Donn Draeger

I ran into Dan over lunch and stopped to ask about Monkey Bar’s judo program closing down. He confirmed it was and everyone was pretty much going to go to Anders’ class if they wished to continue judo practice. The only members with ranks high enough to teach already come to Madison Judo as is.

The the topic diverged to Donn Draeger. Dan asked if Anders was still teaching jujitsu. I said I didn’t believe so, the only people interested would be Tanner and I, and each of us had higher kyu levels in it so it’s never really come up. The differences between judo and jujitsu are a much better discussion than those between BJJ and judo. BJJ is the spawn of judo. There are differences in style, but the differences in practice and application are almost non-existant. Judo is the spawn of a few schools of jujitsu. Jujitsu existed much longer before judo than judo had existed before BJJ.

The long and short – Dan’s going to lend me a book which makes a case for kata being better for self-defense practice than randori. It’s an odd way of thinking to me so it will be interesting to see the case made. I had never really heard of Donn Draeger, but he’s a Wisconsonite and one of the more influential American judo black belts. I hope to have something to put up after I read the book.

Last Day

Last night was my last night of judo for awhile. I didn’t give Anders a set date I would be back, because I really don’t know how this is all going to turn out. I just know I’m coming back eventually. Three months is my best guess, but maybe it will be less, maybe more. I definitely have to take a two month break during May and June to avoid injuries.

It was a good last day. There was almost no one in class so we got to pick what we worked on. We did ippon seoi nage and okuriashi harai (at my request). To me, okuri is the hardest throw. I’ve landed just about every hip/hand/sacrifice throw at some point, but foot sweeps are my kryptonite. Of foot sweeps, okuriashi harai and deashi harai are the two that require the most timing. So, in my head if I can learn timing from okuri I can do anything.

I got to do tachi waza randori with Anders also. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve gotten to do that. He’s good. After 25 years he better be, right? He’s shorter than me and much lighter than me (I’d guess I have 30-40 lbs on him), but I can’t get in to throw him unless I wrestle. I was trying my hardest not to wrestle. When I explained that Anders said that it was fine to wrestle in judo, and in turn I explained that I don’t want to have to wrestle though. I’m not sure if he’d been thinking about it for awhile or if that’s the first time he’s noticed, but I hold back a ton in randori because I’m trying to work judo instead of just bowling people over. When I full on wrestle with advanced belts I’ll often get thrown by sacrifice, but I can also get their backs for a lift or drag them to the ground. That’s not judo though. I want to learn to do footsweeps against resisting opponents. I want to be able to execute a beautiful tai otoshi on someone who steps around my footsweep to defend or counter. Randori isn’t the time for me to prove that I can take your back and throw you or drag you to the ground for my submission. It’s the time to work on what needs to be worked on. I need to work on my judo; my wrestling is doing just fine. I don’t fear being thrown. I fear not learning what I need to.

When I told Anders I had to leave for awhile he asked when I would be back. Apparently promotions are coming up and he thinks I’m ready. I’m still touchy about the subject. Sankyu is a big deal. It’s when I can apply for my referee’s license. It’s when I get to fight in the advanced division regardless of the tournament. It just feels like it’s been tainted. I really wish I could take him aside to discuss it. I’d be thrilled with sankyu. Nikkyu would be justice.

Here’s a fun reference for when I describe judo throws:

Today I’m setting goals. I know I want to go back, but I need things to work on in my absence and I need to have goals to make sure I return as soon as possible instead of becoming complacent as a ground fighter again.

