The different levels of Judo and why it matters

Every endeavour involving significant skill acquisition there will be different levels of mastery. You won’t necessarily fathom the different levels unless you’ve been immersed in it for some time. Judo is no different.

Our perceptions of skill development are more often than not moulded from our experiences in randori and shiai (competition). The argument I’m looking to make is that these two areas (randori and shiai) can provide a perspective of our skill level that is deceptive and often-times misleading. The optimal way is to accumulate these experiences, appreciate them for what they are, and develop your self-assessment which will then lead you to the best focal points for your improvement efforts.

The role of randori

At my club I find sometimes I have an impressive night where I’m catching my peers of a similar skill-level with foot sweeps and shoulder throws. Other nights it’s just a slug match where I’m barely surviving and nothing will come together.

On one particular night recently when things were working for me, my coach turned to me and asked if I was having fun. It was obviously meant good naturedly and to check that I was enjoying the positive results I was exhibiting. In my head I was fully cognizant that skill development moves in peaks and troughs, and this was just a minor peak in the long, arduous and exhausting journey.

Additionally, when training with the same people week-in week-out there comes a point when they will know what your style and chosen movements are. The risk there is that you may refrain from evolving some techniques that may be beneficial for you because they simply “no longer work”. You might be a great sangaku player but because everyone can sniff the sangaku coming along you might decide to refrain from using it.

The role of competitions

Competitions are great in that they can provide a public and somewhat objective measure of the standard of your Judo. They provide you with a chance to try the sequences and patterns on other players that aren’t versed in your methods (ie. your team mates). However, there’s alot more at play than just your Judo in the competition environment i.e.

  • You or your foes might not handle the pressure of fight day very well.
  • There may be a significant age and/or fitness disparity. This is particularly prevalent in the UK where older (+40) Judo players are thin on the ground.
  • Strength and aggression can often compensate for skill. Particularly in the kyu levels.
  • Luck, let’s not under-rate luck in the heat of the moment.

The point I’m making is that your last competition success/failure can mislead you into believing you’re better/worse than you actually are.

When faced with skill disparity

Let’s talk about how the different levels of Judo reveal before your very eyes. The weaker skilled foe will:

  • Grant me openings.
  • Provide me with favourable grips.
  • Focus on the wrong things, enabling me to sneak through a position that will benefit my eventual outcome exponentially.
  • Won’t have a clear game plan in their head, a lot of time will be lost considering options rather than progressing and imposing their aims.

The stronger skilled foe exhibits in the inverse of this:

  • They make decisions and take actions that will severely reduce my possibilities, while expanding theirs
  • Deny my grips or accept my grips if they serve their purposes.
  • Dictate the pace of the match.


I have geared my mindset to be fulfilled in the routine of chipping away slowly but surely. Go to the trainings, run through sequences in my head, try and fit in some conditioning work. Above all, to be as balanced as I can be.

If there are competition wins then great, but they’re less important than it to just keep being in the game, keep chipping away.

I’ve learned the hard way that pushing too hard at my age just increases the possibilities of injury. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “must get better quicker” and then fall into the downward spiral of comparing myself to others. Peer comparison is the natural direction of our psyche and we really need to fight it as it serves nothing other than massage ego.

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