BOOK REVIEW: Higher Judo by Moshe Feldenkrais

Higher Judo: GroundworkHigher Judo: Groundwork by Moshe Feldenkrais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

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.

View all my reviews