  1. I want my reputation for the ground back. The greatest feeling in the world is when a judo black belt is terrified of ending up on the ground with you in a match because he watched your last match. If you can make an opponent fear even one aspect of your game you can control them by threatening it, and you will win if you land it because they are committed to the idea that if you get it it will end the fight. I want to get back to out-wrestling people in tournaments. I want all but the BJJ purple belts to fear me taking their back or getting guard. Eventually I want them to fear it just as much, but baby steps.
  2. I want to work my foot sweeps until they work on guys who assume wrestling stances. Foot sweeps against judo are relatively easy compared to when you have someone hunched over driving always forward who’s waiting to reap your leg. For reference in judo almost everyone fights straight up and down because the hunched stance is a penalty if you assume it for too long or without successfully attacking.
  3. I want my wrestling to be so good that people are happier when I hold back to play judo instead of commenting that I should go harder and try to take the throw. When I play judo I can throw the people my size who play judo (who don’t have like 15-20 years on me). When I wrestle as it is I can trade throws with the larger and more skillful players. I want my wrestling to be such that I dominate the larger and more skilled players with it so even they appreciate me playing judo instead. I realize the domination is a good goal and the appreciation is petty. Sometimes being petty is what drives us forward the fastest.
  4. I want to switch back to USJI. My USJA rank expires at the end of October. Everyone has their reasons for belonging to their choice of the three NGBs. For me it’s because I don’t want to pay to have a rank that I earned recognized. USJI is pretty chill about ranks below black belt. They should be. The ranks below black aren’t well standardized with the other groups, shodan and above are.

Only Judo Racket In Town

I don’t know all the details, but apparently the instructor at the city’s only other judo club is out due to major injury. For the time being we’ll be the only judo club in town. As Anders phrased it “it’s good for [our club] but bad for judo.” You need multiple competing clubs and a bit of variety to produce truly exceptional judoka.

So on that note I made the decision yesterday that tomorrow will be my last day of judo until July. I have a lot of reasons for this. Some of them I will discuss below, some of them it suffices to say are very personal. It’s been a really tough decision and I was hoping to keep doing judo until the end of April (my hard cut-off due to the much higher risk of injury in judo than in BJJ). Things have just piled up too quickly.

  • Injury risk – In judo I break bones. Unfortunately, most of the time it seems to be my bones. A fracture (for me) takes 6-9 weeks to heal. I can’t risk an injury like that less than two months out from the wedding. I’ve been okay-ed to keep doing BJJ because my major injury rate there is zero. I’ll be stopping BJJ two weeks out before the wedding to prevent minor injuries though.
  • Time – I’m running out of it very quickly. I’d like to keep the blog from going into my personal life too much, but I’m getting married, house hunting, and my work is becoming more intense as some final dates approach. I just don’t have the time for both judo and BJJ.
  • Personal– We’re all big boys and girls here. I’m not looking to offend anyone. None of this is a slight at anyone. All of our instructors are good and I trust their judgement.

I have a stylistic clash with one of the instructors. I’ve never talked to him about it. I feel bad disregarding a lot of his advice because he gives it with the best intentions of making me a better judoka, but I find much of the advice is counterproductive. It’s not a matter of feeling like I know everything, but it is a matter of being told similar stuff (which doesn’t seem helpful) so often that it get bothersome. After some time off I hope to be more receptive so I can internalize it, because it’s probably sound advice, but it never seems applicable to the situations I’m in.

After a full 2.5 years of judo, a blue belt in BJJ (*cough* 3.5 years *cough*), and four years of jujitsu I’m still a yonkyu in judo. Some very good comments have been made about this. I recognize that rank shouldn’t bother me. Last night I realized that all the kids who came in 1-2 years later than me are also yonkyu. I can’t even explain the feeling. I’m sure there’s a German word for it. It’s not only frustrating watching the guy you can out-wrestle getting promoted for out-wrestling people (under the guise of previous experience – again, see above), but to watch everyone around you be recognized as your same level gets really old. I’m sure there’s something I’m missing before Anders wants to do the promotion, and I trust his judgement on the matter. I had always felt that kata should be a part of the sankyu until I saw that last promotion. I think 3 months of dedicated BJJ (and hopefully another stripe or two) will help me care less about judo ranks. I realize this means I’ll be a yonkyu for at least another 3-6 months (putting me at a total time in rank of 1.5 years). I do think that some time off working on my wrestling and BJJ will be good for me though. If I never see that promotion I can always just start wearing my BJJ or jujitsu rank in class if the color is going to bother me that much.

