BOOK REVIEW: Judō: Skills and Techniques by Tony Reay

JudoJudo by Reay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Tony Reay wrote this book when he was both a 6th degree black belt and Development Officer for the British Judō Association. So his qualifications are beyond a doubt. The book is an overview of the sport of judō that covers techniques, etiquette, rules, warm-up exercises, grading approaches, and other specialty topics. It covers the gamut of issues related to the sport of judō, but without going into much detail. It would be a suitable book for a youngster who is considering whether they might want to get involved. I emphasize that it’s about “sport judō” because there are those who consider judō to be an approach to self-defense and others who think of it as a whole-life philosophy. This isn’t the book for those who want to learn more about judō as anything other than a competitive sport.

The eight chapters of the book cover: history, the grading structure, recreational judo, fitness, techniques, competition, the judō instructor, and judō as an art. However, most of the chapters are cursory. The bulk of the book is devoted to showing 69 of the art’s most fundamental techniques, including: 40 throws, 12 holds, 10 chokes, and 7 arm-locks. For each of these techniques there is a line drawing and a brief description. In a few cases there are black and white photos taken of the technique being performed in competition. This overview of techniques is mostly of value for learning names and accounting for what techniques one has (or hasn’t) learned. There’s not enough detail–either graphically or textually–to help a practitioner improve a technique that they’ve learned. (The latter isn’t a point of criticism, but rather to let people know what they are and aren’t getting in the book.) Still, there are tips scattered throughout the book that might help a practitioner improve their techniques in a general sort of way.

There is a glossary of Japanese terms commonly used in judō.

I found this book to be a fine overview of the sport of judō, and would recommend it for that purpose. While I’ve found other books on the art much more useful for my purposes, I think this is a fine book for someone looking to get into the sport from ground zero. I should point out that the book is from the mid-80’s, and so there will probably be details on rules, scoring, and grading that have changed, but the bulk of it will remain of value.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Secrets of Judo by Jiichi Watanabe and Lindy Avakian

The Secrets of Judo: A Text for Instructors and StudentsThe Secrets of Judo: A Text for Instructors and Students by Jiichi Watanabe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Every once in a while, one stumbles onto a book that one feels desperately needed writing but which one thought didn’t yet exist. In the case of The Secrets of Judo, the book has been around for almost 60 years. First off, a more telling title for this book would be “The Science of Judo” or “The Physics of Judo.” It’s not a book that deals in arcane knowledge, as its title might suggest, but rather applies science to the skills of throwing, pinning, and submitting seen in judo.

While there’s a brief discussion of the nervous system as it pertains to reaction times, the bulk of the book is classic mechanics applied to judo techniques. The first six chapters (which constitute a little over half the book) provide a background of the relevant principles of both physics (e.g. force, momentum, and center of gravity) and judo (e.g. kuzushi [unbalancing], seiryoken zenyo [maximum efficiency], and ukemi [breakfalls].) The last two chapters provide explanations of how forces are applied to achieve successful throws (ch. 7) and grappling techniques—i.e. pins, chokes, and locks (ch. 8.)

I found this book to be invaluable and would recommend it for anyone who’s interested in grappling arts generally (whether judo or not) or even the science of human movement. The writing is clear. There are some mathematical equations, but just the algebraic formulas seen in basic physics. The graphics (mostly line drawings with a few photos) are useful, especially the drawings of the sequences of techniques which have letter labeled arrows to clarify the lines of force.

I should note that I read the original (1960) edition. Tuttle put out a 2011 edition that is probably what you will get–unless you stumble onto a copy in the used bookstore as I did. From a quick glance at the table of contents of the new edition, it doesn’t look like a major change and I suspect the new edition is at least as good.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Pyjama Game by Mark Law

The Pyjama Game: A Journey Into JudoThe Pyjama Game: A Journey Into Judo by Mark Law

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Mark Law’s book contains two types of book in one volume, unified by the theme of judō. On the one hand, it’s a microhistory of the martial art and sport of judō–and, no, it’s not redundant to say the martial art and the sport because while these aspects overlap they aren’t identical. On the other hand, the book presents a personal account of Law’s experience as a judōka who began his practice at the ripe age of 50. The two elements of the book are interwoven together, and aren’t forced into distinct sections by the book’s organization. The history is obviously organized in a chronological fashion, but personal accounts are peppered throughout, and sometimes stories appear in history chapters.

