Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to get better at judo: Step two

Out of about a million and in random order

Focus on your weak points. I was talking to Allen Wrench tonight and he coined a new term I am going to steal, "counter-intuitive judo". According to Allen, much of what I say at the West Coast Judo Center is the opposite of what most people do, but it works.

When I was on the world team we had a number of people from different fields brought into work with us, none of whom knew anything about judo, but all of whom were helpful. One was a group of athletic trainers. We were at a mandatory camp in New York City, arranged by Rusty Kanokogi and these trainers worked with both the Yankees baseball team and the New York Ballet. They told us that the baseball players would come into the gym and immediately hit the weights. The ballet dancers, on the other hand, would come in and start stretching. The baseball players were great at lifting weights, but what they really needed to work on was their flexibility. The ballet dancers were amazingly flexible, but they needed to be stronger.

You see the exact same thing in judo. My nine-year-old daughter is much better at matwork than standing techniques. If we are doing throws, uchikomi or standing randori, about every ten minutes or less she will say,
"Not that I am complaining or anything, because I'm not like whining, but how much longer until practice is over."

However, once matwork starts, she is a happy little camper, dives right in and never asks how much time is left again. I cannot criticize her for that because I was the exact same way as a competitor. I looked at all the throws, uchikomi and standing randori as what you suffered through to get to matwork.

Once Ronda finally got a good uchimata, when she was about 13 years old, she threw everyone with it. Finally, we made uchimata a banned throw during club tournaments, to force her to do something else. So, if I was so good at matwork, why did I start Ronda off focusing on standing technique, including uchimata, which I never did in a tournament in my life? Because the same advice of focusing on what you are not good at applies to coaches as well. I knew it would be a piece of cake to teach her matwork. Frankly, I am very good at it, I love it and am very enthusiastic about teaching it. That's another important point about coaching, too. Don't try to make your students into younger versions of you. Ronda is left-handed, six inches taller than me, forty pounds heavier and, unlike me, she has ligaments and cartilage in both her knees. It would be silly for her to fight just like me. So, when she started judo, I took her to Tony Mojica's club, where Tony and Blinky focused on teaching her to throw with uchimata and tai otoshi, then took her to Venice where Trace focused on seoi nage. When she was already winning with throws, I started to teach her matwork. If I had started off with matwork, it would have been very hard to get her away from a reliance on winning just on the mat.

No one wants to focus on their weak points. You want to throw with uchimata, if that is your best throw, because you look cool doing it. You don't want to try throwing people with foot sweeps and miss because you suck at them. That is why most people's development stalls around their teenage years and their first-degree black belt, both of which usually come during the same time period. You can't try a new throw in practice and gets slammed because ... because... because what? The I-got-thrown-in-randori ogre will come and beat you with a club?

Here is one of the things I did right as a competitor and do to this day - I got my ass kicked a lot. I got slammed in randori plenty of times. I say that was right because every time I took a chance and tried something new, I learned a way that someone might beat me. Then I tried it differently the next time, and probably got slammed again. I tried from a higher grip, a lower one,left-handed - and eventually, it worked. It has always amazed me the number of people who are confused about the fact that randori is practice. You see, it occurs during an activity they call "practice" which is held at times listed next to the word PRACTICE on a sign on the door, and the sensei will call out, "Okay, now it's time for free practice - randori!" What more do you need? A little thought-balloon over someone's head like in a cartoon?

All over the world at this very moment, there are people acting like, if they get thrown or pinned at practice, their mother and first-born child will be sold into slavery and then boiled and eaten. What do you people need to catch on - an engraved clue delivered by a monkey in a Captain Obvious suit? What? The really stupid thing is when you beat these morons in an actual tournament and they come up to you and, as someone actually said to me once,
"I don't understand how you beat me in the tournament today. You have to admit that I always won at practice."

I looked at her in disbelief for a moment and then said,
"There's no such thing as winning at practice. That's like saying you got an A in recess or you flunked field trip."

She blinked and replied,
"You can't fail recess. They don't give you grades for that."

I walked away thinking, how sad, you lost to me in the tournament AND you're stupid. Sucks to be you.

You should constantly be evaluating where you are weakest in every area. Even though I love matwork, I am weaker in some positions than others. Supposedly, one of the better positions to defend from in matwork is the position we now call "The Guard" either due to Brazilian jiu jitsu influence or because that sounds so much cooler than "sitting on your butt". That is my weakest position. I became known for my matwork and if I sat like that and tried to get someone to come toward me, they would usually try to get up and run away. People practice defending against someone in the guard position. Actually, I had a lot higher percentage of attacks from all fours, even from my stomach as shown above. There is less expectation of an attack from that position, so people are less prepared to defend from there. Lately, in matwork, I have to keep forcing myself to get back into the guard position to fight. When I do standing randori, it is much easier for me to throw people backward than forward because my knees are so bad it is hard for me to bend. I make a really conscious effort to try two or three forward throws for every backward one.

Just to emphasize, I would like to end with one of those quotes from Jim Pedro, Sr., shouted at the top of his lungs. I love my daughter and I am very fond of Jim, but if he ever dies of a heart attack on the mat, it will be her fault.


As I said, practice your weak points.


Anonymous said...

I used to train with boxer people when I was an athlet.Their phisical preparation was really amazing,and I learned a lot how to make the weight and not to get too weak.
My only chance to go to watch the Olympics live is to win a lotto or lottery ticket because it's too expensive for my pocket at the moment.Of course I'd sell a kidney to the mafia and go there if I had my son competing(sorry my english sig!).Ciao grazie un saluto Ric

Anonymous said...

I’m mentioned in the blog!
I’m FAMOUS! Woo Hoo!!!

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