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The Importance of the Uke

You probably have heard this in the dojo before, “Be a good partner.” Well what does that mean? Below, I go over some general characteristics of what I feel makes a great training partner. Do I do all of these things? Mostly, but no one is perfect. You’ll probably realize that you do most of these things already, but like a good sensei or professor will say, it’s always good to review.

#1. Be clean.
If you were to ask just about anyone who trains what their biggest pet peeve is about training, I’m willing to bet that their answer would be partnering with a filthy partner. Does it get much worse? It’s a terrible experience being with a partner whose gi has not been washed after the last practice and whose hair is greasier than a meatball sub. The smell and the gesture of wearing a dirty gi is down right rude and it’s also dangerous to others. With the threat of rashes, you’re putting everyone you come in contact with at risk.

You dirty bastard.

Cut your nails, wash your hair, shower, wash your gi, and brush your teeth. This will get you about 98% of the way towards being clean for practice. The other 2% comes from being a decently clean, knowledgeable human being. Be the person you’d want to partner with.

#2. Receive the technique. Physically.
This is what being an “uke” literally translates to, a person who receives technique. What does that mean? To me, it means that you give your partner proper energy when they are applying or drilling a technique. There is nothing worse than an uke who either lays completely limp and lifeless, or the opposite, where a partner remains extremely rigid and resists everything. Scale your energy to the person doing the technique.

There is a delicate balance of the energy and feeling you should give your partner when receiving his or her technique. Your energy, too little or too much, will determine the quality of the applicants’ practice and repetitions. Help your partner get a quality practice and they will do the same for you.

#3. Avoid the auto-pilot. Mentally.
Sometimes being in the mental state of practice, it’s easy to turn on the auto-pilot and coast while your partner does his or her technique. Being an uke is a great time to focus on becoming better and improving your own skill. You can execute this by focusing on what your partner is physically doing to you. Try and feel what he or she is doing that is good. What can they improve? When it’s your turn to drill, remember these key points and apply them as needed. Did it feel better when your partner pulled your sleeve a certain way or maybe when they put their foot in a certain spot? Become attune to these minuscule details, then turn around and apply them to your own techniques.

#4. Know your place.
Nobody likes a know-it-all. If you have a tip and you are in the position to be giving advice, do so! There is nothing wrong with an active partner giving advice on how the technique applicant can better his or her technique. NOTHING. But I see the line crossed when advice is either unwarranted, not asked for, or given from a wrong place. Sometimes people want to flex knowledge and give advice with no intention of actually helping their partner. Advice given simply by regurgitating terms, facts, or something unrelated to the technique entirely, to satisfy their own feelings. Don’t be this person. If in doubt, ask the sensei or professor to make the call.

#5. Willingness
To sum up this post, you can usually become a better uke by asking yourself the simple question of, “What can I do to maximize my partners’ training experience?” I can be clean, I can give them my body both physically and mentally, and I can also, most importantly, be willing to do all of these things. If you take the selfish route and only look to improve yourself when only doing your techniques, you’re not maximizing your time or your partners’ time. So do yourself and your entire gym a favor and become a better uke. Being an excellent uke is an art form that is both under-rated and under-practiced.

Don’t believe me.

Believe in Koga.

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The All Japan Judo Championship

Isao Okano

Isao Okano and his All Japan Championship trophy.

I’ve recently been watching a ton of judo videos, specifically videos from past and present All Japan Judo Championships. Something really draws me to these tournament videos. I explain below.

This tournament is very special because it’s not like other international tournaments. It has only one weight class: Open. Having no weight categories makes for some epic matches, see Koga vs. Ogawa, and personally, I think it adds to the overall prestige of the event.

The All Japan Judo Championships is one of the three crown jewels in Japanese judo, with the other two obviously being the Olympic Games and the World Championships. Not only the gravity of this tournament, but also the high level of technique and skill, are what draws me to the event. Anyone can win it and it’s the best of the best.  The lightest champion was Isao Okano at 79KG. The youngest winner was Satoshi Ishii, aged 19 years and 4 months.

I’m drawn towards the prestige of the event. The entire country gathers to watch the top Japanese judoka go head to head in a tournament that has been run since 1930. Win it, and your name goes in the record books, with notable champions that include such judo legends as Isao Okano, Masahiko Kimura, and of course, 9x winner, Yasuhiro Yamashita. The entire culmination of your judo career can be cemented in one tournament.

Below are some of my favorite matches. Enjoy.

2013: Hirotaka Kato vs. Syouta Morimoto

2012: Hirotaka Kato vs. Ryuta Ishii

2008: Yasuyuki Muneta vs. Satoshi Ishii

2003: Kosei Inoue vs. Keiji Suzuki

2001: Yasuyuki Muneta vs. Hidekazu Shoda

Also, watch this entire documentary covering the All Japan Championship rivalry between Olympic Champion and 4x World Champion, Yasuhiro Yamashita vs. 2x Olympic Champion and World Champion, Hitoshi Saito.

