Monday, May 28, 2012

Do Sports Build Character?

I spent most of Memorial Day weekend watching my youngest daughter play in a soccer tournament and I got to thinking about how much of my life has been spent at sporting events of one kind or another, from the Star of the North track meet to the Olympics, from swimming to judo to soccer.

Regardless of the sport (or martial art), people who are heavily involved with it swear that it "builds character". You learn discipline, they say, teamwork, to overcome obstacles, face down your fears. I used to believe all of that, but now I am no longer so sure.

Interestingly, I hear people make the exact same claims about all sorts of other endeavors in life. Military service is said to build character, teach discipline, foster teamwork, teach recruits to face down their fears and develop the self-esteem that comes from achieving a difficult task.

If you ask people why they have their child spending twelve hours a week practicing violin, they will tell you it builds character, teaches discipline .... well, I'm sure you see the pattern by now.

I certainly gained a great deal from competing in judo, and in track, too. Yes, I really DID learn discipline, gain self-esteem, not so much teamwork, with judo being an individual sport, but I did develop some camaraderie. I learned to face down my fears.

When I look around me, though, whether it is sports or military personnel or people with Ph.D.'s, I see the same thing ...

Some really, really good people
Some unmitigated bastards
And a whole lot of people in between

Someone on twitter said this quote came from John Wooden,

"Sports don't build character so much as reveal it."

I do not know if that is true or not. I do know that there are certain constants in sports. For example, achieving success at an international level means that many, many people have to sacrifice for that athlete - their parents, siblings, teammates, supporters. As a result, some people become grateful for the great advantages and support they have been given and try to give back to their sport or give back to the world in other ways. Other people become self-centered and see nothing wrong with using the people around them. They often get away with it, too, at least as long as they keep winning.

I really don't know why one person turns out one way and another person turns out the opposite, any more than I know why one person jumps on a grenade to save his buddies in a foxhole while another turns and runs the other way.

I do believe this quote, though,

"Your talent comes from God. What you decide to do with it, that comes from you."

I know who said that one, my grandmother, Emilia Maria. Was she an athlete? Here's another quote from her,

"You're running but you're not running TO anywhere? You're just running around in a circle? That has got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard!"

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The SECOND-best book on judo matwork you'll read this year

It is a false rumor spread by my enemies that you need to think like me to be my friend. However, it couldn't hurt because as we all know, I am often right about things.

Just after I wrote this post on how the future of judo matwork may not be in judo, my friend, Steve Scott sent me (and several hundred other people!) this email about his new book that is in press. Notice what he says in the announcement - with emphasis added by me.

  Turtle Press has published my new book JUJI GATAME ENCYCLOPEDIA and will have it available in a few weeks on their web site at
However, it is now availabe for pre-sale at Amazon.
   This is a large book, 8 1/2 " by 11" in size with 423 pages and over 1,600 photos...all about one thing; Juji Gatame.
      No book yet published, to my knowledge, has been devoted exclusively to Juji Gatame and is this large in content. There are approximately 175 different variations of Juji Gatame included in this book. There are more than 1,600 photos clearly showing the applications and skills of this armlock in both "gi" and "no gi" situations. This book is ideal for anyone in every combat sport or martial art.     
     The book covers a large amount of information and includes an in-depth look at the core skills of this great armlock, as well as combinations using Juji Gatame,transitions from standing to the mat, how to lever or pry an opponent's arm loose to apply the armlock, defenses and escapes, doing Juji Gatame from a variety of positions including belly-down, standing and other situations, plus a lot more. This book systematically analyzes Juji Gatame from a wide variety of functional perspectives and is the first book yet published to devote 423 pages to the singular subject of this one, but important, armlock; Juji Gatame.

Notice the wording in this release - and believe me, after writing a dozen books and a regular newsletter on judo for 40 years, Steve chooses his words carefully and well. The points Steve makes - how to pry an opponent's arm loose from a variety of positions, defenses and escapes - none of his is judo -specific.

