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.

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