Monday, January 31, 2011

So, you want to write a book on martial arts...

When's Your Book Coming Out?

I get that question a lot lately and the best answer I have is that our target is to be finished by the end of the year. In case anyone is interested in writing a book, I can tell you the process we're going through.

We've been asked,
Can't you just turn your blog into a book?

Well, yes and no. There is the option to use one of the many services that will turn your blog posts directly into a book in print. That method is cheap, fast and most likely turns out crap, to be honest.

Between the two of us, Jim and I have written over 700 pages of material on training, coaching, teaching and competing in the last five years alone. Some of it was just rambling on whatever we thought at the moment. Some was directed at activities at a specific tournament or other event. And some of it just kind of sucked. We did have our moments of brilliance, though, or at least coherent thoughts, if I do say so myself. The challenge is to separate the excellent suggestions on matwork from notices on upcoming camps, the stories about Beijing the cat and how to do judo on your dog.

First, we had to go through those hundreds of pages and delete out anything that was just not very relevant and stuff that frankly, isn't any good. In the process, we started fitting these into topics and putting those topics into an outline for a book.

Second, there are parts that are good but incomplete. For example, Jim wrote on training cycles and talked about the importance of periodization, but he never explained either the concepts of training cycles or periodization, assuming anyone who read this blog would know or could post a comment and ask if they didn't. We're expecting a more general audience for the book than this blog, so we are even putting in parentheses the translations of the Japanese terms.

So far, I've gone through about 200 pages, of which I threw out 70 or so off the bat. Jim took the second pass through the remaining 130 and crossed out a whole lot more as not fitting with the theme of the book which is "Making martial arts champions from the ground up". We talk a lot about "making champions not taking them", developing ground work, developing someone who has a decent base as a human being as well as an athlete. Some of what he crossed out may go into another book but not this one. At this point, he also wrote some more explanations of, for example, what a superset is.

We were discussing whether we should do a third pass through the material and write it into chapters before going through the other 500 pages but decided instead to make one complete read through everything first. Hopefully, I can get another 100 pages for Jim to edit on the plane before he leaves for Europe next month, but since I only have ten right now, that may be overly ambitious.

I'm going to be visiting my mother in Florida next month and then heading up to Boston from there. Since Mom is not exactly into wild nights out on the town (she is in her 70s and has a degree in Library Science - that should tell you something) , I expect I will have plenty of time to finish my first weeding of all the material by the time I leave. So, come hell or high water, I am going to have made the first pass through everything by the first of March. Overall, that part alone has taken almost four months, but keep in mind I have a business to run that is unrelated to judo and it's been a busy time for that. If you could devote full-time, or even half-time, you could get this done much faster. On the other hand, we did start with over 700 pages ALREADY WRITTEN.

One thing I think we have done right is to NOT do the editing in a linear fashion - with me going through everything and then sending it off to Jim. Also, as I've had a chance to look at his edits on the first 50 pages I sent and then the second 50 pages, I think it has helped me to be more critical (in a good way) of the rest of the material. There's also the obvious fact of doing it this way speeding up the whole process, because he's not sitting there doing nothing waiting for me to finish, and when I send the last couple hundred pages off to him, I can just start right in on editing a less rough draft of however much we have remaining from the first 500 pages.

My point - if you want to write a book on martial arts, I certainly don't want to discourage you, but I do want to warn you that if you think it's going to be quick and easy to write a good book, you are headed for disappointment. We started out with a huge pile already written and between the two of us, we have a basketful of medals, awards and degrees, not to mention two kids with Olympic medals. AND STILL, it has been neither quick nor easy for us. Hopefully, though, the book WILL be good.

If I have to settle for one of the three out of quick, good and easy, I know which one I want.

(If you had a different thought, you have a dirty mind. Shame on you! )

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo on Set-ups

Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo: Episode 4,786,193 was produced in response to requests from some parents of young children that I do a G-rated explanation of set-ups such as a mount to armlock combination as BJJ people call it or tate shiho gatame to juji gatame as judo people refer to it.

As I said on youtube, don't write me & tell me how it is not properly formal. It's called SNEAKERDOODLE ZEBRA JUDO, for crying out loud. What did you expect?

