Wednesday, August 31, 2011

First, you collect the arm (NOT an armbar post)

I saw Gokor Chivichyan do this many years ago. He hadn't been in this country nearly as long as he has now, and his English was not perfect. Still, he had some good judo moves and someone had asked him to show a matwork move.

He started out with,
"First, you collect the arm .... "

I think he meant that you trap the arm, but I thought the expression was hilarious, and I've called it that ever since. I've used this turnover to a pin for years and taught it to hundreds of people. For those of you who didn't quite get it, here are a sequence of photos we took for THE BOOK a while back.

1. First you collect the arm. Notice how Ronda has his arm trapped here. She hooked ABOVE HIS ELBOW and she has a grip on the opposite lapel of his gi. She is going to keep this grip through the whole move and never let it go.

2. You sweep with the leg on the same side as the arm you have collected. You hook inside his other leg with your other leg and lift. You go directly to your side. The photo below is shown at a bit different angle so that you can see the lift with the leg, because a lot of people miss that.

Also, notice that her arm is coming up around his head. Personally, I'd swing my arm and try to clock him in the head with my bicep to get more momentum going over.

3. Notice that she STILL has that same arm and the grip on the opposite lapel. Once she has him on his back she gets her legs over to the side and sinks her hips low to have a lower center of gravity which makes her harder to lift and roll over. She spreads her legs to give herself a stronger base.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Even Better Armbars & the Necessity of Coaches

A month ago, I sent Jim Pedro, Sr. the final draft of one THE BOOK chapters on matwork. He called me up and said,

"The picture of that armbar is all wrong."
I said, "What are you talking about? That is exactly what he is supposed to be doing. First, he locks the arm tight against his body, which is exactly what he should do. Next, he rotates toward the head, forcing his opponent to resist at an angle, rather than being able to just do a curl to get his arm back.

Now, he's got both hands on his one arm. He has the arm flat against his chest. He has it perfect.
Jimmy objected,
"Yes, but look at his legs in both of those pictures!"

He was right. I (and Karo and Rob in the photos above) was focused on showing how you need to lock the arm against your body and you need to rotate toward the head and you need  to lift with your hips to finish. Once it is pointed out, if you look up above to the first photo, it is obvious that his legs are really wide apart and so he does not have his opponent nearly as tight as he could.

In the photo below, Roman shows a better armbar on Manny. Notice how much closer together his legs are. Remember all of those leg curls you did in the gym? (You didn't? What?! Well, you should have!) With Roman pulling Manny in with his legs like this he has that much extra strength to hold the armbar, strength that has gone to waste if you do the armbar like in the first two photos.
Here's another variation Roman does which I kind of like where he does a figure 4 on the arm. I never really did it that way when I was competing because my knees didn't really work. This armbar looks cooler and it looks like it would hold the person from getting away, but, personally, I like the one just above, I feel like I'm using my leg strength to pull my opponent in tighter for the armbar.

I thought this discussion brought up an interesting point. Rob, Karo and I are all black belts. We all know armbars fairly well. Yet, when we did those first two photos we were talking about and thinking about locking the arm against your upper body, breaking the arm away from the opponent's body and finishing the armbar. It isn't that Karo (or I) didn't know that your legs should be tighter together, we just weren't thinking about it at the moment.

When I explained to Roman and Manny that I needed to re-take the photos they knew exactly what I was talking about and we took those shots right away.

I got to thinking about the importance of a coach, of someone who is NOT thinking of exactly what you are thinking about at the moment and who can spot those mistakes that really are obvious once they are pointed out to you. The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that to be successful at an international level, you really need a coach. You cannot do it yourself. Certainly you can win local and regional tournaments coaching yourself, and plenty of people do. Possibly you can even win the nationals in the U.S. without a coach. As you get to an international level, though, the differences between the top players in conditioning, in natural physical ability, get smaller and smaller. At that point, I think having a good coach who can spot all of those little nuances can really make a difference for you.

My criteria for a good coach differs from a lot of other people in this country. That's a topic for another post but I will tell you this, the main defining factor for me in whether someone is a good coach for me is whether I'm getting better and whether I'm getting the results I want. I see people who train in the same place for years, telling me their goal is to make an Olympic team and they've never come any closer than making the top three or five in the U.S. If that is you then there are three possibilities,
  1. You don't have the necessary talent.
  2. You aren't working as hard as you could.
  3. This coaching situation is not working for you.
I suppose there are others - God hates you, you were cursed by a gypsy for breaking her favorite crystal ball, but personally, I'm going with those three.

As I said though, that's a post for another day.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

What's a good training partner?

A good training partner is the same as a good business partner. He or she needs to be able to draw the line between being a friend and getting the work done.

Too often, I see friends who train together and they don't want to go too hard. There is that unspoken agreement that,
"You won't make me feel uncomfortable. You won't ask me to do things I really don't want to do."