As a history of judō, Law begins with the pre-history of the art in its ancestor martial art of jujutsu, he travels through the arts influence on off-shoots like Sambo and Brazilian Jujutsu, and he examines how the art has contributed to mixed martial arts—the 800 pound gorilla of present-day combative competitions. Particular emphasis is given to Kanō Jigorō’s role as founder of the art and the evolution of judō as an Olympic sport. Interestingly, besides founding Kodokan Judō, Kanō’s other claim to fame was in being the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, he never saw judō become an Olympic event, and—ironically–at least a few among those close to him doubted that Kanō would’ve been pleased with his art’s inclusion in the international games.

While Japan dominated judō when the sport first entered the domain of international competition, it wasn’t long before there were a number of other countries including the Netherlands, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Cuba, and Korea that were producing first-rate judōka. Law devotes considerable discussion to the global blossoming of this sport, including entire chapters on some of the more prominent nations. The book discusses the double-edged sword that Japan faced. On one hand, the Japanese were heart-broken when other nations started beat them at their own game. On the other hand, it was clear that this had to happen for the sport to retain a global following. (Otherwise, the sport might have gone the way of baseball—being pulled out of the Olympics because only a handful of North American, Caribbean, and East Asian nations had any interest in it.

There are also chapters on women’s judō, a development that no doubt faced a good deal more misogyny than many sport’s bi-genderifications. There’s always been resistance to encouraging women’s participation in combative activities—even judō, a martial art whose dangerous edges were supposed to have been rounded off through rules, equipment (e.g. sprung flooring), weight classes, and close monitoring. Law discusses the hard fought evolution of the women’s side of the sport.

As a personal narrative, Law talks about the lessons he learned from training in judō and from testing for rank—an arduous process that requires beating other rank-pursuers in randori (free-form grappling, i.e. the grappling version of sparring.) Many of these lessons will be familiar to anyone who has practiced a martial art (e.g. while it’s more intimidating to fight someone who’s much more experienced in the art, it’s usually vastly more safe—both because senior players are more in control of their bodies and because they have less need to prove anything—i.e. they won’t injure an opponent to protect a fragile ego), but much of this discussion is specific to the culture and practice of judō.

If you’re interested in the history and development of judō, I’d recommend this book. I found the book to be at its most interesting when it addresses the history and globalization of the sport. However, those who haven’t practiced martial arts may find Law’s personal insight to be useful—particularly if you’re considering taking up judō and all the more if you intend to take it up past mid-life.

It should be noted that—judging by the identical table of contents and subtitle—this book was also released under the title Falling Hard: A Journey into Judo. The book does is annotated and provides references. Law is a journalist, and the niceties of that discipline are followed throughout.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Medical Care of the Judōka by Anthony J. Catanese

The Medical Care of the Judoka: A Guide for Athletes, Coaches and Referees to Common Medical Problems in JudoThe Medical Care of the Judoka: A Guide for Athletes, Coaches and Referees to Common Medical Problems in Judo by Anthony J. Catanese

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I’d recommend this book for anyone who holds a position of responsibility in a dōjō or a combative sport gym, including: teachers, coaches, senior students, trainers, etc. It’s intended for those involved with sport judō, but because there aren’t a lot of sport or martial art-specific books of this nature this may be one of one’s best option to get this information. I haven’t stumbled upon other books like this, but performing a search did result in similar books either generic to martial arts or for other martial arts. However, all of the others that I saw were either old / out-of-date, only available in hardcopy (usually at great expense), or were not by physicians. This book is available on Kindle and is quite inexpensive.

While it’s geared toward sport judō, many of the injuries will be common across martial arts. This is truer of grappling-oriented martial arts, but things like mat infections, students with various chronic ailments, and participants being knocked unconscious. (The latter is covered extensively, but arguably being even more of a concern for strikers.)

The book is useful in two ways. First, it discusses first aid and treatment for common injuries in the martial arts. It’s not a first aid manual, and will not replace training. (In fact, the book assumes it’s talking to someone who’s in a position where they’ve had at least minimal training / experience.) However, it may provide useful information about what injuries one should make sure to be trained in when shopping first aid courses. It also gives one ideas about differences of opinion on certain approaches to treatment or the decision as to whether a given participant is safe to participate.

