The Art of Randori
By far the most common misconception associated with randori is the notion that it is just club-based or friendly competition. It is not hard to see why this is so and why randori very frequently degenerates into either Uchi Komi (repetitive fitness and fluidity building), or Shiai (score orientated competition).
Let us state from the outset that the term "degenerate" should not be taken to mean that these practices (Uchi Komi and Shiai) are lesser pastimes, but that they are quite distinct and separate activities of their own, with their own solid merits. The closest thing to randori, in terms of say tennis or squash is the "hit up", where two players are playing hard against each other, but NOT SCORING!! That is to say, the concept of winning and losing MUST be eradicated entirely from the mind, in order that technique can be polished, and knowledge can be converted to instinctive physical ability, or in order that one can see the effect of various tactics in a relatively full blooded contestual environment, DEVOID OF THE PRESSURE TO WIN.
We can`t help ourselves, most of us; it is after all human nature to enjoy victory, and so we find ourselves having a bit of a pull around on the mat with a friend and we execute a nice throw. Someone mutters "nice throw" and we feel quite pleased with ourselves, and the other guy mutters to himself, "dam! ? how did I fall for that?" Sound familiar?
Three things have to happen for this process to evolve into randori . . .
1. Mutual Benefit ? randori is the perfect opportunity to hone a strong sense of ethics and unselfish goodwill towards your comrades on the mat. Whatever you give in randori will be repaid many times over in good fellowship, respect, trust and perpetually improving skills.
2. After doing that aforementioned throw, we should refrain absolutely from feeling pleased with ourselves and instead, wonder what exactly allowed it to happen. If it was because of a blatant weak spot in your partners defense, then he/she should be given the opportunity to understand that, maybe you should keep doing it until the other has closed the gap and you are not pulling it off any more. Both of you will benefit enormously if this thinking pervades the exercise.
3. After being thrown, we should refrain absolutely from being disappointed at falling for it. For therein lies a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to learn something, if only our disappointment can be made to step aside for a minute and make room for objective egoless study of what happened.
If you are not quite sure what happened, it is quite in order and quite common in true randori to ask your partner to do it again ? so that you can fall for the same trick again, and again, and again, until something reveals itself to you. If you are not prepared to fall for the same trick repeatedly, then clearly you are sliding into a Shiai mentality because you would rather stay upright and win than learn why you are able to be thrown or locked up by this particular partner using that particular technique.
For this reason also, do not be tempted to referee a randori session. One sees this a lot, two players are supposedly indulging in randori but a third player is actually refereeing and awarding points and penalties, furthering the notion that someone is going to win this bout. It isn`t a bout! The third player`s job, if indeed there is a third player, is to be an analyst, not a referee. That is to say, he/she (very often your sensei or other higher belt) is there to help the players with useful third party tips ? keep those elbows in! ? keep him moving! - relax! - try the other side for a change!
Similarly, if one is successfully executing a technique despite your best defenses, let it happen, let yourself be thrown. You failed to prevent it initially, so let it happen, let him prove his point and let yourself observe the complete process, there are no points to be lost. In doing so, your partner gets a chance to control you right to the mat and practice his control and kake, an opportunity that does not present itself too often in shiai. The opponent (as against "partner") will be doing everything in their power to disrupt control and clean kake, of course. Only in properly executed randori will these opportunities to learn present themselves and only in randori do you get a good opportunity to study your own ukemi and transition into ground work. His success is your opportunity to study, therefore, his success should be something you begin to look forward to rather than view it as your "defeat" or failure.
After being thrown, pause for a second on the mat, rather than scramble away before groundwork can commence. Eventually your partner will see the opportunity to fall straight into ne waza, practice a smooth transition and thus give BOTH of you the opportunity to study this process as well.
If it is becoming apparent that your randori sessions are getting more and more like outright competition, at the expense of training value, a couple of points worth remembering will help combat this tendency?.
# Recognise the "stalemate" early, that situation where neither player has a clear upper hand and where it is in danger of becoming an endurance contest. If the higher ranked player, or the player with the slight advantage is the one to tap, the win-at-all-costs mentality is ousted. We all try to emulate the higher grades, so if the leading player (by grade or by grappling position) is the first to tap in a stalemate, the lower grades will soon want to show the same levels of maturity and humility. A tap then becomes an expression of eagerness to keep training rather than to achcieve a submission ? a small but vital subtlety which is crucial to the long term success of regular randori.
