Thursday, December 29, 2022

Some Inner Secrets of Combination Techniques (Renraku Waza)


Some Inner Secrets of Combination Techniques (Renraku Waza)


In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “All warfare is based on deception.”

A combination technique is the result of responding to a response.

A combination works when two things happen.

A.      The uke responds in accord with the perceived intention of tori’s first move.

B.       Tori’s second move works in accord with the next throw’s kuzushi application / timing.

                Each in its turn:

        A.      I’ve seen many judoka in practice and randori make the first move so unconvincingly that there would really never be a response to it. That first move should put fear into uke, such that uke feels it is essential to resist by either getting away or forcing against. The first move should be done with evil intentions. Most often, uke’s response to tori’s attack can be a reflex; something that uke doesn’t plan to do. Or, uke might have a planned response to something uke knows tori does, maybe a counter, and tori responds to that. For now, let’s just deal with the first example.

 B.      When uke responds to your attack, you have to use application / timing. That sounds fancy, but it isn’t. Uke is going to respond in such a way that you are going to do your combination’s second attack in the direction uke is moving to thwart the force you initially applied.

        However, here is the critical part.  You must wait until that moment happens. It is the waiting that is critical. If tori doesn’t let uke respond, then there is no opportunity presented by uke. In learning and practicing a renraku waza, we often do the follow-up technique before uke creates the chance. That’s possibly because we know what’s next, so we just rush into it. We try to get to part two before part one is complete, and it isn’t complete until uke responds.

        Consider competition legend* Isao Okano's seoi-nage to his ko-uchi gari. Okano does a monster seoi-nage attack. Uke has to recover. So, uke attempts to regain balance by leaning back and using a defensive posture.  It is in this millisecond moment that Okano lunges for his ko-uchi. If you’d like to see it in devastating action, go here:

              Perhaps you’ll do well to think of a combination not as One - Two, but rather as One…and Two, needing a millisecond beat between the attack and the follow-up. During that millisecond, uke is responding defensively. Look at it this way; you are attacking a defensive response that is made against your primary intention. That could be a defensive posture, the moving of a body part, a hip check, or even a try at a counter.

The good news is that if your primary attack is strong enough, uke will automatically give you the response, and it will happen in an instant.

It is also often necessary for tori to change attack position and angle to comply with the newly presented kuzushi opportunity. Looking at a common primary attack, ko-uchi-gari, with uke stepping back to avoid the throw, we see the angle of vulnerability change. First, it was to uke’s rear corner. Once uke steps back, the angle of kuzushi changes to either uke’s direct front or rear. Now, to what throws is uke vulnerable? Hane goshi is one. What does tori have to adjust to make them work? This same scenario and the questions of adjustment are true in all renraku situations, not just ko-uchi.

Another example: The combinations of harai goshi to o-soto-gari and its counterpart, o-soto-gari to harai are examples of when a major adjustment takes place on tori’s part. In both cases, tori needs to adjust to uke’s resistance to the primary attack by making a major change of support foot position. In each of the throws, tori’s support foot’s toes have to point in the direction of the throws. Not only do the toes change direction, the foot position on the mat moves. This goes in harmony with a major turning of the torso.

Almost any throw can be looked at with renraku waza in mind, be it before as a set-up or after in response to a defense. There are possibly considerations to make with your favorite throw(s).

Here might be a fun endeavor. Fill in the blanks. No fair using the ones already in the blog. If you can, think of two.




Harai Goshi

O-Soto Gari

(Hint: Mine is in Nage no Kata)






















All too easily, we can come up with combinations that really don’t have both throws in them that we perform well. Going back to Okano, he was lethal with both seoinage and ko uchi gari as singular attacks. Having a combination technique that works with your favorite throw is great. You will succeed if you have that one, as either a set-up or a follow-up, be a strong throw in itself.

Ideas for Success

·         Initially, make this a cooperative endeavor with your sensei. That might mean the choosing of the techniques through polishing them, to sensei keeping an eye on you in randori. You don’t want to be working on your renraku waza, have your sensei ask you what you’re doing, and you say. ”Just something I read about in a blog.”

·         Do 10 minimum nage komi with it at every practice. Sometimes, you can find the time to do that right before or just after regular class. One of the best ways to practice a throw is to actually do it in a drill fashion. Obviously. Finding the opportunity is challenging; but do just ten each time and after a year you’ll be getting good at it. You will likely be able to fit ten in somewhere.

·         Try it in every randori session, and with any level of partner, and with every partner. Don’t do it and then get into working on it and interrupting randori. Just do it. Consider doing a couple of tries with each partner.

·         The best way to “fail” at this is to have too good a first effort and actually throw with it.

·         Don’t wait for the perfect chance to do it. Just do it.

                Having a good renraku waza adds another dimension to making your judo work.