So other updates – Matt gave me some advice a week or two ago on foot sweeps. I combined it with what Tim said and now I have two or three footsweeps that are absolute money. It’s those kinds of minor adjustments that take a throw from not working to working like a charm that make me love the group I get to train with. Having a rich mix of wrestlers, judoka, jiujitseros, and jujitsuka means that my full background is represented at different levels and there are guys who have similar mixes that can see my style and give advice specifically tailored to it. I think that’s what I’m going to miss the most over the next three months.

Self-Defense Pt. 2

I hate Krav Maga. Feel free to blast away in the comments. Like 90% of what I see Krav do will get someone killed, but it’s marketed as the ultimate self-defense. To be fair I feel the same way about a lot of what I learned in jujitsu and pretty much the whole of the judo modern self-defense kata. I did ninjitsu for about four months and I totally bought into it because it worked so well with my jujitsu. They had different names, but the techniques were pretty much identical. I’ve gone over that I think martial arts with the mindset of self-defense are bollocks, but I don’t feel like I explained why well enough.

Let me start by explaining why I hate Krav: I used to think that it was silly because there was stupid instructors teaching bad material. Then I found out the same bad material is being taught (albeit in a better fashion) by good instructors. When you see the YouTube video and read the comment “Krav is ghey. This guy is getting people killed.” It’s natural to want to defend Krav because it’s the one guy who’s getting people killed. When you read the comment “There’s so much missing here. That’s not how you do X…” You should realize, oh shit, even someone with 3 years of Krav is doing X. It doesn’t matter if this guy sucks, that’s an implicit problem. X should be replaced by the much simpler to execute but equally effective Y. X looks cool, but being the coolest dead guy is still no consolation to being the lamest guy alive at home.

When you practice for sport you learn to control your adrenaline burst. It happens and you learn to internalize it and still function. It’s not that you don’t get tunnel vision or feel like puking. It’s a matter of you’ve been there so many times that you can keep yourself from panicking mentally and then that first deep breath or two restores your vision and calms your stomach. If I had to fight tomorrow I probably wouldn’t stress. I can still tell you what that first fight felt like with my mouth full of bile though. Imagine that first fight being one for your life instead of one on the mat where even if you lose you get to go home at the end of the day.

In jujitsu we spent a lot of time reading about and discussing what works in self-defense scenarios. Brad pretty much had a PhD in the stuff so reading his articles was useful. Mark and his wife both work as professional self-defense instructors so they both had a lot of insight into basic self-defense techniques. The concept is solid

In choosing what defenses to teach the most common attacks and situations are examined. In choosing the defenses they have to meet several criteria. First, they have to work. Second, they have to be easy to learn, and third, they have to be easy to retain with a minimum of practice. Finally, they have to fit together well into a system of defense that is fluid and not static so that students are not locked into forms that might or might not fit into a given situation. In Waboku Jujitsu there is a continuous search for balance of form, efficiency of techniques and faithfulness to philosophy.

I think that’s some well-laid foundation, don’t you? It is… until you start doing techniques which require fine motor control or are entirely dependent on an angle that it takes years to feel out. If you’re on Fitocracy, check out the Krav topic in the Martial Arts forum. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Pages 5 and 6 should probably be considered trolling, but they bring up a good point: the pluck doesn’t work. You know what? I know three variations on the pluck. I’ve perfected the art of bullshitting people that the pluck works. I used to teach and show the pluck. The pluck works (if you have the grip strength and fine motor control to execute it). It’s easy to learn (if you’re good at learning details). It’s easy to retain (so long as you don’t need it to work the first time every time). And it fits well into a system.

We put way too much emphasis on fitting well into a system. When you do something like jujitsu what you’ll very quickly find is someone started at point A, found three different ways to get to get out, but chose the one that goes to point B because there’s a sweet fight-ending joint lock from there. That’s wrong. That was so wrong of us to do. It was wrong of us to teach like that. It’s a wrong way of thinking. Oh yeah, he punches at me, and I do this complicated parry, step, and grip switch, but check out this sweet-ass wrist-lock that will pancake his ass onto the pavement. The better solution is the quick parry to a solid double-leg to pancake his ass. It’s much simpler. It works. It’s easy to retain. Fuck your system.

