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A Theory on Getting Caught

I’ve recently been reading The Art of Self Cultivation, which is a potent book of Chinese wisdom and quotations. The quotes challenge thought process and a certain experience erupts, I liken it to pulling a thread on a giant ball of yarn. Armed with an iced americano and some time, who knows where the thought process will lead me.

This quote, while seemingly unrelated to this post, was the spark in which my idea flamed. Take what you will from it.

“In study and in affairs avoid the desire for easy victory or quick results. To seek them is to circumscribe oneself and prevents attainment of the origins of things.” – Huang Zongxi

The idea unravels. I copy the idea from my notebook.

A new perspective of mine is the idea of extremes. Heavy vs. Light, Far vs. Near, Visible vs. Invisible. Almost everywhere I look I see this to be true. Only in very rare occurrences does going to the extreme, maximum or minimum, actually produce results which can be deemed “good”. A usual “balance point” is constantly looked for. As martial arts mirrors my life, you can see these contrasts quite plainly. I refer to these contrast positions in judo or jiu jitsu as “Grey Areas” or “Sweet Spots”. In these areas, the vast majority of exchanges take place, this is where you catch others. This is where you get caught.

Getting caught usually occurs when a new pattern or route, that which has never been followed or previously known, is inflicted upon you. In theory, if you had known the pattern, route, or technique, defenses could have been prepared. Because the route has never been discovered or is foreign to you, or perhaps you were simply tricked or out maneuvered, the defenses prepared were inadequate, and have failed you, which leads to your capture. The tap. The ippon.

The tangent grows.

In life, I feel it is dangerous to deal in absolutes. I have to agree with Obi Wan on this one. This is due to the scale in which extremes are viewed. Scales differ between individuals and are as unique and different as our very own fingerprints. Because of this, what I deem “extreme” is of the norm for another, and vice versa. Having this knowledge is crucial in both social interaction, filtering actions of others, and judging your response.

When focusing solely on training, extremes are easy to spot. Do not overcompensate movement. Do not lean to one side. Do not become too predictable. Do not under or over train. But when we zoom out and attempt to apply this concept to life, it becomes complex and difficult. A relentless amount of factors become present and seeking balance becomes a challenge.

The positive I take away is that awareness can trigger change.

“Knowledge follows realization of ignorance.” – Zhuang Zhou


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My Favorite Judoka

A month or two ago I had a great conversation with my judo sensei over some iced coffee. We discussed his recent trip to Japan and the judo experiences he had there. It was great to hear his stories. Eventually we stumbled upon the question, “Who’s your favorite judoka, past of present?” Such a tough question! Do you go for technicians or champions? Asia or Europe? It’s this question that inspired me to share my current top 5 favorite judoka. The cool thing is, this list has changed and will continue to change over the course of my life. Enjoy.

5 (Tie). Name: Mike Swain. Country: USA. Weight: 71kg.

Mike Swain is a staple in American judo and I have had the honor to have him actually shape my judo. He was a San Jose State judo legend and coach by the time I enrolled in school there. I remember when I was still in high school, my brother was a freshman on the SJSU judo team, and he came home for Summer and brought his Blue Mike Swain Century judo gi with him. I stole it and attended practice in it, I remember feeling as if I was Superman.

Swain’s technical ability was unparalleled on the World stage, a 1987 Gold medal at the World Championships proves this point. He literally wrote the book on Ashiwaza and his Tai-otoshi was a notorious technique among international competitors, a pure technician. For this, Mike Swain starts off this list.

5 (Tie). Name: Shohei Ono. Country: JPN. Weight: 73kg.

Shohei caught my eye after winning the 2013 World Championships in style and is one of my newest favorites. His aggressiveness comes through his techniques as he often seems to plant his opponents through the tatami. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder and steps on the mat with a certain swagger. He has had numerous set backs in his young career and is currently not even ranked in the top #10 in the world. Despite this, he’s still a favorite of mine due to his punishing style. He was recently passed on for the 2015 World Championships and I’m curious to see where his career goes from here.

4. Name: Takashi Ono. Country: JPN. Weight: 81kg/90kg/100kg.

You may or may not have ever heard of Takashi Ono, but he’s a favorite of mine for several reasons. He never won a World Title and he never placed in the Olympics, but that’s the exact reason why I look up to him so much. He has fought and placed in tournaments all over the World, spanning 3 weight categories, and is still currently fighting. I recently checked out the draw for the 2015 All-Japan Judo Championships and spotted his name among the Japanese elite. While some may consider him past his prime, I admire the fact that he is still competing which makes me believe his love of judo goes well beyond glory, he simply loves to fight.