  Just so you appreciate the source,  Okano entered the 1964 Summer Olympics while studying at Chuo University 's law school, and won the gold medal in the middleweight division. He won another gold medal at the World Judo Championships in 1965, becoming the champion of his division at only 21 years of age. He also won the open-weight class division of the All-Japan Judo Championships in 1967 and 1969, and placed second in 1968. He competed at only 80 kg (176 lb.).


Thursday, December 1, 2022

      Yoshiaki Yamashita – Making Your Randori Work 

     Let’s get into our time machine and go way far back in judo history for some randori advice from the first of the best, Yoshiaki Yamashita. He was the first Kodokan 10th dan. Yamashita gave 14 strong admonitions for becoming better at your judo. We can use the first four as essential points relating to randori. 

            In 1884, he became the nineteenth member of the Kodokan. After three months he earned his first dan ranking. After two years he received his fourth dan. In 1898, he received sixth dan. He was a member of the Kodokan teams that competed against the Tokyo Police dojos in the battles that created the initial and rapid popularity of the Kodokan. In 1903, he went to the USA where he taught judo to President T. Roosevelt and at the U.S. Naval Academy. If you do some online searches, you’ll see all of his suggestions, plus other very cool information about other aspects of his judo, including a video of him doing nage no kata at age 65.

            (Italics are his comments.)

1.      Study the correct way of applying the throws. Throwing with brute force is not the correct way of winning in judo. The most important point is to win with technique.

              Many think that to knock somebody down onto their back in both randori and shiai in whatever manner you can is good. Yamashita says no. To achieve a technically correct judo throw is a significant accomplishment; one to be proud of.  It is the accomplishment of the finer details and application of the biophysics, the timing, the chess moves of the “game”, all combined, that provide the ultimate rewards. These go far beyond the blunt and often overly lauded throws achieved by any means available.

          Throwing a person while you are wearing a judogi doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done judo.  There are some things that apply to all correctly achieved judo throws.  To be a judo throw, a throw must use kuzushi, tsukuri, and kake. Each one is a separate study, and the blending of them is also its own challenge. In all endeavors, ask yourself, “Where is each in the throw I am studying?” Then add, “How can I best make each happen?”  You first need to know in what direction the kuzushi is applied. Next, the form of the throw has to correctly conform to the laws of physics. The kake should end with control. This last one puts a considerable amount of question to front rolling throws.  

            My advice is to try to complete a throw with zanshin. This is standing in a composed and alert posture and mental state. Here is a standard and repeated definition, “… a state of awareness, of relaxed alertness, in Japanese martial arts. A literal translation of zanshin is 'remaining mind'. In several martial arts, zanshin refers more narrowly to the body's posture after a technique is executed. Sacrifice throws and makikomi throws have finishing postures that also comply. Zanshin speaks to Samurai battlefield success.

          I have a personal pet example. I don’t believe that initially learning uchi mata as a head diving, last moment kake application is in concert with Yamashita's advice. It is potentially massively dangerous, seems not to care about kuzushi and tsukuri and more about brute force, as the kake shows. 

        With this in mind, if you first learn any throw in its Kodokan standard version,  finishing standing and in control, before doing a "competition" or online variation, you can then learn how to apply your understanding of it to other options with possibly useful results. 

2.         First learn offense. You will see that defense is included in offensive. You will make no progress learning defense first.

            Learning to behave and think defensively can be a natural trap. The challenge of not being defensive when first doing randori is huge. Relaxing and seeking to focus on attack rather than rigidly keeping a randori partner at bay is contrary to our nature. Once a couple of counter techniques are known, it is easy to want to “wait in the weeds” and ambush your partner. 

            This can carry over into ones ongoing study and become too much a part of randori, perhaps forever. It leads to rigidity of the arms and body, making throwing more difficult. A judoka has to be relaxed prior to starting a throw; because muscles don’t move when tight, but must be relaxed to begin action. Bent over posture, overly defensive body positions are not conducive to good randori. When both partners are defensive, fewer throws are attempted and those that are can be both ugly and possibly result in injury. Shizentai is the best posture for both offense and defense. If you aren’t sure what that is, you owe it to yourself to find out and apply it.

            There might be some irony here. Because defensive bent forward posture was considered not dynamic and not attractive judo, and because it seemed to be a major defense against shooting leg grabs, leg grabbing and even touching the hand below the beltline, became a penalty. Bending over that way had been a penalty, too, but rarely called.  Now, players frequently bend over excessively as a common posture and no penalty is called. Perhaps we might consider creating a new penalty for a new offense: Ugly Judo.

