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All You Need To Know: NUS Judo

Not sure which clubs to join in the upcoming semester? In this series, we put together comprehensive masterposts for all you need to know about NUS's martial arts clubs. Stay tuned for more!


Hey NUS! Welcome to the first in a series of articles where I attend a training with each of the martial arts CCAs in NUS and tell you about it.


Each article consists of 4 components: an introduction to the sport / martial art; a rundown of the training menu); interviews with a few club members; and a short Q&A.


I polled a number of NUS students for important concerns in deciding to join a sports CCA. I’ll answer each concern in turn, then address any residual opinions I had at the very end (you can probably skip that bit as it’ll be incoherent and ramble-y).


If you’re an incoming freshman or a senior who wants to try something new, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of whether you’ll like it. On the other hand, if you’ve already got some experience, maybe this’ll help you decide if you want to continue doing the sport with NUS.

(Well, at least that’s what I told my editor – I’m a martial arts fanatic so this is really an excuse for me to go around and try out all the CCAs for myself and meet new people! I’m also a narcissist so this was also a chance to get proper cameramen to help me take cool photos.)


Judo


A quick all-you-need-to-know about judo! Judo is a Japanese (duh) martial art that originated in the 1800s by compiling a “best-of” set of jujutsu techniques. The techniques were chosen to be safe enough to practise at full effort to use effectively (compared to a dangerous technique that you can’t train and therefore can’t apply). Judo quickly got popular as a fighting style, eventually being adopted by the police (as is the case in many police forces worldwide) and even spread to other countries. Interestingly, it was a judoka (Mitsuyo Maeda) who taught the Gracie family in Brazil, founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (another famous grappling martial art).


Other than a martial art, judo is also widely practised all as a sport. There are big tournaments from school-level (like B-div, A-div, IVP) to international competitions (like the Olympics).


Judo techniques focus on using your opponent’s strength against him (which is why the kanji for judo is 柔道, which roughly translates to “gentle way”). Hence, they use throws and trips instead of tackles and grabs (like you see in rugby or wrestling). Additionally, judoka are also rigorously trained in ground-techniques (newaza) – pinning, strangling and joint locks. However, since high-level judoka often execute their throws so well that they score game-ending throws, you might not see them in tournaments as much as in MMA matches or BJJ tournaments.


NUS Judo


Club trainings are on Mondays and Thursdays from 7-9pm. Since the new members just joined, training was split between the seniors and juniors (seniors start at 6pm while juniors join after 7pm) so the juniors could catch up. I didn’t want to get in the way of the seniors’ training, so I only joined the juniors.


The training day begins sometime around 5.30. When I entered MPSH6, the senior belters were already warming up, wearing their gi and hanging out along the corners. Before long, we started to arrange the mats for practice. Since the multipurpose hall is also used for other activities, the mats are set up every training. It’s a hassle but it’s not too bad since everybody works together to get it done.

Senior’s Training


Warm-Up

The warm up was pretty standard: running around the mat, skipping, dynamic stretches (Frankenstein walks, etc.). After working up a slight sweat, they started doing more “judo-like” exercises like rolling, cartwheels and walking on hands.

Eventually, they moved onto technique-specific training like doing a throw halfway and stopping before throwing your partner. While it’s a little tiring, it’s not so much for conditioning as it is for getting used to the movements.



Eventually, they moved onto technique-specific training like doing a throw halfway and stopping before throwing your partner. While it’s a little tiring, it’s not so much for conditioning as it is for getting used to the movements.



Actual Training

Next, they broke into the real training. This was a bit like what they did during the warm-up, but with even more repetition and intensity. For example, one partner would grab and pull the partner off balance, repeat this for nine times then throw on the tenth time. After taking turns to throw each other, they would practise another throw. They must have done about 50 repetitions each by the time they were done. (That’s a lot!)



The last thing they did was randori (“light” sparring). Since there weren’t so many seniors, everybody got to train at the same time. Everybody tries throwing each other, stands back up, over and over until the 2 minutes is up, and then swap opponents. This carried on for more than 5 rounds. After that, they did the same thing for newaza (joint locks, pinning techniques, strangling moves, etc.) for 3 rounds. Randori looks really tiring, but I think it’s probably the highlight since you get to test your strength!



Junior’s Training

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By now, the seniors had gotten a good workout and the juniors started to arrive. The juniors’ training goes at a slower pace than the seniors’ training and sensei steps in more to teach basic techniques in greater detail. Since the seniors have gotten most of their training done, they play a more supervisory role to teach the juniors and make sure they don’t get hurt.



