Hiding Judo in Fun: Talking to Cal Jones, Part 2

26 Sep 2023

Cal Jones learned Judo without realizing he was learning Judo.

And now, he’s passing it on to the next generation.

But there’s still loads of learning to be done about how people learn- and that is a constant process.

This post is part 2 of 4.

We go over:

Cultural Difficulties in Introducing the Ecological Approach
Why bother trying to spread the Ecological Approach?
Tensegrity & Unity of Action

How did people find Cal Jones?
Lesson Learned in Applying the Constraints-Led Approach
The Mysticism of Names

Regulatory Difficulties for Rogue Gyms
Improving the Belt System
Where do Katas come from?

Emergent Skills
Games for Turn Throws
The Role of Memory

How did people find Cal Jones?

How did people find you? Like BJJ people from all over the world?

Podcasts, mainly.

I quite enjoy jumping on those. Whenever I get an offer, I’m instantly on. Even if it’s like four people and a dog listening to it. It’s always really fun.

Like chatting with you.

I assume no one’s going to ever hear this. It’s just really interesting to hear people’s perspectives. And discuss these things. Especially over lockdown. I couldn’t train. I couldn’t coach. I couldn’t practice.


We had such a long amount of time. So I’ve been able to jump online and talk about coaching pedagogies. And how it applies to strangling people.

Beautiful escape.

Lesson Learned in Applying the Constraints-Led Approach

It seems like you changed how you’ve implemented the constraints-led approach. Like, you would take out a part of the game to get students to perceive affordances. But over time, you have shifted? You’ve shifted more toward boosting points? So that the other options are still there?

Philosophically, there’s always been an underpinning that I’ve always been more games-based.

An understanding, perhaps intuitively, that rehearsing moves wasn’t getting people better at the sport. Before I’d done any reading on the subject, I’d come to that conclusion.

My coach, the main coach of my childhood, is really laissez faire.

Cool. One of those annoying people that is instantly likable. Very jealous of him. He has that going on. All of the stuff we did as kids was carrots in the mashed potato.

You had no idea you were learning Judo.

We were playing ‘catch the pirates’. But secretly, we were learning Ouichi Gari. And you get older and you go, “Wow, I’ve just done eight years of this- not knowing I’d been doing any Judo at all.”

I start going on with teenagers and beating them up. And they’ve been going up and down the hall doing this [katas, static drills] for five years. And it sounds so tedious.

And you think, well, if I’m competent enough and these suckers are doing like six sessions a week in their international training centers, and I’m still beating them?

There must be something to it.

So I started off very games-based. TGfU [Teaching Games for Understanding]. Then I started doing more and more reading. Came across Direct Perception, Ecological Psychology, and Dynamical Systems Theory.

We started to understand the underpinnings more.

It just started shaping it. Chipping off the rough edges. I came to understand why constraining to the point that you’re limiting all these other options is a bad thing.

It feels like if I don’t let you do these things, you’ll have to do the thing I want.

But that comes at a massive cost. You’re doing the thing I want against the person that isn’t behaving in the way that they would be if you could do all the other things. That is too big of a price to pay, for me.

You end up losing more than you gain from that.

I still do that- where you’re only allowed to do these things. But it’s for a minute. When I introduce the position. So they understand the point of what they’re trying to do.

It puts a whistle, a flashlight, and a firework display on the thing I want to see.

If they can only do that one thing for a minute. But then I say, you can do everything, but if you do that one thing, you get one thousand points and a bottle of whiskey.

Your favorite pet will come back from the dead.

At that point they know, “I should probably try that thing we’ve been looking at.” And try that a lot.

So it’s more to use as a signpost than to try and actually help them develop the skill.

Have you read Weers? The guy who talked about the supporting leg and non-supporting leg?

I devoured that about five or six years ago, but I was always a bit disappointed.

I didn’t think there was much out there that was decent for Judo, really. We had [Attilio] Scaripanti, who had done a lot of Judo writing. But in general, the majority of stuff that I’ve used in my coach education has been shoehorning freestyle wrestling in.

Americans, they quite like it, right? A whole lot of research on that.

The Mysticism of Names

It’s funny you say that, because I’ve noticed I have also gone in that direction. I started with Army Combatives and moved on to BJJ. Army Combatives is like if BJJ was retarded. Where we’re using all the strength. I guess a couple years later, I notice most of what I’m doing is wrestling. So much so that in one of the competitions I attended, they threatened to disqualify me. For wrestling in a BJJ match. The funny thing is, it wasn’t labeled a BJJ competition. It was labeled a Submission Grappling competition.

This isn’t BJJ, it’s Submission Grappling. Yeah, I’d have been insufferable. I really would have, that would’ve been so fun.

It’s this thing [wrestling] that hundreds of thousands of people are doing. And turns out, trying to plant someone on their back really gets a lot of the basics in.

It’s why when I have people come to me who have been coached elsewhere, they’re desperate for moves.

Putting another sticker in the sticker album. They want the Japanese name. They want me to tell them where to put their little finger. In what angle their scapula should be at. And you end up explaining that.

You’re just trying to put them on the floor.

Any way you do it is fine.

Some of the ways you do it will have Japanese names. Some of them will have folkstyle names. Some of them will have Portuguese sounding names.

But there’s only so many ways that a human body can manipulate another human body and get it on the floor.

The ways you’ll come across that are successful are probably the ways that will have names. They got names because they were successful. They’re not successful because they got names, right?

So it takes a couple weeks to understand that.

Then they start doing stuff. And you come along and say, “actually, you just did a Harai Goshi transition into a Juji Gatame. And as they came up, you went into a Sankaku Jime.”

And they go, “Oh.”
I go, “Yeah, I know. They have Japanese names, but you don’t need to know them. You just throw them on the floor.”

I’m trying to make them go, “Ah! That’s it!”

I find that more fun.

Do you do seminars or anything like that? Do you go to workshops?

No, not really.

I’m, as I say, in Judo. Where, it’s kind of an old boy’s club, really? In the UK. It’s all Internationals. I did have an invite the other day from someone who is the regional coach of the Midlands.

Who asked me if I’d come down and do a thing for them.

Which will be the first. So I might go ahead and do that. I’ve had the nod [from the home partner].

But as a general rule of thumb, whenever I say stuff, it’s, “who’s this kid?”

He was pretty good at Judo in Wales. When he was fifteen. Who gives a shit, right?

Has anyone ever challenged you to a match?

Oh, they’d beat me. They’re probably better than me at fighting.

I hopefully know a lot more about coaching pedagogy than that, right? So we’ve got the most successful British Judo player of all time. Neil Adams. Who was our National Coach in Wales.

The worst coach I’ve ever been with.

He was appalling. He used to do one thing: Tai Otoshi into a Juji Gatame roll. It was the only thing we did. One throw, into one turnover submission.

And he was hungover.
He was either hungover or pissed, every time. Maybe struggling with alcoholism, at the time. I’ve had debates on the Judo forums with him.

Where I pointed out that Katas are not an especially useful way of learning to become more skillful.

He’s come along and said, “No it is. I did Kata.”

And you’re kind of going, well, yeah, but you also did randori like six days a week. With the best Judo players that Britain had to offer. That also helped a bit.

He’s like No, I did it, and I’m good. So it’s good.

Everybody was going, what do you know? Neil’s the voice of Judo. Oh, okay. I’ll just throw my hands up.

So I’m a tiny bit jaded with Judo, and the way it’s gone in the UK.