3.      Do not dislike falling. Learn the timing of the throw while you are being thrown.

            I know judoka who get up with a big smile from having been thrown by a really nice throw. Feeling the essence of the good throw definitely helps provide a sense of how a throw works, both the overall parts and the throw specific ones. Whenever possible, I would volunteer to be uke for senseis teaching a throw. I tried to become such a good uke that senseis and others chose me to be uke for their demonstrations. It seems to me I learned more that about the technique being taught than did those watching.

            Here’s a fun trick. Sometimes in randori you can have fun by saying to yourself you will let your partner’s next throw succeed. If the throw is tried and doesn’t, not because of any defensive response from you, you learn about the amount of effort required to thwart offensive techniques. Sometimes the partner’s lack of proper technique will be all you need for defense.  This will help you to relax and focus on your own offense. You will also learn the vulnerabilities of a poor attack and be better able to deal with all attacks, using maximum efficiency.

4.            Practice your throws by moving your body as freely as possible in all directions. Do not lean to one side or get stiff. A great deal of repetition in a throw will be rewarded with a good throw.

            It is often our own rigidity that creates our biggest throwing problems.

            In randori, not attempting throws while just waiting for it to feel like the “right” time, is wasting precious time. By moving your body freely and loosely, and relaxing, the opportunities for throws will become more prevalent. They were always there, but you now have given them the opportunity to be discovered.  If you make a throwing effort and it doesn’t work, you will still have the opportunity to learn from this. Try throws frequently, and be sure to get loose first. Judoka who have learned to be more fluid in randori will tell you that they consider this a major forward step in their judo progress.

Bonus Yamashita advice, Number 14 - There is no end in learning JUDO. 





Wednesday, November 9, 2022


Making Your Judo Work

The Magic of "Not Try - Do"


If you’d like to magically improve your judo faster, easier, and with lasting results, this is the blog for you.

     As a sensei, I've seen a zillion and a half people immediately fail at a judo task, get frustrated, get nowhere. The sensei says, "Fix this one thing." If it is done, there is success, and if not, more failure. Over time, a couple more "one things" have to be taken care of. Each requires making a single and concerted effort to fix it. Let’s consider the “One Thing”.

   I was telling a new student to do a simple head rotation when performing hane goshi. (For those who know my judo, it is "Sunrise - Sunset".) It requires zero special athletic ability. If you look up at the ceiling and then over toward your rear, as if watching a ball go up and over your head - that means up and around, not sideward and around, you'll have it. (This is the fix for just this example, not singularly the essence of this blog.)

     This is an action that can make a floundering hane goshi almost magically really good. It can be used for all front throws, but hane is the most glaring proof of its efficacy. That aside, it is as easy as wrinkling your nose. 

     The student was not being asked to perform anything that would muddle up the other things going on for the throw. In fact, the rest of the throw effort looked functionally okay. This student did it and the throw actually worked. Then, the student would do it once, maybe even twice, and then proceed to stop doing it. Over about thirty minutes of class practice time he was admonished to make it happen several more times, because he continually reverted to his old way. Perhaps you are thinking, "Well, there's always that student who just can't get it." Forget that. This happens over and again with student after student, and not just with this fix or this throw, and not with just throws.  Every judo technique can provide the opportunity to apply the advice given here. (Not the head rotation, the general advice.)

     We so often hear that the martial arts enhance that mystical ability called "focus". This is a big selling feature when parents are enrolling kids. There is no need to get mystical about it; it is simply very specifically paying attention, then doing.  Just for fun, let’s pretend you need to do something to improve any throw you'd like to name right now. My advice to create a major fix will be, "Wrinkle you nose as you do it." You do, and the throw is amazingly better. You do it again, and once more you get the reward. Will you always wrinkle your nose when trying this throw? Unless you are the exception to the overall world of judoka, you won't. The Gremlin that is you predominant action will override your newly achieved effort, because that is what happens to almost everybody almost all the time. 

    The frightening truth is that this “Gremlin”, this need to do the fix, can return way down the road. Only more and more practice can embed it. Practice makes permanent.

     It is human nature to revert to doing it incorrectly, because the original flaw is part of the student. It is what the individual's internal mechanism likes best, wrong or not. Fixing this requires that one do, not try. Okay, try to always do. 


·        Here's one way to make the fix permanent. One of the great values of uchi komi is that it provides opportunity to fix the little things repeatedly and with immediate focus.  Uchi komi, however, all too often is mindless repetition. While it provides a great place to drill the little things into shape, it can also drill the bad things into place.  

·        Another way is to do a mental command. If you need to do a special collar hand twist, mentally command “Twist collar hand”. If it’s a deeper foot placement, mentally command “Deeper step in”. Do this during uchi kkomi and in randori.

·        Try visualization (but not while driving J). Find a time when you can visualize and “feel” the action. Call it mental uchi komi.

