Jigotai: Slaying the Beast!

Occasionally, in judo, I get asked a question about a common problem. Essentially, a student it trying to throw their partner but can't get in. Maybe he feels like his partner is just too tall, or too big and strong.

Fair enough. The same thing happens, actually, in aikido randori. Things are great when practicing a throw and we have a compliant uke, but when it comes to an uke who doesn't want to be thrown, he hit a wall. What happened?

I want to throw, but I don't want to BE thrown...

First of all, let me remove the aspect of sport or tournament judo from this discussion. Nothing against judo as a sport or those who participate in it, mind you; I love watching tournament judo, it's exciting stuff. It's just not why I myself study judo (and most of my peers, as well).

In a match, I'm trying to score points, to win; the other guy is also trying to score points and win. I'm trying to keep from being thrown so I don't lose; so is the other guy.

That defensive, resistant posture—jigotai—can be very difficult to break through, especially when adrenaline and desperation fuels our efforts. Sure, there are ways to break it down. The internet is a great place to find that kind of information.

The thing I wonder is, if I'm not concerned about the concepts of "winning and losing", why would jigotai still be happening? Not just from my partner, but chances are I'm doing it, too! Quite simply, it's because deep down, I am still concerned on winning or losing, just not in terms of a tournament.

Whenever we enter the dojo, we typically remove our shoes and leave them in the genkan. As one former teacher put it, "Leave your ego in your shoes."

If your goal, be it in judo or aikido, is always to throw the other guy, you have yet to internalize this advice. Which is not to say you're some kind of egomaniacal bastard. We all have an "ego", but without diverging into a completely other topic, that ego can sometimes get in our own way.

Long story short, we've linked the throw with "success" and being thrown is linked with "failure." We link a lot of things in life to success: a high paying or important job, fame, a happy wife and kids, a nice house, a college education. Likewise, we link a lot of things to failure: losing a job or working in a blue collar position, not having a mate or children, living in a small apartment in the wrong side of town, or dropping out of high school.

If this is the paradigm in which you operate in your daily life, it will continue to be the way you practice inside the dojo.

So let's say you've managed to do that, to abandon "winning and losing." You're okay being thrown and not worried about "success."

Your partner, however, is still locked in that mode and is maintaining jigotai. What do we do?

Again, there are ways to break it down and get past his defenses. But to me, it seems like I'm just trying to defeat him at his game. The best judoka I've played with, those who best embody the proverbial "fighting an empty jacket" concept, never joined that game, regardless of whether or not I tried to play it.

For starters, think about this: he doesn't want your foot to sweep his foot, he doesn't want your leg to reap his leg, he doesn't want your hip to displace his hip. Well, if he doesn't want you to have the bottom half, and he's still connected to you, he's giving you the top half. If I'm not constrained by a set of rules and regulations, why can't I play with his wrists, his elbows, his shoulders, his neck, his head?

Having said that, I will also say that if your partner is resisting, then what is he resisting? In other words, he must be feeling something if he feels the need to put up a defense. Some common culprits:
  • You made a change in your arms. You were neutral and then suddenly your grip tightened or your biceps pulled. He felt the change and the shields went up.

  • You got excited about snagging a certain throw and sped up. Or, you stopped altogether in order to deliver power. He felt the changed and slammed the door shut.

  • You're focused on only one or two directions. There are lots of directions you can break balance and throw. The best judoka I've worked with shoot at all the angles (forward and back, side to side, diagonally, etc.), and while I can stop one or two, eventually my body and mind can't keep up and down I go. Your view of nage waza is too narrow and needs to broaden.

  • You give up after only one try. You attempt a throw, it doesn't work and so you start over and go back to neutral. Again, the best players I know don't care—they're not concerned with success or failure—they just keep shooting, and without a chance to regroup, eventually I hit the mat.

  • You've assumed you have to operate within a set of standards—"this is just how judo is done"—such as where and how you're gripping. Tournament players I think are much more open to various ways of connecting with an opponent, but for some reason in our school, we tend to stick with the traditional kumi kate: "right hand on their collar, left hand on their elbow."

    If that's always how you connect, uke can rely on that, then he's only got one thing to worry about. Things changed for me rapidly when I started connecting with uke not in the way I think I'm supposed to, but it whatever way best suits the moment and the relationship between our bodies. And I say "connecting" instead of "gripping" because I realized that gripping isn't always the best option. Sometimes, cupping my hands works better. And who says I always have to maintain a symmetrical connection, one hand on each side of his body?

So, what's the best way to slay the beast?

For one thing, don't fight beasts. Those things are dangerous! And if you must, the last thing you want to do is stroll right into it's cave...