Thursday, April 14, 2011

Should you specialize?

It's not all that often that my professional and "judo" lives cross. I have two twitter accounts, one related to judo and one to statistics, and I feel sorry for the people who come across my statistics blog (which, unbelievably, gets way more readers than this one on judo) and then follow my judo twitter account, or vice versa. I am sure they often are asking themselves,

"Juji gatame? What the hell is that? A new type of test for comparing nested models? I've never heard of it?"

The judo people, on the other hand, are asking,
"Models have nests? Can't they afford to buy houses with all that money they are making? I mean, they sure don't spend it on food, and they get their clothes for free."

Well, the two did intersect recently when I read this blog by John D. Cook who is a pretty well-known blogger on mathematics and statistics. Those of you who think that is an oxymoron should just shut the hell up and those who don't know what an oxymoron is, just skip on to the next paragraph which is ...


John said that the key to success is more often to do well at several different skills and combine those to be something remarkable, rather than to be world class at a specific skill. He gives the example of Scott Adams (the cartoonist who does the Dilbert script), who was not a great writer and not a great artist but combined the two to be a great cartoonist.

When I read that, my immediate thought was the opposite is true for being a world class athlete. You need to be good at everything, better than good, really, and GREAT at something.  You can't be just great at matwork and have so-so standing technique because once you get to the top level you'll be thrown and never get to demonstrate your amazing matwork.

You may get farther with outstanding standing technique and lousy matwork, because they do make you start the match standing up (whose stupid idea was that rule, I'd like to know). Still, at some point you're going to end up on the mat.

I can think of players I knew who were very well-rounded. They had solid standing technique, were in good physical condition, respectable matwork. They were good all the way around. Many of those people placed in national championships. A few even made an Olympic team (which is easier to do in the U.S. than in many other countries because we don't have that many people competing in judo). None of those people with a "package" of skills were people who won a lot of international medals.

When I think about people who were world and Olympic champions, they are people like Gerda Winklebauer who choked damn near everybody, Koga, who threw everyone with seoi nage, Osawa, who could foot sweep anybody (I should know because when I was a student at Waseda and he was probably in his forties already, he threw me approximately 246,786 times).

Right now, if you look at how Ronda is doing in mixed martial arts, she is armbarring everyone who comes near her. The only reason she hasn't armbarred her dog, Mochi, is because, strictly speaking, dogs don't have arms.

So, the answer to should you specialize seems to be, mostly, "Yes."

But ... I remember a time when Ronda was much younger when she threw everyone with left uchi mata. That was her throw and she did it from a high grip, from around the hip, from a lapel grip. On her way to her first Olympic team, she was fighting a very good player in a major tournament who had obviously trained for this match. She bent over and Ronda could not get into her uchimata to save her life. So she dropped down and threw for ippon with drop seoi nage.

Coming off the mat, the player went up to her coach and complained,
"I thought you said she didn't do anything but left uchi mata."

He answered,
"I said she didn't do any other throws. I didn't say she didn't KNOW any other throws."

It's funny to think of now when everyone associates Ronda with matwork that for years she did pretty much beautiful stand-up judo. (And then I ruined it by teaching her juji gatame!)

It reminds me of some not very good western I saw probably 20 years ago where a rich Australian rancher brought to his ranch someone from the American west who was very famous for his skill with a rifle. In the end, the rancher insisted that they have a showdown, which ended with the American drawing his six-shooter and putting a bullet into him. As the rancher is dying he says,
"I thought you couldn't use a hand gun."

To which the shooter replies,
"I said I didn't. I never said I couldn't."

Anyway, it was something like that. My point being that you want to be world class at something - specialize - but not to the extent that you can't pull something else out of your back pocket.

So, maybe John Cook had a point after all.

P.S. This was meant metaphorically and not that you should literally pull a hand gun out of your back pocket to win a match. That's against the rules. Unless you're in a cage fight in Texas.)


Anonymous said...

I thought I remember you stating a few years ago that you were surprised that Ronda developed a good juji gatame, which was your favorite technique, even though you never taught it to her. Now you're taking credit for it?


Dr. AnnMaria said...

I never said I didn't teach it to her. What I said I did not do was teach her very much her first year in judo (Tony Mojica and Richard (Blinky) Elizalde did). There were two related reasons for that. First, I wanted her to develop her own style and if you are taught by a parent as a child you are too likely to imitate your parent. The second, related reason is that my judo was extremely focused on matwork because I hurt my knee at 17 and couldn't really stand up much. I thought it would be very bad for her to imitate a style that was partly developed to compensate for a disability, even though that style worked well for me.

In the beginning, she had a killer uchi mata, a really good o soto gari and - the only thing I taught her the first year - a really good ko soto makikomi.

Yes, I taught her juji gatame after she had been in judo a few years, and yes, I was a bit surprised it became such a favorite of hers.

As for taking credit, though, that's a loaded term. Personally, I think most coaches take far too much credit for the things their athletes accomplish. We can show people a technique, but they're the ones that have to drill it thousands of times, to run miles, spend hours in the gym to be in peak condition and so on. Yes, coaches help, parents help, but there is just once person out there facing the opponent and it aint us.

Anonymous said...

Well you are so kind to have given abdullah that long explanation...for gods sake you gave birth to her!! not to mention raised her!!! WTF abdullah how much more credit does a mother need??? Needless to say if your mother was a judo world champ you are going to learn some judo at one time or another even if your the family hamster, wait can you teach a hamster judo?

By the way I like this blog better, your other blog is just to smarty pants for me, I can't even keep up with my 5th grader's home work...never the less words with 1000 syllables.

Humberto Montiel

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I SWORE I once did a sneakerdoodle zebra judo video of how to foot sweep a guinea pig (or not) but I can't find it.

I still have a guinea pig, so maybe I will just do it again. You cannot arm bar a guinea pig. I know that for sure. To begin with - no arms.

Chris Torres said...

Hey Ann, I have the same issue with my knee what throws did you focus on to work around it?

- chris

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I hurt my right knee. I did ko uchi makikomi and ko soto makikomi a lot - you're driving off your left leg in those. I also did right seoi otoshi a lot. Again, driving off the left leg. Often people fell over for a koka or yuko and then they were in a really good position for me to go after them with juji gatame.

Fernand said...

Hey, you read John D. Cook's blog too? Sweet! I like his stuff on Python and scientific computing.

Heh, I really should jump back into judo training. It's been many months since I last went to practice.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Yes, you SHOULD jump back into training. (-:

If you really like programming sometimes it's hard to tear yourself away and go work out, but you don't want to be like the t-shirt I saw on a guy at work. It said:

"I went outside once. The graphics kind of sucked."

снять жилье в барселоне said...

What namely you're saying is a terrible mistake.