Teaching to Learn

by Jinryu

The past week was the first time I go back to ‘normal’ training at judo after spraining my ITB about a month ago. The ITB is still not 100%, but I can work the full routine with it with the exception of some throws that specifically rely on particular hooking motions for reaping or sweeping.

During the time that I was taking it easy, I mostly was working with white belts and it was a really good experience for a number of reasons. It’s not necessarily that I’m qualified to teach judo– I’m clearly not. I just happen to have a 1 year head start on these people when it comes to the basics, and I think that my position as a slightly-better-than-beginner helps me to relate to the issues they’re facing that black belts too easily take for granted.

My training partners don’t have proper reactions yet
Normally, as a general rule, it is easier to train with a higher grade judoka than a lower grade one. A higher grade one will move with you when you’re practicising a technique. It doesn’t mean that they’ll “jump” with your trow attempt usually (unless you’re really having a hard time conceptualising what is supposed to happen) but it does mean that they get rid of resistance in ways that will hinder you from learning the throw. They will go with your attempts to off-balance them, and they will protect themselves from your throw so they move in a rather predictable way.

White belts, being the bottom of the food chain, aren’t capable of that. They do what is natural to them– when you try to throw them, the tense up in strange ways that makes them really odd objects to be picking up and throwing. Imagine lifting a bag of rice onto your shoulder, and tossing it to the ground– that’s kind of what throwing a black belt is like. If you have white belt however, that bag of rice is constantly changing shape– it might decide suddenly it wants to tense up, and next thing you know, you’re lifting a log of wood or a chair, or suddenly something really odd shaped like cello. It’s a strange analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the way that a white belt panics alters their weight distribution significantly.

This has the interesting effect of forcing you to exert a hell of a lot more control. In my case, it meant that I had to pay attention a lot more to my grip (you need to really get a good handle on a white belt partner, because you never know how they’ll squirm– and even when you get a ‘bad grip,’ you need to hold on tight). And secondly, it’s made me pay a lot more attention to my lower body, as in, where my feet are placed under our combined weight, and how I’m bending my knees.

White belts sometimes simulate “street scenarios”
Assuming you needed to throw someone outside of a dojo, it’s important to practice with people who have low training in your particular style, specificially because their reaction and fighting style will not be what you’re used to throwing.

Nevermind that someone without some sort of grappling experience doesn’t know how to protect themselves form being thown– their willingness (or ignorance) to take your throw on head on is an added factor that couuld change the flow of things. Sorta like how if you were trained to box with someone, and then suddenly got elbowed or headbutt in the face.

When a whitebelt joins up, all they have going for them is athleticism and willpower– they lack technique specific to the style. That means that it’s a great opportunity to see how you can use technique to control an opponent who is exerting superior athleticism and willpower– because if your own technique doesn’t make you more efficient, then what’s the point of it?

Accepting challenges or questions from white belts forces you to find the out-of-dojo applications and real world relevence of your techniques.

You learn a lot about how effective (or ineffective) what you’re learning really is

I had an epiphany the other day when it came to groundwork. The whitebelts are all ranges of sizes, which is nice– the new girls are all lighter than me, but the guys are lighter, same, and heavier.

One of the basic ways to win in Judo is to hold your opponent down with his back on the ground. There are techniques to get out if you’re the one on the bottom, but in general, I think that if you took clones of me and made them fight eachother, or clones of any judoka for that matter, the guy on top will usually win over the guy on bottom assuming equal weight and ability. There’s just a lot of advantages for the guy on top (slightly different due to the scoring system of Judo compared to BJJ, if there are BJJ readers out there). Being on top, you just have more options, usually more control, and you’re pressing into your opponent most of the time which drains their stamina and ability to make good decisions.

That said, if you are on the bottom, there ARE techniques to get out, they just don’t work unless you catch your opponent off guard. Given similar weight, a direct deffence to your reversal will almost always fail, so what you have to do normally is either completely overwelm the person on top of you through some superior attribute despite the similarity in weight (such as crazy power, flexibility, etc) or you have to alternate between techniques that force your opponent to deffend one, then catch him off guard when you transition to another.

If your opponent is heavier than you, well, you’re usually pretty screwed, especially when they have at least as much technial knowledge as you.

That being said, white belts provided an interesting learning experience for me– because I can actually have a white belt who out weights me by about 18 kilos (35 pounds?) sitting on me and holding me down, and I can turn him around. So it means that the techniques for reversing do work!

ON the other hand, I have also trained with the girls who are lighter than me who had a really REALLY hard time staying on top.

But then I would teach them bits to fine tune their hold-down– things like where to put their weight, how to react to my reversals, what to grip, etc. And It was quite interesting– because as iI explained a factor and noticed something else that was missing, when they started combining all the factors I was gradually feeling that the hold down was really becoming more and more difficult to reverse. I guess it just makes logical sene, right? But what I’m getting at is that if you have to break down a technique to this extent, it’s really easy to see how every little component element of a full technique is important.

WHen you spar with people who are the same weight and experience as you, these details are often lost because youre not trying to improve– you just want to hold that fucker down, or get him off of you.

A failure to do so usually gets brushed off as a one off thing.

WIth white belts, they just don’t understand the technique to begin with- so you really have to look at why it is that yours works and theirs doesn’t, and in so doing, you gain a better appreciation for why it is that you do what you do. ANd if anything, how you can also improve it in some way that you didn’t realise.

I have learned a hella lot training with the whilte belts for the past 3 weeks– perhaps as much as I learned about grappling over the last year combined? That’s a pretty big statement I suppose.