Monday, January 22, 2024

The Great Spiral 1/22

The Great Spiral

Judo throws are round, not flat. They begin round and end round. They begin open and end tightly wrapped. At their centers are fulcrum points. 

Ippon seoinage is an excellent example. It presents a physical dynamic that almost all  throws clearly do. Many judoka do it square instead of round, because that is what they think it should be. Here is legendary Koga with his famous seoinage. He might end up rolling through this, due to the overall dynamic, but this throw for ippon is already complete. (Of note, his powerful pulling pocket grip with his left hand and how relaxed his right grip is.)

Look at the spiral. Notice how his left leg drives up and into the outer rotation of the carrying across the back. This is in no way a driving or diving throw. 


You get to be in a contest where the big money winner is the first to pull the above uke onto his back. Which uke do you want to use?

You say you don’t think you can do this. Can you do a front roll fall? Tori’s back is a bit too flat here, but it is going to go round as he continues. Note the knees in front drop line of the toes, chest in front of that and the head going in front of the chest. This has to happen. This throw can now end with tori standing and in a kime that has zanshin (final position with full composure).

Here’s the same thing. The upward pointing arrow from the left foot shows where the dynamic of the power happens. Note that the head looks up and over, in line with the spiral, and not across and around. 

As much as this can be a study in seoinages (both styles), it is really using a throw to understand and improve your judo. You can take any throw you want and put in the spiral. If every throw contains the elemental aspects of the “judo logic”, then each throw can inform us about making our judo work.

An aside: This is where a well taught study of the inner workings of nage no kata can be very useful, although difficult to find. These "inner workings" are about "Thinking Inside the Box". If you don't know how a clock works, you can't build one.

Monday, January 1, 2024


 Shu Ha Ri

This interim mini-blog is an esoteric, philosophical, yet pragmatic and functional treatise I had the inclination to share with you on the first day of the year. It is an idea that is becoming clearer to me after 64 years of judo. 

How can I tell you about a future you’ve yet to experience, since it is the experience itself that is the important part of the message?

The Shu Ha Ri process can make you a better physical judoka. More importantly, it can make you a more self-fulfilled one; and, as Kano would appreciate it, a more fulfilled person, over time.

If you are consciously or unconsciously currently involved in the process of Shu Ha Ri in your judo life, you are fortunate. If not, no problem. All of the obvious judo benefits you are already enjoying are always there for you.

Shu Ha Ri has a powerful irony attached. To benefit from it, you must know that you are involved in it. That is the first step of itself.

Over the decades we have seen the vulture-like tendency of Western profiteers to swoop down upon esoteric Eastern thinking and apply it as a newly found wisdom in the business world. This has happened to Shu Ha Ri and its inclusion in the “agile” thinking world. Double the irony, this happened over a couple of centuries in Japan as it was applied to the adaptations of its strongest primary origins, the tea ceremony.

Not a Thing, but a Process

 Shu Ha Ri can happen for you without you ever having heard of it. It is a learning process that is very akin to the “competence” process. Unconscious Incompetent>Conscious Incompetent>Conscious Competent>and Unconscious Competent. The consciousness analogy is just here for a comparison and frame of reference. 

Shu: A state of learning where everything is new. Think of a jigsaw puzzle.  Where to begin? What in the world is this little jagged blue and brown piece? I didn’t even know it was there. 

Ha: A learning process, where you’re being taught the best ways to most efficiently locate and place the puzzle pieces. The methods, the tools, always apply to the same principles, which you are doing, even though not appreciating yet. You might know their names, be able to duplicate them, but you haven’t truly internalized them. Internalizing them isn’t the same now as in the competence levels analogy; because here the internalization does not lead to unconscious application. Unconscious application is a stage you are yet to go through on the way to Ri.

Ri:  Have you ever sat outside on a day when the sun was covered by clouds, and then suddenly there was a break in the clouds and the full strength of the sun’s totally uplifting warmth completely engulfed you with a special pleasure? Your brain doesn’t tell you the pieces of the event. It presents you with the wonderful feeling.  In Ri, not only do you get the feeling, you get the awareness of how and why it is different from all the other moments of having been bathed in sunshine.  It speaks to you of your own biology, your place in the cosmos, perhaps. That sunshine will always have this new awareness for you. It could even be a wordless essence.

