Randori – the Philosophy and the Practice

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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, or for jujitsu practitioners, in a street self defense situation. 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. Later, as this improves, these openings or invitations can be reduced or eliminated as both of you get better and better at these smooth and speedy transitions.

Being a good randori partner is quite an art – and applies with equal importance to both jujitsu and judo, for if done properly, presents no threat to the underlying motivators of these two closely related disciplines. Randori, done properly, will have no dilutory effect on the need of the judo player to maintain a “match” mentality, nor will it weaken the jujitsuka`s drivers to “get in quickly, finish it quickly”.

Both philosophies are “win” orientated, one for a competitive sport scenario, the other from a self defense perspective. With the “win-lose” thinking entirely removed from the equation, a randori mentality will not encroach or threaten in any way the mindset necessary to succeed in the aforementioned “contests”. Indeed, quite the opposite – for when there is a sudden and compelling need to win, emotions are running high and your well being (or that gold medal) is under threat, one cannot afford to be thinking about “technique”, there will be quite enough to worry about without the added burden of last minute technical revision. We have an opponent to study, a strategy to implement, courage to muster, emotions and “situations” to be controlled. On the competition mat, or in the street, one wants all one`s resources focused on WHAT to do, or WHEN to do it, not HOW to do it.

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.

Uchi Komi – includes “fit-ins”, “throw for throw” and repetitive combinations, counters or escapes, or strings of hold downs. Osae Komi is principally a physical conditioner and technique builder, practised without the added burden of philosophical/cultural considerations or a resistive 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.

Kata – Often underrated as a training mechanism, kata in fact helps transfer intellectual knowledge into body knowledge – “learning by doing” – such that the mechanics of a technique or set of techniques and their interrelationship is understood at both a physical and intellectual level. Kata, most importantly, also serves to connect the physical to the philosophical or spiritual and cultural/ethical. “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. It is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Osae Komi, although some katas and particularly Yoga Asanas are also extremely physically taxing.

Randori – As with kata, there is no concept of winning or losing, yet conversely, as with Uchi Komi, it is highly physical. Randori requires that there be added (measured) opposing pressure. BJJ players and wrestlers put great emphasis on a randori like training regimen or something that falls approximately between true randori and “moderated” competition.

“For real” – Testing the theory – the bit we either hope we never have to indulge in if it is self defense we are referring to, or, if sporting competition, the bit we view with either relish or trepidation, depending on what we think our chances are! For jujitsukas, self defense pressures can be emulated to some degree in the dojo with a shiai like combative sparring match under prescribed rules for safety plus “prohibited” techniques; or in the case of judo players, a standard judo tournament under IJF rules – “Shiai” in other words. Whatever the format however, most disciplines need some method by which the skills can be validated or put to the test in order that they may evolve. 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 randoriing.

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!


Source by Campbell Dunstan

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