It always amazes me when people write in after I post these videos and tell me things like :
"You wore a red and white belt with a blue gi. A panel belt is a ceremonial belt for teaching and a blue gi is for competition."

Okay. Thank you. random person on the Internet. for your fashion advice. Ronda cares very much for fashion advice, as you can tell because she is all happy about her new Mizuno fighter outfit thingie. You should send her a tweet at @rondadori on Twitter. She cares. She's all happy and excited about what she is wearing in the Black Belt magazine photo shoot.

I, on the other hand, would remind you of this. Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo was suggested by elementary school children who took judo from me back when I was teaching at Venice Dojo. Its purpose is to be somewhat amusing and informative for children and those who teach them. If you're all about being the judo fashion police, I think you have come to the wrong post. I think you were looking for the definition of DILLIGAF, which can be found here.. We try to be nothing but a full-service blog. You're welcome.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Set-ups, fakes, combinations and matwork

I didn't get around to uploading and editing the Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo episode on set-ups but fortunately, I remembered that the last time I was talking to Jim he brought up a few points that made me say
"Stop right there! That's so good, I'm going to put it in the book. Say it again so I can write it down."
Even more fortunately, I found the scrap of paper I had scribbled my notes on.

My first question was whether he thought combinations in matwork and combinations in throwing were the same thing. For example, when I do my combination from tate shiho gatame (somebody told me that's called a mount in ju jitsu) to a juji gatame armbar, is that the same as practicing, say, a combination of a forward throw like a shoulder throw to a backward throw, say ko uchi? His answer was yes, (except it sounds like this "Yay-es" because he's from Boston and they talk really funny). I agree, I think they are exactly the same principle. It's too bad that very few people practice standing combinations and almost no one practices matwork combinations and if you tell me you practice them all of the time you are either a liar or you suck because if you practice these so much how come I never see you doing them in competition?

My next question was whether there is a difference between, fakes, set-ups and combinations. He said,

They're all just different words for the same thing.
I was surprised by that answer. I told him that I knew coaches who did not teach combinations because they were concerned that their players would not really make a serious attempt at the first throw, and half-ass attacks are a lot more likely to get countered than real ones. I have said this so many times I am just going to have it recorded and play on a continuous loop in the dojo.

"A combination is NOT a half-ass attack followed by a real attack. It's a real attack followed by another real attack!"

To me, a set-up is, for example, me doing a foot sweep with my right foot against your right leg, and causing you to plant most of your weight on your right leg. Then, I follow that up with o soto gari (major outside reap) against your right leg. The foot sweep is hard, but my intent is not really to throw, just like when I pin someone with tate shiho my intent is not really to pin them. Jim told me I was doing it wrong then because I was letting go of the pin for the armbar and that's just stupid. That would be stupid, so let me clarify, just in case anyone else thinks I meant that.

"I don't let go of the pin for the armbar. If I am pinning somebody, that's just great. I switch to the juji gatame armbar if they are getting away. It just so happens that they are more likely to get away in tate shiho than some other pins BUT that is not a problem because when they are getting away it is so easy  to switch to the armbar."
So, I do agree with Jim there, it's stupid to give up a sure thing (a pin) to try for a potential armbar. Just because it's stupid doesn't mean I don't see people doing it all of the time.

Anyway ... here is the first point I thought was so useful that I wrote it down:
These are all the same thing, whether you call it setups, combinations or fakes. It's all one and the same concept - anticipation. In matwork, anticipate at any time, in any position, where you are going to go next. Anticipate where the person might go if you're losing the pin. Standing, it's the same thing, you anticipate where the other person might go if you don't get the throw. I believe so strongly in this that I have them do it every single time we have practice, six minutes of combinations, continuously, every day. Four rounds of ninety seconds. I make them do it every day, every practice."
 At first I debated on whether I should put that last part here, but then I did, for the same reason in my business when you ask me to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), I write you off as clueless.  I's not the idea that is valuable. It's the execution. The actually doing it. Now that I have told you this about combinations, a large percentage of you will forget it, another large percentage will not consider doing it because you concluded long ago that everything you are doing is exactly fine because you are so awesome and a somewhat smaller percentage will remember what I said, plan to do it and then drink another beer. All except Joe from Idaho, but he's snowed in and can't get to judo. Sucks for him.

