Arts

Learn Effective Judo Strategies for Competition and Self-Defense From Olympic Medalist Mike Swain, Part 2

Action and Reaction

Many judoka have a favorite throw they’ll use whenever the opportunity presents itself. Contrary to what some instructors claim, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Olympic judo bronze-medalist Mike Swain says. In fact, it can make all the moves in their judo arsenal more effective by intimidating their opponent. And since they’ve probably practiced the technique to perfection, it ought to serve as a devastating method of self-defense.

“If the person you’re facing fears your favorite throw, your other techniques like the backward throw and foot sweeps work better because your opponent reacts to you coming in for your favorite throw,” Swain says.

Sometimes your opponent will employ as a counter the same judo technique you’re using — which is often the case with the osoto gari, or outer-reaping throw. “What makes a throw work is the courage to attack with your entire body,” Mike Swain says. “You can’t just come in halfway because that’s when you get countered.”

Take It to the Street

Virtually any judo technique that works in competition will work on the street, Mike Swain says. In addition to the technical knowledge you have — and which your opponent probably doesn’t — you’ll have an advantage because you’re used to employing force against force in grappling range. Just as important, you’ll know how to fall without hurting yourself.

Mike Swain

If you determine there’s a need for it, you can always throw a punch or kick to set up a judo technique or to finish one. “In competition, you’d have to use the person’s uniform to pull him off-balance,” Swain says. “On the street, you can just strike him and he’ll be off-balance. Then you can follow through with your throw.”

Your follow-through can include just about any judo move you like with the exception of the hip throw, he says. That’s because in a street fight, the last thing you should do is turn your back to your opponent, even if it’s for an instant.

The most effective moves in such a post-strike situation are sweeps and rear-leg trips, he says. “When someone’s grabbing you and pushing you, he’ll usually have one leg forward. You can take that leg out with your foot, and it’ll happen so quickly that he can’t even see it.”

Extreme Techniques

As soon as your opponent falls, you should keep him down while you try to turn him over and control him or lock his arm, Mike Swain says. Alternatively, you can shoot for a choke. Usually executed from behind, judo chokes are so effective because they cut off the blood supply to the brain, causing the person to pass out in seconds.

judo choke

If you’d rather not mess with unconsciousness, you can go for a standing arm lock. Although it’s no longer permitted in judo competition, he says, it’s still a great self-defense tool that can hyperextend a limb and incapacitate an assailant.

The technique is executed as follows: When the aggressor punches, you grab the wrist of his attacking arm and pull it forward. Then you press your chest against his elbow and put all your weight on the joint, Swain says. At that point, he has two options: to hit the floor face-first or allow his arm to snap. Neither one will be pretty.

Read Part 1 of this story here!

Text by Sara Fogan and Robert W. Young. Mike Swain’s website is mikeswainjudo.com.

Bonus! The Best of Mike Swain

  • Best time to do a choke: When your opponent is distracted, such as during a transition.
  • Best way to prevent a choke: Keep your chin down.

Olympic judoka

  • Best way to keep your opponent from getting close enough to choke you: Position your hands by your throat so that when he reaches for your neck, you can grab his hands or sleeves.
  • Best way to escape from an armbar: Once it’s caught, there’s no way. When your arm is hyperextended, you can’t just pull it back.
  • Best way to stop an armbar: If you know he’s going for it, you can pull your arm in and grab your own jacket—or your arm or leg.
  • Best way to execute the triangle choke unexpectedly: When your opponent is on all fours. They do it from their back in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, whereas in judo, they apply it when the person’s on his hands and knees. It’s the same technique but applied in a different way.
  • Best way to maintain your upright posture: Keep your head above your hips. You always want to stand up straight. When you’re bent over, it’s easier for the person to throw you.
  • Best way to fight a bigger and stronger attacker: Turn around and run.
  • Second-best way to fight a bigger and stronger attacker: Polish your judo techniques and couple that knowledge with superior

Learn Effective Judo Strategies for Competition and Self-Defense From Olympic Medalist Mike Swain, Part 1

In the early days of judo, practitioners would challenge jujitsu stylists to all-out fights to prove which art was superior. Because weight classes were unheard of, there ended up being a lot of small guys fighting a lot of big guys. Judo had to function as a David-vs.-Goliath art if it was to survive. Its adherents quickly discovered that if they had speed and technique, they could nullify their opponent’s strength advantage.

