by Ted Fehlhaber

from The Kiai Echo – Summer 1996

The exercise known as randori is one of the methods used to train students for mohojiai. Mohojiai is the free form application of Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu techniques. Randori is a limited or rule bound form of mohojiai. The limits are imposed for safety and to achieve certain training objectives. The intent of this article is to give the students and teachers ideas for training and practice.

Randori is well suited for nage and shime training because in helps the student safely learn applications of the kata moving in real time and to focus their training efforts. The principle of Ju becomes paramount in the exercise of randori. Ju being the qualities of flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances. Ju is not becoming fixated upon winning or doing a technique, but finding the opening uke offers and fitting in effortlessly. The only way to understand and learn this is to practice.


The spirit of the exercise, randori, can be found in the translation of the Japanese characters that make up its name according to Professor Jenkins. Literally, Ran means chaos or random and dori means hold. Thus, we have chaotic holds, random holds, or the commonly English transliteration of free play. This is in contrast to katas or sets where the two participants have specific movements they must execute with each other at the proper time.

Judo Randori

In modern Judo training, randori often means stand up throwing practice with both partners trying to throw each other. It is limited to Judo rules: no strikes, joint locks other than the elbow, nerve techniques and only certain throwing techniques. Ideally it should be a training and learning exercise, but often escalates into shiai or competition when both people are “going for blood”. This takes the play and the learning element out of the exercise and prevents students from trying new techniques which have a high probability of failure.

Ji Randori

Clear understanding of the principle is necessary for proper training and allows partners of widely varying skill levels, size, and rank to work and learn together. The principle of “minimum strength, maximum efficiency” needs be applied here. The person of greater skill, strength or rank needs to turn down the juice to almost equal that of their partner and switch their focus from getting the throw to how effortless and perfect the throw was for proper randori training to occur in both people. For example, the black belt working with a blue belt needs to go from a 10 in intensity to a 2.5 when the blue belt is working at 2.0. This encourages the blue belt to work up at a higher level and experience being thrown by excellent technique and trains the black belt by working on the finer details of Jujitsu by using timing, openings and kuzushi to achieve a throw rather than speed, strength, and trickery. In this type of exercise, both people should be throwing and being thrown and both working on difficult though different material. The black belt is refining his technique and working on small and subtle details while the blue belt is struggling to figure where to put his feet. Both learn and help train each other.

Mohojiai and randori are the research and development (R&D) phases of jujitsu training. In R&D, one makes lots of mistakes and has many failure before learning and knowing what the ideal solution is to a particular problem. Often, the flash of insight into a simple and elegant solution comes only after much toil and sweat. Jujitsu no different. Use randori to make mistakes, learn and find the elegant solutions.

Kinds of Randori

Sometimes for proper training to occur, the sensei can impose limits on the randori. Randori, being limited by definition, can be used to help emphasize certain techniques or principles the sensei feels are lacking in the student. It is also a convenient way to keep escalation form occurring, as it almost always does when limits are not imposed. Here are a few of my favorites.

Standing / Throwing Randori

Start with both people facing each other. Bow and approach. Getting a hold on your partner is part of the exercise.

Technique Limited
Allow only certain techniques, like foot sweeps, to help focus training or with new students whose sutemi is not very good yet.
Intensity / Juice Limited
Set limits on speed and power say 25% or 50% with newer students. Set it lower than you want because it tends to creep up. Learning happens for very few at the 100% level. Try it with the more advance students and see what happens.
Side Limited
All left sided techniques will show who is working both sides of the body. Great training for left-sided sutemi. Start slow with this one.
Role Limited
Choose one person to do the throws, uke-tori. Have both people allowed to throw all the time, tori-tori. Or both people giving openings, uke-uke.
Each person get one attempts or throw then the other person gets one. Also known as uke-tori. A great way to warm up.
Old Judo
Permit only perfect throws, ippon (one point) throws. Go until one person gets a perfect throw. You need a judge to watch and score. Great way for new students to see what perfect is.
Combine any of the limits above. For example: foot sweeps only, tori-tori, at 50% intensity.

Shime or Ne Waza

Randori on the ground. For all of these, start with both people on the ground and go until a pin or tap is achieved.

Technique Limited
Allow only certain techniques, like chokes or arm bars, to help focus training.
Intensity / Juice Limited
Set limits on speed and power say 25% or 50% with newer students. Use in combination with longer rounds to promote conservation of energy and use of the Ju principle.
Starting Position
One person starts on their back, in the turtle, in a pin or the straddle mount and both work techniques and escapes from a specific position.
Limit the time. Short practice periods of say one minute train action and offense. Long practice periods of ten minutes train conservation of energy and defense. Use rounds of unknown length to shake things up a little, 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
Ending Position
Pin or joint lock a specified part of the body on the mat. For example: chest, shoulders, arm, elbow bar or wrist lock.

Now it’s time to practice. Go out, do a little research and development on the mat and see what secrets you can find hidden in the katas.