• My thoughts on the DO

    Starting practice is one of the most precious moments. It can be very exciting and eventually leads to fabulous growth. Now is the very moment to decide if to go all the way through.

    When I started judo practice I decided, that I would have done it for the rest of my life and that my Master would have been a constant presence in my thoughts.

    Fundamental to the DO is one ingredient: COMMITMENT, indicating, that self-discipline and persistence must be kept regardless of how hard it is.

    Practice puts us under constant stress, but without it we would never be able to develop our personality.

    Commitment and self-discipline are precious as gold for those seeking the DO.

  • In the Sixties

    1960: Bruno Carmeni throwing his opponent with seoi nage

  • More than 40 years later!

    2007: Bruno Carmeni throwing his opponent with seoi nage

Judo Techniques – Ukemi or Bogyo Waza ?

Japanese superiority is overwhelming at the high level International competitions, such as Olympics, World Championships, A Tournaments. They have a wide range of judo techniques, that they perform according to need and circumstances. Of course also the Westerners go for spectacular ippons, but it is not a habit of the great majority and there would be a lot to say on those who win by using power rather than technique.

Today's Judo Techniques

When Kano Shihan started judo his idea was to found a “principle”, a “way” DO based on old fighting techniques of the Japanese warriors. According to his Japanese mentality the main aim was to form the person, to develop physical, mental and spiritual qualities.

In the last 15 years most of the judokas are mainly practicing judo as a sport with the exclusive aim to win, looking for movements, that in the past were considered as “particularly skilled” and today allow them to score.  

The masters of the past, those who have spent their whole lives dedicating it to judo techniques’ pureness, facing sacrifices and efforts, have given up and handed judo over to the National Federations. Now the absolute priority is given to competitions and winning Olympic, World and Continental medals.

One day somebody asked me: is it possible to reconcile educational judo with competitions? I answered with a question: is competition’s main aim to form and educate a practitioner?  

At today’s tournaments you can see outstanding fights just like very dull ones. Nevertheless there really is a big gap between what is defined “judo” today and what it was in the past. Today you see heavy muscles, that pull, push, most of the times the performers are bent and their arms are stiff. A position, which is helped by the rules, that do not allow to perform pure judo techniques and is quite far from its origins! What relationship can there be between this judo and what has been taught by the outstanding Japanese masters?

Today judo is simply a sport, that follows specific rules and scientific principles, a discipline, that can be taught like math and geometry, where everything is a question of angles where it seems impossible to win against someone who is stronger.

Today’s athletes have quite notable behaviours. They add all kind of gestures, that have nothing to do with real actions. They play strategic games with the referees and try to have their opponent penalized rather than performing a real judo technique. Somebody might justify them saying, that every sport is that way. What a pity to note, that our beloved discipline has not had a chance to remain pure.

No Judo Break Fall But A Somersault

Besides the above change in technical judo, there is also a misconception on the break falls and their role. Many practitioners consider it a kind of “somersault”. A principle defined by Kano has once again been misinterpreted

As a consequence here some questions: why is it important to know how to fall? What is the origin of the ukemi? What is the difference between ukemi waza and bogyo waza? Are the somersaults, that are heavily performed in competitions in order to avoid the ippon, dangerous?

The word ukemi means “to receive the body” and so uke “to receive”, in other words “person, that receive the attack”. The Westerners tend to translate it in a negative way, indicating passivity. Judo’s founder has written: Before exercising techniques or training for fights it is absolutely important to learn how to fall, to fall in a safe way when attacked, which means to avoid hurting oneself.

In the 90s somebody started to question the efficiency of the traditional falls. Even Geesink (10th dan) said, that the fall is nothing else as the consequence of a throw and therefore does not need to be taught. It is a spontaneous gesture of who undergoes the throw (?). Furthermore he says, that to work on the ukemi means to create a weak mentality and to easily fall in case of a competitions (?).

Some, the majority, sustain, that to perform a somersault is safer, others consider the fall of the cat as an example forgetting, that this kind of acrobatic fall has nothing to do with the ukemi. If we take a look at the anatomy of a cat we will note, that their spine is quite different when compared to the human one. It is known, that the cat always turns around and falls on his four feet in order to avoid a fatal impact on his spine. 

Considering a principle within physics it is possible to assume, that when an object falls on the ground, the wider the impact zone the lower the damage. In other words to falls on the back for a human creates more safety and therefore less physical damages.   

Looking at the statistics and watching the matches of championships of any level, from the Olympics to local competitions, it has been noted, that some judokas prefer to put their arm down to try a cart wheel or a somersault in order to fall on the feet and to avoid the defeat. Many of them got seriously injured because of that.

