Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Periodization for Judo

Okay, I admit it, Jim Pedro, Sr. wrote 90% of today's blog, but I feel no guilt since the reason I did not have time to write more myself is that I am revising the first few chapters of our book.

Jim emphasizes periodization more than any other judo coach I know. Maybe it's because he's always liked power lifting, where periodization is a very familiar concept.

Maybe this is because many coaches are uncomfortable when their athletes have down periods or are "in a slump". That's what we're supposed to be trying to prevent, right?

Or maybe it is that judo coaches are often not familiar with the concept of periodization. So many of the judo coaches I know teach exactly as how they were taught. In fact, when I have made suggestions to coaches I've often been told,
"This is the way we were taught."

Well, I don't know about you, but the word "periodization" never came up when I was learning judo as a young person. The closest I ever came to it was some coaches (not all),  who would encourage their players to cut back the week or so before a tournament. On the other hand, there were coaches who pushed their players as hard as they could right up to the day before they fought, to make them tough.

This article, from Medicine and Sport Science, summed up the reasoning behind periodization well. They noted that trainers working with some of the greatest athletes in the world found that no matter how fit an athlete was they couldn't just train harder and harder forever.
There are two main points you should know about periodization.
  1. Periodization is breaking down your training into segments.
  2. Periodization accepts the fact that you will have peaks and valleys in your performance and makes a deliberate effort to time those peaks to coincide with the one or two most important competitions each year.
The out-of-season segment of your training is when you focus on increasing your strength and power. This time of the year you should be doing a lot of heavy weight lifting and sprints in your cross-training.  [I would add that this is the time when you add new judo techniques, not the three weeks before the tournament.]

Pre-season you increase your workload to improve cardiovascular condition. Your weight workouts should include more repetitions. Your running should include more long distance - not more than one or two miles, though. You're not training for a marathon. Judo matches are under eight minutes at the most. This is when your judo training should include more sessions when you stay out and do randori for several rounds in a row.

In-season you try to maintain as much of the strength and power you have gained. Now you are focused on your upcoming competition. If you have done the first two segments correctly, you are at your peak for both physical strength and endurance. So, the amount of weight you lifted, the times for your sprints, the number of throws or turnovers in a minute kept going up in the first segment. In the second segment, your number of repetitions, number of sprints went up. Or maybe you did the same number of sprints but after having run a mile or two first. The number of rounds of randori you did a night increased. In the third segment, you stay at those levels.

The week or so before your competition, you cut back. You let every little minor injury heal up. You get your weight down. And here a funny thing happens. For months, your body has been on an upward trend. You have gotten used to that level of exercise. By the day of the tournament, you have all of that pent-up energy and should be ready to perform at your peak.

Oh, and did I mention that after that you'll probably suck for a while? That's the valley part of it. The worst is when you do phenomenally great at a tournament, win some major event and come back home where everyone wants to work out with you because you have just won the gold medal in the Tournament of Greatness - and you suck and the eight-year-old orange belts in your club are foot-sweeping you.

Seriously, though, get over it. I mean, who would you rather beat, that person in the finals or the eight-year-olds ? Besides if it really bothers you that much, you can always lie and say they didn't foot sweep you. It's not like anyone is going to believe you over them, because hey, they're like, eight.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ronda's Professional MMA Looks Like Judo

I thought I'd post here about Ronda's fight since so many people called, texted and emailed me, I figured I would tell everyone at once. It was pretty short. I had heard the woman she was going to fight, Ediane Gomes , had a 6-1 record and was supposed to be very good in jiu-jitsu, having won several fights by arm bars. Of course, I don't really know anything about MMA and that may not be true at all. For all I know, she bludgeoned her last six opponents into submission with a parakeet, although I do have to admit that the arm bar story does sound more likely.

I do know what judo looks like though, and that was pretty much what Ronda's match looked like, all 25 seconds of it. First, she threw the woman with ko uchi gari. She got on top for what looked like a tate shiho gatame and then punched her a couple of times. When the other woman put her arm up to block the punches, Ronda took the arm and switched to a juji gatame armbar.