Now, you can also go back to the basics that were essential to having first moved beyond Shu and you have an understanding of how they really work, at their core. You can both understand and utilize them beyond the way you have ever before. You also realize that you cannot simply explain this to somebody who is in the state of Shu and have them incorporate it now. (As this mini blog is doing)

Not only does the Ri apply to this moment, it applies to the overall study of judo and all its aspects, beyond just the physical.

You will have to wait many years for the full Shu Ha Ri experience to bring you in. I’m reminded of the story of the 70 year old woman who told her friends she had decided to get a law degree. One friend said, “But by the time you do, you’ll be 77 years old.” The ambitious woman replied, “And if I don’t, I’ll still be 77 years old.”

Shu Ha Ri doesn’t apply only to judo. It applies to the endeavors to become a master of any worthwhile skill. Shu Ha Ri has been forever.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Misdirection Magic and Judo Waza

Misdirection Magic and Judo Waza 


Firstly, have a very pleasant Thanksgiving. As a judoka, whatever level you are at, don’t forget to be ultra thankful for that. I’ve been a judoka since 1960, and every year I’m more thankful than the last. There’s an expression, “We should have Christmas every day of the year.” I do a mini-Thanksgiving every day, and judo is on the short list.

I’ve also been into performance magic forever, and have done it professionally since 1972. I’ve lots of publishing credentials and accomplishments, and currently write an ongoing column on Misdirection for Imagine magazine. Not only just bragging, but giving some credentials for your consideration of the thoughts herein.

Overall, magic and judo are very similar in thought and deed. Perhaps another time I’ll have some fun with that for you. Here, now, are some facts about misdirection, and we will tie them to judo.

In Magic

·         People’s attention can be both misdirected and directed to your will.

·         People have subconscious, automatic responses which they can only control with knowing endeavor.

·         . Controlling someone’s attention is very easy.

·         There are many methods of misdirection. In my book, Misdirection for Close-up Magicians, I list 10 basic types. Since then, I’ve thought of a couple more. This isn’t a list thereof, but what I’ve discovered about attention control.

·         Misdirection can be very subtle or very bold. (Look at the elephant!)

·         Creating the moment of attention control takes less than a second.

·         Sometimes, the entire routine depends upon that attention control at a critical moment.  

·         Misdirection can turn what would otherwise be just a puzzle into a miracle.

In Judo

·         You can use these tools at your discretion, and when you do, you can even test them before using them.

·         When something comes toward your eye, you blink. If you see a ball heading toward your head, you duck. Some, you’ve trained into yourself, such as covering your nose and mouth before sneezing. Your reflexes are automatic.

·         This means that setting up a move can be very easy, because the misdirection is based on controlling people’s reflexes.

·         Creating or taking opportunity is what makes judo work. The creating part is our main concern here. Like kuzushi, it happens in only a millisecond.

·         All judo throws, and most ne-waza moves, depend upon creating the opportunity, and controlling reflexes creates it.

·         Take advantage of being able to pre-test them. I’ll share one of my magic secrets here. In a couple of card trick routines, I have a move that requires I have both hands on the deck when I do it. If a spectator were to give it any thought, there’s no reason for me to have a two handed grip. So, from time to time in my show, I take the deck in the other hand to perhaps flick a speck of something off my close-up pad, or itch my nose, or point a finger for emphasis.  Often, at the same moment, I look into their eyes, and then look back. When the time comes for the real business, the spectator is pre-conditioned.

                              I’m not giving up any magic secrets.  I reveal this to you because you wouldn’t catch me doing it. Just bragging again.·        

Judo Direction / Misdirection Techniques

·   The difference between an elegant judo move and a nearly-not-really judo move that struggles and forces its way to a conclusion depends upon how it begins.

      In order to discover what works for you, it is important to experiment, and this is what randori is for.

1.       Just do them and see what your ukes automatically respond with.

2.       Know what you want for a response and play with ways to get it.

·         Here is a list of simple things you can do.

