Simple Rules- 4 Common Questions From New Judoka

4 Simple Rules- Common Questions From New Judoka- Lt. j.g. Andy Barker, assists two young students in the proper way to grab an opponent
Lt. j.g. Andy Barker, assists two young students in the proper way to grab an opponent (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class James Stenberg/ Released) As a military photo, it is considered Public Domain

Simple Rules

4 Common Questions From New Judoka

If you spent any amount of time at any of the Dojos I’ve instructed at, you most likely have heard me refer to one, or even all of what I call my Simple Rules. I use them to address some of the most common questions that come up from those new to the sport and as they apply to their interest in their training and development.

1.The 100 Dojo Rule

You go to 100 Dojos

And you meet 100 Senseis

So you ask each of them, “How do I do “Technique X”?

Then you get 100 different answers

Which one is correct?

The answer is, simply enough, all of them. Each of these good people learned the technique you are asking about in their own different way. For instance, perhaps their Sensei taught it to them this way. Maybe they came across their technique while practicing and realized this was a great way to do the technique. While reading a book, they found something that clicked. Whatever their reasoning, it’s why they know to do that one technique the way they do it, and it’s why the way they do it is different than the way that other guy at that other Dojo does.

The main reason I came up with this as one of my simple rules is because of the Too Many Cooks Syndrome, for lack of a better term. If you have too many people trying to describe how to do a technique, things can get confusing for the new student. Add to that the miracle that is the internet and the variety of websites, blogs and videos that a new student can now draw from. A new student can easily get into a situation where sensory overload can set in. Take your instruction in stride. Remember, just because it’s not the way you were shown before, or saw in that video, doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it different.

Somewhere in there, you will find your own way to do the technique too. There is a good chance you will do it the way you were taught, or maybe you’ll come up with your own way- a variation of some sort that works for you. Which, surprisingly enough, leads to my next of the 4 simple rules…

2.  Any Port In A Storm

How’d that throw look Sensei?

Did it work?


It was perfect

When you face adverse conditions, such as a Judo match for instance, you need to make split second decisions that may not be perfect, but they get the job done. It may not have been the way you wanted to win, or it may not have been the technique you were working for, but in the end the outcome was what you wanted. Just accept the result. You did good.


The reason I came to this as one of my simple rules, is that sometimes a person would get entrenched in “Analysis Paralysis”. That is to say, they were concentrating too hard on making a situation work the way they wanted it to, rather than working with what they had. They had a square peg, and they were going to fit it into a round hole and that was that. As they try and try to get their Uke to move the way they wanted to, but they wouldn’t, it would frustrate them. Or, as they spent their time trying to figure out what to do in a live situation, like at a Shiai, they ended up doing either nothing, or something too late.

If you dwell too long on how to achieve an outcome, you may lose touch of what you are working for in the first place. You then miss out on other opportunities. As Bruce Lee put it, “It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

In other words, you dwell so much on the minutiae, you miss the bigger picture.

Another way to approach this is you aren’t always going to get the outcome you are looking for in a given situation, even if that result is a positive one. Some people feel a need to beat themselves up for it. They worry too much about perfection. Sure, if you skip steps, or you fail to do as instructed, you’re going to need to reassess your actions. If however the outcome is what you were looking for, chances are good you did everything right. Sometimes, you just have to accept the situation as it resolved, especially when it’s in your favor.

Okay, so how do you overcome this overthinking issue? Easily enough actually. The third of my 4 simple rules is…

3. Carnegie Hall

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Practice man, practice.” – Origins Unknown

Every Sensei has heard the question, “What am I doing wrong?” We in turn then do what we can to help you make the adjustments necessary to do a technique properly. In the end though, if you want to get good, you’re going to have to work at it.

Did you try something and it didn’t work? Keep working at it until it does work. You want to see if a technique is going to work in a way other than the way your Sensei said to do it? You need to try it out. How well you do at anything all comes down to how well you can understand and execute it. Whether it’s a foreign language, a new recipe or a Judo technique.

I came to this as one of my simple rules because when someone works toward a result, but doesn’t attain it, frustration can set in. Something wasn’t working. Essentially they weren’t immediately good at it. So, rather than put the time and effort into it to understand the technique, they abandon it.

To be fair, not everyone is going to be able to do all the techniques they’re taught. You in fact will pick and choose those techniques that work best for you. 

For the record, you shouldn’t mistake a technique you are good at with a technique you like to do. Tokuiwaza is a term we use to mean your favorite technique. Technically that isn’t what it means. What it actually means, roughly, is the technique you’re good at, not necessarily the one you like to do.

How did you get good at it? Practice, of course.

Which leads me to my 4th and final of my 4 simple rules…

4. Back To The Basics

“He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I spent the better part of this article talking about how to approach your practices, but what about what you should be practicing? To this day, even our most experienced Judoka practice the most basic elements of Judo. Whether we’re talking about Ukemi (falls), or Uchikomi (fit ins), or any other action we learned early on and still practice after years of mat time. These rudimentary actions are practiced to the point where they are done without thought. They are kept that way through constant repetition.

The basics aren’t just about learning particular techniques because they’re easy to do.They are about learning something that is integral to Judo, beyond the technique you are learning in the here and now. To put it another way, the basics are a type of foundation. They are a tool you can take from your toolbox to build upon and expand your array of knowledge.

For example, the next time you get a chance, take a good look at the Gokyo No Waza, also known as the 5 Groups Of Techniques. Many Dojos have a poster of it hanging on a wall somewhere. It’s a list of 40 different throws. Each of the 40 throws are grouped together into 5 groups of 8 techniques.  

The first group, the Dai-Ikkyo, has a group of 8 throws. They contain the basic movements and actions that when learned, lead to the next group of throws, the Dai-Nikyo. These techniques move you up to the next group, and so on. 

By learning these throws in this layered way, you get the essential steps in the learning process for techniques further down the line. For instance, you may not be able to get Uchi Mata right off the bat.  If however you learn Osoto Gari and Morote Seoi Nage (both in the Dai-Ikkyo) , then Tsurikomi Goshi (learned early on in the Dai-Nikyo), Uchi Mata is right around the proverbial corner.

Remember, the basics are important enough that even the most experienced Judoka practice them. So should you.

There You Have It

Some common questions, some common situations, some common answers. 

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