By now, Jim was really on a roll, and he went on,
"The other two things to emphasize besides combinations are kuzushi and transition. Emphasize transition for Christ's sake. You go to all of that effort to knock somebody down and then instead of transitioning into matwork you let them back up and give them a chance to throw you and win the match. Is that stupid or what? If you knock somebody down JUMP ON THEM. So, I say this and what do they do? They jump on them! Literally! Can you believe that? So then I have to say, 'Don't just jump on them! Do something specific!' It's all the same thing all over again, anticipate what the person is going to do next and having a response to that. "

At this point, it was really getting interesting and I would have liked to have written down more but while I was on the phone, Ronda had come home and was all excited about her new Mizuno fighting outfit that she wanted to show off. She began by jumping up and down and when that failed to get my attention she sprawled across the kitchen table and feigned her own death. Still unsuccessful in getting me to hang up, she began to demonstrate her new and improved striking techniques on all of the kitchen cabinet doors, leaving them considerably worse for wear. So, I had to get off of the phone and remind her that even though I am very small, so are most of the things that can kill you, like viruses and E. Coli, a fact that would be demonstrated in a variety of ways if she did not quit destroying the kitchen. On the positive side, I guess when she becomes the Women's MMA grand poo-bah woo-hoo-shidan or whatever the hell they have, I can sell the cabinet doors on eBay, holes and all.

P.S. I just want to throw in here another point, one judo crusader, Dr. Rhadi Ferguson made the last time I talked to him about judo, which is that women are more flexible than men, and moves like that tate shiho (mount) to a straight armbar when they have your leg scissored are easier and more likely to be done by women. I was both impressed that he thought this way and amused that he thought it necessary to tell me. After four children, I have that difference between boys and girls thing pretty well figured out.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's a mount, it's a judo pin, it's an armbar - no, it's a set-up !

Or: More than you ever wanted to know about the upper four corner hold also lovingly known as tate shiho gatame

Life is unfair. I FINALLY get a few days off work to have time to do judo again, I get back in town last night and I find out that there is no practice this weekend at the West Coast Judo Training Center because everyone is at tournaments. Oh well, there's always next weekend.

Maybe I will just grab Ronda and go some place local and work with her this weekend. We can try to get some shots for the book.

Speaking of grabbing Ronda, she's always off practicing or working but the next time she sits still for a minute and I can find someone to hold the video camera we are going to do another Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo on set-ups. For now, these photos will have to do.

Jim Pedro, Sr. and I have a bit of a different view on tate shiho gatame (I think jiu jitsu people call that some sort of mount. If you know, write and tell me.)

Other than the you're-on-top-they're-on-the-bottom simulation of the missionary position (oh DON'T act like that never occurred to you!) there are a lot of ways you can vary this pin and still have it go by the same name.

Tate shiho can be a good pin if you are a heavy weight because you can have all of your huge weight squashing on the person. If you have little stumpy legs like me, you can get your feet up by the other person's hips so there is no way they can grape vine your legs. If you have long legs and bony ankles like Ronda, you can hook your opponent's legs and stretch them until she feels like she's a Thanksgiving turkey and you're about to make a wish. (I wish I was winning this match - see, it works!)

As far as your upper body goes, you can slide your left hand under the opponent's neck and use your right hand to feed the lapel of her gi under her armpit and into the hand under her neck. Once you have her gi, this allows you one hand to hold her and one hand free to do other things, say, to post if she tries to bridge out of the pin.

You can also push her arm across her face, slide your right arm under her neck, put your head against her arm to hold it there, clasp your hands together and squeeze. (This is the exact same, on the upper body, as kata gatame, which is a pin far too few people teach or learn any more if you ask me, which you should, both learn the pin and ask me.)People who are not very tough can be convinced to tap out on this pin because it hurts, especially if you are doing the aforementioned getting your little stumpy legs up by their hips and putting all of your weight on their face. This isn't a really effective choke, but it hurts, so some people will tap. Even really tough people will be distracted when you almost (or actually) dislocate their jaw, which brings their attention away from escaping the pin.

