Monday, April 9, 2007

Book Review - Judo Unleashed

Update to the review (4/17/09): The author of this book, Neil Ohlenkamp, has left a comment about this review of his book. Please read it to gain further insight behind the production of his work. Thank you Neil for leaving a comment. Your contribution to Judo and Judo literature is greatly appreciated. I implore you to please write more and to perhaps make some DVDs. As a Judo Shodan and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor I refer to Judo Unleashed almost daily.

Judo Unleashed, by Neil Ohlenkamp, published 2006. Currently $13.57 @ 160 pages.

Neil Ohlenkamp is a 6th degree black belt in Judo (Red & White belt) with over 37 years of experience. He has been the head instructor of the Encino Judo Club since 1985, and is the creator of the Judo Information Site and the Judo Forums. Neil has been certified by the United States Judo Association as an instructor, referee, master rank examiner, Master Coach (the highest level of certification), and he was named United States Judo Coach of the Year for 1999. He has also been designated as a Master Coach by the US Association of Blind Athletes.

In his book, Judo Unleashed, Neil attempts to cover the major throws and other techniques addressed in the Kodokan syllabus with pictures, foot notes and tips.

The book begins with an extensive Introduction (Chapter 1) and First Part (Chapters 2 - 5) which cover the history and origins of Judo, as well as Judo theory, philosophy and fundamentals. These first two sections may bore some, but I found them to have some interesting historical information, among other things. The toughest part of the book for me to get through was the first part "Judo Fundamentals." It is in an incredibly basic Part consisting of 4 chapters intended to help those first beginning Judo to learn how to... learn, basically. It also discusses some of the basic Judo terms and vocabulary, Judo theory and physics, how Judo improves ones character and the classification of Judo techniques.

When I first picked up the book I skipped right over the first 5 chapters and Chapter 6 - "Principles of Throwing." Instead I went right to the chapters containing the throwing techniques that I was most interested in, and then briefly skimmed over the grappling techniques at the end of the book. But, after going back through the book for the 5th or 6th time, I took the time to read all of the chapters that I had previously skipped. It was a bit of a chore for me to do so, but I really needed to learn some of the topics and vocabulary addressed in the first 6 and last 3 chapters.

The book is filled with very clear and at times, quite stunning, photographs. The book is nicely broken up into the various types of throws (Koshi waza (hip throws), Te waza (hand throws), Ashi waza (leg throws) and Sutemi waza (sacrifice throws)). Each of the addressed throws is accompanied with a description which sometimes includes a bit of history about the throw, approximately 3 key points about executing the throw, about 3 serial photographs of the throw being executed and a footprint pattern showing the foot position for both the Uke and the Tori. Some throws may also include a variation (with photographs), close up photos of the grips, and explanations of set up throws, follow up throws, combinations and possible counters. However, it is important to note that all of these topics are merely touched upon in this book and there is no in depth discussion on any particular throw or technique. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of this book for me is that each throwing technique is only accompanied by a minimal amout of photographs and description. Some of these throws are just too complex to address in only 3 photographs for seasoned Judokas, but might serve beginners and those of us needing only a reference better.

As a BJJ guy, I am admittedly overly critical of Part 3, "Grappling Techniques." In this part each technique is only accompanied by about 1 photograph each, however, they tend to show more than one variation of each technique. Very little, if any info, is given about how to get into the particular pinning situations and absolutely zero information is given about how to re-counter an opponent defending your initial turnover attempt. I realize that my criticism of this aspect can spark arguement about the Judo ground game in competition - that there's only enough time to attempt one turnover technique, therefore, why learn re-counters or follow up turnover techs? I disagree with this arguement. A skilled grappler or ground technician can re-counter most turnover defenses quite quickly and seamlessly, and perhaps the shortcoming is not in the rules of competition Judo, but in the ground skill of the competitors.

As for the chapters covering submission techniques (Shime waza (choking techniques) and Kansetsu waza (joint locks)), again, I am perhaps being overly critical. In each of these chapters there is some nice background information and a bit of anatomy and physiology on how the particular submissions work. Side note for BJJ guys: only chokes and elbow locks are allowed in Judo competitions (Kimuras, Americanas and Omoplatas (Ude garami) are also allowed). Most variations of the straight armlock (Juji gatame, Udi gatame, Hiza gatame, Sankaku gatame) are addressed. However, BJJ players may recognize a favorite technique of theirs is absent from this chapter - the straight armlock from the guard. In fact, the guard position is not even addressed in this book whatsoever. To some of us more experienced Judo and BJJ players we can see that some of the submissions and turnovers are being executed from the guard position, but this fact is not clearly indicated for the uninformed beginner.

In regards to the choking and armlock techniques, I noticed several techniques that were either applied technically incorrect, or would not actually be applicable against a resisting opponent or skilled grappler.

As expected, this book is devoid of the ground game and most of the more common and popular submissions. However, if you are buying this book for these reasons you are misappropriating your funds. This is a Judo book focused more on throws and background of the sport than anything else.

Judo Unleashed is an excellent Judo book for beginners and for those of us requiring a reference material with photographs to help us stay familiar with our less than favorite techniques. It is extensive in background, history, theory and philosphy of the art/sport. The text covers the major throws of Judo and provides a "Cliff Notes" version behind many of the techniques with some supplemental information for each technique. While this book is not for those seeking information on competition strategy and techniques, or extensive information on any one particular technique or set of throws, it is still a welcome addition to any Judo library. I recommend this book particularly to beginners and those outside of the sport wishing to learn the fundamentals of Judo.


dk2 said...

Its ashame that the throwing techniques didn't follow with many photos. After all, throws are a very integral part of Judo.

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judosensei said...

Thanks for the detailed review. Judo Unleashed will not be everything for everyone, but it does contain 160 pages with around 350 full color photos and diagrams. I wish we could have done more with the matwork section and included more detail on all the techniques, but the book is geared exactly to the market you identified -- beginners or those students who need a reference book. It is an excellent introduction for the typical new student, and there is certainly enough material in the book to use it regularly for the first several years of judo study. I appreciate the recommendation and the time you took to review my book. It has already provided the inspiration for many new students to try judo.

Neil Ohlenkamp