1.       A slight twisting or turning of your hand from the wrist.

2.       A light pull or tug. (or a few)

3.       A strong pull or tug. “ “

4.       Push, one or both hands. “ “

5.       A head tilt or rotation (any direction).

6.       A foot tap (for sure, something more than the little meaningless and useless footsy tapping we so often see).

7.       A hip twitch.

8.       Work in some pre-conditioning.

These aren’t just “fake outs”. The reflex you create is one that takes attention away from what you intend, because your uke will be interested in something else, by reflex or by direction thereto. 

You can likely add some more. You don’t need them all, so experiment and see what suits you best.

These might not seem like much, but they are. As with magic, they are often subtle, and it is important not only to use them, but to experiment and figure out when to do so. As I said, this is what randori is for (randori isn’t shiai).

When a magician uses misdirection, the spectator doesn’t afterwards say, “Wow! I sure fell for that misdirection move. Did you see that?!”  The spectator doesn’t know it happened, never saw a thing.  The same should be true in judo. As with magic, the controlling split second of the uke’s automatic responses, should remain your secret.

I hope one day you’ll be thankful for these tips because they helped make your judo work.  


Monday, October 30, 2023

Judo Magic – Mind Control

October, 2023

Somewhere herein I need to think about what I call “judo magic”. You might perhaps want to think of it as “misdirection”. Magicians nowadays distinguish between “misdirection” and “direction”.  The latter term might be best for describing what this judo magic is about. The idea is to direct uke to take an action which they don’t realize is the underlying thing that makes the throw work.*

It works on the same principle as Renraku Waza, combinations, but this is much more subtle.  The idea is to get uke to respond to an action that is really a set-up, not the true threat.  Sometimes, these don’t seem very subtle. Even then, they are.

One I really like consists of a very small but sharp action of my hands (almost just a wrist twist), torso and head turning toward uke’s right front corner, as I started a step around.  This got a small but strong moment of resistance that I used to then do o-soto-gari to uke’s rear right corner. I can’t really call that harai to o-soto. It resulted in uke having an automatic response to the opposite direction.

Important note: sometimes a subtlety is so subtle that it isn’t noticed at all, and it can be used without follow-up just to see and feel what uke will do. It’s a freebee.  This “free trial” is a very important thing to try, appreciate and remember.

Some are not so subtle. The late Rene Capo (two-time Olympian) used to enjoy doing a scary hip twitch to the front, then a nidan ko-soto to the rear. It was a “not-so-subtle subtlety. It worked embarrassingly well (I recall). Sometimes, he’d reverse it and take me to the front. It was a common pre-attack maneuver that many competitors were doing in that era, and it seemed to work really well until folks started to train against it. It still would work.

When I was just starting out, Gokyu days, I did a very unsubtle move that worked 90% of the time. I’d tighten up my fists and strongly push uke backwards with a couple of serious steps. When I felt the resistance, I’d relax my arms completely and spin around into morote seoinage.  It was really, really simple, and almost to the point of being “dumb”.  As time went on, I thought for some reason that nobody would fall for it. I stopped doing it, as I was in search of sexier things. Not long ago, I tried it again, and it worked even better. A special note: if you do this, be sure to move forward from your center of mass, not your shoulders, and don’t make your arms more rigid than minimally necessary.  Without getting too esoteric about it, it was so blatant that it really was subtle.  It worked with the combination of the initial power and then the total relaxing, and if you study (try) some go no kata, you’ll appreciate this even more. This same basic “push and reverse” idea works in all direction; although the “push uke back, then release to the front is maybe the easiest. You can test them all.

I cannot say for certain about this, as it is only a speculation. I always wondered what Kyuzo Mifune was doing with his extreme head-bobbing action prior to yoko wakari. It looks very odd and creates an almost predictable action. I wonder if this causes uke to resist being drawn downward and forward, setting up for the kuzushi for the throw.

This is all strategy and not tactics. So often I’ve seen opportunity in my rearview mirror. The chance happens, and moments or maybe hours later, I replay the chance. If only I could have taken advantage!  Well, I learned how to create that chance, then forgot about it, and then I relearned it.

Judo action is not analyzed during attack, but responded to. We play against uke’s reflex responses. As we play, we hope to analyze the ongoing situation and strategize. It is the reflex part we are going to direct.

