How to train kicks and punches in judo?

It was long and hard work to convince german judoka of the existence of highly effective punching and kicking techniques in Kanos fighting system. This work is not done yet, because many judoka find it hard to believe, that such „unfair“ techniques should be part of judo.

However nowadays people slowly start to reconsider, which I explicitly appreciate.

But is it really enough to just accept punching and kicking as being part of judo?

Is it enough, to ban these techniques (henceforth referred to as atemi-waza) to kata and practice them in implied form…?

I do not think that is sensible.

Nowadays judo kata are interpreted in such a way that practising these forms do not yield any concrete advantages for use in a fight. To avoid missunderstandings, I use the word „kata“ to denote the Kodokan’s so called „official kata“.

Three of these forms contain clearly visible kicking and punching techniques executed by Tori. Unfortunately noone bothers to really investigate the kicking and punching principles of judo and their effects beyond the mere mechanical and dictated form in kata.

Therefore training of kicking and punching judo techniques only in form of kata is of little use. Practising atemi-waza in kata as usual nowadays will not lead to gain ready-to-use knowledge and abilities. If that were the case, all those judoka relentlessly practising kime no kata, goshinjutsu no kata (which would be better called goshinjutsu no ho) or seiryoku zen’yo kokumin tai iku no kata or even competing with these kata in „kata tournaments“ should be real experts in boxing and kicking.

Are they?

For the successfull use of judo throwing techniques in randori or shiai one has to train hard and permanently, using the rich selection of training methods accordingly. I think noone will argue that.

The same applies for groundfighting techniques. The successfull application of locking and strangling techniques has to be studied thouroughly and intensively. Most importantly though, throws and groundfighting techniques have to be practised with a partner. Again and again, with varying resistence.

This is general knowledge and probably handled that way in everyone’s training.

Since after some time judoka are coming to the conclusion that judo contains indeed more than throwing and groundfighting techniques, the question of training arises.

How can you train kicking and punching?

Is this question even relevant? Does anyone even want to practise judo kicking and punching? Are these techniques seen as mere gymnatics without any relevance to real situations? Or are they practised to be ready-to-use?

One has to severly think about training content and methods if interested in learning judo kicking and punching techniques to be ready-to-use.

Therefore one has to ask oneself, why and for what purpose one wants to train these techniques. Just for variation in training or to be able to practise without a partner? Or rather to train judo as an effective fighting system, to improve ones self defense capabilities? The answer to this question leads to the way one practises judo atemi-waza.

Personally, I despise training atemi-waza as mere „gymnastics“ and for me these training forms are mere wasted time.

Kicking and punching techniques were developed to quickly and effectively overcome real attackers in real situations. And in my humble opinion they have to be practised exactly like that. You don’t have to do that… but if you practise kicking and punching you might as well do it right, I think. A thing worth doing it is also worth doing it right.

Some judoka seem to have a real hard time grapsing the idea that kicks and punches are simply meant for non-sportive real situations. They disapprove even the idea of hitting another human being. I respect this opinion, even if I cannot understand or share it. I just ask myself, why does someone, who disapproves violence in form of kicks and punches, want to train these techniques, such as in judo kata.

A kick is a kick and a punch is a punch…

Someone training kicks and punches without the neccessary state of mind is just imitating these moves. But if you are just imitating these moves, without the intention of ever using them effectively, then why even bother imitating?

To reiterate, I personally hold judo kicking and punching techniques to be an extremely important part of our training.

As Sakujiro Yokoyama wrote already in 1915:

„To know how and where to strike or kick is not sufficient for applying atemiwaza effectively as is the case in other tricks.
You must first learn to move about freely and unrestrainedly by means of the practice of other branches of jûdô in order to be able to apply these tricks.“

„Even if you were able to hit any part of your enemy’s body with your hand or foot, it would not be effective, unless you are skilful in striking, poking, and kicking.

Not only, therefore, you must learn where and how to hit and practice it, but also you must try to acquire skill in striking, poking and kicking by constant practice.“

„But atemiwaza unlike other tricks are very dangerous, and beginners should not attempt the practice of them, before they have developed their muscles and learned how to move about freely by the practice of nagewaza and katamewaza.“

„They may, however practice these tricks by hitting the wall in their houses or some other objects with their fists, elbows, knees, or feet.
Even beginners can gain benefit by indulding in this practice.”

(Yokoyama Sakujiro “Jûdô Kyohan”, 1915, S. 293)

We do that in our training. Regularly. But we do much more…

I consider it essential to test the effect of kicking and punching on your partner. In full contact.

All the people screaming of irresponsibility I want to remind of boxers, muay thai fighters or kyokushinkai karateka, which hold this way of full contact training self-evident. Why shouldn’t it be possible in judo training? Are judoka more fragile then boxers?

Such full contact training has to be exercised with neccessary precautions and considerations of course. These precautions however must not prevent effective training. Personally I don’t appreciate hand gloves or other protectors (except of course the indispensible teeth guard).

Who really wants to learn effective kicking and punching should practise without hand or body protection. The active judoka will learn how and where to hit properly and how to move his fists or elbows to gain the proper effect. His passive partner learns that he won’t die of strikes to the body and will practise how it feels getting hit and dealing with it.

To prevent missunderstandings – this kind of training is only for adults and only for such adults that want to train exactly these things. It does also make little sense to do this kind of training with beginning students.

A solid repertoire of techniques has to be internalised before it comes to hard sparring with bare fists. That includes cover techniques as well as sensible and natural movement (tai sabaki).

Cover and attacks needs to be practised in form of drills that evolve to free improvising. Practising kicking and punching doesn’t differ from practising throwing techniques. As the judo beginner cautiosly tries his first throws and as he perfects his falling (which can be cumbersome and laboriuos) the intermediate judoka stepwise practised his atemi-waza, ever improving bis covers and movements.

This way to train is very important and be varied widely, all the way down to hard sparring. If you want, you could follow judoka Uchida Ryōhei:

„Uchida Ryōhei was a Judo 5th dan who wrote a book entitled ‘Judo’ in 1903 for which Kano provided a foreword.“

„Uchida Ryōhei was all about the martial application of jūdō and writes about this in the book. He actually argues that jūjutsu in the Edo period was basically totally unrealistic and he wanted to instill real combat techniques into jūdō to make it effective on the battlefield.“

(See Wikipedia – Ryōhei Uchida and Sherdog-Forum)

You don’t have to go down that road that far if you don’t want to. But if you are integrating judo kicking and punching techniques in your training then why not do it in a way that yields real concrete use for fighting.

(Translation by Christian Röer)