Despite all of these cool things about tate shiho, Jim doesn't like it. I told him that was because it looked too much like sex and he was a prude. He told me that I have a dirty mind and no. (I did not know it was even possible to say such a simple word as "No" with an eastern accent. It turns out that it is. It sounds like No-o. )

He said he doesn't like tate shiho because it is too easy to escape because the person can entangle your legs.

The missing element here is the failure to understand that my usual intention in doing tate shiho is not to pin the opponent for ippon, although if that turns out to be the case, it is nice and I won't object.

No, my real objective is to armbar the person with juji gatame, which my friend Steve Scott has renamed the "cross-body armlock" and even written an entire book about it. I guess cross body armlock is how you say juji gatame in Midwestern.

For those of you from the south, here's a picture. (Dennis and Bruce, that comment is just for you-all (-: )

If I'm on top of you and have both of my arms by your head, say one arm under your head, with my hands clasped together, and your arm shoved across your face then:
  1. I have your arm. Duh.
  2. I have TWO arms close to your one arm. Advantage to me.
  3. If I have my little stumpy legs pulled up, it isn't that much distance to sit up, throw my left leg across your neck and lean back.
  4. If you are trying to escape, because you feel like you are being choked and/ or your jaw is about to be dislocated, you often push against me with that arm across your face. This is awesome because normally when you have both arms on someone's arm, they think you are going to armbar them and they try to keep that arm they suspect (rightly) you are trying to break bent and hold on to it for dear life. They don't push against you with it.
I have a point. Three, actually.
  1. Sometimes having a body shape that resembles more the dwarf in fairy tales than the giant (or the bean stalk) is an advantage.
  2. People don't do enough set-ups, particularly in matwork. Juji gatame is a very effective technique, once you've got it, but it's the getting into that position on your back with their arm that's the tough part.
  3. It's bad to get stuck in a rut, whether it is always doing that same complicated roll over to get juji gatame when it's right there in front of you, or always thinking of tate shiho as just a pin or thinking of set-ups as something you only do in standing technique, or even working all of the time and never going on vacation.

P.S. For those who sometimes email me and say you would like to have your younger kids / students read my blog on some technique but you don't want to have to answer any uncomfortable questions like,

"Sensei, what's the missionary position? Did we learn that in class?"

I promise that, just for you,  in the next day or two I will do a G-rated Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo on set-ups.

Monday, January 10, 2011

George Harris

George Harris passed away last week. As most people know, he was a member of the 1964 Olympic judo team.

I've met plenty of world and Olympic competitors, in judo and other sports, but George stands out. Over the last few days, his name has come up every time I talked to anyone who knew him. Every single person agreed,

"I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone."

He was no pushover, as you can tell from the photo above (thank you to David Finch of for making it available). He was nice not out of weakness, but out of goodness of heart.

It is truly hard to make an Olympic team. It's even harder to be a genuinely good person for eight decades. He will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Making Your Own Luck

There is luck involved in winning and losing, but I think that it has less of an effect and in different ways than people generally believe. There is the sad case where a judo team was on a plane that crashed and they all died. Completely unavoidable bad luck, I believe, is about as common as a plane crash.

True, there is the bad luck of getting injured or catching the flu the day before the tournament but...

on the other hand, sometimes sickness and injury are a convenient excuse. You can fight through sickness and injury if you want to bad enough.

When Ronda was thirteen or so, she had the flu. We were already in the city where the Junior Olympics was to be held when she got sick. I am 100% certain that Ronda was not “faking it” and it was not psychological. I made her compete in the anyway. She came in second. She was very mad at me for a while. I told her then that maybe one day she would be at the Olympics and be sick and have to fight anyway, so go out and do what she could do.

When she was competing in Europe, she was really sick, lost in Sweden and came back and won gold in Finland. Afterwards, she emailed me and reminded me of that time I made her compete, said she had thought of that and knew she could fight, and win, sick or not.

Julia, who is twelve, had the soccer playoffs a few weeks ago. She was pretty sick but insisted on playing anyway. Her team won the morning game, and she was even worse after running two hours in the cold. She came home, lay in bed under blankets, drank nasty Theraflu medicine and gobs of water, then would not hear of anything but going back out on the field and playing in the second game in the afternoon. Of course, she got even sicker after that and spent the next two days in bed.