Second, the book discusses whether prospective students with common chronic ailments can safely participate, and under what circumstance. In many cases, this book goes about this by saying what the judō rulebook says. While this may not be a perfect guide for practitioners of other arts, it may give a reasonable idea about how serious one should take a given disease or infirmity.

The book consists of 20 chapters. Most of the chapters cover common injuries and ailments in judō, generally arranged by anatomical systems. However, there are also chapters covering nutrition/hydration, issues for athletes going abroad / older participants / and special needs athletes, drugs and doping considerations, injury rehabilitation issues, psychological challenges, and the traditional Japanese methods of resuscitation and first aid (kappo and katsu.)

In addition to the core chapters, there is some useful ancillary material. First, there are vignettes interspersed throughout the book that could be beneficial. These vignettes reflect the benefit of having an author who is a medical doctor, a long-time judōka, and an experienced match physician. The vignettes may be more likely to stick in one’s head than the blander presentation of information, and these sidebars often address unusual cases. Also, there are two glossaries—one that deals with martial art / sports terminology, and one for medical terminology.

While written by a physician, this book is not written exclusively for other doctors or medical experts. That is to say, it’s easily readable by a lay audience. Medical jargon, when used, is explained the first time in the text, so one doesn’t need to keep jumping to the glossary.

At least the Kindle version is graphics free. That would be problematic if it was a first aid manual, but that’s not this book’s purpose.

As I said in the beginning, if you have responsibilities for the well-being of martial arts students / athletes, you should read this book.

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BOOK REVIEW: Higher Judo by Moshe Feldenkrais

Higher Judo: GroundworkHigher Judo: Groundwork by Moshe Feldenkrais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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If you’re at all familiar with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, most likely it’s for the system of bodily awareness and efficient movement that bears his name (i.e. the Feldenkrais Method.) You may be completely unaware that Feldenkrais was a first-rate judōka who trained under judō’s founder Jigoro Kano, and that his experience with judō played a major role in his understanding of the principles of natural and efficient movement. (It should be noted that Feldenkrais was neither a medical doctor nor a doctor in a medical / biological field, but was a physicist by training.)

Higher Judō was originally published in 1952, and was out of print for many years until a new addition was brought out in 2010 (with three new forwards and some additional back matter.) It’s not hard to imagine why the book made a comeback after such a hiatus–and 26 years after the death of Dr. Feldenkrais. The book explains the ground fighting techniques of judō, which are the basis of Brazilian Jujutsu (BJJ), and BJJ is a dominant form of ground and submission work within Mixed Martial Arts (MMA.) Given the immense popularity of MMA, and the desire of fighters to hone their technique to the utmost, it’s a good time to bring this half-century old book back to the fore.

The book consists of twelve chapters. The first half of these chapters deals with preliminaries such as principles of movement, philosophy, and basic movement exercises. The second half gets into the tactics of ground work. The arrangement for the latter chapters is largely by position of the competitors relative to each other (e.g. the mount, 12 o’clock, side control, in the guard, etc.)

The first half has few graphics, but the last half is packed with line drawings that are based on photographs (ostensibly it was cheaper or easier to reproduced the line drawings back in the day.) The line drawings offer sufficient detail so that one can see what is being done (to the degree one would be able to see it in a photo or even in person—i.e. some of the techniques are subtle and the written description becomes essential.)

The book is a good overview of the basics of ground work with a few unusual and rare techniques thrown in. Feldenkrais points out that some techniques are more important than others, and that one should drill a few of the most critical ones rather than focusing a lot of time on the more eccentric techniques. As I’ve written many times before, I don’t believe that one can learn a martial art from a book. However, if you’ve been taught these types of techniques, you’re sure to find this book an interesting reference with some ideas for approaching ground work training.

Some of the characteristics of the book could be taken as positive or negative, and I’ll leave it to the reader to decide. First, Feldenkrais avoids using names for techniques. He uses neither the common Japanese names for the techniques (e.g. there’s no reference to juji gatame, tomoe nage, or hadaka jime) nor the common English names. He goes by figure number attached to the aforementioned line drawings. Second, he has thoroughly cross-referenced the book such that you might be on the page containing figures 228 and 229, and he’ll make reference to figure 52. So the book involves a lot of turning back (I wrote in the page numbers where off-page figures were referenced so I wouldn’t have to find what page the figure was on each time.) Third, Feldenkrais is a scholar by training and is not averse getting a bit wordy and verging on abstruse. Of course, the flip-side of this is that he provides a great deal of precision in his language. That being said, I found this book readable and much less ponderous than one of his Feldenkrais Method books that I read.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interesting in gaining a better understanding of ground fighting. In the early sections of the book he provides excellent food for thought about the judō approach to movement, and in the latter half he catalogs the basics in a thorough and logical fashion.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Warrior’s Path James Sidney (ed.)