# Don?t stop after someone taps. We tend to stop, return to our starting place on the mat, straighten our gi and belts, wait, catch our breath then start again. Etiquette conventions in some clubs might even encourage the players to bow again, which by itself is commendable, respectful and always appreciated; but the unconscious effect of this seems to be that a match is in progress. Don`t stop ? just pause, slacken off a bit, let go, or change positions or technique and then continue. Since it is not a match, and since there was no clearly delineated stop and restart, one can safely disregard the etiquette of such and yet not be guilty of corroding commendable club customs and good manners. There is also a significant fitness benefit in this habit of continuity.
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of randori was not the invention of Dr Kano coincident with the development of judo. Kano did further refine and define randori principles and he introduced groundwork randori and the long sleeved judogi for safety and a wider range of new throws, but true randori was the dominant training tool of Hachinosuke Fukuda, Kano`s teacher at the Tenjin-Shinyo School of Jujitsu.
Where does this place randori in the larger training regime? Let us consider five major elements of on-the-mat training and how they fundamentally differ ? or more precisely how they SHOULD differ:-
* Technical instruction ? obviously, before we know anything about anything we have to be taught the basics, the how-to of a technique. Most dojos do plenty of this and many teachers and coaches, including coaches of many non martial art sports may feel that unless they are providing a constant stream of technical instruction they are somehow failing to meet obligations to their students. Boxers are the least guilty of this, their emphasis is not in knowing a thousand techniques, but in doing a small number extremely well.
* Kata ? Often underrated as a training mechanism, kata in fact helps transfer intellectual knowledge into body knowledge ? learning by doing in a choreographed preplanned way ? such that the mechanics of a technique or set of techniques and their interrelationship is understood at both a physical and intellectual level. "Physical meditation" some have called it - Tai Chi, Karate and Yoga students are the clear leaders in this genre of practice. As with randori, there is no concept of winning or losing in kata, nor is there any opposing pressure against proper execution, outside of the practitioners own internal barriers. Uchi Komi ? includes fit-ins, throw-for-throw and repetitive combinations, counters or escapes, or strings of hold downs. If kata is by definition anything that is pre-arranged - a form - then Uchi Komi is realy just another form of kata. It is also a physical conditioner and technique builder, practised with a fully cooperating partner rather than a resisting opponent. Modern western non-martial sports such as tennis and squash place great emphasis on the value of repetition of the essential parts of a larger technique set.
Randori ? Free practice, nothing prearranged, with no concept of winning or losing. Randori requires that there be added (measured) opposing pressure. BJJ players and wrestlers put great emphasis on a randori like training regimen, boxers call it sparring but it is essentially the same thing, free form technique building with a partner but all desire to win anything banished in favour of the training value of randori.
Shiai ? testing the theory - there is no training regime that can entirely replace the need to test yourself occasionally against a committed opponent. Most disciplines need some method by which the skills can be validated or put to the test in order that they may evolve. Since judo is by definition a full contact fighting art and competitive sport, most participants players
One could argue that martial arts grading tests do this if they are sufficiently arduous and challenging, but for many of us it might be a long time between gradings, for others it is the journey not the result and for still others, the ?proof of concept? is found inescapably in improved wellness and a sense of achievement or fulfillment. There are other ways to test the theory besides competition, to be sure. I don`t see many Tai Chi tournaments out there but I do see a lot of happy healthy practitioners.
So which of the five is missing from your schedule? Chances are, its randori. ?No? you retort indignantly, ?we put aside time for randori every training session!?. Is it randori? ? or is it Shiai? To an outside observer, there seems to be little difference, however those differences, whilst subtle, are critical.
Yellow and orange belts, ask yourselves, did you feel you ?won? your randori session with the green belt? If the answer is ?yes?, then you were indulging in Shiai, while the green belt was thinking "randori".
Blue and brown belts, did you feel you got the jump on your sensei this time? Perhaps the black belt was using you to study his own weak spots instead of working towards a win. THAT`S randori !
Thanks are tendered to 5th dan Steve Potter who offered this invaluable addition in relation to the use of randori to cure the very common problem for many players of excess stiffness and use of brute strength - learning to be loose and relaxed ? the ?Ju? in judo. Steve maintains that the best way to address this difficult obstacle is to spend some time randoriing with partners that are either far above your skill level or far below it. Excessive stiffness on your part will be brought into sharp relief when used against a high grade player who long ago learned to avoid answering strength with strength. Similarly, if a senior randori`s with a junior, all his/her tendencies and apparent need to use strength disappear entirely, for clearly, the use of strength to effect a throw or ground technique on a junior player is an obvious nonsense. Conversely, the junior player quickly abandons all fruitless effort to outmuscle the much larger player and begins to think about technique and timing and so on, so the benefit is entirely mutual, and as such complies with Judo`s unbreakable rule that everything that happens on the mat must be ?mutually beneficial?.