My 14th wedding anniversary is next week, so I think it's safe to say that my husband and I are pretty good friends. Dennis is a home-body type. I almost never ask him to go to meetings or conferences with me. He's an adult. If he doesn't want to hop on a plane every few weeks, it's not my place to tell him he should fly to San Francisco or Denver or North Dakota. You don't  try to change your friends. You take them as they are.

A friend with that attitude is great.

A training partner with that attitude sucks.

Ronda and Manny have known each other since Ronda was 13 years old and, as a condition of getting her first car, the oldest sister, Maria, would leave St. Monica's Catholic High School cheerleading practice and drive the little sister in said car to Hayastan for judo practice. Manny threw Ronda, pinned her, armbarred her. The reports I got from Maria were that Ronda cried - a lot. Neither Maria nor I were particularly worried about this because Ronda cries easily. I'm pretty sure she cried during Finding Nemo (you think I'm kidding, but I'm not).

I remember Karo Parisyan telling me that it drove him crazy to work out with Ronda because she cried. Manny shrugged and said,
"It doesn't bother me. I just throw her harder. Go ahead and cry."

That makes him sound terrible but I think Manny is one of the best friends Ronda has ever had. I'll always remember the time many years ago, when she had knee surgery and was in a lot of pain and depressed about not being able to compete. Manny came over to cheer her up, brought the usual flowers you bring to sick people and on the way stopped at Zankou Chicken where I used to grab dinner for her when she practiced at Hayastan. She would actually eat between rounds of randori.

She couldn't help laughing,
"Dude, you brought me flowers and hummus?!"
Who knows, maybe it's an Armenian tradition. When she came back, he threw her harder than ever. Of course, Ronda eventually grew and managed to slam Manny her share of times. She didn't quite manage to choke him unconscious the other day when I dropped by practice, but it wasn't for lack of trying, I can tell you that.

My point, and you may have despaired by now of me having one, is that the best training partners are the ones that DO make you uncomfortable, that DO challenge you, that DO hurt you and yes, who do sometimes make you cry. They also make you better. It doesn't mean that they don't like you. More likely, it means that they do.

Monday, August 22, 2011

All Your Arms Are Belong To Us

Victor Ortiz armbars Sam Garcia in one of several transition to armbar drills we did last Saturday. This is a variation of the armbar Ronda did on Sarah D'Alelio. Of course the day was full of people jumping up and yelling,
"What? I didn't tap, I just yelled ow-ow-ow!"  

but it was all in good fun.
Daniel Valdez from Barstow practicing transition, a little earlier in the sequence in the same arm bar Victor is finishing above. I cannot recognize the other person just from the top of his head. Sorry.

It did get a little bit crowded at times when we were all doing matwork at once. I think Nathan is resting there, right after he kicked me in the face while I was doing matwork at the other end of the mat with Crystal. How does he even manage that? It's a gift. So, I had to give a talk on statistics for two classes of middle school students today and I looked liked I'd been in a fight in a bar the night before. Of course, they were very well-behaved.

Toward the end, because we had some younger children in attendance, we thought they might like to work on some throws. Ronda demonstrated a head fake to a switch (tani otoshi). Some of the younger kids wanted to know why she started doing the switch, which led to a story about how, when she was a kid, she threw everyone with uchimata and we were trying to get her to do a different throw. Since Steven Schwarz from Valley Judo Institute was there and we hadn't seen him for a long time, of course that led to she had to throw him with it for old time's sake. I'm sure he just didn't want to admit how much he missed her throwing him at those Nanka workouts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ronda and AnnMaria Do Armbars (& You Thought We Just Made this S--- Up)

Contrary to appearances that we just make this s*** up as we go along, Ronda and I were actually planning out what we were going to do at the clinic tomorrow. We will definitely do more matwork than just armbars, and a little bit of standing technique as well because we are both big believers in matwork combinations and transition. It's not as if you bow in and then magically float into an armbar. You have to get into it some how.

Look, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's judo, it's mma  -- it's an armbar !
(Okay, if you never watched Superman, you totally missed that reference. Forget it.)

The beginning of the clinic is going to be several judo moves to an armbar and demonstrating how each of those transfer to mixed martial arts.

1.  I'm going to do a turnover where you over-hook the opponent's arm, use your legs to lift, roll on top into tate shiho gatame . (A pin that looks similar to a jiu-jitsu mount.) When the opponent tries to escape by pushing his/ her arm against my head, I switch into an armbar (juji gatame).

2. Ronda is going to demonstrate the almost identical move. When she throws someone and comes on top in the mount, unlike judo, she actually is allowed to punch them in the face. As the opponent puts her hands up to avoid being punched, Ronda catches the arm and switches into an armbar (the same juji gatame).