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Judo and Jiu Jitsu in Hawaii

Dojo Outfitters and Plumerias

I recently came back from my trip home and as always I tried to come back with a few techniques and few new ideas. I left not only looking to elevate my training and to see some old friends, but I also needed some time to relax on a beach!

I had the opportunity to train both judo and jiu jitsu during my brief stay and I left Hawaii with three attributes that I feel make training in Hawaii very special. Perhaps it’s me getting older, but with new eyes I feel that I can sense details in training that I was blind to before. I explain below.

First, the GAMENESS.
Every dojo I went to had game people. There are many definitions of gameness, but to me, it can be summed up by the mental willingness to get in to a fight. You’ll find a high amount of gameness in every Hawaii dojo you go to, judo or jiu jitsu. You’ll see it in the youth and feel it as soon as some one grabs your lapel. This ain’t the mainland. It’s not California, Oregon, or even Japan. It’s something different.

This is not to say that you can’t find game people in other gyms, but I have trained all over the World and I can honestly say that Hawaii has a very unique attitude when it comes to persevering and fighting. To me, I think it comes from the lifestyle that the majority of people in Hawaii was raised in. Be humble, but when it’s time to bang, JUST SCRAP.

Second, the Aloha spirit is alive and well.
Every dojo I went to, I was welcomed with open arms, smiles, and shakas. “What high school you went?” “Where you stay visiting from?” “Brah, Oregon is pretty mean.” “Tanks for da rolls.” It could have been my personality, but I doubt it, the dojos and gyms on the islands are rife with Aloha spirit. At the end of the day, people just want to train, grab a plate lunch, and hit the beach after. That’s exactly what I did.

Lastly, the technique is sharp.
Whether it was a 1988 Olympic Judo Silver Medalist running class or me training with a jiu jitsu beginner, the techniques were astounding. The hard working mentality found all over the island fosters an incredible dedication to technique. If it was 400 uchikomi practice or 1.5 hours of jiu jitsu drilling, the practices were solid.

To conclude, I couldn’t have asked to train at better gyms. From Nova Uniao in Kona, Relson Gracie Academy Waikiki, Gracie Technics Honolulu, and Leeward Judo Club, I want to thank you for opening your doors to me. It made my entire trip home that much more memorable.


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Home is Where…

Home. Where is that? For me, it’s Pacific Palisades, Oahu, and I’m going back.

Home is where judo is, and therefore, it’s treated as the beginning of my current path. It’s where the halls were stained red from the red dirt found all over Pearl City. It’s my high school and it’s endless flights of stairs. Where Mr. Langen is still one of the coolest teachers ever. Home is where tournaments were won and next levels were demanded. Hawaii has always produced some of the greatest fighters in combat sports. There’s something about the culture there that just raises tough kids. Tough people. I’m going back.

Home is were the salt air hits the nostrils no matter where you are on the island, but hits strong especially on the Windward side, where I plan on living one day. I always loved that rainy, cooler side of the island. My Dad grew up there, he attended Kailua High School. Him and I used to look for Hotwheel cars together at the China Town KMart. I look back and I see him in me and my brother so much. Home is where Dad is. I’m going back.

Home is where my brother and I were punished and had to pick up rocks because we, mostly HE, was such a punk. Whether it was throwing sticks at my face days before a school photo or he was tricking me to do the uphill portion of HIS paper route, the thoughts of my brother and the streets of Pacific Palisades will forever be intertwined in my memory. We loved Chinese lion dances. We caught the #53 bus. Pacific Palisades, One Way in, No Way Out. I’m going back.

Now that I’m getting older I’m starting to remember more and more about my past. Familiar faces, locations, and events that passed years ago, dating to my youth. It’s rushing back like the whitewash from a wave, too much to pinpoint on. But when these thoughts cross my mind, I always smile. Hawaii is such an awesome place to be from.

I’m going back.


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Don’t be Good. Be Great.

Mocha and WarI’ve recently had a thought that I have begun to expand on after reading a specific passage in the legendary book, Art of War by Sun Tzu. The specific line that sparked the idea reads:

“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack–the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.”

My thought is this: When faced with the same challenge over and over again, how many possible solutions can be created? How many ways are there to solve a problem that never changes? Are the solutions finite or infinite?

The challenge for me is to achieve a level of mastery both physically, technically, and mentally. I understand that this is a challenge that will really never end and that this fact only adds additional complexity to my current thought. Regardless, I have been applying this idea to the time I spend on the mat with my students and also within my personal training time. During this time, I’m faced with certain challenges that I continuously experience  and I have found myself figuring out multiple solutions in an entirely new way. Let me explain by using a quick example.

