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Learning Curve in Judo

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The learning curve in judo can be steep, and for beginners it may be a little bit frustrating and even discouraging at first. This is because it’s so very important to be safe in falling as the first thing in judo. If you can’t yet take a safe fall, then you can’t participate fully in class, doing everything that everyone else is doing.

I can’t think of another martial art that has a similar problem. In a karate class, for instance, or even in boxing or kickboxing, you can jump right in and hit the pads, hit the heavy bag, and feel like part of the class. You might not be doing it very well, but you can at least attempt it. In a Brazilian jiujitsu class, you generally start on the floor, so you don’t need to know how to fall. You might thrash around and get submitted ten times, but you can “roll” on your first day.

In judo, nobody does randori on their first day (randori is our version of sparring, or free play). Exceptions would be natural athletes who already have grappling experience, for instance someone who has done sambo, freestyle, or greco-roman wrestling – they are already used to flying through the air and landing safely. Those exceptions aside, everyone else has to spend at least the first two or three lessons learning how to fall, how to slap, how to roll, so that you can feel safe and not be afraid of taking falls.

Once you have gotten over your “fear of flying” so to speak, the door is open, and you will begin to have a lot more fun in judo class. So if you’re a beginner, stick with it! Relax, let go, trust your teachers, and practice your ukemi over and over and over again until it’s completely natural.

I started judo when I was eight years old and did it for a year, learning how to fall, how to do some basic throws. Later I started it again when I was twelve years old. For the first month after I signed up, I had to be dragged to class. My dad would say “hey, isn’t it time for you to go to martial arts?” And sometimes I would respond “oh, I might not go today,” hoping to just stay in my room with my books (for kids today it would be a smartphone). Fortunately my dad didn’t let me slide (if only because he was paying for it!) and after a month I started to look forward to class.


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