Warm-Up

The juniors’ warm-up was a little like the seniors’ warm-up with a reduced volume and pace. Since this was still one of the first few sessions for the juniors, the seniors spread themselves around the mat to teach them how to do the exercises properly. Most of us couldn’t get the hang of the more “acrobatic” moves like cartwheels and handstand walks.



Teaching

After that, sensei taught us some basic techniques. He showed everybody how to do an ippon seoinage (one-shoulder throw, *THE* iconic judo technique) by doing it on a senior belt several times, then explained it in detail. He really focused on teaching the breakfall, which is important to prevent you or your partner from falling awkwardly and getting hurt. I thought it was nice that there were enough seniors around that there was at least one senior to every few pairs of juniors to keep an eye on things.



Training

The last item on the training menu was more randori. This time, since there were both seniors and juniors, there wasn’t enough space for everybody to fight at the same time so we divided into 3 groups and 2 groups would train and rotate after 2 minutes. Since most of the participants were still new, everybody took it easy and only did basic techniques, while limiting ground techniques to just pinning techniques (no joint locks) for safety. This kept up for a total of 7 rounds (both standing and ground techniques). I was really worn out by the end of it!



The whole training ended off with a mass cool-down and then a proper ending greeting (getting into a seiza, doing meditation and then bowing to sensei).


Q & A


1) What’s the timing like?


Trainings are on Mondays and Thursdays, from 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock (or 7-9 for beginners).


2) Is there a steep learning curve?


I think that all grappling martial arts have a steeper learning curve. Although punching and kicking an opponent is somewhat intuitive and you could put up a good fight even if your technique isn’t very good, you’ve got to get every detail of throws right before it starts to work and the movement can be somewhat counterintuitive.


One way of looking at it is that the initial difficulty can get in the way of your enjoyment if you don’t have the patience to learn the techniques.


Alternatively, you could see this as a way to level the playing field. Judo is meant to let a smaller fighter win against a stronger opponent by using superior techniques. It’s a “no-pain-no-gain” sort of thing where you’ve got to invest your time and effort to learn the basics before you reap the dividends (sick judo skills).



3) How much money am I going to spend on it?


Other than miscellaneous club fees, the only real investment is your gi (the jacket and pants). Buying it from the club costs $100, which is a reasonable price because the gi lasts very long (lots of members were using gi’s with their secondary school logos on it). Alternatively, you could buy up-market gi’s from brand like Adidas and Mizuno (which is top of the line). If you’re superficial like me, another pro is that you’ll look either really cute or super cool depending on how well you fit. (All the more reason to train hard so you can look cool.)


One downside is the gi’s bulk and weight. It takes up a chunk of your laundry space and takes a long time to dry out on rainy days. You’ve also got to be careful not to wash it with anything funky or it’ll get dyed in weird colours which can look really bad. It can be a hassle to carry around on training days. It’s not a big deal, but something you want to keep in mind.


4) Is judo very tough?


I think judo is physically strenuous (in a good way). It’s tougher than “normal” exercise like lifting weights at the gym because you use a lot of small muscles that you might not normally use. I think judo is good for explosiveness (when you move fast to do a throw) and endurance (judo matches aren’t long but the trainings are very long so you learn to hold your grips to keep executing movements over and over).


I would recommend judo to both people looking to strengthen their bodies and athletes wanting to level-up a bit more. Also, you shouldn’t be deterred if you’re smaller or unfit since you get less sore when you train more and get used to it.


However, you should be prepared to be really close to other people, getting pushed around (literally, not in the “bullied” sense) and falling a lot. It’s definitely a more “rough” activity.



5) How much of my training is conditioning? How much time do I actually get to play the sport?

Thankfully, a lot of physical conditioning is built into the techniques practice during training sessions. As a beginner, you’ll build up the strength to do throws and pinning techniques by repeating the drills during training, so there wasn’t too much time devoted to doing any muscle training other than the warm-up. There was also at least a half hour of randori to actually test out techniques in a “match” setting. This is even more so as a senior because there’s even more time devoted to randori. However, I have heard that some training sessions have more time devoted to doing exercises like diving push-ups (like old-school pro-wrestlers) and neck bridges, but never to the point that you won’t have time to actually play the sport.


