Friday, December 7, 2012

"Higher Judo: Groundwork" by Moshe Feldenkrais

During the manic phases of what I call “manic-procrastination disorder,” I usually end up misplacing my productive energy into judo stuff. At the end of an hour-long binge, I had was a proud owner of a new judo website and a funky old newaza book called “Higher Judo: Groundwork.” The first print ran in 1952 and it had apparently become quite rare, but luckily enough it had be reprinted in 2010 in paperback. You know me and my obsession with ground work, right?

So, who was Moshe Feldenkrais? Apparently, he was a pretty big deal. A pioneer of judo in France who hung out Jigoro Kano, as well being a scientist of sorts, he was interesting enough on his own to convince me to shell out $17 for his book. This was the last in a series of judo and jujutsu literature, meant for experienced judoka. Though I usually like to read the foreword, the 2010 one speaks more about judo as it relates to the development of the Feldenkrias Method—something I can’t even begin to pretend to care about. 

In terms of judo content, “Higher Judo” contains 300 line drawings (traced from actual photos of Feldenkrais and Mikinosuke Kawaishi) with accompanying commentary. Unlike most instructional books that stick to explaining 1 or 2 pictures at a time, Feldenkrais works to tie together different positions, constantly referring back to earlier pages. This has the advantage of synthesizing the work, but is also makes the 200-page book frustrating to read through. Therefore, it may be better said that “Higher Judo” is meant for brown belt judoka and black belt-level readers.

“Higher Judo” represents one of the first attempts by a judoka to capture “proper” newaza instruction in print. There are definitely other instructionals covering newaza, but it seems that the goal of judo print during the mid-20th century was capture judo through a series of photographs. The line drawings lack color, which is a choice probably made to draw your attention to the text. Even if you are a visual learner, the best photography of the 1952 was not that good, such that the crispness of the line drawings is actually superior from an instructional standpoint.

In the paragraph above, I put quotes around the word “proper” newaza instruction because it seems to be the least standardized part of judo in proportion to how often we have to deal with it. The fact that Feldenkrais, an apparently reknowned grappling expert and contemporary of Kano, poured so much detail into this book is very interesting. I say this because I’ve never seen judo newaza taught in his terms, which reinforces my idea that unlike tachi waza, the judo community have yet to place a standard on the whole of newaza technique. There are a set of techniques required for grading, but the proper application of ju on the ground deserves more attention than it currently gets. The positional nature of newaza lends itself well to didactic instruction, which is exactly how Feldenkrais attempts to teach it. Here is the table of contents:
Example of "Higher Judo" Content

1. Judo Practice…17
2. Uniqueness of Action…42
3. Where We Start and Why…46
4. Principles of Ground Work…53
5. Some Useful Exercises…56
6. Ground Work Tactics…67
7. Starting Ground Word…77
8. Six O’clock Approach…87
9. Right or Left Approach…121
10. Head On Approach…160
11. The Astride Position…181
12. Opponent Facing the Ground…207

Sometimes I think that judoka have this illusion that they’ll open a book by a pre-WWII black belt and find the entire catalogue of modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques which, quite frankly, is ridiculous. The farther you move from the founding of Judo, the more you can see how the sports have evolved into totally different things—for better or worse. Even if you have no sense of historical accuracy and think that BJJ comes from Japanese Jujutsu, what people are doing in modern competitions does not resemble old school, “true” Gracie Jiu Jitsu (as Relson Gracie will gladly tell you).

Anyway, as a grappler you should not be looking to “Higher Judo” for the answer to your ne waza woes (which can only be solved with more practice). It serves as a historical piece and has a lot of great ideas concerning the general approaches to groundwork and principles that guide them. More importantly, as students who hopefully will spend time amassing experience and knowledge to become teachers someday, “Higher Judo” shows what happens when a smart person really thinks about grappling in-depth, as a science. His work is imperfect, but given the time when it was published is was far ahead of its time in that it recognized problems in instruction and the practical application of classical techniques. If you can get past the foreword and the constant plugs for the Feldenkrais Method, “Higher Judo” can be a great tool for the further development of your judo. 

Link to buy:

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