Black Belt


The first installmen­t of Antonio Grace ff o’ s reflection son practicing judo in Asia and the West ran in the December20­17/January201­8 issue. He continue store count his experience­s and observatio­ns here. —Editors


In ´-udo Randori in Five Countries, Part 2,” Antonio Graceffo, Ph.'., goes old school in the Big Apple as he compares and contrasts the -apanese art with the Chinese wrestling he’s learning in Shanghai.

During the long breaks the other students and I got at Shanghai University of Sport — National Day, Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), summer vacation and so on — I traveled to other countries for work and pleasure. Of course, I added judo training to my itinerary whenever I could because it was closely related to my major.

At some of the gyms I visited around the world, I was told that the practice of judo had been heavily influenced by MMA and Brazilian jiu

jitsu. In New York, however, I spent time with Gary Rasanen, an eighthdegr­ee black belt who’s resisted the temptation to modify his judo. He’s old school, which means he teaches mostly stand-up throwing, and he uses only the Japanese names for those throws.

Rasanen is also strict when it comes to rank. He seems to believe that the most direct path to the “gentle way” is through suffering. “The MMA and jiu-jitsu guys come out here sometimes because they want to learn the throws,” he confided, “but no one wants to get thrown 300 times a night.”

I deemed it a valid observatio­n because in comparison to the time I spent training in MMA, BJJ and wrestling, I was definitely getting thrown more in Rasanen’s judo classes. He apparently supports Jigoro Kano’s rule of thumb that judo should be 70-percent throwing and 30-percent ground work.

Think about that statement: In judo, a syllabus of less than 70 throws is practiced over and over until aesthetic perfection is achieved. That can be tedious and painful for some practition­ers, which is probably why most of the judo schools I’ve visited have a small student body and teachers who hold full-time jobs on the outside.


be at all home in China because the country is one of the few places where the Japanese names for judo throws aren’t used. This is likely the result of one of two reasons. The first is political. China has never forgiven Japan for World War II, which means many Chinese hold a great deal of animosity toward the Japanese.

The second is Japan uses three writing systems. In that nation, judo terms are written with Chinese characters but pronounced in Japanese. In the U.S., if a Chinese character is encountere­d in an English textbook on judo, most readers won’t know or care that it’s Chinese. They simply will ignore it and read the phonetic spelling of the Japanese pronunciat­ion, which usually follows the technique’s name in

brackets. As a result, judo techniques in most countries around the world use the same phonetic pronunciat­ions of the Japanese words.

Not in China, however. If you’re reading a Chinese-language judo textbook here and come to the name of a throw, you see that it’s written in Chinese characters with no indication that this one word in the sentence should be pronounced the Japanese way rather than the Chinese way. And even if there was some sign, most Chinese readers wouldn’t know how to pronounce the character the Japanese way.


wasn’t the only reason studying judo and other grappling arts at Shanghai University of Sport was unique. Most of the Chinese athletes there are preselecte­d as children based on their physical attributes. In fact, many of my teammates and training mates told me they left home when they were 12 — and some as young as 9 — to live in a sports school, where they trained twice a day. By the time they reached SUS, they’d enjoyed a decade of full- time training and had competed at the national and internatio­nal levels. As a result, all the people I grappled with possessed very advanced skills.

Another result of my time at SUS was I began noticing difference­s between the skill sets of the various grappling arts. Chinese wrestling, as well as freestyle wrestling and MMA, allow attacks aimed at the legs. Examples include the single-leg and double-leg takedown. Judo, however, no longer permits them. Those techniques were present when Jigoro Kano codified the art, but they were removed later when wrestlers began winning internatio­nal judo competitio­ns. It was believed that by letting the art evolve from one in which beautiful throws were emphasized to one in which winning at any expense was the goal would permanentl­y damage judo.

That’s not unheard of in the martial arts. When Kano created judo from jujitsu, he removed many of the submission­s and ground-fighting techniques because he envisioned judo as the art of skillful throwing. Allowing opponents to fight too much on the ground after carelessly throwing or being thrown seemed contrary to his philosophi­es.

JUDO DOES have commonalit­ies with the wrestling I encountere­d in China. Practition­ers of both arts wear a similar uniform, although the Chinese-wrestling shirt has short sleeves and the judo gi long. Many of the throws are similar, but Chinese wrestling specialize­s in sweeps and rather unique clothing-based throws. My impression is that in judo, the clothing provides a place to grip to execute a throw, whereas in Chinese wrestling, many of the throws are actually clothing-based.

Unlike judo, Chinese wrestling doesn’t include ground fighting. Instead, wrestlers reset before going for the next throw. This means that

judoka have some knowledge of submission­s, chokes, pins and ground fighting, but Chinese wrestlers do not. However, Chinese wrestling includes techniques that judo seldom sees. Among them are strength moves like the suplex, bear hug and body lock. Also of note is the sacrifice throw, which is common in MMA and freestyle wrestling and can be used in judo but is more or less forbidden in Chinese wrestling.

It’s that variety, however, that makes the internatio­nal exploratio­n of the martial arts fascinatin­g for all who engage in it.

Unlike judo, Chinese wrestling doesn’t include ground fighting. Instead, wrestlers reset before going for the next throw.

Antonio Graceffo’s book Warrior Odyssey is available on

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