The Warrior's Path: Wisdom from Contemporary Martial Arts MastersThe Warrior’s Path: Wisdom from Contemporary Martial Arts Masters by James Sidney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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My upfront apology: Having drafted this review, I noticed that the book comes off sounding like a bunch of old folks being curmudgeonly about the current generation. As I read this book, that wasn’t the feeling I got. Therefore, it may be a matter of the points that resonated with me, and be more reflective of myself than the martial arts sensei (teachers) who have chapters in the book. [That being said, young readers be forewarned that your generation does get blasted upon not only in this review, but by the sensei in question.]

Fifteen prominent martial arts teachers offer their insights in this book. The group is in many ways homogenous. All fifteen teachers are practitioners of Japanese gendai budō (the modern-day martial arts that developed after the Meiji Restoration [1868]; as contrasted with kobudō or koryū bujutsu, i.e. old school martial arts). All of these martial artists were born in the 1910’s and 20’s and began their study of martial arts in first half of the 20th century.

These teachers are a bridge between the founders of these arts and the arts as we know them today. In a few cases, they are also bridges between kobudō and modern martial arts. For example, Hiroshi Tada was a student of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. While we think of O-sensei (Ueshiba) as a gendai budō practitioner because he founded a modern school, he was brought up on kobudō. Furthermore, students of Gichin Funakoshi (the Shotokan karate founder), Jigorō Kanō (the Kodokan judō founder), Hironori Ōtsuka (the Wadō-ryū karate founder), and Dōshin Sō (the founder of Shōrinji Kempō) are represented.

This book is particularly important in that several of the teachers in it have passed away since the book was published. Time is receding for this generation’s thoughts to be saved for posterity. A cursory google search revealed that at least four of these teachers have passed away: Hidetaka Nishiyama (2008), Tatsuo Suzuki (2011), Keiko Fukuda (2013), and Ron Nobuto Omoto (2013.) However, some were more well-known internationally than others, so there may be a few others that passed on without attracting the attention of English-language websites. However, the youngest of them is 84 (the oldest believed living is 97), and so it’s safe to say there may not be many more chances to hear these people’s wisdom.

I’ve pointed out the homogeneity of this group, but there’s also a diversity about them. Practitioners of karate, judō, aikidō, shōrinji kempō, kendō, kyūdō, and Atarashii Naginata are represented. Despite the notoriously male-dominated nature of Japanese martial arts, at least there are two women’s voices in the mix. While all of the artists are of Japanese ancestry, they’re not all Japanese by citizenry. There are two Americans and two Canadians among the bunch, and one individual who was born in China. There are also individuals who were born in Japan but moved abroad to places like France and Brazil to spread their art.

There are a few themes common across multiple of the commentaries. It might be tempting to dismiss some of these points as the “back-in-my-day” sentimentality of the aged, but their experiences are sometimes too similar to lack veracity.

First, several of the teachers said there was much less doggedness in recent generations than in their era. People come into the dōjō (a martial arts school), dabble a little, and–if they’re not constantly entertained by new and fancy techniques–they quit. As a result, there are many practitioners who possess a vast repertoire of technique, but they aren’t skilled in any of it—and even more who get nowhere. The theme was that there is no fast-track to success in budō, one has to work at it day in and day out. It should be noted that all of these individuals were born before 1930, and yet were still teaching / training in 2003 when the book was published.
Second, this generation devoted considerable effort to developing the mind as well as the body. With the availability of better nutrition, training equipment, and sport science, young martial artists may be physically fitter than ever on average (I’m talking about competitors not those using martial arts as a fat camp), but they are also mentally weaker than ever—with limited attention spans and emotional control. Present-day martial arts students often give little credence to the value of training the mind or carrying a martial arts mindset outside the dōjō. Several of the teachers in this book mentioned practicing Zen or some other form of mental exercise, and some emphasized the importance of carrying the clarity and intention of the dōjō about everyday life.

