First of all, I'm a beginner. White belt (not even a month of practice). At wikipedia, they said Judo literally is "gentle way". My sensei told me so too...

When I do randori with higher rank, they don't pressure me to the point I can't even try to execute the move I'm trying to learn. But there is this other white belt guy.

That trainee, in my view, is annoying. Physically speaking, I have very very much less strength. But he's not "gentle" (Judo). So the dude, not only he's also a white belt, but he's acting so "brutal", I can't even learn moves. I even started do push ups so I get more strength ha ha ha ...

Brief, I would you deal with such a person ? I started just giving up on him. When we try rendori, I resist 5 to 10 seconds and just tap to give up. Really boring to train with him. I was think about "breaking" his habit psychologically i.e letting him know I'm weaker and he's not "gentle" and tap my way out 5 seconds... I think doing that will make him distaste doing rendori with me until he changes his approach... (in the back of my mind I'm also thinking, hmmm... maybe I'm acting like a sissy lol...)

What do you think of that ?

  • Great question, Kurt. This is a very common occurrence in martial arts that feature full speed sparring. Getting your ass kicked is just a part of sparring, but there's a balance that needs to be maintained. There are some good answers here. – coinbird Nov 2 at 19:17
  • @coinbird Thx. All answers are very great. I'm planning on using them. But that student missed practice at the last session... I'm voting all answers up – Kurt Miller Nov 4 at 12:02

Judo has two basic principles

Both principles are what makes Judo "gentle".

The first one is the technical principle: seiryoku zen'yō (精力善用, maximum efficiency, minimum effort).

This one makes Judo "gentle" in the sense that you do not waste any strength and effort with overly aggressive and brutal moves that do not contribute to your main goal: Defeating the opponent. Thus, every ounce of strength you use unnecessarily violates this principle.

The second one is often called moral principle: jita kyōei (自他共栄, mutual welfare and benefit).

This one makes Judo "gentle" in the sense that not only in your martial arts practice, but also your everyday life, you are supposed to focus your actions on joint goals and consider the needs and interests of others. This also applies to randori and technical training and means that you should always support and help your fellow students and move and fight in a way so that both can learn as much as possible.

Physically strong beginners

Let us be honest: What you describe does violate both principles profoundly. This actually is a very common occurrence, not only in Judo, but also in BJJ. It often takes a long time for older beginners to reach the point where they relax enough to be able to actually execute techniques correctly. For good technique, you need a mix between relaxation and explosiveness, while the former enables you to fast and fluid movements in the first place. Tension is your enemy.

There are two things to be said:

First: Using strength hinders not only your advancement but also his own technical development.

In the documentary 'Be strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful', Keiko Fukuda - first woman ever to be awarded the 10th dan - theorised about women often being better Judoka technically speaking. Not because of their gender as such, but because they tend to simply not have the strength to power against a partner and therefore have to learn efficiency early in their career.

And she has got a point there: The smaller and weaker beginners comparatively are, the faster they tend to advance technically.

Second: This type of student repels other students.

I've seen it a thousand times: Newbies come, have fun, and are pounded by an over-motivated training partner. That hurts group dynamics and makes you lose (potential) members. I've been in your shoes as well. It took me like three years to finally be at a technical level that allowed me to beat my former nemesis (a level he never achieved). But had it not been for the rest of the group, I would not have continued to go there. In the end, nobody will want to train with him, even less like him. That cannot be in his interest either.