So says Mike Swain, an internationally known judo practitioner who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics. He insists that same mix of speed and technique is just as potent on the mat today, but if you ever need to employ the grappling and throwing art on the street, you may need to spice it up a bit — by avoiding certain techniques and sprinkling in some striking. The following are his favorite fighting philosophies for turning the tables on your opponent no matter where the action takes place.

Control His Body With Judo

In a judo tournament, if you throw your opponent onto his back with force and control, you’ll earn a full point and win the match. “It’s like a knockout,” the Black Belt Hall of Famer says. A similar logic applies to the street because when a person is hurled to the pavement, chances are he’ll be incapacitated.

judo

If the throw doesn’t work quite right and your adversary falls on his side or on his hands and knees, you must use your weight to control him, Mike Swain says. “If you give him any kind of space, he can escape.”

If you happen to be on the wrong end of a throw, once you’re on the ground, you should keep your elbows and knees tucked in, he says. “I call it the ‘beach-ball theory.’ If you jump on a beach ball, you roll off. If an opponent tries to smother you with his body, you can grab him and roll him off you.”

This posture is also useful in self-defense because it protects your vital areas. You don’t want to leave your legs open because your groin will be exposed, and you don’t want your body to be spread out because your torso will be vulnerable, he says. Plus, the defensive position makes it more difficult for your foe to climb on top and immobilize you.

Use Judo to Feel Your Way

Whether you’re rolling in the Olympics or fighting for survival, your consciousness must be uncluttered so you can sense your opponent’s movements, Mike Swain says. Once you’ve freed it of extraneous thoughts, you’ll be better able to expect the unexpected — and react to it.

judo choke

When you’re in grappling range, your awareness should be more about feeling what your enemy is doing than about seeing him move, he says. He likens this principle to dancing: Instead of looking at your partner’s feet to determine where she’s going, you look directly into her eyes. Judo requires that a slight adjustment be made: Divert your gaze to your opponent’s chest and use your peripheral vision to keep track of what’s going on around you.

A valuable exercise entails practicing randori (free-sparring) with a partner after both of you have donned a blindfold. “Let your body feel which way your opponent is going to move,” Mike Swain says. “When you have a dance partner, you have to know when to step [to avoid crushing] her toes. It’s the same with judo: You have to feel when [your opponent] is off-balance.”

Break His Balance the Judo Way

Disrupting your opponent’s balance is the key to executing nearly every judo throw, says the San Jose, California-based instructor. In competition, you’re restricted to using legal judo moves to destabilize him, but on the street, you’re free to use strikes or even dirty tricks to catch him off-guard and set him up for a finishing technique.

A sleeve grip is the most important grip in tournaments because it also helps you get in the right position to execute a throw, Mike Swain says. While that move can work on an opponent who’s wearing a sturdy shirt or a jacket, it won’t function against a T-shirt. Fortunately, it’s not as serious a problem as it was in the past.

“A lot of the techniques that are done in Olympic competition today don’t rely on a gi,” Swain says. “They rely on wrist grabs and leg kicks. There’s a lot more wrestling influence these days. It comes from the European side of judo, like with the Russians and their sambo.”

(To be continued.)

Text by Sara Fogan and Robert W. Young • Photos by Rick Hustead • Mike Swain’s website is mikeswainjudo.com.

Bonus! Judo Movie Magic

Judo’s tomoe nage is also known as the rear-sacrifice throw. …

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Sho Kosugi and the Ninja Warriors!