When I did ninjitsu Shaun had me read four authors: Sgt. Rory Miller (Meditations on Violence), Lt. Col. David Grossman (On Combat, On Killing), Bruce Sidle (Sharpening the Warriors Edge), and Christensen (a lot of books). Do some reading. So what we find is that there are some common attacks. The fact is, if attacks are so predictable that we can systemize the defense for the most common ones, why does it matter if the defenses play well together? If I do an arm swing instead of a pluck to break a front-choke, I can follow up with wrestling (you’re pretty much given the Russian-Tie), judo (step-over arm-bar anyone?), or even the waki gatame we loved to much in jujitsu (the one that’s illegal in judo… yeah, that one). So why teach the pluck? That sweet wrist-lock. The wrist-lock works for knife defense, gun disarms, punches, chokes. It’s like you only have to learn one thing. Oh, but the angle changes in each case and it’s sometimes very hard to get if you’re not well-practiced. I’d rather know 10 things that are simple enough to learn in 10 hours than one thing that goes ten places but takes years to learn. 100% of the unarmed stuff we did in jujitsu was field tested while bouncing and worked there. I’m not saying there’s not a place it works. I’m saying it’s not appropriate to teach to the 98 lb. girl in TKD who’s looking for some self-defense techniques to show at her black belt exam in two weeks. It’s not even appropriate to teach to the TKD club when you go down there a couple times a month to work on their self-defense techniques with them. It was wrong of us. We should have focused our attention on actual self-defense.

Find the top 10 most common attack scenarios and find defenses for them. I think you’ll very quickly realize you don’t need something as complicated as jujitsu or judo. Martial arts are great fun, and after enough practice they will be applicable, but they’re not immediately applicable. I can’t teach someone a wrist-lock and expect them to use it two hours later when they’re walking on the Rape Shore Path to get back to their dorm. I could have taught them something they could have used two hours later though. To me, self-defense stops after the first six months of training. That’s not to say what we do in months 7 through 840 won’t work in a self-defense scenario, but they take months 7 to 840 to learn.

When someone comes to us and says they want to know jujitsu for self-defense. We should explain to them clearly – I can teach you self-defense and I can teach you jujitsu. They’re not mutually exclusive, but jujitsu is not self-defense. Every school that has self-defense as a goal should really do a rotating 3 or 6 month class which just practices self-defense techniques from that perspective. If you want to get fancy, do an advanced one with gun/knife disarms which requires passing the core one. Don’t sell it as a class that will make you bullet proof. Sell it for what it is. Here’s the best we know for the common attacks. Should you get attacked they will increase your chances of survival based on what we know. You won’t learn a lot, but you will repeat a few things many times so that they become instant reactions, almost instinctual. Then, if they still are interested in the martial arts they’re coming in to step-up their game, not because they feel emote gyaku is going to totally work as a knife defense and this will keep them from being raped.

Private Lessons

Wade doesn’t have a lot of students recently. I know my schedule got super iffy when everything went to Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday because I’ve been busy with wedding stuff, work, illness, and of course judo is on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sacrifices.

I haven’t seen the other students in awhile though. I’m not sure if it’s just work schedules or what, but lately it’s just been Wade and I. On one hand it’s nice because I’m pretty much getting private lesson every week. On the other hand, I really miss variety. Wade’s a good instructor, but he can’t change his height, weight, or background any more than I can. I’m not considering changing schools. Wade is a solid black belt. If I have a certain way I do a submission he’ll help me improve it instead of trying to completely change how I already go for it. He’s not going to change how I grip for arm-bars. He’s not going to tell me that kuzure kesa is right and traditional kesa is wrong. He’s open and honest. He’s always willing to show me how he does something, but if I can explain why I’m doing something a certain way, he’s totally cool with playing with it before disregarding it. He does disregard what doesn’t work though. That’s still important.