What you can do

I think there are four main strategies that can be applied subsequently

  1. Speak to him. I gave you some solid arguments here that many reasonable people can accept. It may also help to point out the moment he uses strength like in "Hey, you are tensed all over again, how am I supposed to learn anything that way?" If he is reasonable, he will try to work on that. If not, proceed to
  2. Speak to your instructor. He is aware of Judo being supposed to be gentle? Well, all these arguments should appeal to him as well. It is in his best interest that the spirit of the art and the interests of his students are realised by his example and actions. Nevertheless, it may be that he does not care enough to actually do anything about it or his actions are fruitless. If so, proceed to
  3. Avoid any training with this guy. It is true that you can learn most from advanced partners anyway (rightfully pointed out in the answer of @mattm). And it is even positive for them as well, as you sometimes are really baffled by how beginners are moving and reacting if you are advanced and only train with advanced students. Also, trying to help you improves their understanding of the technique (remember: mutual benefit!). But rejecting to train with another student is rude and against the etiquette. Therefore, it may happen that this guy (and/or others) still overshadows your experience. If so, try
  4. Sometimes it is part of the culture of a club or training group that they are brutal and stretch "gentleness" to the point where it simply is not gentle and in accord with the above-mentioned principles anymore. Sometimes they do not care if members do that. If the training with this group remains unsatisfactory, sometimes the best solution is to go to another club and try them.
  • When I read the literal definition of seiryoku zen'yō, I thought it meant to be kinda slick... i.e when opponent pushes, I pull and when he pulls I push. I thought it meant to counterbalance in a smart (gentle) way – Kurt Miller Nov 4 at 12:05
  • @KurtMiller: What you describe is actually not disagreeing - overbalancing the partner by adding to a momentum of his own is exactly what it takes to use minimum strength for maximum efficiency: Only a partner out of balance can be thrown with little to no effort and there is no way to do this (kuzushi) with less strength than in adding to his own momentum. In this case, smartness and gentleness go hand in hand since only if you are acting smart you can throw with minimum effort and without the use of strength, i.e. gentle. – Philip Klöcking Nov 4 at 14:35

Gentle is a relative term. Judo is gentle relative to martial arts where the goal is to hit people in the head, but it is not gentle in the sense of massage.

Prefer experienced partners

If you have a choice of training partners, you should always opt for the most skilled and experienced available. If there are only other beginners, then you work with beginners, but your preference should always be for more skill and experience. This is true independent of problem partners like yours. You will learn much faster training with more experienced partners.

As you become more experienced, you get less choice. There are fewer more experienced players, and you also acquire more responsibility to help others.

There is a beginner tendency to gravitate to training with other beginners. Resist this; take initiative and seek out more advanced partners.

Problem partners

Safety comes first. If you cannot train safely with a partner, then you refuse.

To be polite, you should try not to refuse training partners. The way around getting stuck working with problem partners is to ask someone else first.

So suppose you are now working with the problem partner. Have you already tried talking to them? Some partners simply don't realize you are uncomfortable, and they won't figure this out unaided.

Randori v. technique training

In randori (free play), you expect both resistance and cooperation. You cooperate by playing at an intensity level where you are both benefiting. For example, as an adult playing with a child, you should not be using all of your strength to overpower them, but should instead focus on elements like timing. But you should not have the expectation that your partner will simply let you work your moves without resistance.

For technique training where only one partner is actively working, much of the time there should be no active resistance, especially as a beginner. If your problem partner is resisting in this non-randori training, there is a problem. Seek instructor help.

The good news is that if you are finding it's not a problem with the advanced students, then it's probably not that the instructor or the school as a whole is problematic, but just that one other beginner doesn't know their own strength and doesn't yet know how to be a good training partner. It might be as simple as speaking up for yourself in unambiguous terms.

Time to be assertive for your own safety.

To the brutal beginner: "Please tone down the intensity, Bob. Maybe you're just a lot better than me and I'll eventually catch up, but right now I find that when we're paired together, you go so hard that I'm not really getting the opportunity to learn the techniques."

If that doesn't immediately get the desired effect, then...

To the instructor: "Bob is going so hard with me that I'm not really learning anything and am worried about safety. Can you please either help him adjust his technique or ensure I'm not paired with him?"

If that doesn't immediately get the desired effect, find a different school that prioritizes good instruction and student safety (especially for beginners).

Resolve it by being the adult in the room.

First, find said person out of class and politely tell them that you find a little too rough and hard to train with. Explain that you have no problems with them but that they apply strength too much. Most of the time and most people will apologize and try to come up with a solution. Try to think of how you and they can get back to training and helping each other. Mention the risk of injury as well. Mention that you want to train with them and for both of you to have fun and learn.

You are both white belts who know nothing (that's normal!) so you cannot be expected to do full on resistance. That comes at the end of the road. You both need to learn how to walk first before you can run. It is normal to be rough and incompetent when you are starting out. Seeking to better yourself is the goal here. Mention that to them as well.

If that does not work, have a quiet word with your teacher/coach about them and let them sort it out. This is a second option because it escalates the problem. However, your teacher should sort it out.

If the teacher does not sort it out: walk away from this toxic dojo! It is not place you want to train at for your well being and safety.

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