What is the skill range of the elite Judo player? In other words, how many different skills do the best players use during competition?
Through the magic of video I observed thirty nine World and/or Olympic Champions. I wanted to observe the best and most frequently used skills of the best players against the best opponents.
Throws are very easy to count. The range of throwing skills varied from just three throwing techniques, by super heavyweight World Champion Masaki, to nine different throws from middleweight Olympic Champion Yoshida. Newaza on the other hand presents a different situation. Should we count a switch from kesa-gatame to kuzure-keas-gatame as two osae-waza or is the Champion using a generic skill of holding an opponent so that he/she can't get away? I chose to record newaza skills under the generic headings of osaekomi, shime-waza, kansetsu-waza and sankaku-waza. Use of newaza skills ranged from three types of newaza, used by Fairbrother, Kosorotv, Solodukin and Saito, to no newaza skills used by lightweight Olympic Champion Goussainov. (I spent extra time on Goussainov to verify that he did not pursue newaza. In fact there was one incident that he threw an opponent for yuko, fell right into a hold down and walked away. The man does not pursue newaza!)
Clearly, the Champions in this research choose to specialize their newaza skills just as they do their throwing skills. We as Coaches need to recognize that a player’s choice of newaza skills is subject to the same type of idiosyncrasies as their choice of throwing skills. We also need to learn how to help our players choose the newaza skills best for their personal integrated attack systems.
As I watched the competition I catalogued the skills being used. A catalog of championship skills provides an opportunity to analyze frequently used skills at the World/Olympic Championship level. Interestingly, the most frequently used throwing skill was Kouchigari. Kouchigari was used by 72% of the Champions and was observed being used in all weight divisions.
Another important skills being used by 56% of the Champions are Twist Downs. Twist downs are competitive versions of Uki Otoshi and Sumi Otoshi. Twist downs are very simple counter throwing maneuvers where the defender gets out of the way of an attack and pushes the attacker into the mat using nothing but his/her (the defender's) upper body and the attacker's momentum. Kouchigari and Twist Downs were observed in all Championships reviewed from 1983 to 1995 as well as the 1992 Olympic Judo competition. Pick-ups, competitive versions of Teguruma, Kuchiki Taoshi, Morote Gari etc., etc., showed wide spread use. However, Pick-ups appear to be a recent development in competitive Judo and could indicate a passing fad or developing trend.
Distribution of newaza skills was surprising on two points. First, I was surprised to realize that the elite players would forego the opportunity to use one newaza skill in favor of something else. i.e. Pass-up a hold down to work for an arm lock. This should not be surprising! Players seek their favorite throws in spite of the opportunity for another throwing skill on a regular basis. Why shouldn't a player prefer one type of newaza over another? Obviously, each individual must stick with the skills that he feels most comfortable with.
It was also interesting to discover that Kansetsuwaza and Shimewaza share nearly equal popularity among the elite. Forty-nine percent of the Champions used kansetsu-waza and 46% were using shimewaza.
So, what is the technical range of an elite player? A world or Olympic Champion is possessed of a technical range of six throws and two newaza skills. One of the throwing skills is likely to be kouchigari and one of the newaza skills is probably osaekomi. All of the skills in a Champion's technical range, his/her personal integrated attack system, have been chosen to fit the personal talents and propensities of the Champion.
I also found that none of the champions were using exotic maneuvers that caught everybody off guard. The skills being used by the World and Olympic Champions are the same skills that you and I practice and teach our players every day. Since they're using the same skills it seems to me that each person has an equal chance to get to the elite level. It could be that the only difference between them and everybody else is a little talent and a lot of hard work. What do you think?