Skill Range of the Elite Judo Competitor
To find the answer to this question I observed thirty nine World and/or Olympic Champions. I wanted to observe the best and most frequently used skills of the best players. I observed each champion in a minimum of three matches at the level of World or Olympic quarter final competition. By observing three matches I felt comfortable that I was able to recognize a champion's full range of skill. At the level of World or Olympic quarter final competition I believe that each player is challenged to use only their best skills.
The material of this research was video taped coverage of World Championships from 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and the Olympic Judo competition of 1992. Subjects of the research were Champions from all weight divisions. Unfortunately, I did not have sufficient records of any one Women's -72kg champion to be included in the final analysis.
The range of throwing skills varied from just three throwing techniques, by super heavyweight World Champion Masaki, to nine different throws from middleweight Olympic Champion Yoshida. Use of newaza skills ranged from three types of newaza, used by Fairbrother, Kosorotv, Solodukin and Saito, to no newaza skills used by lightweight Olympic Champion Goussainov. (I spent extra time on Goussainov to verify that he did not pursue newaza. In fact there was one incident that he threw an opponent for yuko, fell right into a hold down and walked away. The man does not pursue newaza!)
On average, a World or Olympic Champion uses six different throwing skills and two newaza skills.
As a measure of comparison I broke the subjects into the following categories;
A = One time World Champion, no Olympic Championship
B = Multiple World Championships, no Olympic Championship
C = One time Olympic Champion, no World Championship
D = World and Olympic Champion
E = Multiple World not-less-than one Olympic Championship
F = Not-less-than three World Championships
G = Not-less-than three World and at least one Olympic Championship
H = Twice Olympic Champion
I = Average of all Champions
Once each category had been sorted I averaged the number of skills employed by each Champion. The average skill range for each category has been listed in the table below.
Average Skill Range By Championship Level
Level Throws Newaza
----- ------- --------
A 5.71 1.78
B 6.16 1.75
C 7.66 1.66
D 5.5 2.11
E 5.66 2.33
F 6.16 2
G 6 2.3
H 7 2.5
I 5.92 1.82
All categories, with the exception of "C" and "H" show a technical range of approximately six throwing skills and a newaza range of approximately two skills. Categories "C" and "H" show a higher throwing range. Category "C" indicates a lower newaza range of 1.66 while category "H" shows a newaza range of 2.5 skills. However, categories "C" and "H" represent only three and two Champions respectively.
The question then is, does this data show a significant difference in the range of skills used by the Champions that have achieved different levels of success? The answer has to be no. There appears to be no significant difference in the technical range at the World or Olympic Championship level.
Frequently Used Skills
Skill Frequency of Use
Skill Users Distribution Percentage
--------------- ----- ------------------------
Osaekomi 33 85
Kouchigari 28 72
Pick-ups 23 59
Seoinage 22 56
Twist Down 22 56
Uchimata 20 51
Ouchigari 19 49
Shime 19 49
Osotogari 18 46
Ashi Barai 18 46
Kansetsu 18 46
Sutemi 12 31
Tsurikomigoshi 11 28
Taiotoshi 11 28
Kosotogake 10 26
Haraigoshi 6 15
Sasae 5 13
Makikomi 3 8
Sankaku 2 5
Uranage 1 3
Kataguruma 1 3
Interestingly, the most frequently used throwing skill was Kouchigari. Kouchigari was used by 72% of the Champions and was observed being used in all weight divisions. Another important skills being used by 56% of the Champions are Twist Downs. Twist downs are competitive versions of Uki Otoshi and Sumi Otoshi. Twist downs are very simple counter throwing maneuvers where the defender gets out of the way of an attack and pushes the attacker into the mat using nothing but his/her (the defender's) upper body and the attacker's momentum. Kouchigari and Twist Downs were observed in all Championships reviewed from 1983 to 1995 as well as the 1992 Olympic Judo competition.
Pick-ups, competitive versions of Teguruma, Kuchiki Taoshi, Morote Gari etc., etc., showed wide spread use. However, Pick-ups appear to be a recent development in competitive Judo. The recent appearance of Pick-ups could indicate a fad or a developing trend. Further analysis is required to draw any conclusion.
Not surprisingly, Uchimata and Seoinage are the most frequently used major skills. While Ouchigari, Osotogari, Taiotoshi, are all used by 49%, 46% and 28% of World or Olympic Champions, respectively.
Distribution of newaza skills was surprising on two points. First, I was surprised to realize that the elite players would forego the opportunity to use one newaza skill in favor of something else. i.e. Pass-up a hold down to work for an arm lock. This should not be surprising! Players seek their favorite throws in spite of the opportunity for another throwing skill on a regular basis. Why shouldn't a player prefer one type of newaza over another? Obviously, each individual must stick with the skills that he feels most comfortable with.
It was also interesting to discover that Kansetsuwaza and Shimewaza share nearly equal popularity among the elite. Fortynine percent of the Champions used kansetsuwaza and 46% were using shimewaza.
What has this research taught us? I believe that there is a very simple lesson to learned from this research. Judo is a game of specialization. You have to use the skills that work best for you. You have to stick to what works and practice your skills until they become automatic responses. For the Coach, the lesson of this research is that we have to help focus our players on their best skills.