Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How not to get in the way as an instructor

At the California Judo, Inc. clinic, I saw one of my old instructors today, Roy Moore, Jr. A really, really great guy. After practice, I was talking to one of our talented, dedicated young players who admitted that while trying to work out at other clubs regularly for extra practices sounds good in theory, it often doesn't work out. The athlete was too polite to elaborate but nodded when I said knowingly,
"You mean, it's a waste of your time to go there?"

We had a discussion about this I'd like to share with you, and explain why Roy Moore was such an awesome guy.

What happens with many young athletes who make a national team is they start to go to other clubs to train because their own club only practices two or three times a week. You can't be a successful international athlete training twice a week. So, our talented player branches out and at each local club, which is not designed for international players (none of them are), there is a head instructor and usually some assistants. The head instructor runs practice and he (it's almost always a "he") has a certain plan. Something like ,
We do warm-ups, then I teach a technique, then we practice it, I correct it, there's 15 minutes of standing randori, 5 minutes of matwork and then we go home.
Except for not having enough matwork, that's probably a fine general plan for juniors, beginners and recreational players. For our Olympic potential player, it doesn't fit, what he or she probably needs is drills, standing randori and matwork. Our genuinely friendly head instructor is happy to have Mr. or Ms. Talent visit but isn't going to change HIS plan for a visitor. As a best case scenario, the visitor gets in maybe 20 minutes of useful practice. As a worst case, and too common scenario, one of the black belt assistants who is feeling unimportant since he or she is not the head instructor and doesn't have anything to do spends an hour or more instructing our talented player on how to do left morote seoi nage, because that is our not-so-humble assistant's favorite technique, never mind the fact that the visitor is 6'1" at sixteen years of age, and right-handed to boot. Our player has now wasted the entire practice, including the randori and matwork part because the assistant instructor insisted on teaching "Just one more thing."

If you have not had these frustrating experiences, you are either not a talented young player in America or you are extremely lucky. If the latter, I suggest you buy lottery tickets and also go to church, light a candle and thank God for your good fortune. If you see yourself in the description above as an instructor, even a little, feel shame and resolve to change.  As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it's not too late, although, unlike AA, they don't have meetings for it.

What did Roy Moore do? I lived in San Diego and my judo club was in Los Angeles. Twice a week, I trained at the Naval Training Center Judo Club where Roy was the head instructor. On rare occasions (I'd say less than 10% of the time I was there) he would show me some move, usually matwork and usually after a hard workout. Most of the time he said, 
"What do you want to work on?"

If I said, as I usually did, that I needed to do drills and randori, he'd tell me to go right ahead. There was a good bit of space at the NTC, so I could grab a person - Valerie Hays (now Perrault) , Mark Hayes, Joe Ciokon, Jerry Hays and Chuck Neuendorf were often around - and ask them to do throws on the crash pad with me, or matwork drills. Valerie was only 15, Mark was a teenager, too and Joe, Jerry and Chuck - well, they were pretty old. Like, at least 40. None of them were training for world level competition at the time, and the older guys had jobs they had to be at the next day where they were expected not to be too bruised and sore to concentrate. So, I would do 50 repetitions of a move with Jerry, then another 50 with Joe, then 50 with Mark, and so on. Someone - Roy himself, or Chuck, might be teaching a move to the sailors who were in the beginning class and I would go to a corner of the mat and do round after round of matwork with one person after another.  Sometimes we were lucky and a young black belt would be at the NTC for some training. Then, Roy would have me fight with him. If the new guy had a particularly good move, Roy would have him show it and I would try it out.

What made Roy a truly EXCEPTIONAL instructor is that when I walked in to visit he didn't think about what HE had planned or what HE could teach me or how HE could later tell people he was coaching someone on the world team. He thought about what I needed to do. More than that, he didn't assume he knew, he actually asked ME and assumed that just maybe I might know what I needed and have a reason for having come to their club to visit. So, even though I was a member of Tenri and trained there every Friday and on the weekends, I was a "visitor" at the NTC twice a week for years. All of the members of the NTC helped me, from Roy to the white belts who sometimes ended up being willing partners on the end of yet another 50 repetitions of that tomoe nage armbar.

Roy never tried to get in the way of that time for drills and fighting, standing and on the mat, which was what I really needed, just so he could feel like he was such a great instructor.

The irony of it is that even 27 years later, when I see him, I still think,
"What a great guy and what a great instructor."

As for those many, many, other head instructors and not-so-humble assistants over the years? Yeah, I still see them around, too, and I still think the same thing about them,
"Means well, but what a pain in the ass."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Judo vs. MMA: An old-timey view

Perhaps the night before I leave for judo camp isn't the best time to contrast judo and MMA. Or maybe it is. Or maybe I don't care because I'm going to do it anyway.

Having decided to take a break from work for a couple of hours, I went to Hayastan Martial Arts Academy to watch Ronda at practice. One of the first things I noticed was Manny's new car with the license plate UFCANVIL, which I am pretty sure he paid for with the money he earned from MMA and not judo. I don't know anything about cars, so don't ask me what kind it was. It was white, that's what kind it was.

I was impressed with Manny's training, and I told him so. I've known him since he was just a kid and I don't know if it was maturity, that he is getting paid or that MMA just clicked with him but he looked better than I ever saw him at judo practice. I told him, and I sincerely mean it, that if our judo players all trained like he did tonight we'd be winning a lot more medals. He went with one partner after another after another. What was different from most judo practices is that there wasn't a coach telling him to do it. This is the point where people email me and tell me that THEIR club is different, that their players go one round after another in randori without anyone telling them to do it. No, actually, they don't. I have been to a lot of judo clubs and seen a lot of people fooling themselves about how hard they work. Even when they do go round after round, there is a lot of coasting going on.

This isn't to say there weren't the usual wall-clingers at Hayastan, too. There were, and that's not all bad either. I'm 52 years old and I don't do matwork 45 minutes non-stop any more, and that's okay.

There were also coaches at Hayastan - Gene Lebell, Gokor Chivichyan and someone I didn't know were all three on the mat while I was there. The difference is that they were monitoring the practice, not interfering with it. The coaches took turns teaching the less experienced students, both in a group and individually. This is different from a lot of judo practices I have seen where practice repeatedly gets interrupted by an instructor who wants to teach something.  Teaching is perfectly fine, it's great, but don't stop someone in the middle of the match. Do it afterward or before, but not during.

Not sure this is as much a comparison of MMA versus judo as good coaching versus mediocre coaching.

Three times tonight I was asked, by three people who had been in judo even longer ago than me (yes, and they're not dead, amazing, huh?) what I thought of judo versus MMA. We discussed it and agreed that we see more similarities between judo back in our day and MMA than between judo then and judo now. Essentially, MMA is old time judo with punching thrown in. (There may have been a few punches thrown back in our day. We all plead the fifth. )

Judo now disallows throws where you grab the leg, so it is possible to pick someone four feet off the mat, slam her, and lose the match. That's just stupid. There is a crazy amount of time spent having people go back to the tape and adjust their gis, which makes about as much sense and is about as interesting as if you stopped football players every 10 yards and had them adjust their jockstraps. (I am assuming they wear jockstraps and I am NOT interested in any details about it so if you know, just keep that to yourself.) There is a lot of time spent flailing around to get a grip and then walking around.

None of this is to say that there aren't fabulous judo players out there who are exciting to watch. However, if we really wanted to turn judo into a sport that people want to watch, it would seem a good plan to make it resemble MORE the things that people watch, like wrestling, MMA or even the National Spelling Bee, than less so. (Okay, I don't really know how we can make it resemble the National Spelling Bee but I do know that they get a whole lot more air time than judo which is kind of depressing. Maybe we could have the players name each technique in Japanese and then spell it after performing it. Just an idea.)

Judo in my era (Paleozoic, I think it was), was more like a fight in a bar. Now it is more like a fight after Christmas dinner where your Grandpa comes in and lectures you in the middle of it and makes you sit down on the sofa. Then, when his back is turned, you start fighting again.

If you think I am saying judo is wimpy now, you have never witnessed a fight in my house.

This isn't to say I am completely convinced that MMA isn't about as intellectual as biting rocks in half. One aspect that has really UNimpressed me is the number of times Ronda has had fights set up and then the competition has backed out at the last minute. Gokor thinks that is an unfair comparison and he asked me how many local and regional judo tournaments Ronda had entered where she had no one to compete against. Fair point.

In conclusion, it reminds me of the time many years ago when we had just come back from MacWorld Expo and we (me, my husband and the president of the Mac Hackers User Group) overheard my daughter, The Perfect Jennifer, on the phone:

"No, I just got back in town. I was at a computer show with my mom and step-dad."


"It didn't suck nearly as bad as I expected."

The user group president laughed and said he was going to suggest that as their advertising slogan for the trip next year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why You're Not Winning

Jim's comment to me today is that I should write more about judo and less about what I said to Ronda and she said to me, '... because nobody cares about that s---'. Actually,  he said 'keers' instead of 'cares' because he is from Boston and they talk funny there.

Just on the off chance that he could possibly be right ...

I know of a judo player whose goal is to win an Olympic gold medal. This person loves judo, thinks of nothing else,  traveled to many countries to compete and train at the camps. Yes, this athlete SAYS all the right things.

It makes me sad. It just so happened that I have been to three Olympics to watch judo. I happen to have seen this player compete and, along with many other athletes from countries where judo is a minor sport, was not even in the running to win a medal. I don't want to single out one person because I have seen it over and over, men and women, from many countries.

These are not the slackers. These are people who were good enough to make it to the Olympics and the best their countries have to offer. They have everyone's hopes and dreams back home following them. They get up early and run, lift weights. They have husbands, girlfriends, parents, coaches at home who support them. They haven't a prayer of winning and I can see it in the first minute of the first match, if they last that long. I feel sorry for these young people, but I don't know any of them from Adam so I never say anything about what they are missing.

What are they missing?
  1. Attitude - In part, belief comes from training. If you have trained until your fingers bled from grabbing the gi, you come out with more confidence. However, you get it - by training six hours a day, by meditation, prayers to St. Jude, whatever, you need to BELIEVE you have a right to be there and that person is standing between you and YOUR medal. Tell yourself a thousand times a day that you can win. Tell yourself while you're running, when you wake up, before you fall asleep, in the middle of a hard round of randori. Belief is strength.
  2. Lack of hesitation - this probably goes with attitude. There is a difference between not being hesitant and being rushed. Over and over, I see players who don't attack. They are waiting for the "right" opening. So, a minute, two minutes go by and they don't attack and they get penalties. Then they are panicked and they attack and get countered. Or they don't attack and lose on penalties. Discipline yourself in practice to attack every 3-5 seconds. If you live in a region where there aren't many people at your level, when you go to those international tournaments GO TO THE CAMPS. In the camp, discipline yourself to attack every 3-5 seconds. If you get thrown, so what? No one wins randori. If you can't attack 50 times in a four-minute round, be in better shape.
  3. Setups - what about set-ups to techniques? Yes, you don't have that, either, but don't practice that in camps, practice that at home. You know why? Because at home you can't go all out against your partners because they aren't at your level and you might hurt them. The camps are your only chance to go 100%, but it's a bit scary, isn't it? Better to say that you are working on technique.
  4. Grips - You can't get your grip. You can't break the other person's grip. You can't attack from more than one grip. These are things you should work on at home and in training camps. I'm not a proponent of grip-fighting alone. Maybe early on for kids, when they are learning. For you, at home, work on fighting for a grip and then throwing. Do specific drills for gripping. Jimmy Pedro, Jr. has a DVD out that I believe Rhadi sends everyone on the planet an email about three times a week telling them to buy it. (I like Rhadi but I do have to kid him about his marketing.) Hayward Nishioka also has a DVD called Get a Grip. Practice SPECIFIC drills for specific situations. Find the best coach in your country to help you. Watch what drills other people do at training camps. I don't care how you learn it, but learn it.
  5. Matwork - Here you might have a chance but you are blowing it. If you happen to be in a country that is strong in wrestling, train with your country's best wrestlers and steal every move that is legal in judo. The IJF is doing its best to make that tougher but there are still some like a wrestlers roll, half-nelson, sit out. Jiu Jitsu people do some moves that are legal but most judo players don't use. Steal everything you can. It doesn't make sense to go against other people's strong suit. If your opponents have a ton of judo players in their country, they probably aren't fighting against wrestlers and jiu-jitsu players. 
  6. Don't try to be Japanese or French or Eastern European. The players from Japan, France and eastern Europe have a lot more practice at that than you so they're going to be better at it. They also have a lot of practice fighting players like that. Going back to #5 - be something else. Be you. Figure out what your opponents are not strongest at - transition and chokes are two areas that tend to be relative weaknesses.
I'd just like to leave you with a bit of advice from my friend Steve Scott, who said it came originally from an extremely successful coach of Olympic weight lifters when he looked at their program years ago,
Whatever you're doing now, stop it, because it isn't working.

