Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hitoshi Saito's last (All-Japan) hurrah

As mentioned in a previous post, Hitoshi Saito had the misfortune of competing during the era of the great Yasuhiro Yamashita, whose dominance thwarted Saito's attempts to win the coveted All-Japan Judo Championships.

For three year in a row, in 1983, 1984 and 1985, Yamashita defeated Saito, though it was usually by a penalty or decision rather than a throw. In 1985, some say Saito actually won, although in the end, the decision went to Yamashita.

After the 1985 All-Japan Championships, Yamashita retired, clearing the way for Saito to finally win the All-Japan's. But as luck would have it, in the 1985 World Championships, his arm got broken by his South Korean opponent during an illegal waki-gatame attempt. That sidelined him for 1986, allowing rising star, Yoshimi Masaki, to win the All-Japan's that year. In 1987, Saito was beset with a knee injury, giving Masaki the chance to win his second All-Japan title.

After a two-year absence, Saito was fit enough to fight again in 1988. No longer able to do his lethal uchimata, Saito nevertheless gave it his all, in his last attempt to win the elusive All-Japan Championships. In his path would be Masaki, who was an even larger player and who was still in the peak of his prime.

A lot was at stake. Not only was this his last All-Japan's, it was also the qualification event for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Watch Saito fight for glory in what would turn out to be the best year in his illustrious judo career.

Friday, January 23, 2015

In memory of Hitoshi Saito (Pics by David Finch)

Saito's greatest moments.

Saito, a big happy man.
Fighting Angelo Parisi for gold at the 84 LA Games.
Winning his first Olympic gold medal at the 84 Los Angeles Olympics.

Saito's greatest moment at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Saito salvages Japanese pride by winning the only judo gold in Seoul.

Pics by David Finch of JudoPhotos.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Saito's Revenge & Saving Japanese Pride

Saito ended his competition career at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. By then, he was past his prime and with his best years behind him, he could no longer execute the high uchimata he was so known for.

That Olympics was a horrible one for the Japanese judo team. On paper, Japan had assembled one of the best Olympic teams ever. It was a team full of great players. Incredibly, one after another fell by the wayside. Shinji Hosokawa, Yosuke Yamamoto, Toshihiko Koga, Hirotaka Okada and Hitoshi Sugai all lost.

After six days of competition, Japan was still without a gold medal -- something unimaginable. But it was happening. With only one more event left, the +95kg division, it was up to Saito to salvage Japanese honor.  And that, he did.

What made it all the sweeter for him was on his way to the final, he had to meet South Korea's Cho Yong-Chul, who had broken his arm three years earlier at the 1985 Seoul World Championships. Saito wasn't able to throw Cho but he was clearly the aggressor and in the end, Saito won by decision. But a win is a win. He went on to win the sole gold medal for Japan. What a glorious way to end a career!

Saito robbed of 1985 World title

Saito was a double Olympic Champion but won only one World Championships. It could have easily been two World titles for him had it not been for a clearly illegal attack by his opponent Cho Yong-Chul of South Korea, and the disgraceful refereeing in that match.

Cho, who didn't have the throwing power of Saito, used the one chance he had at the beginning of the match by clamping onto Saito's outstretched left arm and snapping on a vicious waki-gatame as he took Saito to the ground.

Applying a waki-gatame while attempting a throw has always been illegal. Yet, the referees even after conferring with each other, came to the conclusion that Cho deserved to win the match. It's because of cases like this that video playback and the right for the refereeing commission to reverse referee decisions is necessary.

Watch the clip and decide for yourself whether Saito was indeed robbed of a second world title.

Did Saito counter Yamashita?

In Yasuhiro Yamashita's final bout of his career, he faced his biggest domestic rival, Hitoshi Saito. Their match started out as a fierce battle of grips. They had fought each other many times in the past and knew each other's techniques too well for any big throws to happen.

It seemed like it would be a tactical match throughout when suddenly in the fourth minute, Yamashita attempted a sasae-tsuri-komi-ashi which missed and caused him to go tumbling to the ground. Saito landed flat on top of him though it was debatable whether he had much control.

Many people say that shouldn't matter because in the case of counters like uchimata-sukashi, if the opponent misses and lands flat on his back, it's an ippon even if there was lack of control on the part of the opponent.

In this case, not even a koka was awarded although it could have easily been an ippon (or at least a waza-ari).

The shock of a near score caused Yamashita to start attacking like his life depended on it. Saito, in contrast, chose to be defensive, perhaps thinking that the near score would be enough for him to win a decision.

He eventually got a shido and lost the decision at the end of the match. Was it fair? Watch the video and judge for yourself.

Hitoshi Saito RIP (1961-2015)

Some sad news today. Hitoshi Saito of Japan -- World Champion and double Olympic Champion -- has died of cancer at the age of 54.

