Monday, June 23, 2008

Cooperative combinations

In Jiu-jitsu and Judo, having learned to fall and the rudiments of some throwing techniques it is fun to attempt some free practice (randori): You and your partner take a grip and try to throw each other.

However, there is a tendency for this type of training to degenerate through excessive resistance and defensiveness. There are various means to getting over, through or around this obstacle.

One approach that I have found useful acts as something of a bridge between cooperative practice and free practice, by injecting a smidgen of uncertainty into a basically cooperative exercise...

Note: The usual disclaimers apply. Do not attempt this except under qualified supervision.

Let's say that you and a partner are practicing a combination technique cooperatively. A simple combination consists of an initial attack which is somehow foiled or evaded, and then followed up by a second attack. For example: The 1st leg throw (o soto gari) can be combined with the third leg throw (hiza guruma) as follows: The thrower (tori) attempts o soto gari on the receiver (uke) who evades, preferably through skillful stepping and body movement. Tori then fluidly moves into hiza guruma, and throws uke to the mat.

Two problems almost always crop when this kind of exercise is first practiced:
  1. Tori applies the first technique with insufficient vigour, and/or
  2. Uke evades too early.
Both defects arise because of the pre-arranged nature of the exercise. In the first case tori is over-concerned with the second-part of the combination, so the attack is reduced to a feint, and in the second case uke is able to take advantage of the unrealistic knowledge of what the first attack is going to be.

These can be overcome with practice and good focus, but I would like to offer a variation on the exercise which works well and is lots of fun besides.

Tori is to attempt the first technique with reasonable vigor. If uke evades, (s)he follows up with the second technique. With each repetition uke has the choice of allowing him or herself to be thrown, or to evade. Uke's job is firstly to decide whether to attempt an evasion or not, while the second, should (s)he elect to evade, is to do so as late as possible.

This is not a competitive exercise in the normal sense because -- whatever happens -- uke is the one who gets thrown, if not by the first technique, then by the second. But the element of uncertainty from the thrower's perspective helps to eliminate the original defects: If the first attack is half-hearted, uke can elect not to evade; and, once the attacks are coming fluidly, uke can leave the evasion later and later until (s)he is thrown despite trying to evade.

This exercise can be varied and extended in many ways. Examples include:
  1. Use a different pair of techniques
  2. Uke varies the type of evasion
  3. Allowing tori a choice of second-attacks
  4. Allowing uke the option evading the second attack, in which case tori now throws uke with a third technique
As these exercises are pursued the resulting practice starts to look less and less pre-arranged and more like free practice, hopefully of good standard. Adding a bit of uncertainty helps to develop spontaneity within a structured framework.


Apotheosis said...

Having tried this I can vouch for the effectiveness of such training. It promotes instinctive reaction and initiative in responses to techniques which is hard to develop from doing kata alone. Not to mention that if done in quick succession and rapid repetition it can be quite a workout too.