point the BJJ player will need to take their stand up game to the next level to gain an edge. Ask a good Judoka this same question and they will rattle off a list of throws that are all chained together and stem from a gripping game that compliments their style. For every situation on the feet, they will have a throw as an answer. Let's focus not on the high level Judoka who has their whole stand up game figured out and is in the process of merely tweeking their game. Instead let's focus on the BJJ player who needs to get to the next level (stand up wise) in their game and the new Judoka that has no idea where to start.

To begin finding your throws you will need to answer some questions. What's you're physique? Are you tall, short, stocky, thin? Are you long legged or short legged? Are you strong for your size? Your build will determine which throws you will have the most success with, but ultimately, it comes down to which ones you like. The only way to do this is to experiment under the guidance of some one with some Judo experience. This may take a few sessions with them, and you won't really learn any one throw perfectly, but then again, you're not trying to at this point. You're basically taking each throw for a test drive.

Eventually in your time spent test driving throws, or when you begin to take Judo more seriously, you will realize exactly how important the battles for grip control are. Just try hitting some of your newly learned throws on your Judo throw salesman and watch how quickly they go to hell when he fully resists. You will then ask, "Do I fight for grips that lead into the takedowns I like? Or, do I do takedowns based on what grips I like?" Choose the former. Your takedowns are the meat and potatoes, your grips are the condiments. The gripping game in Judo has so many variations that it is best to just begin with the basics. Depending on your dojo and your influences you may find yourself with either a traditional Japanese grip game (sleeve and collar control) or a Russian grip game (arm across with high back or belt grip)... the list goes on and on and on. The higher the level, the more intricate and the more important the grip game becomes. But, to start things off just pick a gripping game, learn it and stick with it. I chose the traditional Japanese grips, and have since added modifications that make it a bit more unorthodox. Unorthodox grips, if they are technically sound, are very good for your Judo game as long as you can make throws happen from them. I also have the benefit of being in a club with players that have all sorts of different gripping games. So, I can experiment with each grip and I can either adopt it or at the very least make myself familiar with it.

But let's back up... What's your favorite throw? At first the myriad of throws in Judo blew my mind. There's 67 throws in the Kodokan Judo System. Some of these are considered counter throws and not primary throws, and even within the primary throws some are better than others depending on your build and the build of your opponent. After taking some throws for a test drive I found that the drop Ippon Seoi Nage is my favorite throw (executed with both knees on the mat instead of standing). Why? Because, it's easy and I can hit it on a wide range of opponents regardless of their body type. Because, it suits my body type. Because, it feels good when I throw it. So the Ippon Seoi Nage is my goal throw, my primary throw. It is the throw that I want and hunt for when I am on the mat. Everything I do on my feet is either an attempt to get it or a follow up if I miss it. From this starting point I asked a lot of questions to those who were better than me for advice on hitting the throw: what grips should I take, what set ups work best, how do people defend it, what are some follow ups to their counters, etc? I picked the throw apart and still am exploring it. From this exploration I found my gripping game and foot work game as well as many other throws other than the Ippon Seoi Nage. My set ups required me to learn several foot sweep variations and inside reaps, my counters and follow ups forced me to learn throws like Tomoe Nage, Tai Otoshi and Osoto Gari. After every class spent working on developing this game I would go home and write down my notes on the session. I take even the set ups and fakes leading into the throw seriously, and if I happen to nail my set up throw instead of my primary throw - so be it. It's all good. So it pays to train everything with total commitment.

So, I took some throws for a test drive, found that I liked the drop Ippon Seoi Nage, tried out some gripping styles that allowed for hitting the Ippon Seoi Nage and thought that the Japanese style slightly modified is best for me. Then, I worked with the upper belts in the club to flesh out the set ups and follow ups to the throw. From here on out, it becomes a matter of timing and seamless transitions. It helped that I also have a back up throw that can be used as either a stand alone primary throw or as a part of my Ippon Seoi Nage game: the Kata Guruma.

The Kata Guruma is a fireman's carry in wrestling and was one of my favorite takedowns when I wrestled. It fits perfectly into the Ippon Seoi Nage game or can be used as a secondary primary throw. So when I am in a match the whole time I am calculating whether or not my opponent is in position for either the Ippon Seoi Nage or the Kata Guruma.

I recommend following the above test drive experiment and to not over commit yourself to any one throw until you find one that you like. I also recommend that you don't jump head first into some of the most complicated throws as this will delay your ability to bring your game to the competition mat. If you are in a Judo dojo ask a black belt to help you find some takedowns and throws that work with your body type. Tall guys or guys with long legs will find that outside reaps like Osoto Gari or Kosoto Gari will benefit them as well leg blocking type throws like the Sasae and Tai Otoshi. Shorter guys will want to stay away from using outside reaps on a taller opponent and focus on the inside reaps like Kouchi Gari and Ouchi Gari as well throws like Uchi Mata and Ippon Seoi Nage. Of course, each person will probably fight people of all shapes and sizes sooner or later. But, if you are often either the taller guy in your weight class or the shorter one, you should focus on developing a game based on the type of opponent you most often fight. I am 5' 9" and 186 to 191 lbs. I am often of quite average height for my weight class in BJJ, but a little bit shorter than most of my opponents in my Judo competitions. Therefore, while I may not use Osoto Gari often in a Judo competition, it helps me to know it well for the times that I need to pull it off in BJJ. If my Uchi Mata were better, I would say that I would use it on all but those guys that are shorter than me unless he hung his leg out and begged for it. But, I have not yet implemented my Uchi Mata into competition game and am not in a position to critique the throw with any expertise. When I do begin to use it, I will let you know how it goes for me.

It's never too soon or too late to begin finding your throw. Once you have a stand up game that suits you, you will be able to explore the other throws while having a primary game to fall back on. For the BJJ player, having a good stand up game can mean the difference between victory and defeat against an opponent with equal ground skills. If you look at some of the best BJJ players in the World (Xande Ribeiro, Jacare, Roger Gracie, Braulio Estima, etc.) they all have stand up game and have found their throws. Get out there and find your throw.


No comments: