Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Your judo is terrible - good for you!

Someone posted a video of the finals of the 1983 Panamerican Games on . It was interesting to watch myself as a competitor. God, was I ever really THAT young?

One of the memories it brought back was how often people would say to me,
"I can't believe you win all of the time. Your judo is terrible."

Watching the match, I would have to say that Natasha Hernandez had better judo than me. Her posture was better, her gripping was better, her technique was better. She even threw me for a yuko. Yet I beat her by ippon that day, not once, but twice and with two different techniques.

This isn't the only time this happened to me, and I am certainly not the only person about who it has been said many times, their judo is terrible - and yet they win. There are lots of other examples, but I don't want to gratuitously hurt people's feelings, so you'll have to think of some of those names to yourself.

Let's think about this, though. What do we mean when we say,
"X had better judo than Y, but Y won."

How are you defining better judo, in that case? Logically, you can't be defining it as whoever wins.

Often, better judo seems to be defined as judo like the speaker does it. If the speaker does a lot of throws with very little grip-fighting, someone who wins by chokes doesn't have good judo. If the speaker does a lot of matwork and lots of grip-fighting, a person who just has a blisteringly fast seoi nage has limited judo.

I am a very analytical person. My judo took full advantage of that. I would have a game plan for each of my opponents, and a plan A, plan B and plan C. I worked on specific scenarios for specific people. I was also extremely physically strong for my division, did lots of conditioning to leverage that advantage and took full opportunity to "power through" a move if I could. My training program was adapted for my personal situation. I lived in San Diego where I trained at local clubs Monday through Thursday doing drills, throws and as much randori as I could, then went to Los Angeles Friday night through Sunday for more randori and technical training. One great benefit I gained from having different people to learn from is the realization that there is more than one answer. Because I trained with more than one coach every week, I never got brainwashed into believing that whatever my coach said was right and all other ways were wrong, defective, would never work and terrible judo.

While a lot of coaches might give lip service to this idea - and some not even that - a great many of our very good coaches are prevented from becoming great coaches by their belief that they have all of the answers, that their way is the only way.

These coaches, and the athletes who blindly follow them, fail to meet their potential. They lose to people with "terrible judo". I've thought about this a lot because I have beaten people who I would say, no question about it, had great judo. The best answer I can come up with at this point, as cliched as it is, is that they really don't think outside the box, as beautiful and near-perfect as that box might be. Although some of the better coaches will say, you have to adapt, what you see them doing is teaching their athletes one way only and only on the rarest occasions bringing in someone else to teach who is not a very similar version of themselves.

So, I think one of the reasons that people with "terrible judo" win is that they did not let someone else define for them what is good judo. Because of that openness, they are able to see new possibilities and take advantage of those opportunities, both in competition, but more importantly, in training.

Other alternatives have been offered - genetics, pure strength, luck. I don't think any of those works. If it was strength, as someone on the judo forum said, we could just sign up the Olympic medalist weightlifters for the judo team and they would all win. Luck - did you notice how the same people get lucky over and over? As a statistician, that argument is hard for me to buy.

Genetics. Hmmm .... well, I won, my daughter Ronda won. There could be something to that. Maybe I should have more kids. I wonder what Dennis is doing right now.

"Hey, honey, can you come in here a minute..."

{I can hear my children already going, "Oooh, Mom, that is so gross, I can't believe you said that!"}


Jason O. said...

I like the quote "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
Samuel Goldwyn

I do believe in luck to some degree but think it is directly related to how much you practice.

Carlos GraƱa said...

What were your thoughts before your match with the venezuelan? Were u intimated with the noise of the crowd? South americans can be very loud. I think natasha showed a lot of heart fighing u with a broken elbow.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I never noticed the crowd, my coach or anything else from the second a match started until it was over. My family is from Venezuela so I really wanted to win, even more than I usually want to win. All I ever thought about before any match was winning it.

You are right, Natasha did have a lot of heart. I had a lot of respect for her.

Rhadi Ferguson said...

GREAT POST!! I've been on the receiving end of, "Your judo is terrible" before. And people wonder how in the hell you win. Well... it's because I was better at judo than the other guy silly!?!?

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Ha, ha, Rhadi -
My 10-year-old just read this post and said, "Your judo is terrible but you won. Well, then their judo must have been even worse!"