3. I do an armbar where I start standing, push against the opponent's leg above the knee and go into a position like tomoe nage (a sacrifice throw in judo). As his leg is pushed back, he ends up going forward with his arm straight. (Imagine yourself pushing against a door and the door suddenly opens. You find yourself falling forward. Now, if I had your arm, as you fell you would be in the position shown below. And let me just say here, Ronda stole my armbar.)

4. Ronda is going to show a very similar move that she does in mixed martial arts where she throws the person with uchi mata (an inner thigh throw) and when her opponent stumbles forward she switches to sumi gaeshi (another sacrifice throw) and switches from that to the armbar. If you saw her last fight in Las Vegas or on Showtime, you saw this move.

Well, you get the idea ... it will be fun.
The clinic is from 2-6 pm on Saturday, August 20 (Yes, that's tomorrow)
 West Coast Judo Training Center
537 Vine
West Covina, CA
$10  USJA / USJF / USA Judo members
$20 everyone else

If you are from out of town , please note that this is nowhere near the Vine St made famous by Hollywood and Vine. That's in Hollywood. We're a long way from there.

Take the 10 freeway. Go south on Vincent. Yes, I think the road changes names but just ignore that, it's being difficult. Just keep going south until you hit Vine. The training center is in the strip mall on your left. Hongkong Plaza is on your right. Don't go right unless you prefer Chinese food to armbars.

Why is it only $10 / $20  ?  I have received advice that Ronda is "cheapening her brand" by doing clinics for such a low price, not to mention teaching free from time to time at Gompers Middle School. Ronda disagreed. The people who come to the training center are her friends, people she's known since she was 13 or 14 years old, who took tons of falls for her when she was training for her first U.S. Open, first Rendezvous, who gave her money to help pay her expenses when she was traveling the world before her first Olympics. So, even though Ronda normally charges A LOT more these days, she's "taking one for the team".

I think that's nice.

And me, I just like to do armbars.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Armbars and One Answer to Dr. Rhadi Ferguson

First of all, since things get twisted around on the Internet, let me start by stating up front that I personally like and respect Dr. Ferguson, and I know my daughter, Ronda, does, too. Rhadi was a 2004 Olympic team member for judo, has since earned a Ph.D., started a business, is a devoted father and is married to a successful woman, Dr. Traci Ferguson. What's not to like? 

That said, sometimes Rhadi and I respectfully discuss and disagree with one another.

Now, for my points. Rhadi has asked me a couple of things and since I have been so busy with work I haven't had a chance to blog, I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone. (And no, contrary to rumor, it is not true that I only needed one stone because I armbarred one of them to death. For one thing, birds don't have arms. They have wings. You should get your facts straight before you start spreading rumors.)

What do I think of Ronda not breaking Sarah D'Alelio's arm? My answer may surprise some people. I'm okay with roughness. When necessary, I'm okay with violence. I think you don't need unnecessary roughness and gratuitous violence.

Yes, I armbarred a lot of people when I was competing. There is even a picture of some major tournament where I am standing on the podium in first place and both the women on the second and third place steps have their arms in a sling. There are a lot of pictures of me standing on a podium where at least one of the other medalists has an arm in a sling. Jerry Hays, the USJF historian, could probably make a collage of them. One true confession I never let out when I was competing is that I never deliberately hurt anybody I knew I could beat any way I wanted. So, if you're from the German team and we're fighting for a medal, if I need to do a backbend on your arm to get it, I will and I won't feel the least remorse about it. I'm sure you'd do the same to me. On the other hand, if you're a sixteen-year-old brown belt and I have you in an armbar, what do I prove by breaking your arm? I'm going to wait for you to tap and wait for the referee to call it. Yes, anything can happen in a match, but seriously, if I can't beat some kid two times out of three, I deserve to lose.

I am not comparing Ronda's opponent with a brown belt. I don't know anything about her except that the odds in Las Vegas were 6 to 1 against her  and 3 to 1 against her even making it past the first round (I am a statistician, after all). I am saying that if Ronda felt she didn't have to hurt the woman to win, then there as no point to her doing so.

What would I have done? I was in almost the exact same position as Ronda more than once, where I armbarred a young woman, the referee called it and then the woman said she didn't tap. In one case, I offered to get back down in the armbar position and the referees put us back into the position we were in when they had called the match, and I popped out her elbow. I disagree with people who say my opponent that day was just being competitive and wanted to fight to the last second. If you are caught, you're caught. The referees were doing her a favor. The other time I remember was in the finals of the World Team Trials. I armbarred Eve Aranoff and the referee called the match. They said she screamed. She said later that she hadn't screamed or tapped, that it was me that kiai'ed as I went for her arm. I told her it was because I was so happy to have it. Yes, I would have broken Eve's arm given half a chance and the referees no doubt knew it and so did she.