If I were to give you a ball of clay for about 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, you’d probably initially start off by making basic creations that a 7 year old could do. However, with the shear amount of time, deliberate focused creation, and the ball of clay to create with, you would eventually be able to make some pretty elaborate creations. After all, mastery is said to be achieved after an estimated 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. That’s 10,000+ hours of being faced with the same relentless challenge. Wouldn’t that challenge you to grow and adapt? I think so.

When we apply this thought to training judo or jiu jitsu, you can think of the training as your ball of clay. You can form your style and technique in to whatever you please. When facing challenges, whether positional, mental, physical, or technical, the solutions you create will not only be tailor made to you, they will also be limitless, meaning that because you generate the techniques yourself, there is no limit on what you can do when your body and mind begin to work in unison. Hence you see greatness on the mat before your eyes. Multiple consecutive All-Japan Championships (Kosei Inoue), unheard of undefeated streaks (Dan Gable), and legends in the making (Kyle Dake). Have they found a route by facing the same challenges day in and day out? Perhaps, they have found what works for them among the infinite possibilities.

I believe you can also apply this idea when looking around you. Do you recognize greatness? Look at some of the most successful people in the world and you will see it. Those who dedicate 10,000+ hours to art become the Basquiat’s, Monet’s, and Picasso’s. Those who dedicate their lives become the World Champions and the Olympians. Mastery of everything from penny stacking to chess to mathematics have all been achieved at their respective highest levels, and the envelope continues to be pushed. When you’re faced with the same look every day, how many ways can it be interpreted? I feel that this is only limited by the individual.

I also believe you can apply this idea to anything in your life. The only question is, what do you want to become great at and how much time are you willing to devote to achieving that level?


Faixa Marrom

Alan Hung

I recently earned my jiu jitsu Brown belt and it’s been about two weeks since the actual day. I wanted to allow my thoughts to seep in before creating a blog post about this special event in my judo and jiu jitsu journey. I compiled a brief list of my thoughts on this specific promotion, I share them below.

1. People have been asking me, “Were you shocked/surprised to get promoted?” My honest answer is “No.” I was not shocked, let me explain.

In my head, I was already a Brown belt. In my head. This does not mean that I assumed or expected my next rank. What this means to me is that I already began to carry myself and attempted to apply my techniques as if I was already a Brown belt. I often tell my students to push themselves past what is currently in front of them. Whatever rank they are currently working at should be acknowledged, but one of their goals should be to advance both technically and personally to eventually better themselves to whatever level they wish to achieve. Now, Black belt is the next step, so in my mind I will continue to advance my technique towards that level.

2. Belief and confidence. Belief and confidence are two factors that I believe made a world of difference in my training and advancing to the next level.

Belief: Believe in not only what those around you are teaching, but mostly, believe in yourself. This trait, if instilled properly, can be carried throughout your entire grappling career. How can you sharpen your belief in your self and instructors? Try, fail a lot, and give yourself time. You will eventually figure out what works and begin to believe in your techniques as they start to become more effective.

Confidence: Belief will lead you to confidence. Confidence is different than belief because it’s a firmer trust in whatever it is you are doing, it’s more concrete. You can apply this to your time spent on the mat by trusting your instincts and trusting your abilities. A mindset change may result and you will no longer doubt abilities and techniques as you begin to understand the intricacies of judo or jiu jitsu. Your vision will expand and your knowledge on positions, submissions, transitions, and grappling in general will begin to expand.

3. One step closer to the goal. For me, the desire to be a double Black belt in judo was inspired by the likes of Dave Camarillo and Flavio Canto, both holding Black belts in judo and jiu jitsu. But the original idea was planted when my father passed away when I was 18.

I dedicated my 2003 Hawaii State Judo Title to my father, who passed away that same year. I left the medal with him before I enrolled at San Jose State University. I mentally dedicated my journey to him and still do till this day.

It boils down to a very simple thing. I wanted to be a double Black belt in judo and jiu jitsu because I imagine my father being incredibly proud. I imagine him telling his coworkers what his sons do. I imagine him telling his friends what tournament his son was fighting in. What part of the World his son is in now.

This is my motivation, forged in something so deep that it will never break. It cannot break, for the love that a son has for his father is all the motivation a man will ever need.

Caio Terra



Shedding a Shell

In the past few months I’ve been going through many changes. Not only in life, but also on the mat. But what I’m going to share in this post may change some of your thoughts about your own training and maybe even your own life.

Take from it what you will.

Looking back, it all started with the passing of my aunt. At the immediate moment, it didn’t resonate with me that she was gone. Forever. But over the following few months, it hit me, and dragged me down. The fact that she was gone and that the memories I had of her were the only things I’ll carry with me from now on. The realization that I would never see her again chained itself to me, and made me feel emotionally heavy. This feeling lead to other thoughts, and for the first time that I can remember in my adult life, I sat down and looked within myself.