The problem with this is that the martial arts become a young man’s game, and there becomes a lack of experience. A student does a martial art for a few years and then abandons it because his or her physical athleticism isn’t going to increase. This decreasing physical capacity translates into becoming a weaker martial artist. The only way to grow in the long-run is to become mentally stronger, more self-confident, and having better emotional control.

The problem is that this mental strength and confidence often becomes confused with arrogance or cockiness. But as Nobuyuki Kamogawa (kyūdō) points out, the problem with arrogance is that one can’t see one’s weaknesses—and, thus, can’t grow. While Japanese arts may seem overly-formal (and there can be truth to that), it shouldn’t be forgotten that part of what this formality does is (potentially) build mental discipline and humility.

I think Toshiro Daigo best summed up the problem of not living the art. He said, “But to young Japanese people, judō becomes judō when you put on your judō costume. So without the costume, judō doesn’t exist.”

Third, judō, karate, and kendō teachers bemoaned a shift away from the pursuit of victory by decisive technique (e.g. the the ippon.) Over time, there has been an increased reliance on building up a win by minor points. In judō this may mean trips instead of throws; in kendō it means going for the forearm rather than the head. In other words, competitors have become more risk-averse and less bold. Concern about this is two-fold. For one thing, there’s a worry about the dilution of these arts, but there’s also concern about the sport becoming less interesting to watch and thus losing its following.

Related to the previous two criticisms is a concern about training to build champions, while forgetting to forge good students. This was emphasized not only by some of the sport-oriented art teachers, but also by Hiroshi Tada. Tada, as an aikidō practitioner, is in the unique position being the only one of the teachers to practice a non-sport martial arts system.

Fourth, several sensei suggested the importance of learning for oneself. One of the teachers, Rod Nobuto Omoto, was an uchi deshi (live-in student), and he—as in the old days—spent a lot of time doing chores while getting little to no training. The point is not so much to criticize the younger generation, but to inform them that they must take the reins of their martial arts practice. This may come to a surprise because the educational experiences they are most used to is having information handed to them in as learnable a form as possible.

Fifth, there was a general disdain for the idea of thinking of one’s art as being inherently superior to all others. Masao Takahashi (judō) and Mitsusuke Harada (karate) both made this point. Harada proposed that abject faith in the superiority of one’s art encourages the development of martial artists who cannot defend themselves. If you think your system is inherently best, you may begin to rely on that illusion of superiority rather than on the advancement of your own skill.

Sixth, the importance of mutual benefit was emphasized throughout. Of course, for the judo practitioners, the idea of jita kyoei (self-perfection, mutual benefit) is one of the two Kodokan budōkun (martial arts maxims.) [The other being seiryoku zenyo, or maximum efficiency.] Shigeru Uchiyama said that the belief in Shōrinji Kempō (whose practitioners are also Kongo Zen pupils) is that of “…living half of your life for yourself and half for others.”

A couple of other points that caught my attention were brought up by individual teachers.
Keiko Fukuda expressed concern about women being trained in the same manner as men, and, thus, using too much strength. The 9th dan was concerned about injuries resulting from this over-reliance on strength. This is an interesting point which I hadn’t given much thought. No doubt it’s a controversial point as well. It’s hard for me to comment about whether Fukuda is just old-fashioned and a product of her time and culture (which is, I’m afraid, highly misogynistic) or whether her point is valid. However, I’d be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt as she was an extremely impressive woman.

Lest one think that these are all just traditionalists trying to keep the traditions alive, consider a quote by Yoshimitsu Takeyasu that speaks otherwise. “Not all traditions are good but we have to identify the ones that should be kept.” Rod Nobuto Omoto said simply, “Tradition is not important.” However, I think Omoto’s point is more nuanced than it seems (and perhaps more Taoist) in that what he seems to be saying is that if you make the tradition important it becomes about the tradition and not the what lies beneath the tradition (e.g. values, etc.)

Omoto also offered a great deal of thought-provoking insight into death. It was clearly a topic that he’d reflected on not only as someone coming to the end of his life, but also as one who practices budō.

I think this is an important book for martial artists of all stripes. However, I think that even non-martial artists might learn a thing or two from the insights of these old masters.

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