Saturday, December 3, 2011

I didn't show up here to look good losing

If you looked at me and Jim Pedro, Sr. as competitors, you might guess the big body-builder - looking guy with all the muscles (him) was the one who would really focus on using strength to win and the little midget-sized one (me) would be all about technique.

You'd be wrong. One of the people I really learned a lot from was Miguel Tudela, a teammate of mine at Los Angeles Tenri Dojo, a member of the 1980 Olympic team and national sambo champion. Miguel was ungodly strong. He was also a very, very intelligent person, with a degree in international business and fluent in Spanish and English. He won national championships in multiple sports and in multiple weight divisions from 189 and under to the open weight category.

Two really valuable lessons I learned from Miguel were:
1. Use your head. Literally. When attacking someone with a double-leg take down he would grab both legs but he would also smack into the opponent's chest with his head. He figured for a guy his weight the head was at least 15 pounds and having the force of a thrown bowling ball smacking into your chest could only help off-balance you and send you in the direction of the throw. Miguel would come off the mat with mat burn all over his face because he used his head as an extra appendage to hold you down and to block in matwork. Pretty soon, I, too, came of the mat looking like I had wiped out on my bike and hit the pavement with my face. The other thing I had in common with Miguel is that I won.

2. If you're stronger than your opponent, use that advantage.  Jim disagrees because he says that at some point you're going to run into someone stronger than you. (I'm not sure he really disagrees, because he later said that, sometimes even if you have better technique than someone, if they are a lot stronger than you, they'll beat you any way. I suspect he just argues with me for a hobby.) Here's what I learned from watching Miguel - both he and I were stronger than at least 95% of the people we fought. Technique may beat strength but people with technique AND strength have a better odds of winning than people with just technique. To win, I only needed to have technique as good as the people who were not as strong as me. I only needed to have BETTER technique than that 5% or so of the population who were stronger than me.

I saw this video of the finals of the Panamerican Games where I was fighting Natasha Hernandez. At the end, I locked her arm, rolled to the mat and when we were on the ground, I grabbed her legs and hauled her over into a pin.

Two things amused me by this. One is that the video had edited out the two times when I armbarred Natasha. (It was a double- elimination tournament, so she had tapped earlier in the day.) The second match, she did not tap and the match kept going. They did show her being taped. Almost 30 years ago, people being arm locked seemed a bit extreme for network television.

The second thing that amused me was a comment on the video, "Some of the worst judo I have ever seen". Natasha wasa gifted judo player. She moved up in weight and won the world championships the following year, at 61 kg. I had already beaten her once by ippon that day and I beat her by ippon again in the finals to win the gold medal.

I'm not sure how many international gold medals that commenter had won. I don't feel at all bad about winning because I am stronger than the other person, we're talking about a sporting event here, not the SATs. To some people the main point of a judo match is to look good, to throw with a nice, pretty uchi mata. To me, if I am representing my country in an athletic event, the goal is to win the event any way the rules allow.

As my friend, Steve Scott, often says to his athletes at major events,

"Guys, we didn't come all this way to look good losing."

For those of you who want an equation (all two of you), it would look like this:

y = a + b1X1 + b2X2

where Y = the log of the odds ratio of winning versus not winning
X1 = strength
X2 = technique

You're welcome.


Lex said...

It's very interesting listening to a commentator explain what's going on in a judo match to a lay audience. And the editing out of the armbars is really unfortunate. I'm glad we've gotten over that as a society to some degree.

Stephen said...

Ahh, come on, you would like it if this were the SATs as well. Imagine if you got to add the results of some sort of standardized test to your scores, especially if it was weighted towards applied math ;)