Friday, July 25, 2008

Grumpy old people (and one young judo player)

If my friend, old and seldom grumpy judo coach Bruce Toups, is correct and the best classroom is hanging around an old person, Ronda ought to have several graduate degrees by now.

Jim Pedro, Sr. has had Ronda training these past few weeks until she could barely do anything by the end of the day but lay in bed and watch movies for a few minutes before dropping off to sleep. She is often convinced that her tombstone will read:

"Here lies Ronda Rousey. Her coaches trained her to death."

As much as it would probably pain both of them to admit it, Ronda and Jim agree on a lot. Each Olympics we see people after the Olympic Trials whose goal was to make the team. They have met their goals and are satisfied, training no harder than they were before the trials. There is certainly nothing wrong with setting a goal to compete in the Olympics and achieving that goal. That's just not Ronda. Jim has had her training harder than ever, and one of his big areas of focus has been conditioning.

This week, he insisted that she watch the movie, Million Dollar Baby. (Short plot summary: Young woman wants to be successful boxer. Grumpy old coach trains her really hard, she progresses, but in the last match she is injured and dies.)

He told her she needed to get that attitude. One day, she turned to him during practice and said,
"We're working out harder than that girl in Million Dollar Baby."
Jim answered without batting an eye,
"Yeah, well she lost. That's why you're training harder than her. You're going to win."

I think people misunderstand Jim's focus on conditioning. It is not that he doesn't believe technique is important. It is that he understands that you can do more judo techniques when you are in condition. Further, sometimes conditioning can make up for less than perfect technique. When I was younger, I often fought people who had better technique than me if you were measuring us like a nage no kata competition. If they could have gotten me moving, they maybe could have done a foot sweep or a beautiful uchimata. Unfortunately for them, I was strong enough to get a grip, lock them in one place, knock them down for a koka and do matwork. Who says matwork is not a technique? My matwork is full of techniques.

I see a lot of people with great technique who try to use that to make up for a lack of conditioning. I also see people who are in great shape who try to use that to make up for lack of technique. Both of those are just laziness, taking the easy route.
This is one of those lines Ronda has heard so many times she rolls her eyes every time I say it,

"It's a long way to the top of the world."

I can guarantee you this, the easy route doesn't get you there.

A few other lessons Ronda may have learned, these came from Bruce Toups, and I added in parentheses my advice.

  • It's a bad idea to corner anything meaner than you. (Since you intend to own every square inch and corner of that mat, you better be the meanest thing out there.)

  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. (Judo advice: If you are in a match, you do something and you get countered or blocked, the next time do something different. While this may seem brain-dead obvious, watch a few matches at the next tournament and see how many times a person will, e.g., try tai otoshi, even when it is not working, because, well, tai otoshi is what that person does.)

  • Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled. (My children say I yell at them. This is a lie. What I do is say things they don't want to hear. As a parent and as a coach, there are two things I think you should say only sparingly and when you do, you better mean them - "I am proud of you", and "I am ashamed of you". If your opinion matters, those words will mean a lot to the person no matter how loudly or quietly you say them. If your opinion doesn't matter, you're wasting your breath."

Another bit of wisdom from Bruce was that I might want to consider retiring to the south because it is the only region of the country where, "He needed killin' " is considered a valid defense. I'm thinking about it.

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