While instructing a throwing technique in a small adult judo class, I encountered the situation where the most inexperienced (~6 months training) student was by far the most successful in absorbing the lesson. The far more advanced (> 4 years) students kept trying to make their familiar throwing techniques superficially resemble the new throwing technique, but without learning the new technique. The novice student was able to absorb the positive (do this) technique instruction, while the advanced students absorbed neither the positive nor negative (don't do that) instruction. I explained how the principle of the throwing technique works, how this principle differs from other techniques, and a simple way to check whether the principle of the day is being applied.

Everyone successfully threw their partner with something consistently, so to the students there was no obvious error. Everyone appeared to make a good faith effort to reproduce the new throwing technique; no one was intentionally ignoring the lesson. The problem is that the advanced students are getting by on what they already know, and not learning something new.

From the instructor perspective, I think the technical instruction is sound because at least one one student understands after the class who did not before. Normally, however, I would expect this to be an advanced student and not a novice.

How does an instructor help the advanced students out of this rut? Is there a way to encourage or trick them to see a technique as new, rather than incorrectly as a variation of something they already know?

Although inspired by judo, I do not think anything about this question is inherent to judo.

2 Answers 2


Generally, adapting/changing a well-known pattern is hard. Very hard. And it takes a lot of time.

As of the particular problem my experience is that the following elements work best:

  • Slow down: Make your students do the exact movement very slowly.
  • Use Uke: Make the partner look for and correct any deviations.
  • Use special situations: Depending on the technique, it may be possible and useful to introduce it starting from a different movement/combination, stance, grip, posture etc.
  • Use special language: In order not to get things confused in your student's heads, it can be useful to bind techniques to unique stories, figures, or words. Works with kids but also with adults.
  • Focus on differences, not similarities: If differences are marginal (arguably: harai-maki-komi, hane-maki-komi, caveat see below), your explanation should not refer to other techniques ('just like in...'), but rather focus on the particularities (contact points, force directions, axes of movement when throwing, grip, direction and/or method of kuzushi,...)

A last point: Ask yourself and try to answer the question why this technique, rather than sticking to the other one, had been developed in the first place. If hane-goshi was like harai-goshi, but with your leg being funny, why not simply throwing harai-goshi? Well, because hane-goshi has a whole other direction of uke's movement involved (pulling/evading backwards as opposed to pushing/evading sidewards). This may involve some effort with research of historical developments.


I've experienced this first-hand quite a lot. For example, while taking a classical jujitsu class, the instructor demonstrated a half-twisting punch. To me, it resembled my kung-fu half-twisting punch, so that's what I did. When my instructor asked me to show it to him, he said, "No, that's not correct."

I carefully watched what he did and then tried it again. He said no. I did this over and over again, all the time with him saying no, and all the time with the intent of copying him precisely. It was very frustrating, and I couldn't figure out what he was doing differently. He was having trouble spotting it, also. But he knew it wasn't right.

Ultimately, I had to slow down a lot and go through it a little at a time with him watching and pointing out the mistake as it was happening. I mean, this was as slow as Tai Chi. Then we sped it up a little, and then a little more, etc. It turned out that I was doing it more or less right until we sped it up. Then that's where I started adding the snap at the end, which was the incorrect part.

Apparently, strikes in that style were not done with a snap at the end like every style I've ever trained in. Instead, they begin slow and then smoothly accelerate with all of the body behind it at all times. There's no snap at the end, because the feeling is like getting hit with a wave.

I saw this way of striking as inferior, but he said back when it was designed, it had to work with the armor they wore on the battlefield in Japan. You couldn't snap your kicks and punches while wearing armor. Instead, you had to smoothly accelerate like a wave, with your whole body behind it at all times. In some sense, it's like a very forceful push. That also works better against people wearing armor. And it's better defensively, because it results in fewer balance problems.

I think this sort of deconstruction of technique is required whenever you have people doing the wrong thing. Start from the beginning, go slow, and go through everything like it was a Tai Chi form. Then speed it up a little each time. Correct it at all speeds, as you go faster. If needed, step back to a slower speed. As an instructor, you have to do this side-by-side with your student. Say, "freeze!" any time you want to show something that's wrong.

Ultimately, you'll figure out why their minds were so stuck on doing it some other way. Usually it's because they have an intuitive model in their heads based on everything they've seen so far. When you introduce something that goes against that model, they may not even see what you're showing them. It's because they just assume everything should conform to that model. When they become aware that the model they have in their brains is actually not universal and there are circumstances where it doesn't apply, you'll see them light up. Their heads just explode. It will be a big "Aha!" moment for them.

Hope that helps.

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