With two years to go, that gold medal is a possibility, kid, but you have GOT to change.

And ... I know how it feels to want to win that bad, and I know how it feels when you get the gold medal and when you don't --- so, best of luck to you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Congratulations! You're too great to learn anything

I've heard this same statement many times, from everyone from thirteen-year-old junior national champions to the fifth-degree black belt running the local dojo.
Why should I go to the clinic given by ---- ? What can he (she) teach me?
This attitude just baffles me. I heard this said by a junior judo player about the upcoming clinic with world champion Kayla Harrison. I heard it said several years ago by a coach at a local judo club when world champion Udo Quelmalz was in town from Germany doing a clinic. And I've heard it in just about every possible other situation as well.

My reaction each time is always the same,
You've got to be f---ing kidding me!

Seriously? I would expect that someone who has won a world championships could teach anyone a number of things. These could include the techniques that he or she uses to win, drills for training for competition, exercises for physical conditioning. They could talk to players about the stresses of competition. They could talk to coaches about what worked for them with on the mat coaches, motivation and training leading up to the event. They could tell you who their best coaches were and why.

I have won a world championships and I know that a lot of people can teach me a lot of things. Sus Kono is terrific at running a practice and I watch him to steal ideas. Trace Nishiyama has a great drop seoi nage. Jason Harai has a really good harai goshi and is very good at teaching it. He has a good standing seoi nage, too. Ronda not only has a good o soto but she is also very good at teaching it. Tosh Seino has an amazing tai otoshi and tsuri komi goshi. Gary Butts does a lot of wrestling techniques that are perfectly legal in judo but seldom applied.

My point is that
  1. You don't know everything.
  2. Anyone who knows something you don't can teach you something.
  3. While you may be good at lots of things, there will be lots of people who are better than you at one (or more) things.

Yesterday, while Ronda was at the house entering data, I was just shaking my head over the attitude that some ten-year-old kid who had won the junior nationals could have that someone could not teach him or her anything. Without looking up from the keyboard she said,

You know, I listen to people and I don't even bother about it any more. When people say things like that, I just say to myself, 'Congratulations! You're too great to learn anything.'