I’m lucky to have such a good friend and instructor for BJJ. I just wish we had a few more people to get some variety in with rolling. April 1 is the move to Lodi. I’m hoping more people from Portage show up and that the new schedule lets me train more. The hardest part about being in a new school in an area where there are five other schools is that the area is pretty much saturated for membership unless you can start attracting people who didn’t even know BJJ existed. On the west side alone we have Next Level (MCMBJJA), The Blast (MCMBJJA), and Trowbridge (GJJ). Not to mention Monkey Bar (LCCT), Twisted Fitness (Alliance), and Badgerland in the downtown and east-side area. What also seems to hurt is that most of the people who seem to want to learn BJJ either just want to be UFC fighters or are students (or both – fucking Bros). All of them seem to be downtown.

Judo is simpler: there are two clubs, Madison Judo and Monkey Bar, and both are downtown. Advertising is as simple as having a website and putting up posters on campus.

Size Doesn’t Matter (That’s What She Said)

My first exposure to “size doesn’t matter” was jujitsu. Except after about a year in Mark put it straight, “Anyone who says size doesn’t matter hasn’t fought someone sufficiently larger than them.” It’s true, size matters. She lied to you.

Judo and BJJ are both about the use of leverage. To quote Archimedes (the mathematician, not the owl from The Sword in the Stone): “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world.” Except that the length of the lever is limited by the length of the limbs and height of the individual applying the technique. As is the amount of force they can lever for the application. It’s simple physics. Given that, a known lever arm with a set amount of force on one side can at most apply a set amount of force.

So leverage has a maximum effect, but Kyuzo Mifune and Helio Gracie were each short, frail, weak, and are considered gods of the sport. Mifune threw a sumo wrestler with uki otoshi. Gracie has famous fights with men twice his size (with whom he draws). There’s no way someone who’s 5’2″ and 100 lbs can leverage enough force to throw a 240 lb individual. Right? I’d assume so. As frail as he is it’s not like his legs could support that much weight. He’s not an Olympic weight lifter with a serious squat. Uki otoshi doesn’t have you support the weight of the other person though. You’re just taking advantage of their existing momentum with expert execution. It’s a terribly difficult throw, I’m not going to lie. To be honest, I don’t think Mifune could use harai goshi on a sumo wrestler. Nor do I think he would even be able to hold down the 240 lb individual if the fight had to continue on the ground. I also don’t think controlling a much larger opponent to a draw is a moral victory or a sign that you can negate strength. Go for an infinite time and technique will get sloppy as you get tired. Yes, strength wanes too, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still twice your weight and you have to move that.

Now that we’ve introduced two small guys famous for the use of judo techniques, let’s spend some time playing history. Kyuzo Mifune was born in 1883 (one year after Kano founds the Kodokan). He joins the Kodokan in 1903 and by 1912 he’s a sixth degree black belt who’s tearing people new holes so well that he gets the nickname the “God of Judo” and has a reputation for being undefeated at the biannual Red and White Kodokan tournament. When Kano dies in 1938 Mifune becomes the most influential instructor in judo. At a whopping 45 kilos it’s not like the guy was tearing through people with strength. Helio Gracie was born in 1913, a year after Mifune gets his 6th degree black belt (the judo rank Gracie himself is credit as having achieved). In 1917 Carlos Gracie starts learning judo. When he was 16, Helio finally taught his first class. So we’re looking at like 1930. We know by 1912 Mifune had adapted judo for the use by a small man. Gracie realizes judo (as he learned it) won’t work for a small man and starts adapting it. BJJ is born.

By the way, if you ask most BJJ players they will tell you judo requires strength because they learn the story of Helio Gracie. This ends up offending pretty much any judoka who just mumbles to themselves that Mifune was two decades Gracie’s predecessor and had no trouble applying it to large opponents. You can’t say that BJJ is the only jujitsu and that Japanese jujitsu wasn’t made to work for small people. The subset Gracie learned wasn’t suited for small men. He wasn’t learning at the Kodokan with a variety of individuals of varying sizes and skill sets. The truth is both arts emphasize the use of leverage and technique over size and strength, but they approach grappling from two different sides. Judo is a top game. BJJ is a bottom game. I’d also like to point out that direct comparison is hard given the huge difference in rules. If both are practiced under some neutral rule set they will look more or less identical. If you put BJJ in an environment with judo rules where you can win by throw or pin, it will emphasize top game and end up morphing into judo. As we saw with Kosen, if judo can pull guard it’s much easier to do so and just fight on the ground than work for years practicing and perfecting 60 different throws.