He is correct. and this was exactly the point in my last post. Buy Steve's book. I'm sure it will be almost as good as Winning on the Ground (I heard that's the title he really wanted but it was already taken by someone who told him to suck it.)

P. S. Speaking of judo being used outside of judo,  Congratulations to Rick Hawn for winning the Bellator Lightweight Tournament last night. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Future of Judo Matwork May not be Judo

Sometimes, when I think of the future of judo in the U.S., I feel a bit like the t-shirt my husband was wearing the other day.

My "day job" is as president of a consulting company, a large part of our business being statistics. I get paid to tell people what the data show, not what they, or even I, would like it to show. A while back, I did  a post showing the downward trend in judo in the United States. It looked like this:

The above is a plot of the number of male competitors in the Olympic weight divisions. The plot for females from 2002 to 2011 is even more sharply negative. 

My youngest daughter did judo from age four until she was 11 years old. Then she switched to soccer. We were talking about this tonight and she said she never felt about judo the way she does about soccer. In soccer, she is never looking at the time to see if practice is over yet. She loves practice.

I felt that way about training in judo. I still do.  When we were at the Black Belt studio doing the photo shoot for our book, Winning on the Ground, Alex (he's the guy in the picture in that link with the cool hat - OBVIOUSLY the art director), said I was like a 14-year-old kid every time something came up about how to do an arm bar, or a choke or a turnover, I would get all excited and jump on the mat and demonstrate.

Sadly, judo isn't nearly as fun for as many people now as when I was younger. That is a fact.  When you attend national championships in the U.S., there are only a handful of clubs with competitors who place.  In fact, we only qualified five people to compete in 14 Olympic weight divisions. We can debate all night the reasons why this is true, but there is no question that it IS true - judo in the United States is dying out.

People tell me that is not the case around the world, but, you know, I've been around the world both as a competitor and a spectator. The only country where I have been that judo is huge and regularly in the newspapers is in Japan.  I've been to three Olympics and I have yet to see a sold-out stadium. You'd think if judo was so immensely popular world wide every seat in the Olympic stadium would be filled. 
As I said, my day job is looking at data in an objective manner, and outside of people who are involved in judo, I have never met a single person who takes seriously the claim that judo is the second-most practiced sport in the world. Maybe Teddy Riner makes a ton of money. So does Apollo Johnston Ono and no one claims speed skating is hugely popular.

Regardless, I live in America and no one with a straight face has ever claimed that judo is popular in the United States.

This would make me sad except for the fact that I am seeing judo -particularly judo mat work - everywhere. We just don't call it that. When I watch mixed martial arts, I see juji gatame and ude garami - they call them an arm bar and a kimura. I see a juji gatame in grappling and some people call it a cross body arm lock - in fact, Steve Scott wrote a whole book by that name - "Secrets of the Cross-Body Arm Lock" - and he has been doing judo longer than me. (Yes, and he's still alive. Amazing but true.)

That is why we called the book "Winning on the Ground" instead of "Judo Matwork" because it' s not just for judo. 

You can call it mixed martial arts, or judo, or mat work.

We call it winning.

(I really wanted to call the book Winning on the Mat but that name was already taken for another book, written by Steve Scott, who said, with all his usual grace and charm , "Yeah, I thought of it first, so suck it.")

Monday, May 14, 2012

Is the Olympics Equal to Two MMA Matches? I still say yes.

If you were paying attention to this blog, you would know that yesterday I posted about Ivo Dos Santos, an Australian judo player who was told he could not try out for The Ultimate Fighter show because he only had one mixed martial arts professional match.

I asked him to send me a couple of photos of his matches. Now, unless you are dumber than a box of rocks, you're not going to send a picture of yourself losing, and, as my lovely daughter has pointed out in a completely different context, anyone could look good if they're fighting a can.

However, I do notice in the photo above it seems to be at a world cup and he appears to have won in under a minute and a half, so that's not too shabby.

One of the comments yesterday mentioned that Dos Santos hadn't competed in mixed martial arts since 2010 and it looked as if he had committed to making the Olympic team and that taking a pass on this TV show should just be chalked up as another sacrifice to making the Olympics.

I don't exactly see it like that. Yes, it looks like he did focus on making the Olympic team and then after he had done that and saw an opportunity to be on this show after the Olympics tried to do that as well. That's actually a pretty smart idea.

Often, after the Olympics there is a "then what?" experience for people. Having something to go to afterwards is  very healthy.

I mean, seriously, he's not asking to get a free pass to get on the show, just to get a chance to try out.

I GUARANTEE you that there are a lot more guys with a 2-1 record in MMA than guys who qualified for the Olympics this year.

Do you know how many men from the United States made it into the 2012 Olympics in judo through direct qualification? Two.

Honestly, he's tough enough to go to the Olympics in judo but not tough enough to try out for a TV show? Really?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Qualifying for the Olympics Ought to Equal Two Fights in MMA

I recently saw on twitter that Ivo Dos Santos was told he couldn't audition for the ultimate fighter, Australia against the UK because he only had one professional fight. Those are the rules, right? You are supposed to have three professional fights and with a winning record, it says right on the press release.

Except ... that Dos Santos happens to have qualified for the Olympics in judo, and he did it the hard way. There are two ways to qualify for the Olympics which you would know, if you read my blog post "My Dream is to Become a Zebra" . Well, actually, there are three ways but one is to be the person representing the host country, which only works if you're British. The hardest way is to be in the top 22 men in the world. The easier way is to be selected under a quota of so many per continental union.

So ... when I heard that Dos Santos wasn't even being allowed to try out for the ultimate fighter show, I thought I would look him up, and since my wonderful friend Jerry Hays keeps me updated on the latest judo news, I was able to see that Dos Santos is a pretty respectable #14 on the roster for having directly qualified for the Olympics. In short, he made it in with a fairly comfortable margin.

If you look at his site, it says he won medals in two world cups, made the finals at two European events and won the Australian national championships twice. Yes, I do know that Australia is not exactly the hot spot for judo in the world. I also know that his coaches , Daniel Kelly and Maria Pekli are pretty good judo players and she won an Olympic medal, so he comes from good stock.

He's about Ronda's age and I was going to ask her if she knew him or if she couldn't stand him for any reason (I don't know him from Adam - he could be the biggest man whore douche bag  in judo for all I know, or he could be the younger, male, Australian version of Mother Teresa). On second thought, though, it doesn't matter.

Fair is fair.  I do agree with what Rick Hawn said a while back, that many judo players don't make it in mixed martial arts because the average judo player, even who makes the national team, just doesn't train that hard and they aren't that tough, as a general rule.

However ... I would say if you qualified for the Olympics and cracked the top 20 in the world consistently, you aren't the average judo player, and for the love of God that ought to be enough to qualify you to try out for one day for a TV show.

This whole incident reminded me of when Ronda came back from her second Olympics and wanted to enter a local grappling tournament that offered a cash prize. The conversation went like this:


You have no experience. You can't just enter the open division. Let us talk to your coach.


Let me get my mom.


Your MOM? This is your coach? Your MOM?


I think you all are underestimating my daughter. Give me whatever waiver you need me to sign. Here, I'll sign it twice if you want me to.

The rest of the story .... She won but did not get the money because they said she did not have enough competitors in her division. And here is how that happened ... after she slammed and arm barred the first three, the next two people said, and I may be paraphrasing here,

Fuck that!

And pulled out of the division.

So, here is my point. Qualifying for the Olympics as one of the top 22 men in the world ought to count for two professional fights. Dos Santos already has one pro fight he won by submission in two minutes. (I'm not stalking him. I have the Internet.  I looked it up.)