3. Name: Ilias Iliadis. Country: GRC. Weight: 73kg/81kg/90kg.

3x World Champion. 2x European Champion. Olympic Champion. The results speak for themselves. But judging how the international community rallies behind Ilias, it seems safe to assume that he is not only a world class competitor, but he is a world class human being. I place him on this list not only because of his competition records, but I truly enjoy watching his style judo. It’s blunt, straight forward, and he’s always shooting for the ippon. I’m currently working on getting my hands on an autographed gi of his for my shop.

2. Name: Flavio Canto. Country: BRA. Weight: 73kg/81kg.

Flavio has been a long time favorite of mine. The way he effortlessly combines his tachiwaza with his newaza is something I can only dream of doing. He’s a jiu jitsu Black belt as well and is one of the main reasons why I began jiu jitsu in the first place. His career spans many high points, with an Olympic Bronze medal being it’s cornerstone. More importantly, he’s another individual, based on how the community treats him, who seems to be a phenomenal human being. I follow him on Instagram and he is constantly seen giving back to judo in Brazil’s poorest communities.

1. Name: Isao Okano. Country: JPN. Weight: 80kg.

There’s a reason why I chose Isao Okano to adorn the mural in my shop, it’s because I consider him a judo legend. World Champion and Olympic Champion, his competition record is stellar. I had the opportunity to train with Isao Okano on several occasions, both at SJSU and at his Ryutsu Keizai University judo program. His son, Tetsu Okano, was also my team mate at SJSU, so the personal connection just adds to my adoration.

Okano Mural

This mural is of Isao Okano choking Yukio Maeda in the 1969 All-Japan Judo Championships. Can be found in Dojo Outfitters, in Portland, OR.

As I stated above, it will be interesting to look at this list 5-10 years from now to see who my favorite judoka were at this time. Due to restrictions, I could not fit all of my favorites, but some names I would include would be Kirill Denisov of Russia, Nyam-Ochir Sainjargal of Mongolia, and Varlam Lipartiliani of Georgia.

Who are some of your favorites?


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Mastery

A few months ago I was perusing Oregon’s famous Powell’s Books and stumbled upon a book entitled Mastery, it’s written by Robert Greene. The title itself resonated with me and upon a quick glance at a few paragraphs, I knew I had to have the book. $20 bucks never got me so much.

The book basically covers the lives and circumstances of historical and modern masters. Masters in a sense that they are seen by the majority of people as a specialist in whatever field of study or industry they chose to settle in. Names like Charles Darwin, Freddie Roach, Mozart, and other historical figures litter the pages. The chapters are easily digestible and the stories are incredibly inspiring.

The book goes in to various details about the life and times of these masters and what I appreciated was that the difficulties faced along the path to mastery were highlighted. In most cases, it wasn’t all glory, money, success, and respect. It was testing and riddled with strife. It was a goddamn fight. Upon finishing, I took away the thought that everything has a price and my Understanding of Reality stat increased by +2. Nothing is free.

In some cases, the master was naturally gifted. From a young age, they showed promise and surrounded themselves with people that assured their success. In other cases, nothing but grit, determination, and hard work got them to their mastery level. It was informative to see the different avenues. Me? I’m not willing to label myself in a category, but what I do know is that my path seems to be similar in that it’s littered with difficulties, successes, and contains a certain amount of youthful obliviousness that allows me to roll the dice and let the cards fall as they may, something that ran in almost every master mentioned in the book. Not that I’m a Mozart or Darwin or anything, but those dudes rolled the dice hard.

Another thought I took away from the book was that these people submerged themselves to the point where they literally mastered whatever it is they chose. Nothing was done half way, no “maybe”, no “almost”. In most cases their lives seemed to be dealt in extremes, all or nothing, win or lose, life or death. What I took away was that a certain level of mastery requires you to pay. You pay with your focus, time, mental study, physical application, finances, relationships, and, basically, your life. It seems that your life has to revolve around whatever you wish to master, there are no known shortcuts.

Upon digestion, I questioned if true mastery is even possible. Perhaps it’s the pursuit of mastery that brings upon what some deem as success or mastery. Can one actually achieve a level that they are deemed to be a true master? Wouldn’t it depend on the definition of mastery in which we are judging on? Who crowns what?

To end, I make no claims to be a master in anything. I know enough to know I know nothing. But to read about mastery and to see what was paid, overcome, and conquered inspires me to draw my bow, choose the longest, truest arrow, close my eyes, and take my shot.

Scoop a copy, Mastery


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Tuning Fork

What’s the biggest barrier between you and executing your technique? Your opponents’ movements? Your own movements? The amount of time you devoted to shaping your technique? Flexibility? Mental recognition of the technique? These are just some possible answers to the question stated above, all are equally legitimate. I’ve recently asked myself this question, and like a ball of clay, I’ve been massaging this thought in my mind for a few weeks now. My thoughts and current findings are below, they are subject to change.