I did not get a picture of the armbar because:
  1. It happened very fast
  2. I was too nervous 
  3. Even if I wasn't nervous, I'm too short to get a picture of her in the cage, even if I stood on a chair.
However, it looked exactly like this picture from the clinic Ronda and I taught on armbars a few weeks ago. Just imagine that the guy doing the armbar is Ronda and the other guy is a woman and they are both dressed kind of like in the picture above. And it looked just like that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Judo in the public school: How to make it happen

Judo is not a popular sport in the United States. One of the many suggestions for changing that unpopularity has been trying to get judo as a school sport. Reasons vary. One, which you should all forget about, is that we would then have funding for instructors, travel to tournaments and other costs. In fact, most districts are struggling just to cover the costs of teachers in the classroom, much less anything else.

So, just how did we get a judo program at a school in one of the largest districts in the country? 

1. Check your ego at the door: Get a sponsoring teacher

LA Unified has a policy in which I am very much in agreement. They won't let just random people come in and work with their students unsupervised. Yes, I have a Ph.D., sixth-degree black belt and world championships. Ronda has Olympic and world medals. Guess what? No one cares. For all they know we are child-molesting serial killers and they are going to have an honest-to-God certified teacher employed by LAUSD physically present during every practice to insure that we don't do any child-molesting serial killing. Not only did I not object to that, I thought it was great. As a parent, I don't want random people coming to the school and teaching my child unsupervised.

We didn't actually didn't find a sponsoring teacher. He found us. Mr. Gonzales, chair of the Social Studies Department at Gompers Middle School in Los Angeles had just completed teaching the unit on medieval Asian history, and mentioned to his student teacher that he would really like to find someone to teach judo at the school. Normally, that would be as far as it went, but his student teacher happened to have a younger sister who had just won an Olympic medal in judo.

2. Teach for free

To make the judo program happen, Mr. Gonzales had to be willing to stay after school for ninety minutes every Friday for - well, apparently forever  - with no pay. Oh, did I mention that Ronda taught for free, too? My friend, 1980 Olympian Steve Seck, thinks we are crazy for doing this. Of course, Steve thought we were crazy before, too, so nothing has really changed.

3. Have a guardian angel willing to loan you mats

One of the coolest, nicest people I know in martial arts isn't even in judo. His name is Sean Davila and he is one of the kind of people who gives Christianity a good name. He even wrote a book called Wolves in the Valley about being a martial artist and faith. It has really good pictures (seriously, they're nice) and poetry, some of which I even liked, which is saying something because as a general rule I dislike poetry even more than I dislike rhubarb, octopus and escargot (those being the only food-like substances in the world that I won't eat). And it has stories about faith, questioning your life. Anyway ... before he wrote a book, he owned a karate school or two and knowing that he was the kind of guy who honest to God believes in practicing what he preaches, I called him up and asked if he had some mats we could kind of borrow. And, as I knew he would, he said sure. So, off Ronda went to load up a van full of mats.

4. Have friends

Ronda works at Dynamix Martial Arts, competes in mixed martial arts and works as a veterinary technician. So, sometimes she can't make it to practice. So, I started teaching some of the time, because we believed it was very, very important to be reliable. If Ronda can't be there, I'm there. If neither of us can be there, for example, if she is fighting in Las Vegas and I went to watch her, then Richard (Blinky) Elizalde my fellow coach from the West Coast Judo Training Center runs practice.

This is our third semester at Gompers. There are a few things that I would like to change. It would be really nice if we had practice more than once a week, but that's hard for several reasons. One is that it is an hour drive (or more) in rush hour traffic for me to get there, plus another 35-40 minutes to drive home. It's not very easy for me to make the time once a week, much less two or three times. On top of that, we would have to get Mr. Gonzalez to stay more than once a week, which is a lot to ask on top of his already busy schedule. His wife just had a baby recently, too, so that makes it an even more unreasonable request. I'd like to find a way to take the regular students somewhere else to practice one weekend a month, which is something I am hell-bent on making happen at least once before the end of the school year.