I’m going to take this opportunity to get metaphysical. In judo, there is a place I call “The void”.  Again, a physically involved study of go no kata will really help you understand this, but that can be a bonus and you don’t have to physically do it. I push you, and you push back. I suddenly stop being there.  In the moment you respond, I have simply become nothing. Within that void, I create my movement and let it happen. It is as if time stands still and I move within it. Perhaps it is only in my imagination. 

One time when my Japanese friend Kazuo Hirayama was in town doing a seminar for my students, he was talking about directing ki.  Kazuo sensei is now eighth dan master in Shorinji Kempo.  He was endeavoring to get us to try to create ki via contact movement with our partners, and it was not really happening very much. Nobody seemed to be getting it. He stopped us and said, “You try too hard. Now, just pretend.” I swear, some of us started thinking it was happening. Very Yoda-like. So, if you want to seek out the void, just pretend.

Let’s get back to reality. I push. You push back. I don’t force anything, but I go to the place where the throw happens, and uke shows up.  I join his force with my pull and turn, in the correct tsurikomi architecture.  A miracle happens, because the throw works effortlessly. I’m thinking to myself, “Wow! I wish I could do that all the time.”

It is what a magician does when utilizing direction control. It can be a very complicated subject, but for simplicity let’s say a magician directs your attention to something that will gain your attention. Maybe it’s done with just a look, or it could be a large motion of a hand putting an object on the table, and many more methods. (In fact, I’ve published a book on the subject and currently write an ongoing article on it for an international magic magazine.) The magician directs your attention, you respond, and during that moment a secret and unsuspected and unnoticed activity happens.  In judo, I push you and you respond. I have directed you into making a reflex action. It’s a trick. You might know the name of the resulting throw, but you very likely won’t know the directional secret move that made you respond and contribute to it.

If you add all this to making your judo work, you will get magical results.


*I am a professional magician, too, so I know about these things. In fact, I’ve published a book on the subject of misdirection and currently write an ongoing article on it for an international magic magazine. The similarity between performance magic and judo is very strong.


Monday, October 2, 2023

Hane Goshi Backwards


Hane Goshi Backwards

This September’s blog is about improving hane goshi while using that information to improve all front throws.  This should hopefully be a benefit to both those who are struggling with hane and those who are good with it. Successful front throws and this hane goshi all have the same essentials in common. Hane makes a good example for us because for many it’s a challenging throw. These photo illustrations show the throw at the point just before uke is about to be taken around and down, at the apex of the kake. What is cool about this is that we can see what the elements had to be to lead up to this final moment.

We almost always explain throws beginning with a look at kuzushi, then tsukuri, and finally kake. In this study, we are going to use the kake to look backwards in time to see what had to take place in order to make it happen.

I can speak about this example because it is me doing the throw. Let’s look at the things without which this throw won’t happen. Let us study it backwards.

1.       Tori’s relative body position, shown by the downward pointing orange arrows, is such that the knee is forward of the toes, the chest is forward of the knees, and the head is forward of the chest.

Notice that the girl in the background is not applying these positions to her failing ippon seoinage efforts. It is universal. 

2.       Tori’s left heel is off the ground, and the power of the throw that is coming from the left leg is driven up from the ball of the foot, not a flat foot.  A flat foot tends to drive the power backward rather than upward and forward. The orange ball under the left heels is where the action is.

3.       If you look at uke’s judogi at the collar to my left hand’s pocket grip, the two blue dots on the curved link, you will see that there is continual pull, as indicated by how taught the jacket is between the hands. Very importantly, the right hand has not stopped its driving around force and lapsed into inactivity or stayed behind the rest of the throw.

4.       The blue wedge? It indicates that my hips are “open” rather than “closed”. Not to be vulgar, but I’ve found the best example of this is to think of a dog and a fire hydrant. This creates a lifting shelf of my leg, which uke is resting upon and will in a split second be rotated off. Notice that tori’s upper body and lifting leg are almost a single piece and are parallel to the mat. The leg action is not stopped and uke is rotated over. It continues with enough follow-through that uke will land with his feet forward of his head, completing a circular path.

     Tori’s head is not way down, head diving into the tatami. Tori will not be doing a front roll fall to complete the kake. The point we are at is such that, had the photographer been a tiny bit late, there would not be a picture of the throw.