Saito was truly one of the judo greats of all time. Weighing a massive 140 kg in his prime, he was truly a heavyweight but he displayed the nimbleness and agility of a lightweight (see the video clip at the bottom to understand why I say so).

Saito, however, had the misfortune of competing in the same era of the legendary Yasuhiro Yamashita, whom he never beat but whom he fought alongside in the 1983 Moscow World Championships, where both men won gold: Yamashita in the +95kg category and Saito in the Open.

A year later, both men would go to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games except this time they changed roles, with Yamashita fighting in the Open and Saito fighting in the +95kg category. They would both win gold again.

Although Saito never managed to defeat Yamashita in domestic competitions, he came very close to doing so in the very last match Yamashita ever competed in: the final of the 1985 All-Japan Championships. Some say he deserved to win. I'll let you decide by watching the video clips yourself.

Saito would have won another world title, at the 1985 Seoul World Championships if not for an illegal attack by his South Korean opponent, who should have gotten hansoku-make but instead was awarded the gold medal.

He would have his revenge three years later though, at the 1988 Seoul Olympics  where he met that same South Korean opponent. This time, he beat his rival on South Korean soil. Not only that, he single-handedly saved Japanese honor by winning Japan's only gold medal at that Olympics. He was the first Japanese ever to win a double Olympic gold medal.

A heavyweight with the agility of a lightweight

The Judo of Takato Analysis

Takato Photo Collection - Part 2 (David Finch Photographer)

Takato overwhelmed at winning gold in Rio 2013

A good look at Takato's kouchi-gari, which is one of his tokui-waza.

Here he does the same technique but with a cross-grip instead.

This is how the finishing of his yoko-sutemi (side takedown) looks like.

This is how the start of his utsuri-goshi looks like. You can call it Part 1.

This is how the second part looks like. It's a very unusual technique.

Sometimes he can pull off a surprise, like this ura-nage.

He loses a tooth but wins a bronze. Not bad.
Takato pics courtesy of David Finch of JudoPhotos.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Takato Photo Collection - Part 1 (Gabi Juan Photographer)

Naohisa Takato is one of Japan's most exciting and unusual players today.

Although a leftie, he is able to throw to the right with throws like sode.

The utsuri-goshi, which he does to the right, is one of Takato's specialties.

Takato doesn't do much newaza but when he does, it's usually osaekomi.

The start of a sequence of shots showing an actual sumi-otoshi at work.

His Korean opponent had thrown him with spectacular tewaza a year ago.

Takato had obviously done his homework and was ready for the tewaza.

A reversal of fortunes: Takato counters tewaza with a tewaza of his own.

Doesn't he look happy? Takato, one of the most dynamic players today.

Takato pics courtesy of Gabi Juan of Hajime Judo.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Takato's Newaza

Takato does not do a lot of newaza -- probably because he prefers to throw his opponents -- but when he does, it is usually some variation of osaekomi. He is actually quite good at that and in particular, he has a unique turnover that ends up in ushiro-kesa-gatame. He can also do sankaku, but instead of a strangle, he prefers to end it with a hold down. You can say that Takato is very much an osaekomi player when it comes to newaza.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Takato's Misc Techniques

Over the past two weeks, I've been highlighting the many techniques that Takato does. Some are his tokui-waza (favorite techniques) that he does over and over again. Some are techniques that he does a fair bit but not all the time. And now, I want to present a few techniques that he does only very occasionally (he does them quite well, though).

When looking at his repertoire, you'll be struck by how versatile he actually is. People think of him as someone who does side takedown and perhaps some unusual hip techniques. They don't realize he can actually do a wide range of techniques -- and does.

This is pretty much it as far as tachi-waza is concerned. Next up, I'll show you some of his newaza. For now, enjoy some of his less common throws.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Takato's Morote-Seoi-Nage

Although Takato does sode, reverse seoi-nage and even one-handed attacks, he doesn't actually do a whole lot of morote-seoi-nage. When he does, it's usually more as a defensive attack against a high right-hand grip. Perhaps all he wants to do is to avoid a dangerous situation. Whatever the case, his morote-seoi-nage hasn't been known to score. He does manage to get underneath his opponent a lof of the times but he has trouble finishing it in a way that scores.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Takato's One-Handed Techniques

Prior to reverse seoi-nage being a hot trend in Japanese judo, many lighter weights also did one-handed attacks following the success that Toshihiko Koga had with his various one-handed attacks.

Takato also used to do one-handed techniques, mainly off his opponent's right lapel (similar to the way Tadahiro Nomura liked to do it) but sometimes off the opponent's right sleeve (Smadga-style). In most cases, his right arm would take hold of his opponent's right leg as he loads them up on his back.