The year was 2006, and it was my first visit to Hollywood. Whom did I choose to meet first on that day? The foremost name in ninja movies: Sho Kosugi.

There I was, standing in his office in the heart of Tinseltown, having just wrapped an hourlong interview on the master movie ninja’s life, career and plans for the future, and the camera crew was making its way around the room, getting pickup shots. I was thrilled to have spent an hour hanging with my boyhood hero when Sho Kosugi upped the excitement ante a notch.

“I don’t know if you’re interested,” he said, “but if you want more film …”

ninja

Sho Kosugi preparing to break flaming blocks circa 1979.

And with that, Sho Kosugi opened a theretofore-unnoticed office door — seriously, it looked like a utility closet — and ushered us into his secret lair. It harbored a treasure trove of every sword, throwing star, costume, metal claw and chain-mail mask that had ever appeared in an ’80s ninja flick. It also housed a plethora of scripts, original film prints and 8×10 glossy color photographs.

Once we pulled our jaws off the floor, the cast and crew very professionally filmed every angle of the shinobi cornucopia that Sho Kosugi offered up for our cameras — then very unprofessionally geeked out, tried on every piece of equipment and kept him an extra half-hour to pose for pictures. Ever the gentleman, he indulged our fanboy proclivities and even signed a poster for yours truly.

So what did we learn from our close encounter with Sho Kosugi? That if, even in a modest production office, one can stumble across a secret room filled with ninjutsu treasures, memorabilia and death-dealing gadgets, then it’s obvious that the hidden world of the shadow warriors still hasn’t given up all its secrets. Here are 10 more titillating facts I’ll bet you didn’t know — and didn’t even know you didn’t know — about the ninja.

1

Ninja Swords Had Leather Hand Guards, Not Those Big Square Metal Ones You See in the Movies

Risuke Otake sensei of Japan’s katori shinto ryu explains: “This is so they will not rattle when moving around. They also have shorter blades and a longer cord.”

Historian Antony Cummins adds, “This is an obvious step for a shinobi to take, and the Shoninki (a historical text on ninjutsu) states that an o-wakizashi is best — which is, of course, a short sword.”

[True Path of the Ninja, Antony Cummins and Yoshie Minami]

2

Ninja Fought in World War II

From a previously classified document: “A secret military spy school taught ninjutsu … as part of its curriculum. The Rikugun Nakano Gakko was run by the Japanese Imperial Army and was used to train military intelligence operatives in secret.”

Some 2,300 soldiers are believed to have graduated from the course before it was closed in 1945, when Japan surrendered to Allied forces. “The students weren’t just taught to sneak around in black footed-pajamas with katana and throwing stars … but also learned more practical methods of gathering intelligence and sabotage, including bomb making and photography,” the document reveals.

[“WWII Ninjas? Secret Spy School Taught Ninjutsu Skills to Soldiers,” Adam Westlake, japandailypress.com]

3

Ninja Beat People With Live Snakes

Anyone who’s seen Cannon Films’ 1983 classic Revenge of the Ninja can tell you two things: Ninja grandmas are awesome, and a kusari-gama is a short, sharp sickle with a chain or weighted rope attached to its handle. That attachment is used as a long-range weapon and for entangling a close-range opponent.

ninja

Masaaki Hatsumi (photo courtesy of Bud Malmstrom)

However, historical warriors didn’t limit themselves to mere chains and ropes. Masaaki Hatsumi, 34th grandmaster of togakure-ryu ninjutsu, says practitioners would sometimes attach “small, explosive charges or fireballs” and on special occasions “a bound, terrified poisonous snake to the enemy’s body. The enemy would then be so busy dealing with the snake bites [that] he would be unable to counter the ninja as he advanced with his ripping sickle blade.”

[Ninjutsu: History and Tradition, Masaaki Hatsumi]

4

Also, With Angry Cats!

Kunoichi (female ninja) would sometimes carry a fluffy cat in their arms to conceal “a ninja dagger and smoke grenade,” Hatsumi writes. “[The cat] could also serve as a potent distraction weapon when thrown into the face of an unsuspecting intruder.”

