Managing your Judo training partners.
In this article, we shall explore what Judo training is like and how you can get the most from your training. This covers both the short-term and long-term, for as we shall discuss there can be conflicts in this area that need to be balanced to ensure you progress optimally.
Judo training is hard, really hard. You need to be strong, supple, skilled, speedy; you also need to have stamina and your head in the right place (psychology). And this is just the broadest outline of what you need to train.
Within each of these categories (the 5 S’s) there are sub-categories. For example, you need to work on maximal strength and strength endurance. You need to have static and dynamic suppleness (aka flexibility), etc etc.
In our sport of Judo, “Skill” is arguably the most important and hardest area to train; it is the focus of this article.
When you train in Judo, you mainly work on tour technique. You will drill throws and groundwork. You will practice throwing people for hours upon hours. You will ratchet up the level till you are closely simulating contest and be knocking seven shades of heck out of yourself and your partners. This is what we shall talk about in this article, how to best manage this process.
I repeat myself here, Judo training is hard, really REALLY hard! It is not for the faint-hearted and it is not for those adverse to a little bruising and pain now and then. You can not train Judo and not feel pain; or inflict some.
For this reason it is essential that you approach each training session with a plan of how you will be training, why and what objectives you wish to accomplish. This must be within the structure of a long-term plan for your training.
Getting thrown hurts, we get good at not feeling it and taking the falls in our stride. But it hurts, so if you are perfecting your throws, you’ll be hurting your partners. You will bruise them, you will cause them to fall badly and get winded, you may even break them. This is something you need to accept and plan for. Your partners do not have an unlimited capacity to soak up the throws. They will smile through some of it, grimace through more, but eventually they won’t take anymore. At which point your trainig stops, even if you’ve not done all the training you need.
So, knowing this you need to plan out your training so that you do not wear out your valuable training partners. The concept you need to understand and implement is this, you need to cycle through partners to give them a chance to recover. This means inside a single session, within a training cycle and over the course of years too.
In a single session, you will want to limit the number of throws you do on each partner you are able to use. You may need to train with larger and smaller players; players of low grade etc. You have to use these people carefully, don’t smash the yellow belt! Use the big males for throwing with more commitment and power. Use the lighter players for speed and uchi komi perhaps. Make use of the crash mats and other training tools to limit the number of big falls you inflict on people.
Within a sesison you will also want to alternate your focus potentially. I.e. instead of “going hard” in every randori (or even within a single Randori), perhaps you can alternate between throwing and being thrown, or between grip fighting with the dan grades and playing a light game with a yellow belt?
You might chat and joke with a partner whilst lightly turning in for a new throw in one Randori, then “put on your game face” with them in a second randori (or perhaps go hard for 1 minute at the start of the randori, then relax and play for the next minute).
You need to give your partners a rest physically and mentally. For example, being good at grip fighting and being able to dominate another player is vital to winning a match. But it can be frustrating and annoying to partners in training. Don’t dominate the same people all the time, if you destroyed someones grips yesterday, maybe just take a basic grip and try and throw from there today? Don’t keep out-gripping them everytime you meet, else they will start to hate training with you and you’ll get less from them and your training will suffer as a result.
Variety is important for your partners, if you smash the same three partners for a week leading up to a competition they might love being part of your preparation. Do it the week after a competition and they are likely to hate you for it and not be there in the build up for the next big competition.
Hopefully, by now you have an feeling for where this article is going. You need partners to train for Judo. Your partners will need to take a hammering from you and will willingly do it… but not forever!
So the second part of this article is a bit more practical, how do you get the most from your partners without burning them out?
This comes down to periodisation and proper planning, plus a little bit of human empathy.
You will, I hope, have a good plan of when your competitions are and what types of training you need to be doing when. So you’ll have a strength development phase, speed phase, etc etc. You’ll have a competition preparation phase and through all of this you’ll have a technical development plan running also.
Now you need to look at your training schedule and consider who you will have available to train with. For example, lets pretend this week you’ll be training at a national training centre two nights for Randori and 3 days at your home club. In your weight there is usually 2 players in your weight and at your level at the national centre, 1 person at the club. At the national centre there are also 5 other players in your weight, but not at the same level as you. In your club, there are no other players your weight, but some 3 heavier players who are of a level comparable to your. Just to make things interesting, at the national centre there is another player in your weight who is better than you. They are a selfish bully, but very good at Judo.