To my surprise, I didn’t like what I really saw. I wasn’t being the best person I knew I could be and I wanted to change for the better. Below, I explain three changes I am working on in my personal life and also how I am applying these changes to my advancement of technical skills on the mat.

And to be honest, I’ve never felt sharper or more in tune with myself than ever.

Realization #1: I wasn’t telling those around me that I appreciate them.
Think about this sentence for just a moment and re-read it. When was the last time you told a sibling that you loved them? When was the last time you told your parents that you appreciate them in your life? Do you ever look your training partners in the eye and tell them that you truly appreciate their time? If possible, you should.

I wasn’t doing this. I was going through life and not acknowledging others’ efforts around me. I was so concerned with my own strife, my own troubles, and my own goals that I never acknowledged the efforts of those around me. Now that I am aware of this weakness, I tell people I care for them more. I try to let them know what they mean to me. I genuinely want to make them smile about themselves. I appreciate THEIR time spent with ME. Not the other way around.

When I applied this mindset to when I spend time on the mat, I found that my entire focus shifts to those around me. Entirely. I no longer worry about my own personal gains at practice. My own time spent on myself no longer matters. To me, if I can give the people around me my everything, they will improve. It’s only a matter of time until this reflects back to me.

Look around you. You will see people who have lifted you up. You will see people in your life that had such an impact on you that you wouldn’t even be the same person without them. Let these people know you appreciate them.

Realization #2: Acknowledge your faults, but also acknowledge your strengths.
For the longest time I had, and at times still have, a brutal self critic. You know that feeling you get when you feel you could have done a task or assignment better? That thing? I have that pretty bad. The worst part is, I would dwell on the shortcomings of whatever it was that I had done. I would always look at the negative and never even acknowledge the positives that came from my attempts.

This is a weakness you may never be aware of. For me, becoming aware of this type of criticism allows me to keep it in check. Acknowledge what you have done, in any aspect of your life, school, work, training, relationships, literally anything. Acknowledge what you could have done better, but most importantly, acknowledge what you did well. Maybe you pushed yourself and studied like never before. Perhaps you just got a new promotion at work. Maybe you just fell in love. Whatever it is, embrace it. Savor the moment and allow yourself to experience the good.

I apply this when I am on the mat by acknowledging my weakness in positions or techniques. I look at where I could have moved more efficiently or finished more cleanly. I look to how I handled my patience and emotion while training. I look at the level of gameness I approached the round. Think of how you could have improved not only your own experience, but that of your partner. Then grab a new partner and do it all over again.

I also acknowledge when a new technique works. Or when I pull off a slick transition or technique. Bask in it. Acknowledge that your hard work and new found mindset has pushed your technique to new levels. Allow yourself to be in the moment of success.

Realization #3: Medals and podium places do not define my judo and jiu jitsu skills.
This one was incredibly hard for me to come to terms with. First, let me explain how I looked at my judo and jiu jitsu before going through this new thought process.

I started training with my brother when I was 13 and I literally remember telling him, the day before my first day of training, “I don’t want to compete. All I want to do is practice.” A few months later I was fighting in practices and competing in tournaments. I was hooked. From that moment on, I took it as my personal role, among my brother and I, that I was going to be the competitor. I was the one that had to go to tournaments and win. I placed the pressure on myself. This isn’t to say that my brother did not compete as good as me, or any sort of thing like that. It’s to say that I wanted that label to be placed on me and me alone. So I competed everywhere.

I never took loses very well. I hated it. “Hate to lose, more than you love to win.” I believed. My mindset was so tournament driven that when I didn’t place first at a tournament, placing elsewhere didn’t matter to me. “If you’re not first, you’re last.” In hind site, it’s a terrible way to train and think. I’m glad to say that this way of thinking is slowly eroding away from me. But it’s difficult.

Tournaments and competition, according to my personal philosophy, is an experience that absolutely must be experienced at one point in a judo or jiu jitsu career. But the quality of the experience should be based on the experience alone, NEVER based the results of the tournament alone. Just because you do not win a medal or place on the podium does not mean that your judo or jiu jitsu is not podium worthy. It just means that you must work on competition judo and competition jiu jitsu. But your skill set as a whole should not be based solely on medals and trophies.

I still struggle with this thought, that only gold can justify what my technical skill set is. But there can be no happiness, in the long run, with this mindset. No happiness can be found here, it only leads to negative self criticism.

Allow yourself to lose, but never lose the lesson.

I feel myself shedding a shell, I liken it to shaking dust off. I’m not out completely, but I feel like I’m seeing the world in a different light. You only get one shot in this life, in a life you’ve never lived before. You will make mistakes. You will feel loss. You will be dragged down. But you will also rise. You will experience happiness.

You will find peace if you know where to look.


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