If we are going to tell ourselves and our students that size doesn’t matter, we should be honest about it. “Size doesn’t matter given a sufficient gap in skill.” I’m not about to say something as stupid as there’s no one skilled enough to make up for huge gaps in size. Kyuzo Mifune, Helio Gracie, Caio Terra; people exist who despite being so small can fight very large individuals. But let’s be honest with ourselves, how many of us are Caio Terra? How many of us could walk into the Kodokan with no experience and within a year and half be a black belt? Individuals exist who defy the concept that size matters, but how many of us are at our size prepared to fight a D1 wrestler at 257 lbs? How many of us are even prepared to fight an absolute which would require going to the submission with no time limits?

I’m not saying there aren’t those who are as gods walking among mere mortals in the grappling world. What I am saying is most of us aren’t them. The challenge of size can be overcome with sufficient skill, but that doesn’t mean size doesn’t matter.


I think weight and body image are intrinsically a part of sport, but even more so in sports where there are weight classes. I’ve seen grapplers take laxatives and force themselves to throw up the morning of the meet to lose that extra 0.3 lbs so that they can fight at a lower weight class. I myself have done the dehydration and starving to make the lower weight class. It’s not good.

So the stance in judo is fight at what you weigh. The weight classes are pretty well defined. There’s a 178 class, and a 198 class. I’m supposed to fight at the 198 class given that I’m 185. The people are closer to my size so it’s proper because I’m not getting a significant strength advantage. I cut the 7 pounds. For me 4 kg is nothing. I can sweat that out. I can pee that out. I can starve that away.

I’ve been trying to get back to my ideal weight. You see, I started grappling at 150 lbs. I was a stick figure. As I’m sure you’ve put together by now I did MMA over the summers. I came in and couldn’t believe, even the out of shape guys had six-packs. After the first two months I too had really well defined abs. By the end of my first four months of MMA I was 170 lbs with no noticeable body fat increase. I had gained 20 lbs of muscle with body weight exercises and sparring. Every winter I would get my layer of fat from jujitsu, and every June I would have sweet abs. I would return stronger than ever in August. I pretty much capped at 175, but I was always becoming a stronger 175. Then I broke my foot last year. Do you know how much weight you gain going from five days per week of training to zero? I went up to 195. I was 45 pounds heavier than I was just four years prior.

So I lost the cast and got back to training. It took me almost a year to lose 10 lbs. 10 lbs. I gained 20 just by being complacent for two months. I didn’t even really lose most of it until I started doing some MMA with Wade (which I don’t do anymore – just BJJ). I fluctuate between 180 and 186. I still cut down to 178 (though it’s much easier going from 180 to 178). To make it worse, BJJ has an emphasis on cutting. The wrestling influence means that the guys who are fighting at 178 are really 200 but just do hard cuts. At the bottom of the blue belt pool (no stripes yet) and a relatively light 178 I know I have the potential to be in trouble for my next BJJ tournament.

There’s a lot of room for improvement with my diet and exercise routine. I eat as I like (though I’ve been getting better about eating more veg and less carbs). I could lift and shred what’s left of my fat as well as make some serious strength gains in probably two months, but gym memberships are expensive and I don’t have the time. I also don’t have the ambition to compete lower than 178. To be honest, I’d rather get back down to 175 and just stop cutting. It’d be great to simply walk around at what I fight at, and not even skip a couple of meals before the weigh in. Right now, I do a hard cut (I lose all 2-9 lbs in one week).

So I encourage you, don’t cut more than 10 lbs, fight at what you walk-around at. It’s a pity more of grappling isn’t like judo where the cut is seen as bad.