So… who have you got to work with and how should you prioritise them?
The two players at the national centre at your weight and level are your #2 partners.
The person your weight and level in your club is #1 partner.
The 5 other players in your weight at the national centre are #4.
The 3 heavier players n your club are #3.
The selfish bully is your #6 partner.
The way I have prioritised the partners is based on how much training with them you will be able to do and also on their level and weight. Ideally you want lots of players of your level and above your level. But as this example shows, you need to be careful to factor in the personality of your players. The best partner might seem to be the player in your weight who is better than you; but if they are going to use you as “cannon fodder” or just use you to train their Judo then they are a poor partner for you.
Your #1 partner in this case is the person you have the most access to, who is also of the right size and ability to train effectively with you. The 2 players at the national centre you have less time with. The three heavier but high level players in your club are important as you have access and they are bigger so you can go harder with them than perhaps the 5 lower level players in your weight at the national centre. Again, the #6 player is the selfish partner.
Next look at your schedule and your #1 partner, you want to identify both the quantity (volume) and level (intensity) of the training you will be doing with them. You need to protect this partner as much as you can, so carefully manage your training around the idea of protecting them from overuse. The #2 partners you can afford to be less careful with, they are in a national centre and you’ll not have the same amount of time with them. The three larger players in your club are important, you can use them to balance against your #1 partner. If you did a hard session with your #1 partner yesterday, go light with them today but go hard with your three larger partners today.
The 5 lower level players in the centre are good for using when you need to let your #2 partners have a break or when you want to work a new technique or variation.
Now… partner #6. They are a challenge. You need to train with them, they are your weight and better than you. They are the perfect person to test yourself against and to push yourself harder with. If you need to up your intensity, they may the partner you need to try monopolize that session. BUT… if they are just about their own Judo, you may not want to train with them if you need a light session. You need to train with them, but you need to do it on your own terms so that you don’t simply become a crash test dummy for their throws and training.
How to manage the training and your partners.
Having identified your partners and prioritised them, looked at your schedule you need to start actually training.
And you need to start managing your partners around your training schedule (and theirs of course). Depending on your relationships with the partners, their coaches and your environment you may have a meeting and discuss this all out in the open. Often you’ll not have this opportunity and you’ll have to manage your partners by managing your own actions.
Here are some example to help you get started.
Alternate light jovial sessions with hard work sessions. Too often players forget that they need to have some fun on the mat. That goes for you and for your partners. Sometimes even if you are a deadly serious athlete, you need to share a joke or be a bit silly. You need to take a few falls and allow your partners to have some fun of their own.
Be sure, especially if some of your partners are at equal or lower level, to relax now and then and let them take their grip, try their throws and see you breakfall. Smile as you get up and let them go again.
Even with people like our hypothetical selfish bully, you sometimes need to go easy and let it be fun. Sometimes it can be invaluable for defusing some of the tension and emotion that can build up in a session or overtime in a training environment and between players.
You can have an entire session of light fun Judo (especially good after a competition), or alternate it during a training session. Or even within a Randori.
Part of managing your partners will be knowing what they are like as people and making training fun for them, within the confines of your plan. If you have a partner who loves high intensity, short bursts of hard work then use them in that way; maybe throw outs?. If they like long medium intensity, perhaps they are the person for uchi komi?
You will want to use the abilities of your partners carefully. If one of your partners is especially at kumi kata use them for this; not for nage komi. If one partner is especially good for uchi komi use them for this, not grip fighting drills.
You will also want to vary the amount of training and the intensity of the training you do with each partner; as your volume and intensity increases you may need to use more partners to protect them from burnout. Alternatively you may start using a smaller number of partners who are capable of helping increase your intensity.
The key is to plan this out in advance and to be aware of the negative factors that being one of your training partners can have. You must never forget that you need partners to train and that as such one of your top priorities is to ensure you have the right partners available, healthy and willing to give you what you need to succeed.
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If you have any questions I would be happy to hear from you and will find answers if I can.