Sunday, December 11, 2011

Matwork on Purpose

Everyone I have ever seen teach throwing techniques in judo acted as if the only purpose of throwing was to do as textbook perfect a throw as possible. The one and only point of throwing is to throw for a full point - an ippon. Do you agree?

If you do, then it follows logically that mat work only happens by accident. All mat work is secondary to throwing. It is Plan B. You throw to win and if you fail, then you do mat work. By this logic, no one ever goes to the ground on purpose. On the rare occasions that you see anyone practicing transition from standing to ground techniques it is taught as,

"If you do this throw and for some unknown reason it does not work, then you can follow up into a mat technique like so ..."

Can this be really true, that no one ever goes into groundwork on purpose? I know I did. My reason for adopting this style was simple, I had no choice. As I mentioned before, I hurt my knee badly when I was a teenager and after that I couldn't do throws that required bending my knees more than a few inches. Often, my competitive style was referred to derogatorily as "koka judo", meaning I only won by a slight advantage rather than dominating my opponent with a big throw. In fact, though, although I threw almost no one for an ippon ever, I won almost all of my matches by ippon year after year, including every match in the Panamerican Games, Austrian Open and world trials. I just happened to win them by pins and arm bars.

When I look at pictures of myself throwing, they never look like the textbooks. This never bothered me until I started writing a book and had to debate whether I should include pictures like I was SUPPOSED to be doing the throw or how I actually do it.

The truth is, I don't do matwork by accident. I do it on purpose. When I take a grip and go into a drop shoulder throw my end goal is not to throw for the win but to knock the person down and do a pin. When I do a standing shoulder throw, my first goal is to go for an arm bar and if I can't get the arm bar, to win by a pin. If I actually ever threw anyone for ippon and won by the throw alone, THAT would be by accident.

While I adopted this style because I had no choice, it was very successful for me. I know I'm not the only one who competed  this way. I was talking to Hayward Nishioka about this today and he recalled someone he knew in Japan who was not that great at throwing, " ... but, man could he beat everybody on the mat!"

Hayward said that what I called my method of competing, "Matwork on purpose" and the general view, "Matwork by accident" didn't sound important and academic enough. So, just for him, let me reiterate.

Almost everyone uses the "secondary theory of mat work", where the primary attempt and goal is to win by throwing. Matwork is secondary. My "primary theory of mat work" allows for the possibility that winning on the mat is the goal and the throw is secondary, just a means of getting to the mat to win.

This next point is very, very important so pay attention ...

Often, the way you do a throw to set up mat work is different from the way you would do it to win by ippon. For example, at practice today, Richard (Blinky) Elizalde was teaching a drop shoulder throw. He had students throw and keep driving with their legs so that the opponent was driven to flat on his or her back. If successful, this will give the player a higher score, a waza ari (half point) or ippon (full point). HOWEVER, it puts the thrower in a less advantageous situation for mat work, with his back on the opponent's upper body and neck exposed.

Since Blinky and I were team-teaching today, I taught the same throw next, except I had the students throw their opponent and immediately follow up to the pin.

When I do ko uchi makikomi, I drive straight into the opponent. My goal is to end up with my opponent on the mat and me largely at her right side (assuming I did the throw right-handed), in a good position to turn quickly on my stomach and pull myself up into a pin or roll (the backstroke ) into a pin. Other people (Ronda, for example) often do the same throw rotating much as Blinky teaches in a shoulder throw. Again, you're more likely to score a full point than the way I do the throw, but if you don't win by ippon you are in a weaker position for mat work.

Time after time, when I won matches, the competitors and their coaches would comment on how I had just "gotten lucky" to stumble in the perfect position for an arm bar, turnover, choke or pin.

So, next time you see someone perform a throw "incorrectly" and end up winning on the mat seconds later, consider this - maybe they meant to do that.


Al B Here said...

Hi Dr. Anna Maria,

I just wanted to mention that I'm enjoying your blog. I also think that I'll be opting for the mat work on purpose approach to judo now that I've re-started it. The reality is that I'm a 37 year old yellow belt, who last did judo somewhere in the mid 1980s. I'm also in the 0100kg class at the moment, and quite certain that I won't be throwing many of these monsters anytime soon, but if I can get it to the mat, I might have chance.

I have no delusions about becoming a black belt in this lifetime. Canada has a variety of competition-related requirements that make it virtually impossible for someone my age to ever reach that level, but I'm pursuing the art anyway. I guess I have your daughter to thank for the bumps and bruises I'll be suffering over the next several months/years.

Anyway, I wish you continued success!


robthornton72 said...


It's a shame that Canada has made than an impossibility for you. The path to black belt is more than a bunch of trophis. Good luck on your continued enjoyment and journey through Judo!