This is a hip throw, not a leg throw.  And for many, that’s the rub, for two reasons. The hip throw is uki goshi, not o-goshi. Since many people do a variation of o-goshi for uki goshi, this can be a problem. Uki goshi uses a shallow hip, with a “T” fitting, not a half bun variation of o-goshi. Hence, the lifting leg goes up at the wrong angle and there is no way uke can be put on a shelf. If you can’t do a proper uke goshi, it is unlikely you will ever get a decent hane goshi. That’s just part one of the concern.

The added part is that hane goshi is uke goshi with a leg assist. Your hip is the only fulcrum point. The kuzushi and body fitting all go to a point where uke is off balance to the front and has begun to be taken up via the hip action. The leg now comes up to blast the throw into full action and rotation.

At least, that’s what is happening in the picture.

When I was first learning judo, my sensei Paul Sheehan had learned his judo at the San Diego Judo Club under the instruction of Al Holtman (circa 1958) while in the navy. He was frequently on laundry duty, and he would lift the laundry bags from the floor to a conveyor, lifting them with his leg hane goshi style. He came away from the navy with a very powerful hane goshi leg.

By the time Paul was head instructor at the Mankato State College Judo Club, the method he passed on was all about the leg lift. I could never get that to happen, and I suspect that a large percentage of judoka first learning hane encounter the same problem, not because of Paul, but because that’s what the throw feels like when done to them. Plus, that’s what it looks like; but that is an illusion.

We tend to see the big action in the throws we want to learn before we see the smaller and more essential actions. All throws where the leg takes a visually big action confuse us in this way. Big arm actions create the same misdirection.

It is critical to ask before the big action, “What is going on to make that big action work?”  Because hane goshi is a complex throw, this question is essential to learning it with minimal angst. This also teaches us that there are universal common elements we must apply in order to make all judo throws work.  In this case, it is interesting and useful that we can work backwards from the kake of a throw to see the things that are in place before the kake could be successful.

I hope this will give you insights into your hane goshi, as well as your overall throwing endeavors and help make your judo work.


Friday, August 25, 2023


Going to the Mat - Control it! 

Physical battles begin standing. If they come to grips, they go to the ground. The person who goes to the ground best wins. 

The important part is “going to the ground best.” At the onset, judo’s samurai heritage said that the “best” part had to do with staying alive and vanquishing the opponent. That meant the opponent went to the ground, but the tori didn’t. Tori maintained standing zanshin. A look at all the self-defense katas shows this to be true. Uke goes to the ground and tori maintains a very positive and controlling standing posture. Tori is maintaining balance, control of uke, and is simultaneously aware of the total surroundings, should any other enemies be coming. Zanshin.

Yes, one could point out that judo has sacrifice techniques and makikomi, but let’s put that away for later clarification.

I believe that in improving one’s judo technique, a judoka should strive for standing control. I see that today’s shiai favors rolling ippons. That said, when a rolling throw is attempted and fails, tori’s body separates from ukes to the point of almost putting the forehead on the mat. Rolling throws also end with tori not maintaining control, and sometimes creating a separation on the mat. 

If we still want judo to represent the initial samurai aspect, even to the point of being useful for today’s personal defense, rolling throws are not a good idea. Throwing somebody onto the concrete will most likely take them out of the action, but not necessarily. You also don’t want any bony part of your body to smash into the hard surface. You don’t want to throw someone and still be in their grasp. BJJ aside, you don’t want to be on the ground with somebody who is still in a position to bite, kick, head-butt, eye gouge, or provide any other animalistic response. If the opponent has a friend, you are potentially in serious trouble.

We can look at how hold downs relate to this. In the initial discussions of creating contest rules, there were a few who suggested that three seconds was enough to declare a victory. That was how long it should take a samurai to draw the short sword and stab the opponent (before the opponent did it first, one hoped). Given some thought, why would anyone want to hold an opponent in place for a long period of time? Secure it, own it, Ippon!.

If you practice throwing uke and completing in a standing posture, controlling the sleeve arm, and being tuned in, you can get instantly to a hold down or an arm lock. If your throw only scores waza-ari, you can be there in plenty of time to get the hold, provided you’ve controlled the arm. 