While the factors listed above just reach the tip of the iceberg, I believe the iceberg itself is something much larger than a single or combination of various factors. These factors are just leaves on a branch. Where’s the root though? I asked myself this question and I was not surprised when I arrived at my current answer: The self.

It’s you that sets up your own barriers between a successful technique attempt or a failed one. It’s you that obstructs your own path. These barriers that you concoct can be in the form of physical limitations or mental ones. Ones that you can physically feel (fatigue, flexibility, strength (lack of strength), previous injuries, etc.) or ones that affect the mind (perspective, general emotions, and feelings, etc). I believe most of these issues stem from your perspective on them. I recognize that there are also factors that are a true constant, ones that do not change with perspective alone.

With this thought in mind, it lead me to question that if it would be possible to effectively execute ones technique successfully if one could limit or dismantle these barriers more efficiently. My brother gave me a piece of advice once and it has stuck with me ever since. He told me that I should strive to become a tuning fork for my technique to travel through. To allow technique to travel through me, without my emotions, feelings, or physicality effecting it’s route. This visual has allowed me to direct my focus efficiently and has allowed me to attempt the removal of myself from applying my own techniques. Basically, get out of your own way.

Tuning Fork

It is incredibly hard. It requires a new level of dedication to diligence. Is it even achievable? Is it even possible to remove yourself entirely? Who is to say what the most efficient path to a successful technique even is? I am still molding. But in striving for this, I feel that it will certainly alter your own current technique. Positively or negatively, change will occur. It’s hard enough to execute techniques on an opponent who does not want techniques applied to them. It’s even harder to conquer yourself first, then face an opponent after that.


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Struggle to Rise

My life has been pedal to the metal for the past few months. A laundry list of things ranging from launching my shop’s website, www.dojooutfitters.com, to suffering a fairly severe ankle injury, twice. It’s been a blur.

When brainstorming topics to write upon I wanted to stay true to the meaning of having this blog, to have a loose record of my training life so I can look back upon this digital diary and reminisce of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also wanted to document my mental changes along the way.

As stated above I suffered a fairly severe ankle injury roughly two months ago. I will not post details, but both injuries occurred on the same ankle. What I went through with this injury was entirely different than how I used to handle injuries in the past. I explain the 3 changes below.

1. I owned up to the injury.
It was entirely my fault in both cases. In the first case, I shouldn’t have gotten in the position to have my ankle taken to begin with. Second of all, I should have been more careful while maintaining my position and posture. Both injuries compiled on the same ankle, it sucked, and I blamed no one else. It’s easy to shift the blame to others when you are the one that is injured. Challenge this process, it’s my firm belief that you are always responsible for you.

2. Not enough rest.
After I suffered the first injury, I took a week off of training. No lifting, no randori, nothing. It was bad enough for me to just teach my classes. I made an error in thinking my ankle was fine and chose to start rolling again, and sure enough, it got rolled up on again and turned in to a more severe injury. I was foolish to not listen to my body and head back to training so soon. My ego told me I could do it. I was wrong. A lesson I know now, because the pain made the lesson stick. Never again.

3. Direct Mental Focus.
I changed the entire way I viewed this injury. After I suffered the first one, I came back too quick and re-injured it. After suffering the second one, I had to take a limp back. I wanted to take a good look at this situation and I wanted to turn it in to a blessing. So that’s exactly what I did in 5 steps.

3A. I set a date for my return. One month I said. One month of no randori, which to me, might as well be a frickin’ death sentence. During this month of no randori the challenge was laid before me and I played with the idea of injury time and what it meant to me. I set a date to make sure I didn’t come back too soon.

3B. During this injury period I wanted to maintain my strength and I immediately began lifting again, but this time, with no ego. I kept the weights manageable enough to maintain strict form, which in turn, turned these sessions in to an enjoyable experience. I stayed consistent and upon my return, felt stronger than before.

3C. I dieted better. Because I could not rely on my calorie dump of training, it forced me to tighten up my diet and watch my calorie intake. I actually lost 6 lbs while gaining strength during this time period.

3D. I sat out and watched my students. What killed me the most is not being able to train with my students, but I used this down time to actually sit down and visually study their movements. It allowed me to see their styles, flaws, and strengths. I watched their small details and visually absorbed as much as I could, like Darwin studying a new species on the Galapagos. It was an absolute blast.

3E. Lastly, now that I have returned to training, I feel the effects of these mental changes, like I leveled up in a video game. I train differently and my mental approach will never be the same again due to what I just went through.

The reason why I shared this is not to put myself on a pedestal or write a post about myself. I wanted to question and change the challenge of being injured. I feel that I did that. How? By taking a stand, flipping a mental switch, and by applying these thoughts in to action.

It feels good to be back.

Orders Up


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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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