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Develop effective judo strategies and tactics

By Masao Takahashi and Family


What if you have superior strength over the opponent who may have better technical ability? Is it wrong to utilize strength to gain an advantage? After all, in competitive judo, the end result to win is paramount. Differences in technical ability and physical conditioning among fighters at the elite levels are often not substantial, which makes strategy and tactics all the more important. Competitive judo has evolved to where the judoka seeks any possible edge to be successful.

Strategy can be defined as the overall match plan or goal to be achieved. For example, it could be the judoka’s objective to end up on the ground knowing one is stronger in ne-waza than in the standing position. Tactics would be the actual methods used to achieve that goal. The judoka in this case may decide to attack with tomoe-nage knowing that an unsuccessful attempt would enable an opportunity to go into ground fighting. Obviously, if the attempt is successful (throw is good) that result is desired. The least preferred outcome would be that the tomoe-nage is countered. The judoka would have to weigh the consequences of being countered to the preferred opportunity to go into ne-waza fighting.

It is important to acknowledge that strategy and tactics must be carefully crafted. What works for one judoka may not necessarily work for another. You must study strategy and tactics and be prepared to use them knowing that many require fundamental prerequisites such as good fitness and technical ability. As well, if strategy and tactics are to make or break a match result, it would follow that mental factors will play a significant part both from a defensive and offensive perspective.

A key consideration is to match the strategy and its tactics to suit your physical abilities. A strong flurry of attacks designed to overwhelm the opponent will not work if you are less powerful and technically inferior. If you are well conditioned, however, attempting to keep a high tempo throughout the match so that you can wear your opponent down before opening up with your tokui-waza, or favorite techniques, is a good idea.

Rather than arbitrarily choosing from the multitude of techniques, follow a systematic approach based upon two premises: First, you will not be able to learn all the techniques and their variations. Therefore, you will need to be selective in those that you decide to acquire. Second, you will not be able to perform all the techniques you have chosen to learn at the same level of expertise. Therefore, you must be selective in choosing what techniques you want to perfect. A number of strategic variables need to be considered to formulate a strategic base that will represent your personal judo style:

  • Attack areas. You need to attack at the main corners of the opponent. For example, you may have developed an attack to the left and right leg of the opponent (leg sweeps or ashi-waza), but you also need to balance with throws so the opponent cannot focus on defending any one single area.
  • Technique options before and after an attack. You need to increase the options that can be carried out after a specific attack. For example, if your favorite throw is seoi-nage, numerous combinations can be linked into seoi-nage (for example, okuri-ashi-barai -- seoi-nage) and also from seoi-nage (for example, seoi-nage -- ouchi-gari).
  • Left versus right. You will normally have a dominant side and rely on that side for the majority of attacks. It is to your advantage if you can complement with opposite-side attacks. It should be noted, however, that it will be impossible to acquire perfect symmetry and expertise in both left- and right-side attacks. The time and effort that it takes to achieve a high level of expertise against a resisting opponent may well be better spent on other strategic variables. An adequate level of left and right balance should be acquired for competition but not necessarily the identical level of expertise to either side. Rather, for example, your right-sided osoto-gari might be complemented with a left-sided okuri-ashi-barai.
  • Train weaknesses. The basic philosophy is to exploit your strengths and hide your weaknesses. If you are strong in standing judo (versus ground fighting), then you should make every effort to stay in the standing position. Conversely, if you are weak on the ground, you should avoid poor throws that may result in going to the ground or defending so the opponent gains position on top. Interestingly, however, you do the opposite in training. That is, it is important for you to practice your weaknesses during training and to avoid practicing your strengths. Training your weaknesses allows for more complete overall development and is captured in the saying, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”


Following are several more important strategic variables:

  • Priority selections. Some data exists on the frequency of techniques used in competition and which are more successful than others. If there is a high percentage of scoring from one technique, and next to nil from another, it makes sense that you consider data in the selection of what works at the competitive level. There’s no sense in practicing a particular technique if it’s not used or rarely seen in competition.
  • Physical attributes. You must consider your own physical attributes and use them to your advantage. Physical components important in judo are strength, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, and height, to name a few. For example, a judoka who is tall can use reach and the leverage created in throws such as tai-otoshi and uchi-mata.
  • Balanced attack and defense. Good judoka have strong attacks, but the best are also strong in defense. Low-scoring matches that are close indicate the need to have good defense to win matches. Good defense means strong stand-up judo and not overly defensive or negative judo.
  • A favorite technique, or tokui-waza. Having a favorite technique that you can rely upon or be known for is like having a secret weapon. In the final of the All-Japan Championships, Yamashita fought highly respected Matsui who took Yamashita to the last 20 seconds without a score. Yamashita pulled out his famous uchi-mata (although he was ruled out-of-bounds) that was the determining factor in his fifth consecutive championship.
  • Develop what comes naturally. If a technique comes naturally, you should continue to develop it. Many judoka have their own idiosyncrasies and are known for their individual styles, however unorthodox they may be. Techniques that come easily are usually perfected quicker. Conversely, if you are having difficulty implementing a certain technique or lack the confidence to perform it well, there may be no sense in pursuing that technique further.

This is an excerpt from Mastering Judo.




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