To add to this “throw-and-control” idea, think about how we train ne waza. If we start on the ground, we are unrealistic. Physical battles begin standing. Starting with a non-ippon throw and then battling for supremacy is a much more useful drill. It can be with a specific takedown and predetermined response (from either judoka), or it can be a scramble. What doesn’t work is too good a throw, unless it is a predetermined set of moves.  A waza-ari o-goshi into kesa gatame isn’t much use unless very specific controls or defense / escapes are practiced. 

In all instances, the automatic response to being thrown is to have a brain shift, and more often than not it isn’t into a functional one. Pre-conditioning is required. A pre-conditioned uke can beat tori, unless tori has a trained control reflex. 

I have a life-long judo friend whose students do really great looking “throw-and-roll” throws. His history as a coach and referee is exemplary. He trains players to win shiai, so the “throw-and-roll” is what he teaches, and a fine job he does. We both come from the days of having only ippon and waza-ari for scores, with throw and control required for ippon. I’d wager he’d tell me that judo is dynamic and changes and we have to change with it. My thought is that we are the ones who change it and / or allow it to be changed; but he’s right, because that’s the way it is. Then again, I’m not a “Judo for shiai” only sensei. 

If I were coaching for shiai victories, I believe that training for throw & control will provide many more victories. I believe this has more bio-physical advantage in terms of  the physics of what makes judo throws work. This is a debatable statement, for another time. 

That said, I also believe that learning a throw the ends standing before learning it as a rolling throw will provide a better rolling throw if wanted. 

Standing control will be a much better reflex on the street. Martial arts and street confrontation is a broad subject.  Narrowed down to the option of staying on ones feet or going to the ground in a personal defense situation, my advice is to stay standing. 

One excellent judo throw control endeavor is nage no kata. You may or may not be able to find a sensei who can help you with the many nuances of it. Still, the very nature of it demands zanshin

Here is a video that shows a cop using a throw right out of nage no kata to defend against a machete attack. There is no doubt in my mind that this cop studied kata. His reactions to take control once the throw was concluded show how going from standing control to opponent on the ground control is functional.

You must go to the mat against an opponent with full control, from the beginning to the end. 

From the perspective of being the one thrown, you must be ready to take control of the opponent as the opponent comes to the ground with you. The seemingly automatic success of  o-goshi  to kesa gatame seems assured. When asked how to escape from kesa, I tell students, “Don’t get into it!” This is true of many of the predicaments resulting from good throws that don’t quite score ippon. Even before landing, you must begin the movements required for destroying the hold. What are they? Many are the ones you learned in class by starting already in the hold while practicing, although you were learning them from a static position. Just as throws must be learned in moving scenarios, escapes from hold downs must be learned from being thrown. The moves that you need to do to escape kesa must be in progress even as impact happens, and before the referee says osaekomi! Take control; don’t be controlled.

(It is difficult to practice these defensive strategies unless your sensei actually creates drills for them. That’s between you and your sensei.)

Rock & Roll

Doing BJJ “rolling” is okay because it provides an understanding of how to move and manipulate, and it gives you good on-the-mat body awareness. It also teaches you to spot and take opportunities, as well as create them. I like it that in BJJ there is a strong submission mentality. In judo, there is no rolling. It’s “Get it or forget it”. That’s the samurai mentality again, kill or be killed. It’s all rock ! 

When practicing ne waza, don’t hang around on the mat for minutes on end while getting nowhere. Either get something within half a minute or get up and start over. FYI, never start facing each other on your knees! Don’t begin in the guard, unless you are practicing BJJ. (If you want to use the guard to do something that takes the game, then find ways to get from someplace realistic into the guard, and it can’t be a pull down from a fake sacrifice throw. 


  • Throw and remain standing in zanshin.

  • Don't start matwork practice on the mat.

  • Learn throws standing before rolling.

  • Judo for self defense is best when tori remains standing. 

  • Nage no kata is good throw control training.

  • If thrown, take control before being controlled.

  • If thrown, your best defense is an immediate offense.

  • Don’t loiter in ne waza

  • Begin ne waza from realistic positions. 

  • Your throw isn’t over when uke hits the ground. Your throw is over when you have vanquished your opponent. 

Control is the Inner Secret Word

Throughout, “control” has been the theme. Constantly ask yourself where and how you can control the process from throw to matwork. Add that to your judo and your judo will work better.