I've been sick for a week and I have a sick kid at home, so I am not sure I will make it down to Gardena this weekend. But, I will tell you one thing. If I don't, it won't be because I'm too great to learn anything.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Opposite of Lazy Isn't Disciplined

It's often been said that judo, football and other sports teach discipline. At the very elite levels - repeatedly winning major international competitions - I believe that is true because the competition is so tightly bunched together at the top that if you don't have discipline you just don't win. At every level below that, sports may teach discipline and it may not. I think people often misunderstand what discipline means. It doesn't just mean not lazy.

Lazy is defined as "disinclined to activity or exertion"  (thank you Merriam-Webster dictionary). Many athletes who get up in the morning and run, do push-ups, lift weights and engage in other strenuous activities are certainly not lazy. 

Definitions of discipline include:
 training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
control gained by enforcing obedience or order 

I would suggest that discipline means forcing yourself to do the things that you SHOULD do. So, if I should be sitting at my desk writing a computer program so that I can get paid and pay my bills but I am instead out running eight miles to the Marina pier and back to the Santa Monica pier, then I am not lazy but I am undisciplined. 

A major flaw I see in training of many athletes is they fool themselves into believing  they are disciplined when they are really just not lazy. They may train for hours on standing technique when what they really need to work on is their matwork. When they lose, they lament (yes, I did just use the word "lament" in a sports blog. Deal with it.) 
"I don't know what to do. I can't train any harder! I train hours every day!"

I've heard this so many times and it is usually a lack of discipline. The player who needs to work on speed of attack in randori is instead running and lifting several hours a week. The person who needs to be more aggressive in randori is doing hundreds of throws every week. The person whose standing technique is pathetic somehow gets to practice too late to do standing randori but does matwork and then stays late "to make up" and does extra rounds of randori.

I see this exact pattern in business as well, people who make lovely brochures instead of sales calls on clients, who go to meetings instead of write code.

Don't confuse activity with progress.

That moral character bit - be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if the activities you're spending the time on are REALLY what will help you win more, or are they just the things you most want to do? Are you using that activity to avoid things you know damn well you should be doing instead?

Not being lazy is good.
Being disciplined is better.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Intermediate Throwing Techniques for Juniors - Why I teach what I teach

To continue with the previous guest post 
by Jim Pedro, Sr.

Here is what I teach for intermediate students, approximately 13-16 years old, and why

Left vs. Right Basic Technique:
Tai otoshi Uchimata
Knee O soto Gari Ko soto gari
Ashi barai
Kata Garuma
Why I teach it as a basis: As the student masters the basics, it is time to move into less common situations. The most common of these ‘less common’ situations is fighting against a player who is the opposite side from you.

Left vs. Right Combination Techniques:
O uchi to tai otoshi
O uchi to uchimata
O uchi to knee o soto gari
Uchi mata to kosoto gari
Why I teach it as a basis: Once students can do the throws individually, it is time to start putting them together. Again, it is important to teach children early on to start thinking about combinations. If you watch the junior nationals, you will notice that very few students perform combinations. Not only do learning counters and combinations earlier than their peers give your students an advantage at the junior level, but this gives them a head start building as a basis for the senior level where they must be able to use more counters, combinations and complex attacks.

Left vs. Right Complex Combinations:
Cross grip ouchi gari
Cross grip sumigaeshi
Russian firemans
Reverse Firemans
Yoko tomonage
Why I teach it as a basis: You might say we are starting to move beyond the basics here. Still, we are building on the base a student learned in the previous steps in the curriculum. They know o uchi gari, presumably by this time they have learned a cross grip. They are now ready to learn to throw in less common situations, and to set up those situations more rather than in the case of, e.g., o uchi gari or seoi which often take advantage of situations that commonly occur in a match.

Beyond the basics  
As you move to the techniques below, you are really aiding your student in moving from the junior to senior level. Attacking off the grip, one-handed attacks and cross grip techniques are seldom seen at the junior level. Does this mean that I think you should teach your eight-year-olds these techniques so they will beat all of the other eight-year-olds? No, I do not! Start with the basics. Build a foundation. Build from there.