In general, I think if a kid (or an adult) is sick, they should stay home in bed. However, there are times when it is important to win, if nothing else to let yourself know that you can pour it out even when the luck isn’t running your way.

As a coach and a parent, you need to make decisions for athletes, too, when they are competing to learn to fight through adversity and when they are just being a damn fool. Age makes a difference. If they had been six or eight years old, I wouldn’t have allowed them to compete.

The possible downside makes a difference, too. Ronda had surgery to replace a ligament shortly before what was supposed to be her first senior nationals. The surgeon said she could not compete until September. She said,
“There is an international junior tournament in August.”

And he answered,
“Well, you won’t be competing in it. Your mom brought you to me because I can say honestly there is no one who can get an athlete back to 100% faster than me and I’m telling you that you won’t be competing until September.”

She finally got her wish to fight in the senior 63 kg division in September, was on the U.S. team six weeks later and ten months after that was in her first Olympics.

That little story reflects the real kind of pure luck that does affect the outcome and that most people never even consider. That is, being lucky enough to afford great health care, live in an area where there’s an excellent orthopedic surgeon.

Completely aside from injury, having a parent, or better yet, two, willing to drive you to practice several times a week, come up with the money and take the time off of work to travel to the tournaments, that’s pure luck. Living in a town where they have one judo club, much less 50, like around Los Angeles, that’s pure luck.  Walking in to start judo at a club that just happens to have a great coach, that’s luck.

Most of what is truly luck happens long before the tournament, we never even think about it or thank the people who made it possible.

So think about it now. I'd call my mom and thank her but it's about 4 a.m. in Florida and I don't think she'd really appreciate me waking her up.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Now Aren't You Glad Mom Made You Go to Judo?

For the last few days, some of the kids at Julia's school have been checking a certain website every hour. No, it isn't a porn site (shame on you!). It's the roster for the region's select soccer teams. She found out out she was selected when a boy in her class congratulated her today. This is her first year playing soccer, and most of the kids she plays with have been playing for four years or more.

Julia was very pleasantly surprised, but she commented,
A lot of the other girls have more tricks than me, I mean, they know more what to do with the ball, but I never feel like I can't keep up with them. The running during practice, the drills, it just isn't that hard. I don't know why people complain about it. (Her friend..) tells me that the select teams are harder, people push you more, you have to be aggressive, but I'm not worried about that.
Ronda said,

And you've done a lot of hard practices so you know you can make it through practice no matter what, no matter how hard it gets. And now aren't you glad Mom made you go to judo? Remember all of those times when she used to tell you that even if you didn't stick with it and you decided to do another sport later on, that it would be a good basis for whatever else you decide to do? She was right, wasn't she?

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Luck of the Draw is (usually) a Load of B.S.

Luck comes in a lot of forms. One that is greatly over-rated is the luck of the draw. Every time I hear people complain about a bad draw, I just want to slap them. Yes, there really is such as thing as the luck of the draw. Some people will just have a style that is harder for you to beat, and others will be easier. As Jim is always saying, “It’s all match-ups”.

Kind of, sort of, maybe. If you do everything else right - technical training, physical conditioning, competition, mental conditioning - then the vast majority of match-ups should favor you and luck should come into it only very rarely.

Let’s take me, for example. I was not particularly fast, but I was very physically strong and I had excellent matwork. I had a hell of a time with Diane Bell, from England, who had very good mat defense, the good sense to just defend until the referee called matte, and was very fast, for our division. She’d always hit drop seoi nage and then cover up. (There was no false attack rule back then so this was a perfectly legal and smart way to play.) I think I beat every single other person in my division at least once, and many of them more than once. In the early rounds in the world championships, Diane got choked out by Gerda Winkelbauer, the 1980 world champion, and that was it. So, having someone who has a style that is just difficult for me get beat in the first round is a lucky draw. And that is the only time in 14 years of competition that I think the draw may have mattered.

On the other hand, in 1984, to go on to the finals, I still had to beat the 1980 gold medalist, as well as another really strong player from Italy, and to win the finals I had to beat the 1982 silver medalist, Sue Williams. With competition like that, unless you've trained your heart out, every draw is going to be unlucky for you.

Eve Aronoff won a bronze medal in the world championships in 1982 (I was busy having a baby). For the next several tournaments, I had to beat Eve to go into the finals, and I did. It never occurred to me to complain about having a bad draw. If I wanted to win, I had to beat everyone, so what the hell difference did the order I beat them in make? I don't recall Eve whining about it either.

If you are one of those people like my world team mate and bronze medalist, Darlene Anaya, whose first match is always the worst, don’t whine about having someone tough the first round. Do what Darlene learned to do. Get a partner, go to the warm up area and have your “first match” before the tournament starts. Beat hell out of each other. Then go out and win.

Diane Pierce Tudela gave me great advice when I was a teenager. She said,
“I see these girls who come to a tournament, look to see what division I’m in and then move up or down so they don’t have to fight me. Don’t be like them. Pick a division and take it over. Make everybody run from you.”
If you are the toughest person in the division by far, you can’t get an unlucky draw because, you see, you ARE the unlucky draw.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What Determines the Winner and How a Coach Helps

The second thing that determines who wins a contest is physical ability. There is one thing all martial arts teachers like to say, whether judo, karate, jiu-jitsu or one of those phony martial arts somebody just made up and teaches in their basement like the art of banana-do.
Technique will beat strength.
This is generally true. However, it is also generally true that a strong person with technique will beat a weaker person with an equal amount of technique. That’s one of the reasons we have weight and age divisions.

 Judo requires strength and endurance. Of course some people just have a greater amount of natural physical ability than others (that goes with the luck part). At the international level, physical ability tends to play a part because much of the other factors are constant.  Everyone in the Olympics has seen a juji gatame arm lock before. Almost no one shows up at the Olympics out of shape. The few that do are a disgrace, in my opinion.

Below the international level, though, the edge in physical ability tends to go to whoever trained the hardest. That means both strength training and endurance training. Endurance training can, and should, include both judo practice and cross-training. You can improve your endurance by going ten minutes of HARD randori against really tough partners, taking a five minute break and going another ten minutes. Be smart. Replicate what happens in a tournament. Those thirty-minute rounds of randori with no break are not the intensity you need for competition. Running is also good for endurance, both distance and sprints. Jimmy isn’t a big fan of running long distances unless it’s required for losing weight. He’s probably right that two miles – more than the length of an average match, even with overtime – is enough. Personally, I like to run; I find it relaxing. I always had to cut hard to make weight, and, since I ran track in college, on my company team and in 5K and 10K races (more about that later), I ran at a pretty good pace. If you like running six or eight miles, it certainly will help you cut weight and if you run fast, it will help your endurance. What you want to avoid is running more miles but at a rate that doesn’t push you.

Strength training, like endurance, can and should be done both through judo and cross-training. Judo is obvious – go with a lot of tough people. Matwork generally requires more strength than standing technique. You can catch people standing with good timing, but matwork, to a greater extent, requires power. Don’t fool yourself, balance is also a factor in matwork, but that’s another discussion. Randori, throws, drills, in short, all of judo, will build some muscles.

Cross-training usually means weight-lifting, but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. We’re lucky to live by Santa Monica Beach where there are gymnastics rings, pull-up bars and ropes. As with your endurance training, think about the type of physical conditioning required for judo. Rope-climbing is excellent to develop both hand strength for gripping and the muscles required for pulling. Sit-ups, with weights, are good for developing muscles you’ll use in arm bars, escapes from pins and generally moving on the mat. When I was competing, I did a lot of sit-ups with a 15 – 20 pound weight – my little baby, Maria. The rocking motion amused her, and a 15-pound baby works as well as a 15-pound bar bell. Push-ups are another exercise that develop “judo muscles”. Think about all of the times you push someone in a match. For leg strength, yes, squats with heavy weights are good, but so are sprints, especially up hill. There is no excuse for not being in shape. Even if you can’t get to the gym or find anywhere with ropes or rings, there is no reason you can’t get do push-ups, sit-ups and run sprints.

My recommendation for anyone starting a New Year’s resolution is to keep a written record of your workouts. Don’t write down what you’re going to do. Write down what you DID, after the practice, and do it faithfully, right after you get home.  People seem to find it very easy to lie to themselves about how hard they worked out.  

A good coach can be invaluable. Even if you “forgot” to write down how many rounds you went during practice, the coach can keep track.  When you don’t want to go another round at practice, when you are coasting by going with an easier partner, when you don’t want to do that extra set of sprints or eight more repetitions with those weights, a coach is on your case. Your coach will cut right through all of those excuses, like that you can’t afford a gym, don’t have the time. I did all kinds of exercises with push-ups, like put my feet on one chair and one hand on each of two other chairs so that I could do “dip” push-ups.

While we generally think of judo instructors as helping with the technical part of training, a good coach will help you with the physical conditioning as well. That doesn’t always mean that he or she does it alone. My coach arranged for me to work with a strength coach. That’s another thing a good coach can do for you, bring in specialists.

My point is that a good coach can, and should be, an asset to you on all aspects involved in winning a match. (Now, aren't you just dying to know how that applies to luck?)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What Determines the Winner: Part 1

Note: So, I am co-authoring a book on developing champions in martial arts. After reading through the draft of the first 140 pages, Jim politely suggested that I should review and edit it more before I sent it to him. In fact, he was so uncharacteristically nice and polite about it I was wondering if he had been in therapy or what. He said not. Maybe he has found a woman and is getting laid regularly. In my experience with men, I have found that this improves their disposition.  Anyway.... following his suggestion, I am revising earlier blog posts before I send them on. My New Year's resolution is to work on this book every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Four things determine who wins any match, technical ability, physical ability, luck and how badly you want it. Out of those, I think luck is by far the least important and the ‘want-to’ is the most.

1. Technical ability
Technical ability is often a pretty close match between any two players in the same division. At the six-year-old level, most kids can do one throw half-way decent without falling over. In the ten-year-old division, they can keep their balance but seldom think of a combination and at the elite level everyone is aware of gripping strategies, arm locks, counters and combinations. A judo player isn’t going to go into uchimata (an inner thigh throw) and catch the current world champion because the throw is new to her. Our world champion isn’t going to be thinking,

“Gee, what is that throw where the leg goes between your legs? I have never seen that before. I must study that when I go back to Japan.”

Notice I didn't say no one could beat her, I am just saying the reason someone beats a world champion is very, very seldom because they know some techniques she’s never seen before. At beginning levels, a player might win from knowing a technique the opponent doesn’t know. At national and international competition, winning comes from knowing the technique better, and that comes from training for years on end. The "want-to" comes on long before the day of the actual fight.

Becoming technically proficient starts with putting in hours drilling techniques over and over. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends for most good competitors. They put in hours doing their favorite techniques taught by their instructor over and over. That’s it.

The next step is to learn from other people, and this step never stops. At first, you can learn from visiting other clubs or watching other competitors. Training DVDs and youtube are a great advantage to modern players. You can watch the best competitors in the world without leaving your living room. That is great if you are competing on the local and regional level.  If you are looking to compete  internationally eventually, you may find yourself traveling all around the world to training camps and international competition. Watching top players on video is no substitute for getting your hands on their gis.

At each step, you need to keep what suits you and discard what doesn’t. You have to create a technical style and repertoire that is uniquely your own, fit to you and therefore greater than the sum of all of the parts.  The mistake many players make is trying to emulate someone, to be Koga or Tanimoto or Inoue or Jimmy Pedro, Jr. or Ronda Rousey. As Dr. Seuss said,

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Two more points about your technical repertoire:

  1. Practice it every day. In the U.S., it is usual that serious players will have at most one or two teammates who are equally dedicated and the rest of the club will be there just for exercise and a good time. When you are the only competitive player at practice, take some time to go through your entire repertoire of matwork and standing techniques. A weakness of most players is that the number of moves they can do to win are limited. Don’t be most people.
  2.  Make sure that everything fits together. If you usually do a drop shoulder throw, have a matwork move from when you miss and the opponent is on your back. Have another matwork move for when it scores for less than a full point and the opponent is on her side in front of you. Have a throw that sets up to that drop seoi nage.