My main goal right now, though, is to get the judo program institutionalized. By that, I don't mean having everyone in the class committed for mental illness.  I heard this term years ago at a meeting in Washington. The speaker was talking about programs funded by government grants and the difference between those and institutions. He said,
"An institution is permanent. When your kindergarten teacher leaves,  what happens? Do you not have kindergarten any more? No. You get a new teacher. Because kindergarten is more than that one person."
So, that's a little on how we got a judo program started at a public school. Next time, I'll tell you why.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kids Like Armbars & Other Things I Learned from Teaching

The judo class at Gompers Middle School is the opposite of everything you have heard about inner-city schools in general, or Watts or  Gompers .

The students are polite, funny and hard-working. The teacher who supervises the judo program, the chair of the social studies department, is dedicated and caring as any teacher you'll find anywhere.

It's a lot of fun teaching there. It's also educational, for me as well as the students. I've taught every age from preschool to doctoral students, but I'd have to say that I've always found teenagers the most fun to teach. (Now, parenting , that's a whole different topic you don't want to get me started on.) It's even more fun than usual teaching at the middle school because these are kids who are not likely to be competing any time soon, if at all, except within their own class, so we can do whatever we want in whatever order we want.

I was thinking about this the other day after observing a coach having a terrible time at a practice getting the students to pay attention, be respectful and work hard - kind of basic requirements for a good practice. Another spectator said to me,
"You can't blame the coach. Everyone knows that middle school is the absolute worst age to have to do anything."

I told him that I disagreed. When I watched the same coach, who was new and inexperienced, I have to add, there were major differences in how I would have run practice. Both of us had a "lesson plan", with specific ideas of what would be covered that day. Neither of us was willing to tolerate much time off task while the students were just goofing off. Both of us had a group of energetic students who had been sitting at desks all day and just got out of school. We both had students who were inclined to yell out questions, both relevant and irrelevant.

There the similarities ended. The other coach had a very strict schedule. The students were going to do this drill to warm up, then this other drill for 15 minutes and so on, for the whole practice. There was no explanation at the beginning of what was going to happen during practice or why. When students asked questions, the answer was, "Because I said so."

I started practice on Friday by asking the students what they had learned the previous practice when they had a guest instructor while I was out of town. (Thanks to Richard Elizalde, by the way, for covering for me.)  Of course, I knew what he had taught them, but what students are taught and what they remember can be two very different things. I was pleased to see that they remembered the name of the throw (uchi mata), and they even showed me how to do it, with different students adding their piece, like how to grip, how to use your hand when you come in to kind of punch the person in the jaw.

Now, I'm sure there are purists who would say that's a terrible way to teach uchi mata, and you should never punch someone in the jaw. If it makes you feel any better, one young lady told me she didn't appreciate getting hit in the jaw, so she had to throw the instructor to teach him a lesson.

I told them since they had learned a forward throw from one grip we were going to do a different forward throw, ippon seoi nage. I explained to them that this was used in movies if you watch closely, you'll see someone throwing a punch and getting thrown with a shoulder throw. I asked how many were in 7th grade or 8th grade. I happen to know, since my second daughter teaches middle school history, that they all learned about medieval Japan in seventh grade. We talked about what they learned about samurai and armor, with everyone jumping in to contribute what they remembered. I explained that in a real fight that no one really punches you like in kata, but that it's good to learn because in a tournament people will actually come in to get a high grip and you can block it then. Besides, we live in Los Angeles and you never know, there are jobs doing stunt work out there and most of them involve fight scenes.

What kid in middle school doesn't like the idea of himself or herself being in a movie? Well, not me, actually, but a lot of kids do.