If you’re worried that you won’t be able to build up your physical condition, fear not! You won’t have to train by yourself because club members regularly do their own physical training together so you’ll always have training partners to make your workouts less dreary.


6) Is judo useful for self-defence?


The sensei made it a point to highlight that judo (and martial arts) isn’t for fighting but for character development. While I agree with that sentiment, I also recognise that a lot of people learn martial arts for self-defence.


I think judo is pretty effective in a fight. In the first place, the conditioning is immensely valuable for running away from or fending off an assailant. Next, throwing skills are extremely dangerous! Getting thrown on the mat can already knock the wind out of you – imagine the same happening on hard concrete! Lastly, the most useful skill in judo is the break falls. These are useful whether you’ve fallen off your bike, down the stairs or any other situation. If you have the break falls of judo, you won’t have any problem learning acrobatic moves like flying kicks or rolling kicks (techniques that require falling onto the ground).



Additionally, judo helps to maximise the use of your strength so you can beat someone bigger if you’ve got better technique. It’s hardly rare to see smaller girls effortlessly tossing larger and stronger boys, or to see strong, muscular hunks helplessly stuck under a smaller judoka.



7) Is judo safe?


Yes! Judo might seem scary because of all the falling and pinning and ground techniques. However, it isn’t dangerous since everybody really prioritises training safety. During the training I attended, I only saw a few avoidable injuries: several muscle cramps and one person tweaked his knee from an old injury (he was walking in a few minutes).

During randori, you’re usually paired up with someone more experienced than you so he/she can control his/her throws to avoid injuring you. During groundwork, you aren’t allowed to use dangerous moves like strangles or joint locks until you’re at a certain belt level so you only practise moves that you’re ready for. Last but not least, the first skills you learn are your break falls. If you do them properly, falling isn’t really anything to be afraid of and you might even get a kick out of it!


In any case, the club members are all very nice so you needn’t feel shy asking your training partner to go easy if you aren’t feeling well or you aren’t able to go as hard for whatever reason. There are always seniors keeping an eye to make sure nobody runs into each other or goes too hard.


Therefore, I wouldn’t be worried about safety at NUS Judo because there’s a good training culture of watching out for each other! Of course, the onus is still on you to keep your wits about you and not do anything reckless.


8) Are my judo days going to be over once I graduate?


Nope! A simple Google search will reveal the many judo clubs across Singapore. There’s a vibrant judo community so you’ll get many more years of fun beyond your time in NUS.


9) Can I take part in tournaments? Will I be able to get any fortune and glory even if I’m a newbie?


Yes! Once you take the first grading (to white belt with yellow tip), you’ll be able to take part in tournaments. More importantly, they won’t throw a fresh-faced judoka against a grizzled-killer-super-judoka – tournaments are separated into weight category and experience level so you’ll only play against opponents with similar bodies and belt. If you train diligently, you’ll get your chance to test your skills and spirit in matches. The main tournament would be the Inter-Tertiary Competition (usually in March).


10) What’s the social life of the club like?


From my limited experience with NUS Judo, I felt that the training intensity and pace was quite high so people don’t really talk or socialise DURING training outside of the few water breaks (as you might have expected). Hence, it’s not really a relaxed setting where you can chat and get to know people.


However, since you have to swap training partners a lot, it’s a good way to “fight” with many people. If you don’t do anything stupid like hit them in the face or maliciously exert a joint lock (if you did that, you’re a degenerate shouldn’t have friends), it’s a good way to meet more people. In my experience, it gave me a good reason to say, “Hi!” to more people. Yes, I was that creepy guy who said hello to everyone.


Additionally, NUS Judo is a big club (about XXX members) so there are all sorts of people inside and more people to meet. Even if you don’t make friends during trainings, there are extra self-training sessions and cohesion events for you to get to know more people.


Interviews

with Katherine and Tricia



How long have you been doing judo?


Tricia: I started in Sec 1 (so like 2013) because I thought judo is really cool hahahaha. I like being able to execute throws that I have been practicing during randori, ‘cuz it’s really exciting.

Kat: I started judo in sec 1 back in 2013, feeling a little old now haha. I like martial arts so I remember going to the trial with a few of my friends out of curiosity. We were all so amazed by the cool things that the seniors did (like cartwheels, handstands and flipping in the air) that we all ended up doing judo together.