So, what did I tell Ronda? I told her that I was surprised she didn't offer to get back in the same position and start again. Or to go again, right now. In fact, I think she DID offer. As someone on twitter said (sorry I didn't catch your name), if someone can throw you and get you in an armbar in the first 25 seconds, they can probably do it again some time within the next 15 minutes. My suspicion (and since I have three kids under 15 with me here in Las Vegas, I have only seen Ronda at dinner after the fight  and at breakfast late this morning - no clubbing for young children on my watch) is that Ronda felt confident she could beat Sarah without hurting her, and so she tried to do that.

You learn as a parent that you and your child are two different people. As anyone who knew me in the day can attest, I was an angry little person and would hurt you if you got in my way.

Ronda is a happy person and she will hurt you if you get in her way (you should have seen the look she gave the guy who checked out her little sister and her friends in Caesar's Palace - I thought we were going to get co-ed MMA right there in the Forum Shops). She didn't have anything against Sarah and didn't feel in a position where she had to hurt her. People who don't compete don't understand (and I know Rhadi knows this) that most competitors are going to empathize with their competition more than anyone else. These are the people that train like you, want the same thing as you.  I was a lot less Miss Congeniality as a competitor, but that's the kind of empathetic person Ronda is.

But yes, we are going to have a little chat when Ronda gets home. I am dead certain if she is in a position where she has to take that arm off, she will. (As Jim Pedro, Sr. told her when she called him this morning, "You're Gaw-dam right you will!)

As for the people saying it was a mistake because it causes controversy about women's mixed martial arts, I rather doubt it. People watch  TV because of drama. Somebody getting knocked down and armbarred in 25 seconds isn't very dramatic. Now people will tune in to the next match to see if the referee will stop it and if Ronda will dislocate the next woman's arm. So, I think by protesting about it Sarah did Ronda a favor. Her next opponent, not so much.

I do have some motherly advice for that next opponent, whoever she might be.


Trust me on this one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Blessing of Losing


You really have no idea how much I hate losing. I have NEVER, and I do mean this most literally, never, met anyone who hated losing more than I did as a competitor. I would cry all the way home on the plane, lock myself in the bathroom and cry, break things, you name it.

Before the finals at the world championships, a coach, trying to make me less nervous, I think, said,
"Look at it this way. Even if you lose, you'll have tied with the best any American has ever done."

I turned to him and said,
"No, if I lose, I'll have fucking lost!"

He laughed and agreed,
"Well, yeah, I guess that's another way to look at it."

If someone had come up to me at 19 or 26 and said that losing could be a blessing, I probably would not have punched them in the face. On the other hand, depending on their timing and who it was, maybe I would have.

And yet .... in hindsight, which is far more often 20/20, I realized that losing was a blessing.

When I fought in the finals of the U.S. Open at 17 against Diane Pierce, one of the best women competitors ever, she armbarred me in nothing flat and I was PISSED. It's a really good thing I didn't get lucky that day and win on some fluke. Diane was a lot better than me and it showed me how much more judo there was I needed to know. When I asked her for advice then, and later, she was extremely generous with her time. She taught me that armbar. It won me a ton of matches. She also gave me great advice on competing, like
"Never change divisions because there is someone tough in it. Get better and make people run out of the division to get away from YOU."

By the third time I won the U.S. Open, I came back to work, told my co-workers I'd won a gold medal over the weekend and everyone was like, "Yeah, yeah, you did that before."

When you win all of the time it's sort of a no-win situation. If you win again no one is impressed and if you lose everyone is shocked.

Most people put more pressure on themselves the longer a winning streak goes on, and this is especially true if they are young. Mathematically, the guy who has a 17-0 record and loses should be far less upset than the guy who had a 7- 10 record. I mean, the first guy won 17 out of 18 fights. It's not that way at all, though. For many, many people, the stress to stay on top builds with every win. I remember feeling as if it would just be the end of the world if I lost. I'd go a year or two at a time without losing a match, and then I'd get third in Paris or London or something and I would be PISSED. But, guess what, the sun still rose in the morning and I wasn't dead.

Yeah, some people I thought were my friends would disappear. There were always the people who thought this loss showed I was over the hill. As my coach, Jimmy (Man Mountain) Martin, used to say, "You're only as good as your last match."

Overall, though, losing was not the end of life on planet earth as we know it, and after crying for a few days or a week, I'd be back at practice, training harder than ever, with all of that pressure from feeling as if I could NOT lose gone because, I had lost and so there, it was over with.

The most important thing I learned from losing is that the things we fear are never as bad in reality as in our imagination and that no matter how bad they are, we can still overcome them.

After competing for years, when things were not going right, I still had the confidence and strength to keep on training and believing in myself that I could pull through this slump, because I had done it before.

The blessing of losing is realizing that you have the strength to come back from a loss and win again.

But I still HATE losing.