So, we started out with what they knew. I explained what we were going to do next. I related it to some other stuff they knew outside of judo. They all did a fine job doing ippon seoi. Next, we did tani otoshi, in part because I just like that throw, but I explained to them that in real life, people often grab you in a head lock try to punch you in the face. Just go with it, then, throw your head into the person's chest (literally using your head) while you lock one arm around their waist and slide your foot behind.

So much for movie fight scenes and self-defense. Half the class time had passed and I said it was time for matwork. I do have my rigid class schedule in that I try to do exactly half matwork and half standing. I explained to the students that I always did that because you can win three ways on the mat, but you start standing, so you know that every match will have standing techniques in it. On the other hand, most people don't do enough matwork, so if you make that half of your practice, it will be an advantage for you.

Since these students are all very new, they equally need pins, chokes and armbars. I told them that and then asked which they would like to learn. Most of them shouted out immediately,
"Arm bars !"

I am sure there is a manual some place that says you shouldn't do that and in the U.S. we don't allow kids to do armbars in competition until they are 17, except for high school nationals. In northern California, they don't let anyone below a black belt do arm bars. However, as Gary Butts and Sam Garcia, fellow instructors at the West Coast Judo Training Center, never tire of pointing out to me, little kids are allowed to do arm bars in jiu-jitsu and it doesn't make sense that the same kids are all of a sudden too delicate when they go to judo class the next day. So, armbars it was.

We did juji gatame from ippon seoi - where you throw the person and then just step over with your right foot (assuming it was a right-handed shoulder throw), sit down as close to the shoulder as you can and arch. We worked on locking the arm tight against your body and using your body to exert pressure, rather than using your arms. Then we did a second variation of juji gatame from when you are on your back being attacked.

This was about the time someone yelled,
"Can we play a game?"
All coaches hear this all the time, and I said, "Yes!" Because I know that kids always want to play a game so in my sneaky coach playbook I had a particular game I wanted to do that led into the next thing (a choke).

We played the game Crocodiles, where you get a point every time you crawl over someone's back. (The game is played with everyone on their stomachs on the mat.)

After we played for a few minutes, I called everyone together and explained that the game was useful for learning to keep people off your back and be aware of where your opponent is on the mat. Then, I explained that one reason it was bad if a person got on your back was that you could be choked. I taught a choke from behind, we all practiced it, then played another game of Crocodiles, this time, trying to get on people's backs and choke them. By then, no one could believe practice was over and it was time to go home.

So, what did I learn? What I suggested for the other coach was this:
  1. LISTEN to your students. Let them talk. This is particularly true for after-school programs where they are wound up from being at a desk all day. Start off by asking them something that will be relevant to the practice and get it all out (or, at least some of it) at the beginning. Maybe it will give you an idea about the day's practice. 
  2. LET THE STUDENTS HAVE A SAY. I had decided in advance we were going to do half groundwork and half standing but what techniques we did in matwork were up to them. The first time a student asked to play a game we were doing arm bars, but the second time someone asked, I said, okay, and we played the game I had planned. (I knew someone would ask because someone ALWAYS asks.)
  3. HAVE A PLAN but even when you have a plan, modify that to the class and to the students. I had planned to cover the choke and play that particular game as a lead in to it. The order we did it in was not important. We could have done the choke before the armbar. We could have not done armbars at all if the students had just wanted to do chokes.
I have seen young coaches get in a vicious cycle where they feel that the students don't respect them so they crack down more, are more rigid, so the students resent them more and try to get away with more and it just gets worse and worse. In my experience, if you let students have some time to talk, when it is appropriate to do so without disrupting your class, then they are more likely to be quiet when you need them to listen. If you listen to them, they'll listen to you more. If you answer questions respectfully and consider their preferences, they're more likely to do the same to you.

Oh, and kids like armbars.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You Find Time for What Matters Most

This post today is aimed at parents and coaches, but if you are an athlete and this sounds familiar, I hope you engage in a little self-reflection.