When analyzing the traditional fall called mae ukemi  where one falls by hitting his forearms some doubts might arise. This kind of fall is so violent, that after having it performed for five times in a row every bone will hurt and the elbows will turn red. It is true, that it strengthens the shoulder muscles, back ones and abdominal, but the movement itself  is not fit for a starter nor for an expert. Even the Japanese have abandoned it.  

Ukemi or Bogyo Waza?

The forward break fall mae mawari ukemi, which in the past was called zenpo kaiten ukemi and is also practiced in many other Eastern arts, is not a chancy movement, but follows the instinct of self conservation.  Many judo techniques come from jujutsu and from several experiences  and studies, which have been transformed into a science.

If we consider the somersault of a tennis player as an instinctive gesture to get the ball, that is arriving on his side, he will loose the control of his body. However he will not get hurt as his gesture is spontaneous.  

He has performed an athletic leap which resembles the forward break fall mae mawari ukemi. The tennis player is certainly not a judoka, he might not even know, that such discipline exists. He has rotated forward, has fallen on his back without getting hurt. He has not landed on his chest, therefore it is possible to assume, that his rotation forward happened because of his conservation instinct, the safeguard of his body.

Learning the backward fall with somersault ushiro ukemi or the forward one mae mawari ukemi one feels more secure and is keener on facing dangerous situations. A simple somersault forward or putting a hand or two on the ground can be quite dangerous, especially if this happens on the street, but even on the tatami.

The role of the ukemi is “to fall in safety”, without thinking, receiving the body. Uke receives tori’s technique with following fall. But can the somersaults be considered ukemis? The answer is no. These atypical falls are “defensive actions” called bogyo waza. If uke refuses to “receive” tori’s techniques, he will become tori and will counter. If uke does not fall how can it be considered an ukemi? It is clear, that all actions to avoid the ukemi, are to be considered bogyo waza.

Some sustain, that a forward somersault can be considered a mae mawari ukemi, but this is not true. The International Judo Federations has banished these actions and disqualifies the athletes performing them with hansoku make. They wish to discourage them as they are dangerous.  

All actions endangering ones spine or the one of the opponent are banished. If after a throw one goes into a bridge he is disqualified, as this kind of action can provoke a paralysis or even death.

An oustanding judo technique performed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

At one edition of the Olympics a judoka trying to avoid a throw put his arm on the ground in order to rotate back on his feet. But his opponent fell over him breaking his arm. Obviously his intention was to avoid the ippon, but the injury was the biggest ippon! Maybe it is wise to reconsider the break falls with the intention to safeguard ones body.

Besides the intention to avoid an ippon, there are many other actions, that can be found among the athletes today, that have nothing to do with traditional judo: the reactions among the athletes, the way they perform the bow, which resembles a “hit with the head” with no respect; athletes, that jump around before stepping on the tatami like furious bulls, rather than human beings in control of their emotions. The top is reached when the victory is assigned. One just has to look at the faces of the losers, while the winner jumps around, kneels down lifting his arms into the air or throws a fist to the ceiling. There is no control over emotions whatsoever, without looking at the behavior of the coaches. It this what Budo teaches?  

One of the worst pictures it to see an athlete going for an arm lock hurting his opponent in order to win and then just jumping around when the victory is assigned, without any consideration for the opponent who is still hurting on the ground. What a sad image, an example of very low respect!  

To finish up, what about the great champions of the past? There is not discussion about their achievements on the field, but when they are called to comment on today’s competitions they are often quite vulgar, show no respect and sometimes even use terms, that might be considered racist and often they are not very nice when commenting on the host nations

An oustanding judo technique performed recently by a Japanese athlete

Judo is by excellence one of the first disciplines with educational value, but at today’s competitions there is a sad and repulsive way: champions, that do not have the sense of honor facing their opponents, speakers, that do not respect anybody and a very weak technical repertoire.

Of corse there still are some beautiful judo techniques, mainly performed by the Japanese or Koreans, but unfortunately they become more and more the exception.

To conclude, when will there be a renaissance of real judo? When will we see the come-back of this discipline, which conceives as only victory the one over oneself, that seeks to form the human being through technical practice? The hope is, that somewhere around the world there still is in some dojo somebody who cares about the spirit of the “way” created by the founder.

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One Response

  1. This was a quite interesting piece of article.
    I never thought about these things,
    even though I’ve been doing judo for about
    three years.
    I also hope for someone who cares about the
    spirit of the “way” created by the founder as well.

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