Friday, January 18, 2008

I truly hate being wrong

- but sometimes it happens

Today was one of those days. Since our trip to Mexico with the team from the USJA/ USJF Training Center was canceled at the last minute, I found some time after work to watch videotapes of judo, something I have been meaning to do for months. I have a whole shelf full of videos, gathering dust. I couldn't find the one I wanted so I pulled the first one off the shelf and watched it. It happened to be from the high school and collegiate nationals from when Ronda was a freshman in high school. Ironically, there were none of Ronda's matches on the tape. Someone had taped the kids from Nanka who competed in the high school and collegiate nationals. Who would tape a skinny little freshman from Venice Dojo? Ronda did win that year, by all ippons, but by the time her matches came up, the person had come to the end of the tape.

The interesting part is that, at that tournament, Hayward Nishioka commented that the judo was really not very good at all, and I was offended. My daughter was in that tournament. She was good, right?

About two years later, I was at the U.S. Open and Jim Pedro, Sr. commented that the judo was so bad it was boring. Again, I was offended. My daughter was in that tournament. Yes, she only got a silver medal, but she was only sixteen so that wasn't too terrible. I told him as much and he said,
"Your daughter could be a good judo player, but she isn't a good judo player yet."

I almost smacked him, but I was brought up to be polite to old people, even rude old people, so I didn't. I did tell him that I didn't appreciate his attitude and he looked genuinely surprised and replied,
"But it's the truth!"

Today, watching a video of the high school and collegiate nationals, the very same tournament, I realized Hayward and Jim were absolutely right. Even the national champions in this country really aren't very good. The difference in perspective came about because, in the last seven years, I have traveled more and seen a lot more judo internationally. For years, I taught little kids because I had a little kid so that was my main interest. As my little kid got big, I started watching videos of the people she would compete against in the Worlds and Olympics. I acquired a different standard for comparison, and I started analyzing more. In a sense, I became more educated about judo.

Looking for something else, I came across a DVD by accident. I was about a dozen matches Ronda fought in 2005, when she was 18. She was better than she was at 16, but she is considerably better now.

Everything I saw on these tapes convinced me that what we are doing at the USJA/JF Training Center is on the right track.
Conditioning - even many of our junior, high school and collegiate national champions are not in very good condition. Many of these kids who start judo at five or six years old are the sensei's kid. They get a lot of individual attention, they learn one or two techniques really well and throw a lot of kids for ippon right away in local tournaments, sometimes even in the junior nationals. If they have to fight all out for a whole match, they are dead by the end of it. This is one of the key changes we tried to make with the training center, to offer a level of intensity that is not possible in most dojos, because you only have one or a few people who seriously want to train. I don't blame them. I'm almost 50. I don't want to have to go ten minutes with some teenager in top shape. Unfortunately, most of those teenagers can't go ten minutes all out either. Ronda was in better shape than most when she was 16. She was even stronger at 18. She is much stronger now.

Gripping - most of the matches I watched, at most one of the players, and often, neither, had any idea of gripping. If one of them had a general idea, it was to get a grip that had the other player at a disadvantage, such as pinning down the right hand of a right-handed player and controlling her left shoulder. Then, the other player had no real method for breaking that grip. The smarter ones realized they were at a disadvantage, tried some kind of ineffective attack and ended up on the mat, if they were lucky, and got countered if they were not lucky. Then, when they started again, the player had no idea how to block the grip that was a disadvantage. In fact, more often than not, they didn't seem to understand that the other person's grip was the problem. They would come off the mat, shaking their heads and just say, "My throws didn't work."

I looked at Ronda's gripping and even at 18 it was noticeably different. It was purposeful. She had a specific grip she was trying to get, she got that and she attacked. If she wasn't comfortable with her grip, she did what she needed to find that comfort zone. Her gripping is better now. There are ways she could improve.

Speaking of matwork -- most people didn't have a clue. They used matwork to look good, eat up the clock and if they happened to fall on top of the person when they threw him or her, well, good. Matwork is one of those things I can say I know a little bit about and some of it was so bad it was laughable. If you really paid attention, even when a person got an armbar it wasn't usually that the person getting it was so good as that the person who should have escaped was completely lost in the fog. Hadn't any of these people heard of practicing escapes from armbars?

Here is something to really make you think --- most of those players in the first video are still competing, and almost none of them fight any differently than they did seven years ago. That means, of course, none of them are any better. If you said something to them, or to their coach, they might respond,

"Well, he must be doing something right. He did win the high school nationals."

At that point, I would be tempted to tell them that their players really were not very good, but I'd be afraid that, if they hadn't been brought up to be polite to old people, even very rude ones, they just might smack me.


Lance said...

Another great post, it echoes one of the issues with referees.

Unless refrees are exposed to high level Judo, they like in your example, think the Judo they are seeing is better/worse than it is. it is hard to expect referees to refree at a high level if they spend most of their time with under 10 kids classes.

Of course, the same is true of players and coaches. If we hide in our little clubs then we won't be exposed to higher level Judo, and won't grow.


Anonymous said...

Could Ronda compete with males in international championships?
Is she effective and can easily throw men athletes in training randori?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

My oldest daughter is a sports writer and she commented after the last Olympics that she thought people in judo were really weird. She said that she covers soccer, basketball, track and swimming, all sports that have both male and female teams. She said that only in judo do people say about a successful woman athlete, "But could she beat the men?"

She said when she covered track meets and a woman set a world record or won a gold medal, everyone, male and female, said, "Wow, what a great job!" No one ever said, "Could she win the men's division?"

Why do you think only in judo do people ask this question?

Could Ronda compete with males internationally? Since, as far as I know, she is not planning on having a sex change operation soon (GOD FORBID!!!) I think it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

Does Ronda in training session beat olympic men doing randori with ippons or there is a too great gap in strenght and skill?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Asking her mother is not a very unbiased source, you understand!!

I think her skill level is as high or higher than any of the men going into the Olympics.

I do know more about judo than the average mom, and I stand by that statement.

Anonymous said...

Ciao AnnMaria,do you have any tape about your judo in competions?If yes should be nice watching you on youtube or judovision.Grazie ciao un saluto Ric

Anonymous said...

Did you usually throw olympic men judokas in randori training?
If so which technique did you use last time?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Ha ha ha. I am OLD!! The last time I was throwing anyone at the Olympic level was over twenty years ago. I did throw a lot of people with ko uchi makikomi. It was my absolute favorite throw.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I do have some videos of me competing but they were copied from CBS sports when it was on TV. I don't think they would care after all of these years, but it would be a copyright violation. I noticed someone had put up some very good quality of Ronda's matches in the PanAm Games, obviously from Brazilian TV and I went later and it was gone. I am guessing they made youtube take it down.