Same sided opponents (Left vs. Left or Right vs. Right) Techniques:
One-handed tai otoshi
Off the grips to:
Sode to osoto gari

There were a number of other attacks that I did teach from here, e.g. sode to a double leg, but with the new rules, these are no longer legal so we are modifying our teaching in certain ways.

I want to say that I am extremely grateful to Jimmy for giving me permission to use a lot of his writing before he left for Japan since I have barely had a moment to copy and paste it here, much less write much myself. Some how, I ended up teaching a judo class at Gompers today because I told the kids I would be there, then being part of the Masters of Submission clinic at the West Coast Judo Training Center tomorrow from 1:30 - 5:30, then, right after that going to give a judo demonstration in Santa Monica on Arizona Street for the very kind karate school that has loaned us the mats to use at Gompers Middle School and has not once mentioned the fact that they have been on loan for a year now and what the hell. 

On top of all of that, there is work which I am actually required to do for money, a couple of papers I need to finish writing for a presentation to the SAS Users Group in Hawaii next month and the major time black hole of all, my daughter and two-year-old granddaughter are visiting. Anyone who is curious as to why I do not have more written lately need only look below for the explanation.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Another guest blog by Jim Pedro, Sr. because I am busy working on a paper for my "day job" and he took off for Japan leaving me to work on this book, so I figured I'd put one of his sections of the book on this blog and invite anyone to comment or make suggestions. In re-reading this, I find it interesting that people generally think of Jim as a coach for elite athletes. When I first paid any attention to him at all it was because I'd just had a baby (Ronda's oldest sister) and so I started noticing people with their children and here was this guy at the camps and tournaments with two young kids, Tanya and Jimmy, Jr.,  (who years later went on to win the U.S. Open & world championships).

In other articles, I have discussed the basic standing techniques for juniors, WHAT it is that I teach. In this post, I discuss WHY.

I think it is key that you, as an instructor, have a reason for what you do. Too many instructors just teach the way they themselves were taught, or, even worse, just do whatever they happen to feel like doing that day, with no real thought having been put into having a coherent program. Then, when the student asks,
“Why do we have to do this?”
the instructor either changes his mind and does whatever the student wants to do or takes it as a challenge to his authority and loses his temper. While I might tell a student to just do what I say, I certainly would not be threatened by the question and, depending on the tone in which it was asked, I may explain my reasoning. With parents, certainly I am happy to explain why I teach techniques in a certain order. Those coaches who take an arrogant attitude that , “I am the sensei” are on the totally wrong track. The parents are paying you, it is a positive that they are interested in their child and it is your chance to educate the parents and gain their support as well.

I have a very specific system for teaching and reasons for selecting the throws I teach to juniors. Here is what I teach juniors at the very beginning, and why.

O goshi or Koshi garuma – Major hip throw
Why I teach it as a basis: Teaches kids to use hips to throw.

Right vs. Right:
Ippon Seoi nage Ippon Seoi nage to Kouchi Sutemi
Sode when they grab neck Left side o goshi when they grab neck
Why I teach it as a basis: Both are common situation for juniors, encountering a righthanded player against another right-handed player and having another player grab the student around the neck. It is simply good practice to teach beginning students the situations they are most likely to encounter.

Tani otoshi Uranage
Why I teach it as a basis: Again, these counters are effective against very common throws, such as seoi nage. Also, it is important to teach children early on to start thinking about counters. If you watch the junior nationals, you will notice that very few students perform counters, thus giving an advantage to your students that do.
 I included the divider line above because it was the least manly thing I could find and I knew it was a good bet to annoy Jim. Check back tomorrow for a post on the next step, teaching intermediate players. After that, I should have finished the paper I am writing on analysis of ethics data for the Consortia of Administrators of Native American Rehabilitation in San Diego on Monday. Then, I will try to remember if there is any more judo that I know.