One of the toughest things for a coach to accept, and I don't believe it gets much better with experience, when an athlete just doesn't want to win that badly. One of my favorite lines about what makes a good coach is

"You have to be smart enough to  know how to do it and dumb enough to believe it's important. "

The same is true of athletes. No matter how talented that child (or adult) is, no matter how much support from families, coaches, fans and the citizens of the Republic of Elbonia, if the athlete doesn't want it badly enough, if he or she isn't "willing to go down the stairs", you are all wasting your time trying to make that person into a champion.

When I look back on some of the people I have been mistaken about, it occurs to me that the signs were always there. It's very simple, really. You find time for what matters most to you.

 Judo was my number one priority until 28 years ago when I had my first child. Before that, I spent every day at practice, ran track just as cross-training for judo, spent my junior year of college in Tokyo and if my work interfered with judo, I quit the job and found another one.

When my first baby was born, judo came second, but I really tried to manage both. As a result, Maria spent a lot of hours riding in  her car seat next to me on the way to practice and tournaments while I talked to her and tried to work on her vocabulary and general information about life. She crawled around the mats most of her first two years. Seems to have worked out for her - she's got a pretty good career going as a sports writer. She was recently hired on the social media beat for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter at @burnsortiz .

Now, I would have to say that judo is third, after my family and my business. Work takes a lot of time lately and there have even been periods when I wouldn't get to judo for an entire month, something I could not have imagined when I was in my teens or early twenties.

So what does this say to me, or anyone else, as a coach? Simply this, if you have an athlete who is not making it to practice because he or she has to work, needs to study, or is on a pilgrimage to Mount Who to meet the Grinch - it really doesn't matter the excuse they give, the fact is this, it is not that important to them.

As coaches, we try to make excuses for athletes we have put years into developing - he's just burnt out, she is just having a hard time with her boyfriend, athletes in this country just don't get enough support and have to work. All those things happen - athletes get burnt out, they have relationship problems, need to make money, need to get an education - but those who really want it make to practice, do.

If I had not competed in judo, I would have made better grades in college, I probably would have gone to  a more prestigious graduate school than the University of Minnesota for my MBA. I may well have gone straight into a Ph.D. program when I finished my masters - I'd gotten accepted into two of them - but instead I went to work, so I could make money and continue competing. I'm pretty sure that I would have gotten promoted faster in my career if I hadn't insisted on taking every weekend and evening for practice instead of work. Maybe I would have started a new technology company in my twenties instead of my fifties.

When I say things like that, people often respond, "You certainly had to make a lot of sacrifices."

I don't know if I would call them sacrifices so much as choices. Everyone's life is a product of the choices they made. At some point, for nearly every athlete, they are no longer "dumb enough to believe it's important". They start choosing other priorities over success in competition. Make no mistake about it, if you are missing training, you are not choosing winning.

Maria told me that her favorite quote from the Sloan Sports Analytics conference last week was something like,

"What we call 'talent' is often simply the willingness to practice."

I would say that the magic number is probably three. That is, the answer to the question,
"How many times can an athlete choose something else over practice or a tournament before you decide he or she isn't serious about winning?"

As in, three times a year. If you miss practice for a week because you had surgery, that counts as one.

If you have someone who is missing practice or a tournament over three times a year for any reason, then winning is not the first thought going through that athlete's head in the morning. He or she might still win a national championships, junior nationals or regional event or eventually become a good coach. Don't fool yourself, though, that this athlete is going to go any further than that, or that gradually, more and more people who do want it won't pass this person by. If I were you, I would be aware of that before running up my credit cards to go to events to coach this person, sponsoring him or her to camps or tournaments. If an athlete can't make it to 100% of the regular practices, I wouldn't be opening up my club at special times just for him or her to practice.

I've seen this scenario played out so many times and each time I have wondered why the athlete didn't have the honesty and courage to just say flat out,
"Winning isn't that important to me."

I still don't know the answer to that but what I DO know is this, they ARE telling you, by their behavior.

Act accordingly.