Frankly, I'm rather intrigued by the fact that he's willing to show up and fight six weeks before the Olympics when most players are terrified of getting injured. If he has that much confidence in himself, then, if I was pulling in people, I'd want to take a look at him. Either he'll back it up or he'll get his ass kicked. Either way, it would be interesting to watch.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Arm Lock to Pin Combination: A Basic Matwork Drill

A True Story
 My last two years of competition, I dislocated a few people’s arms. This isn’t because I got meaner or even all that much better. As you go higher up in level of competition, people are less willing to give up, especially when an international medal is on the line.  

About the same time, I started to notice something really odd. The more I got a reputation for being “an arm breaker” the more people I pinned. It made sense when I thought about it. My opponents were focusing so much on not being arm barred, they forgot to defend against being pinned. 

On the flip side of that, we have seen competitors who were so focused on executing an arm bar that they completely missed opportunities for a pin that were right in front of them.  A major problem these competitors have is that they don’t have that “feel for the mat” we’re always talking about simply because they don’t do enough matwork. They haven’t been in those positions often enough to develop the “spidey sense” of knowing when to react. This drill is one (of many) ways in our book of developing that sense.

The purpose of this drill for the player on top is to practice a combination from pin to arm lock and back again. For the player on the bottom, it is an opportunity to practice escapes.

 Begin the drill with one player on her back, arms locked together, as shown. The player on top has her arm through the opponent’s arm, hooked at the elbow.

Now, it would be really great (for the player on top) if she could lock the arm against her body, rotate toward the opponent’s head to rip the arm out, pinch her knees tight, rotated back and apply the straight arm lock as shown. That would be great and if she gets it, fine.

However, if she is here and the opponent is just too strong and she can’t get that arm out, her second option is to sit up and put her right leg behind her, as shown below.

If you can’t get the arm bar, go for the pin. In the pin above, Isabelle (the person on top) has fed the bottom of her opponent’s judo gi jacket into her right hand. With her left hand, she has a grip on her opponent’s jacket.

Another possibility, which is not as tight of a pin, is to have the same pin as above but then adjust to have your right hand hooked back into your opponent’s arm

In this case, it isn’t as strong of a pin but if your opponent turns toward you trying to escape the pin, it is easier to break the arm free and lean back for the arm bar.

The point of this drill is not for the player on top to do a specific pin or to get the arm bar. The point is to win. For the player on the bottom, the goal is to escape. This drill offers the opportunity for the player on the bottom to practice escapes from arm bars as well as escapes from pins.

*Thank you to Isabelle and Caitlin from Southwest Judo Club for stopping by the West Coast Judo Training Center on Saturday and being such helpful models for this drill.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Apparently, it doesn't bother you to lose

About a year after I won the world championships, I was out drinking margaritas with Bruce Toups, who, at the time, was the Director of Development for judo in the U.S. If you have never met Bruce, you've missed out on one of the more brilliant analytical minds when it comes to dissecting what it takes to win a judo match. 

He said,

I've watched a lot of judo players over the years, a lot of people I thought had talent. I was trying to figure out why you were the one that won the gold medal. So, I watched every one of your matches that I could find on tape. Here is what I noticed. I saw matches where you lost - I didn't see very many of them - but YOU NEVER LOST THE SAME WAY TWICE.

I remember this (although being nearly 30 years ago, I cannot swear this was verbatim what he said) because it struck me at the time such an odd thing to consider worthy of comment. Of course I never lost the same way twice! I HATE LOSING !!!  Any time I would lose, I'd go back to the dojo and work and work and work on whatever it was so that never happened to me again.

If someone choked me, I would find whoever in the area did that same choke and work out with that person every single round that I could until I could stop it 100% of the time. I'd teach that choke to everyone in my club so that they could try it on me. If I was working with someone who was less experienced or smaller, I'd let him get me in that choke, so I could fight my way out of it. 