    • The "feel" here is a valuable ability. If you can feel yourself doing what you mentally imagine, you can train your mind / body reactions for actual applications. If you can't just do it, try to learn to do it. Sometimes, just one part of an action can be achieved as a starter.

·        Make a video of you doing the technique. See if you can do it with and without the “Gremlin”. Study it.

     Trying to always do does not require getting a mental or physical hernia. It means to do it, and do so because you tell yourself to do it. Then, always do it. 

     The irony is that this blog is a single suggestion which readers might apply once or twice, and then not apply the next time. Therefore, make a part of your judo and it will magically make your judo work faster, easier, and with lasting results.



Monday, September 19, 2022


    Einstein plus Musashi = the One Thing = Good Throws 

    Einstein's theory of general relativity and Musashi's wisdom in The Book of Five Rings -The Ground Book have something universally in common. Einstein provided us with the an understanding of  what we use to make GPS work, why gold is yellow, and what's going on with the cathode ray tube that was the first television. Other uses of atomic energy go on and on. 

    Musashi would have told us to look at the giant boards of equations that made up Einstein's formula and then see them all in one simple truth. That truth, "as a straight line in the dirt", explains all things on that line. 

Here is Einstein's One Thing. 


A Small Part of Einstein's big formula

    This is true in judo throwing. Like Musashi's simple advice and Einstein's "simple" theory, a judo throw works because it is simple. Einstein also quipped, "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." Although this seems to be a humorous comment, it could also mean that any further simplification would also mean elimination of something that is crucial, hence making the thing useless. 

    In judo nage wazaUki Goshi, the floating hip throw, gives us a very simple and complete example of the implementation of a throw, all its essentials. It is as simple as possible. 

     Here is the throwing formula.

    Let's look at Uki Goshi


 Here is the throw as kuzushi is about to become tsukuri and the action moves on to kake. 

  • Pink Triangle shows kuzushi has occurred, due to an initial, gentle  downward then upward motion of the sleeve hand (tsurite).
  • Middle pink arrows show the connection of the fulcrum point, a rendezvous, below uke's center of mass, as well as the tori's body angle that complements directional application.
  • Lower orange arrows: As the left foot comes down and the leg then applies upward pressure, it then combines with the rendezvous to then go to the upper orange arrows.
  • Upper orange arrows: These blend with the other actions to continue the throw to completion. 
  • Missing: An arrow at the tsurite elbow is need to show the ongoing pull of the kake, which is often not performed and the tsurite fails as it comes to rest at the current point. 
  • The right foot position is only a step in for positioning and the left foot and leg will bring the physical power to the throw. 

Let's make it simple and not anywhere near as complicated as Einstein's blackboard or my throwing formula. Here's the "E=MC2" of judo.      

- means combined

pK Ts  K = T

    Pre kuzushi combined with kuzushi combined with tsukuri combined with kake equals any and all judo throws. Combined is the operative word. It can also be emphasized that any throws not containing this full formula are not judo throws. They are only "throws", or "tosses" or "flips" and so on. The formula represents the physical equivalent of maximum efficiency via optimum use of energy. 


          “Combined” is the secret beneath the otherwise familiar triad of what a judo throw is. This applies very much to how you practice a throw. Although we are considering all upright front throws, the principle applies. That principle is, “Don’t stop.”  “Combined” does not mean “in addition to…”. Think of it as “blended”, “integrated, “incorporated”, “unified”, “cohesive”, “amalgamated”, and such.

          In learning a throw, it is normal to step in and check to see if everything is in the right place. Often, this is the result of having been instructed to do a certain corrective thing; put the collar hand here, get your hip across more, get lower, etc. We step in and check to see if we’ve done it, or we step in to check how it “feels”. To do this, we stop. Then, we try to continue the throw. At this point, it has ceased to be a judo throw. I see this over and over again, and the students who do it have a difficult time not doing it; or, if you will, undoing the tendency. It then carries over to randori. That is because practice makes permanent.

Of course, at first one needs to check the parts, with the rare exception of those who can just watch and then do immediately. There comes a time, though, when the practice must be of the combined actions. You might be thinking, “Sure. That’s when we do nage komi, the throwing practice. Sadly, the tendency can carry over into this, too.

          Done correctly - If the kuzushi is correctly applied, the moment of blending in the tsukuri will create enough of a throw so that you will apply the kake in an almost “catch up” manner.

     This is the "one thing" of which Musashi spoke.

    Neither philosophies nor cosmic theories are of any value unless they are usefully applied.  It is easy to say, "I get it." It is not easy to say "I do it." Well then, what is it we must do? 

1.     Understand each part as it applies to the throw. 

2.     Include every part of the throw.

3.      Combine each part correctly.

`Thereby, if you put the methodology and genius of Einstein together with the super warrior wisdom of Musashi’s one simple truth, it will make your judo better.