This section of the book focuses on the importance of fundamentals. No one has ever walked onto a judo mat and immediately became an elite-level athlete. Natural athletic talent is helpful, but judo is a sport made up of many complex skills that require serious effort and a lot of time to develop for anyone who aspires to be a champion. Anyone who thinks otherwise will have a short and limited career in judo.

During the course of his career, a judo athlete will train at a variety of dojos and with a variety of coaches. But every judo athlete starts his career somewhere and with somebody. This first exposure to judo is critical. Initially learning, practicing, and applying biomechanically efficient technical skills in judo is vital for long-term success at the sport. These technical skills are the basics of judo. There is a progression of technical skill as well as a progression of understanding and appreciation of judo for every successful judo athlete. For all of this to take place, there must be a solid foundation of technical skill provided by a judoka’s initial coach.

Elite-level judo is simply the basics performed to their full potential. No judo champion ever skipped learning the fundamental skills of judo. Basics do indeed win matches. Not only are the technical fundamentals of throwing and grappling necessary for an aspiring judoka, learning, and understanding the theories and philosophies of why Kodokan judo works are also necessary. To begin, let’s examine the basics.

What Are the Basics?

When beginning anything (including judo), learning the basics sets the foundation for more advanced study, application, and appreciation of that subject. But what are the basics of judo?

They are skills and movements that focus on the gross motor skill of applying a technique or movement in judo. These gross skills don’t require a lot of intricate or refined physical actions on the part of the beginner. They are simple, direct, and don’t require higher levels of critical thinking.

Basics are also skills readily learned by a beginner, giving him a real sense of accomplishment in a relatively short period of time. These are skills a beginner can apply on a non-resisting partner initially. These gross motor skills progress to fine motor skills as the student progresses. What often takes place in skill progression is that a student will apply the skill he initially learned and apply it in a more practical or realistic situation. These basic skills are lead-up skills that logically progress to more advanced application of the initially learned skill and then on to more complex and intricate patterns of movement.

Throwing techniques such as koshi guruma (hip wheel), ogoshi (major hip throw), uki goshi (floating hip throw), kubi nage (neck throw), and osoto gari (major outer reap) are techniques that focus on gross motor skills and don’t require a great deal of intricate movement for a beginning student to grasp them.

From these basic techniques, the coach can add another layer of technical skill and progress the students to the next level of ability. For example, koshi guruma (hip wheel) is a good lead-up skill in order for a student to learn ippon seoi nage (one-arm back carry throw). Another example is starting a student with kubi nage (neck throw) and progressing on to tai otoshi (body drop). One thing leads to another in a logical progression of adding more layers to the initial technique or skill.

Pinning techniques such as kesa gatame (scarf hold) or mune gatame (chest hold) are good examples of techniques that take a relatively short amount of time for a beginner to understand and apply successfully. From these initial pins, a student can quickly progress in his or her learning and acquire the ability to turn a training partner over and secure the pin. From this set of skills, the coach can add another layer of skill and teach beginners how to escape from these pins. This sequence of learning starts with the coach teaching a technique that doesn’t require a lot of fine motor skills to learn or master. As the students developed skill, understanding, and confidence in the technique, another layer of skill can be added. This also applies when teaching shime waza (strangling techniques) or kansetsu waza (armlock joint techniques). A coach should make sure to initially teach the technique in an” ideal” or non-moving situation, showing the mechanically correct way to perform it. In other words, the coach should not show an intricate rolling movement or other setup skill to make the technique work; he should simply focus on the core mechanical skills of the technique and teach it to beginners by focusing on how and why the technique works in an ideal or non-resisting situation.

Basic Skills: Movements and Behaviors

Basic skills are also movements and behaviors that do not require a long attention span to learn. Beginners have shorter attention spans than intermediate or advanced judo students. This is true for both children and adults. It takes time and much repetition for a student to develop an attention span required to learn, understand, and apply more advanced and complex technical skills in judo.

Another important aspect of the basics in judo is for beginners to learn how to practice safely. Ukemi (falling safely) is an important part of learning how to do judo and is more important than some people may think. If a judoka knows that he has the skill to land safely when being thrown, that judoka will be a better training partner for others. The ability to land safely on the mat gives a beginner confidence, which allows him to be more willing to take falls in practice and engage fully in training. There is a definite correlation between having good ukemi skills and having good throwing skills. When someone knows what it feels like to be thrown, he understands better how to apply that throw. Ukemi develops a kinesthetic awareness or “feel” for how to perform a throwing technique.

A major part of teaching the basics is for the coach to instill a good work ethic in beginning students. Good etiquette on the mat (and off) is important. If disciplined and mature behavior is expected and taught from the onset of a judo student’s career, this mature approach to learning and training will enable him to better learn more advanced skills of judo. Expressions of respect like bowing on and off the mat and being on time for practice are important basic behaviors that are necessary for success in judo. The old saying “there is no learning without discipline” is true.

The above is an excerpt from Winning Judo: Realistic and Practical Skills for Competitive Judo, Strategies that Win for all Grappling Styles by Steve Scott, Publication Date: June 2024, YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594399848.