At the time, I had just finished competing and had not yet started coaching, so I still had that tunnel vision where I assumed everyone was just like me.

Over the years, I have found that no, not everyone hates losing so much that it eats at them. No, not everyone goes back and works on whatever they lost by. In fact, lots of people go home, say they were unlucky, the referee made a mistake, the other guy got to train in Europe and they didn't or whatever the reason - and then they lose the exact same way next year.

I was working on our book, Winning on the Ground, and Jim had included a move I have seen his son do 100 times, Ronda do 100 times, Aaron Kunihiro do 100 times and so on. My initial reaction was, "Oh God, do we really want to include that? I have seen it SO many times!" But I thought about it for a second and realized that yes, we really do want to include it, for two reasons. First, it is a signature Pedro move and as my friend, Steve Scott says, if he picks up a book by someone famous for a certain thing - whether it is a golf swing in a golf book or an arm bar in a matwork book - he expects to see that thing in there. It's one of the reasons he buys their book. The second reason, though, is that after all of those hundreds of people who have lost to this arm bar, it still works. In part that is because there are always new people coming up. It may be an old move but it's new and amazing to them. 

The other part, though, is that lots and lots of people lose the same way twice. I guess it just doesn't bother them that much. 

This still puzzles me. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wanted: One Crazy Judo Person

When I was younger, I knew a lot of crazy judo people, and I was one of them. This is long before I was on any national teams, when I was WAY younger.

In the summer time, my brother and I would go out in the garage where there was an old mattress on the ground and try different judo moves we saw in Hal Sharp's book, Boy's Judo. (Yes, that was the name of it.) Later, we got Kobayashi and Sharp's book, The Sport of Judo, and even checked a copy of Kodokan Illustrated out of the library.

I had several crazy friends when I was a kid who would try different moves with me, either on that mattress in the garage, in the grass or in the living room (if our mothers weren't home). It was just fun to see if we could get things to work.

Steve Scott calls people who train on mats in someone's garage "garage grapplers". We weren't even that fancy, because we didn't have mats and we didn't even always have a garage. We also didn't have coaches, senseis or adult supervision at all. We sure didn't have safety areas or insurance or national membership cards or referees. We didn't have parents yelling at us or giving us advice.

Yeah, I'm sure we did most of the techniques wrong - if by wrong you mean like Jigoro Kano would have wanted them done. But, for twelve-year-old kids we did them well enough to satisfy us and we had fun.

Sometimes we would "have a match", which ended when one person gave up, when we both got tired, or when we just decided to stop and go do something else.

Now, I have a confession to make - up until I was 19 years old, I did the exact same thing. Often, there was no coach around. My original judo coach married and moved away. I did work out at a couple of clubs but there were plenty of times when I would find somewhere with a mat - a karate club or mats from the aerobics class at the Y, and talk a friend into running over some moves I had seen in some book.

Maybe it made me a better judo player, maybe it didn't, but it was fun.

I was looking through the final draft of Winning on the Ground and I saw a really basic move Jim had included that I didn't remember trying before. I thought it would be fun to do in my class tomorrow but I wanted to try it out first. It is REALLY basic and would probably only work with beginners, but these kids are beginners, so it will be perfect for them, and demonstrate the concept of using your opponent's strength against him or her - in matwork.

No, I'm not including it here. You'll have to buy the book. Either that, or be a student at Gompers Middle School tomorrow.

Anyway ... I wanted to try it, but Ronda is in New Jersey. I have a husband upstairs who has the perfectly suitable number of arms and legs for the purpose. When I asked him what he would think about doing some judo moves with me, he pretended he had gone deaf.

When I asked Julia, she said,

Mom, I'm almost done with my homework!

She did actually come out in the hallway and let me try it on her, and it worked and was cool. Then she stalked back into her room muttering something under her breath about being more mature than her parents.

It would really be convenient for me if there was at least one crazy judo person available around here - well, besides me, of course.