[Ninjutsu: History and Tradition, Masaaki Hatsumi]

5

Ninja “Magic” Comes From India, Not Japan

The shinobi mystic’s half-meditational, half-magical practice of kuji-in finger knitting, first popularized in the films of Sho Kosugi, was adapted from esoteric Buddhism. Before that, it was part of some sects of Hinduism. The earliest records of the practice are said to be written in Sanskrit, a 3,000-year-old dead language.

Perhaps because of their mystical powers of concentration …

Taekwondo Master Jhoon Rhee Says There Is No Such Thing as Advanced Stances and Positions!

It would be tough to come up with a bigger name in the taekwondo world than Jhoon Rhee. A pioneer in the Korean martial arts and a two-time Black Belt Hall of Fame inductee, the taekwondo master was one of the first to spread the kicking art in America, and he promoted it tirelessly until he died on April 30, 2018. All martial artists would do well to heed Jhoon Rhee’s advice, especially if they’re interested in developing power, speed and accuracy at the advanced levels of training. — Editor

One of the most common mistakes all martial artists make — not just taekwondo students — is assuming that the positions and techniques they learn as a white belt are for beginners and the positions and techniques they will learn as a black belt are somehow more effective.

So says taekwondo legend Jhoon Rhee. He claims there is little, if any, difference between the moves a newcomer learns during his first few months and the self-defense moves a 20-year veteran would use on the street.

TKD

Advanced Techniques in Taekwondo

“So-called advanced techniques are really just basic moves coupled with speed and accuracy,” Jhoon Rhee says. “Advanced training comes from one source: the performance of many, many repetitions. Each basic move must be repeated over and over again to become part of you.”

Learning a striking art such as taekwondo is like learning how to drive a car, he explains. “First you learn the basics. You are nervous for a while, but pretty soon you become more used to doing everything. Later you don’t even think about it. You just drive because it becomes part of your body.

“In other words, the only way to become a skilled martial artist is to learn how to perform automatically. Train so much that your arms and legs operate on their own. You should not even have to think about executing a specific technique. Your hands should be like heat-seeking missiles, guiding themselves to their target.”

taekwondo

Diligent Training for Better Taekwondo

To rise to such a level of proficiency, Jhoon Rhee recommends practicing taekwondo or your chosen martial art a minimum of one hour a day. “You must put your heart into it,” he says. “Train until your arms and legs become sore. That’s the only way you can be sure your muscles are developing.”

To maintain good balance and form while you are striving to make your moves flow, pretend you have a glass of water on top of your head, he says. “If you learn how to kick and punch without letting it spill, you will become a well-balanced martial artist. And you will be able to isolate the motions involved in various techniques, which better develops the muscles needed to perform each movement.”

Go here to read “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Taekwondo Legend Jhoon Rhee.”

His argument that there are no advanced techniques includes his assertion that his Jhoon Rhee taekwondo system — and, to a certain extent, all striking arts — are composed of 12 basic stances:

  • high closed stance
  • high open stance
  • high back stance
  • high twist stance
  • low closed stance
  • low open stance
  • low back stance
  • low twist stance
  • front stance
  • front-kick stance
  • side-kick stance
  • round-kick stance

The earlier you master these stances, the better off you will be because they will crop up throughout your martial arts career, Jhoon Rhee says. They are not positions you learn as a yellow belt and never see again.

taekwondo

Jhoon Rhee (1932 – 2018)

Essential Positions of Taekwondo

Progressing in taekwondo or another striking art also requires learning the 12 basic positions, Jhoon Rhee says:

  • attention
  • bowing
  • ready
  • folding
  • chopping
  • punching
  • front kick in
  • front kick out
  • side kick in
  • side kick out
  • round kick in
  • round kick out

Power in the execution of a technique from one of these basic positions emanates not from any sort of black-belt secrets, but from the use of the hips, Jhoon Rhee says. “Force equals mass times acceleration, so power comes from your body weight, your mass. When you multiply that by acceleration, the rate at which speed changes, you get force. It’s as simple as that.”