Kat: I stuck with it because I like how judo really challenges us to be the best version of ourselves, like feeling invincible (as strong as SuPErMan) after a tough training or when you finally execute a difficult throw. Through it all, I think what encouraged me to persevere in this sport are my friends and the coaches. The rollercoaster of emotions we experience together (quite literally blood sweat and tears) during trainings and competitions is the reason we are so bonded as a team, as a family :)


Tricia: I realised that my past years in Judo have given me quite a lot (eg determination, friends). But also because I’m not satisfied with how I’ve done in Judo thus far so I’m taking this chance to get better.


What do you like about NUSjudo?


Tricia: I haven’t been to that many trainings but the seniors are encouraging and friendly!!! I decided to do it with NUS instead of an external club because I really like the team spirit and support that comes with being part of a school team, especially at major competitions.


Kat: Even though I’m still technically a "freshie" in NUS judo, I feel kinda integrated already because of the fun and kind environment here. While we may be serious during training, we turn into little giggling kids the next second and just have a great time together. In a way, NUS judo is just an extension of the Hwa Chong Nanyang judo family and i am glad i continued judo in university.


Would you recommend judo to an incoming freshman / other student?


Tricia: I think it really develops your discipline and there are techniques that I think people will love!! But that aside I’m sure you’ll gain a lot of nice friends too HAHA!


Kat: For anyone considering, JUST JOIN JUDO NOW HAHA!!! Judo can be your stress reliever for tough uni life. Like you literally sweat and melt your worries away (gross but true) and emerge refreshed and ready to face life again. Judo isn't just a sport about throwing and flipping others. Well, mostly that, but being a martial art, you gain a sense of discipline apart from the sport. Training and competing also gives you a jolt of excitement when you execute a perfect throw, knowing your training and dedication have paid off. So yeah come join us to blossom into a better you and maybe you will get to experience the golden tears of joy too *winks*


Is it dangerous?


Tricia: Nope!!! There are weight categories so you won’t be trying to throw someone who’s much heavier and all. Throwing others isn’t all about the strength either. There’s a lot of focus on learning breakfalls so you don’t get injured. It might not be 100% injury-free but we do make safety a priority. At any rate I haven’t gotten injured from being thrown in the years I’ve played Judo soooo….


Kat: Yup (at Tricia), because you learn how to break falls properly.

Do you have to be strong to do judo?


Kat: Not as strong as you think hahaha!

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Judo or is thinking about joining?


Tricia: I think when I just started, everything (eg kuzushi, uchikomi) felt weird and unnatural (idk maybe it’s just me lolol) but you’ll get the hang of it!!


Kat: For beginners, always learn the basics first then develop it into your own style. You can draw inspiration from anyone - your seniors, your juniors or even world champions haha. My biggest advice is to be fearless. Always try your best and challenge yourself! You are better and stronger than you think!


with Jon















How long have you been doing judo?


Jon: Starting my 7th year in the sport. Actually during the sports camp we were exposed to many sports and judo was one of them. Some senior told me that I was good at a certain throw so I just kept continuing to practice the sports ever since. I like the sport because it’s individual and a team at the same time. We compete individually but collectively we are judged as a team. I also like throwing and grappling in the sports I think the different style in which you execute the throws are very individualistic and cool. The friends and community in the CCA is what keeps me going everyone is very inclusive and we train hard and play hard at the same time as we work hard we get to know each other better along the way.

What do you like about NUS judo?


Jon: I think we have a very inclusive culture like everyone mingles with each other and also there are lots of activities apart from training time for us to get to know each other too.

Would you recommend judo to an incoming freshman / other student?

Jon: I would say definitely give it a try. Why not learn something new, haha? I started off fresh from the start in my freshman year too! You can build up your self discipline and perseverance because the sport is not something easy to grasp overnight it takes lots of practice and determination to develop your skills.


Who would like judo?


Jon: Someone that loves to fight, workout a sweat and have a full body workout. You do not have to be super ripped but it does require some strength for you to lift and throw someone. That being said the sport is maximum efficiency minimum effort, it’s how u play with the momentum of one's movements too.

What advice would you give someone who just joined NUS Judo or is thinking about joining?


Jon: Not every piece of advice that someone give us is necessarily right. Sometimes, it depends on your style and everyone has a different style of playing the sport.


Conclusion


So that was my experience at NUS Judo! I hope this article helps you decide whether you’d like to join NUS Judo. Keep an ear out for the next article in the series – I’ll be heading to NUS Capoeira next!















Many thanks to NUS Judo for allowing me to visit and write about the club, and for being so warm and welcoming. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and made quite a few friends!

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