He didn't have much success completing the throws although he often managed to load them onto his back. Now, with the IJF rules completely forbidding any grabbing of the legs, he doesn't do this throw anymore. Still, it's interesting to see his various attempts at it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Takato's Reverse Seoi

The reverse seoi began as a South Korean phenomenon with Choi Min-Ho as its most famous proponent. He was seen doing it as early as 2003. The technique took some time to migrate over to Japan but by around 2010, many Japanese players began to adopt it. It was so popular, it seemed like every non-heavyweight player had a version of reverse seoi in their repertoire.

Takato is no exception. Although he doesn't do it all that often, he does attempt reverse seoi. It's not his strongest throw and although he often manages to unsettle his opponents with reverse, he seldom scores with it. Here are some examples.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Takato's Uchimata

When you think of Takato's judo, uchimata is probably not amongst the list of techniques that would come to mind. He doesn't do it all that much but he does have a pretty good uchimata. Actually he has several variations of uchimata, which is quite surprising considering it's not a technique that he attacks with so much.

He has a version in which he turns away from the opponent, similar to he way Jeon Ki-Young does it. He also has a hop in version. And he has a very unusual low, spinning version of uchimata which I'd never seen anybody else do before. Check out some of his uchimatas below.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Takato's Sumi-Gaeshi

Sumi-gaeshi is something Takato likes a lot. He does it so often, it might not be incorrect to refer to it as one of his tokui-waza as well. However, unlike yoko-sutemi, utsuri-goshi, kouchi-gari and sode-tsuri-komi-goshi -- all of which he likes to attack with very often and scores -- with sumi-gaeshi the failure rate is very high.

Yet, it is something that he seems to like very much because he does it over and over again -- as much as he does his other tokui-waza. It is simply because he doesn't score much with it that I don't call it his tokui-waza. But technically, it probably is a tokui-waza because he likes it so much.

There are many different ways a person can do sumi-gaeshi. Takato does it from the kind of grip (and stance) he adopts when he wants to do yoko-sutemi. Then he slides in and whirls them to the side. Somehow, it doesn't work so well for him though.

Análisis del Judo de Takato

Naohisa Takato - Utsuri-Goshi © Gabi Juan, Hajime Judo
(Translated by Carlos D. Sandoval)

Durante las próximas 2 semanas estudiaremos el Judo del competidor japonés Naohisa Takato. Mirando sus luchas desde su participación en el mundial de cadetes de Budapest el año 2009 hasta su participación en el Mundial de Chelíabinsk 2014. El es uno de los competidores activos más fascinantes por el amplio número de técnicas presentes en su arsenal. He escuchado a muchas personas, incluidos comentaristas internacionales decir que su Judo no es tradicional (Judo Japonés) e incluso algo Europeo. Creo que esto solo es parcialmente verdad. Su Yoko-Sutemi y Utsuri-Goshi  claramente son técnicas asociadas con el Judo Europeo. Pero también ejecuta una gran variedad de técnicas tradicionales.

La mayoría de las personas están familiarizadas con su muy conocido Tokui-Waza. El ejecuta durante las competencias Yoko-Sutemi (izquierda), Kouchi-Gari (izquierda), Sode-Tsuri-Komi-Goshi (derecha) y Utsuri-Goshi (izquierda) extremadamente bien. Son estas las técnicas con la que los vemos conseguir grandes Ippones en las distintas competencias internacionales.

Las que son menos conocidas, son las otras técnicas presentes en su arsenal, la cuales emplea raramente en competencias. Por ejemplo ocasionalmente intenta Uchimata (izquierda), Sumi-Gaeshi (izquierda), y  Ouchi-Gari (izquierda) profundo combinado  con un abrazo lateral.

Claramente, el no es un hombre de Seoi-Nage como muchos japonesas de esta nueva generación de competidores, aunque cuenta con un Seoi-Nage invertido en su arsenal. Ocasionalmente intenta Morote Seoi-Nage (izquierda), pero normalmente no tiene mucha suerte con est ejecución.

En aquel tiempo cuando las técnicas que involucraban  agarre a la pierna o pantalón eran permitidas como segundo movimiento, ocasionalmente intentaba el Sode con una mano (izuiqerda) y se impulsaba golpeando la pierna de su contrincante. Pero abandono esta técnica cuando se prohibieron completamente los agarres a la pierna y el pantalón.

A Takato parece no gustarle mucho el Newaza y raramente lleva las peleas al suelo y cuando va al suelo usualmente busca el Oseakomi.

Volvamos ahora a su Tokui-Waza y examinemos sus proyecciones favoritas en detalle.

El es uno de los poco japoneses que ejecutan esta técnica de estilo Europeo. Aparte de el, el único competidor que he visto ejecutar esta técnica es Tadahiro Nomura, que la realizaba infrecuentemente. Contrariamente, Takato ejecuta esta técnica todo el tiempo aunque falla en sus intentos la mayoría de las veces. Pero cuando tiene éxito, es en verdaderamente espectacular.