Click here to read Jhoon Rhee’s “7 Qualities of a Martial Arts Champion.”

Just as repetition boosts accuracy, it also boosts speed and, therefore, power. “Repetition will develop your muscles,” Jhoon Rhee says, “and muscles will enable you to move your body with power — just like a black belt.”

Text by S.D. Seong • Color photos by Sara Fogan

Mastering Kendo and Kenjutsu: First You Need to Get a Grip!

Grip is an important facet of Japanese sword arts like kendo, kenjutsu and iaido. Simply said, if you don’t hold the kodachi (short sword) or choken (long sword) correctly, everything else leading up to the execution and follow-through of your cut will be substandard and ultimately cause you to perform below your potential.

Furthermore, poor hand placement when using a sword promotes inadequate hand-eye coordination and telegraphs your technique. The latter is very important if you’re engaging in kendo.

Conversely, holding the sword correctly allows for smooth execution and seamless transitions between stances and movements. You’ll be able to perform offensive and defensive techniques in such a fluid manner that the sword will become part of you.

Dana Abbott

Dana Abbott learned Japanese swordsmanship while living in Japan for 14 years.

Before beginning a discussion of sword-gripping methods, it’s important to note that the handle (tsuka) of some practice weapons, including padded swords and the shinai (bamboo sword), is round, whereas wooded and steel sword handles have an oval cross section. The oval pattern is better for gripping and is a more efficient design. Round handles are associated mostly with training in the Japanese sport of kendo and its Korean counterpart, kumdo, because exact cutting isn’t required.

Right Hand

When gripping the kodachi or choken with one hand, you’ll probably find that your right hand feels more natural. Many people make the mistake of applying too much pressure with it, resulting in stiff and rigid movements. Avoid the problem by reducing the pressure you exert with your right hand by 30 percent and consciously trying to relax.

kodachi

Black Belt Hall of Famer Dana Abbott assumes a ready position with a choken.

Pay extra attention to your little, ring and middle fingers while applying pressure to the sword’s handle. That will promote good hand, wrist and forearm positioning. Your thumb and forefinger should touch each other slightly at their tips without applying as much pressure. Make sure you leave your arm bent to act as a shock absorber when striking. Keep your body supple.

Left Hand

Holding the kodachi or choken in your left hand will seem awkward at first, and it may feel lifeless and unresponsive. Nevertheless, it’s imperative that you train your left side in the proper sword-gripping methods.

When learning the sword, your left hand plays an important role in the overall picture. Through combative practice, your left arm will gain a stronger sense of perception and see an increase in motor skills and rhythm within a short time. It will develop its own strength through repetitive strikes and thrusts.

Almost immediately, you’ll be executing left-hand techniques at double your speed, timing and rhythm. What was originally your weak side will become a secret weapon your opponent can’t defend against.

Both Hands

Because of its length, the choken is best wielded with two hands. Of course, you can manipulate it with only one hand, but that’s not optimal for balance. When gripping the long sword with both hands, it’s imperative that the hands work in unison.

Dana Abbott

Dana Abbott executes a basic vertical sword strike to show proper grip.

Your back hand produces the strength and power, while your front hand controls the subtleties of your movements. That’s not to say that your front hand imparts no power to your techniques. It’s just that in most Japanese sword arts, the rear hand is considered the source of power and the right the navigational tool.

This method introduces less telegraphing and reduces the margin for error. It also enables you to generate maximum speed, torque and leverage. It’s a time-tested way to improve your technique with the Japanese sword.

dana abbott sword cover

 

About the author: Dana Abbott is a kendo and kenjutsu practitioner and Black Belt’s 2004 Weapons Instructor of the Year. He’s the subject of the cover story of the April/May 2018 issue of Black Belt, on sale now. Go here to subscribe.

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