Enosis said...

In my opinion, this is where the philosophies of being a "coach" differ from being a "sensei". Coaches give you a way to win, whiles most senseis focus on perfection of technique. Matwork on purpose from a "coaches" perspective makes sense. There are not enough coaches in Judo....paradigms in judo need to be overcome.

Al B Here said...


Thanks for the positive wish! I may be interpreting the Canadian system incorrectly, but from what I can tell, in order to test for a black belt in Canada, the candidate must earn 300 competition points. The points are only earned by winning matches. Complicating matters further is the lack of experience divisions for the tournaments. They seem to divide things by age, not rank, so at 37, I would have matches against VERY experienced people. Could you imagine a 37 year old yellow belt (like me) having to compete against a black or brown belt with decades of experience?

Like I said, I could be misinterpreting the guidelines, but for now I want to get my orange me belt and then proceed from there.


Stephen said...

Darn, this really drives home the difference between a wrestling mindset and many judoka. Wrestlers have to "throw" with matwork (pins) in mind.

Though I always found that if I could land in a pin, it increased the chances of the ref just waving it into an ippon.

I'm beginning to think my rotator cuffs are never going to heal enough for my wife to let me go back to Judo. I'm about to turn 56, so maybe the future is just reading for me.

Steve Scott said...

As a long-time friend of AnnMaria, and one who also has a "matwork on purpose" mindset, I enjoyed her post on this subject. One thing I always liked about Ann's judo was her ability to get her opponent to the mat without getting a penalty and mauling her, which usually resulted in AnnMaria stretching her opponent's arm. This relates to AnnMaria's comments on "ugly" judo in another one of her posts, but it worked for her and worked on a regular basis against world-class opponents.
One of the oldest rules in judo contests, going back to the days when Prof. Kano was alive, required that a throwing technique be attempted to take an opponent to the mat. It's an historical fact that Prof. Kano did, indeed, have a preference for throwing techniques over groundfighting, and this was (and still is) reflected in the rules that prohibit dragging an opponent to the mat to newaza. While I prefer newaza, I agree with this rule as it really does force the athletes in a judo match to attempt to throw each other and in general, keeps the technical level of judo at a higher standard overall. If this rule wasn't in place, judo would have become what now looks like BJJ a long time ago with one athlete pulling or jumping into the guard position and throwing would not have become as tehcnically developed or skillful as is seen today.
Having said that, it's my belief that the mindset of "matwork on purpose" is a good one, and this probably comes from my long-time involvement in sambo. There is nothing, at least to me, quite as enjoyable to see as one athlete faking a tomoe nage on an opponent and immediately getting him or her with a juji gatame...watching a guy get slammed with an uchi mata really is cool to see, but there are a lot of us who also think getting an opponent down with a good tomeo nage and stretching his arm with a juji gatame is just as pretty to watch...proving that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hey, Steve -
Your probably one of the few that still remembers how much I loved that tomoe nage arm bar.

Posting on my blog - next thing we know you'll be on twitter and Facebook!

Tell Becky she was right, Julia's ankle healed up after months of physical therapy, with no surgery and she is back playing again. Her team won 5-1 on Sunday.

MissyWombat said...

Alan, There may be a coaching/admin or "other" route if your system is similar to the Australian one. I'm a 42 year old blue belt who started judo in 2008 so I face the same issues as you. I have been state champion the past 2 years in my weight division because there are simply no other Senior females in the u78 or u70 kg divisions. In practice I'm up against the guys who are all younger, faster, stronger etc. So devious old fart judo is the way to go...strangles, armbars and uncommon throws. The more judo I do, the more I am adopting AnnMaria's lego approach to join up the things I can do well.
AnnMaria, when do you expect the book to come out?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

You know Missy, we have been in discussions with a publisher and I actually expected to have a final word this week - and then I got busy and forgot, as it was the final week of the doctoral course I taught in Advanced Quantitative Data Analysis.

I think will email them tomorrow and find out.

LeahT said...

Canada does allow the older judoka the possibility of a black belt. You don't have to compete.

"For those judoka to whom competition is not possible or desirable, an equivalent would be to participate in tournament situations as a volunteer official- referee, timekeeper,scorekeeper or some other capacity. An appropriate equivalent would be 2 hours of time equals one competition point." This is from Canada's National Kyu Grading Syllabus.

There are also other ways to gain points (training to be a dojo assistant for example). All good news for me being a 42 year old female orange belt. Not many of us around to compete with!

LeahT said...

Disregard the comment above - I'm still a newbie. That's white to brown Judo Canada requirements. Dan / black belt requirements are a provincial matter. Time to do some more research! I do know there are a variety of way to get points though.