En sus primeros días de competencia la realizaba en combinación con un agarre de pierna. Primero atacaba con un estilo de Kata-Guruma sin el agarre de pierna. Una vez que el oponente estaba cargado en sus hombros, el agarraba la pierna derecha del oponente para finalizar su proyección con un impulso. Como hoy en día todas las formas de agarre de pierna y de pantalón están prohibidas. El se ha adaptado como todos los demás especialistas de proyecciones de lado y es capaz de ejecutar esta técnica sin el agarre de pierna

Es una de sus técnicas empleadas versátilmente. Usualmente, no obtiene Ippones con esta técnica, pero le ha sido vital en varias ocasiones para obtener puntuaciones menores y mantenerse dominante durante combates.

De su parada izquierda durante Kumi-Kata se lanza de repente con giro hacia adentro y lanza a su contrincante con esta técnica de cadera. Ha intentado esta técnica en casi todos sus combates, así que definitivamente es una de sus técnicas favoritas.


Esta técnica se está viendo cada vez más en el ámbito internacional. Requiere un alto nivel para ejecutarla. Esta técnica involucra cambiar de ataque. De una técnica hacia atrás (Uranage) a una técnica hacia adelante (Ogoshi), todo en un solo movimiento. Takato ha tenido grandes victorias con esta técnica. Es una técnica muy efectiva que está ganando popularidad, especialmente entre los europeos. Georgii Zantaraia  de Ucrania y Krisztian Toth de Hungría son conocidos por ejecutar esta técnica.

Una cosa que no es muy obvia, debido a que no se ve en las compilaciones, es que por cada vez que ataca exitosamente, falla en muchos intentos. Solo que estos no se ven en las compilaciones que solo muestran las proyecciones que resultan en Ippon. Pero Takato es una bestia y ataca constantemente con distintas técnicas. La mayoría de las veces sus múltiples ataques fallan, pero cuando tienen éxito son espectaculares. Este acercamiento durante sus combates le ha funcionado hasta el día de hoy.

En los siguientes días continuaremos analizando el Judo de Takato.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Takato's Sode (the failed attempts)

In my last posting, I highlighted Takato's successful sode-tsuri-komi-goshi attacks. But just as with his yoko-sutemi, utsuri-goshi and kouchi-gari, he has more failed attempts than successful ones, which goes to show how important it is to be persistent and to never give up. Takato will attack with his favorite techniques time and again, until it finally scores. Here's a compilation of his many attempts that did not score.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Takato's Sode

Takato's fourth tokui waza (the others being side takedown, utsuri-goshi and kouchi-gari) is sode-tsuri-komi-goshi.

It's quite a traditional technique although Takato's right hand pulls his opponent's left sleeve under and across as opposed to lifting up and across (which is how sode is traditionally done). In some ways, his sode actually looks like a kind of seoi-nage.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Takato's Kouchi (the failed attempts)

Whereas Takato's failed side takedowns and failed utsuri-goshi attacks don't really come close to scoring, this is not the case with his failed kouchi-gari attacks. Many of these failed attacks actually come close to scoring.

Even when his kouchi-gari attacks fail, a lot of the the time he manages to knock his opponents down (although they land on their front).

Takato is so good at this technique that even when he fails, it looks good. Watch the clip below and marvel at his mastery of kouchi-gari.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

IJF moves against match fixing

When I read this recent piece of news about new IJF rules against match fixing, I couldn't help but recall two matches from the 2014 Chelyabinsk World Championships which looked pretty much like match fixing to me.

The first eyebrow-raising case was the quarterfinal match between Russia's Mikail Pulyaev and Russia's Kamal-Khan Magomedov in the -66kg division (yes, there were two Russians in that category). Watch the whole match here and decide for yourself if it isn't obvious that Magomedov threw the match with deliberate passivity (hansoku-make). 

The other one was the bronze medal match between Russia's Kirill Voprosov and Russia's Kirill Denisov in the -90kg division (yes, two Russians in that category too). Denisov forfeited the match ostensibly due to injury. Watch his no-show here. (Interestingly, he was able to fight against Marc Odenthal of Germany two days later in the Team Championships).

This is what the new IJF rules against match fixing says:

If a contest takes place and seems to have been played to a pre-determined result, violating the IJF rules, further investigation may be undertaken and any findings of match fixing will result in disciplinary action.

If in IJF events, two athletes from the same nation or two athletes not from the same nation, are opposed and one athlete is injured or ill and has to withdraw they must have a medical certificate from the IJF Medical Commissioner.
It seems to me like the -66kg match violated the first prohibition and the -90kg match violated the second one. I wonder what Ezio Gamba has to say about this.