Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: The importance of families, coaches and natural ability

It was Memorial Day weekend and thanks to some forethought, I got tickets for the Getty Villa before they sold out. That statue of Venus, by the way, is a replica, which is why the girls were not carted away by security.

In honor of Memorial Day, and along the lines of what I'd been thinking about the last few posts, I thought it would be good to get Ronda's take on some of the points raised about the importance (or not) of natural talent.

I also have my latest new toy, an account for Cinch , which is to podcasting like Twitter is to blogging.

So here is my first try at Cinch.

I asked Ronda about how her father, who died when she was eight years old, had an impact on her as an athlete.

and here is her response:

And another question,

"In succeeding as an international athlete, how important is support from others - coaches, family,friends and teammates?"

One last question,
"If coaches, family support, work ethic and all of that other stuff is so important, how much does 'natural athletic ability' really matter?"

By the way, if you haven't been to the Getty Villa in Malibu, it's worth going.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Does being a natural athlete matter at all?

I sent Jim off the last blog post on Athlete: I don't think that word means what you think it means to get his input on whether it should be in the book. I think I will insert it at the beginning of the section on physical conditioning. Any opinions on that are welcome.

We try to split up the work, so Jim is reading Steve Scott and John Saylor's book "Conditioning for Combat Sports" and I am supposed to read another book on strength training that was recommended to us. I guess whichever of us will get done first will read Talent is Overrated, because it seems to bear on an issue we have taken up lately.

Before Jim's time was all taken up getting ready for his youngest son's wedding, we were talking about what I had written about how most of our judo players are good at judo but not good athletes. He disagreed with me that you need to be a good athlete to be a successful international player.

I was a bit surprised but less so when Jim said,
"I was never an athlete. I had to work twice as hard as anyone else to get into shape."
or something like that.

Personally, I was the opposite. The first time I ever walked into a gym, I saw their record for women's bench press, said, "I can beat that" , lay down and broke the gym record on the first bench press I ever did in my life.  I was naturally ungodly strong for a woman my size, and that was just a blessing I did nothing to deserve. I can't believe that didn't help me in judo. I certainly wasn't Olympic level fast, but I was fast enough to make the varsity track team in college and win some races.

On the other hand, I tore my ligaments and cartilage in my right knee when I was 17 years old and had so many operations, as my lovely daughter Ronda says, I look like I've been attacked by a midget with a chain saw. There were a whole group of throws I physically could NOT do, but I compensated and won anyway.

Speaking of my little pumpkin, Ronda, she was always a good athlete. She won several events at the Hershey track meet, which was the first athletic event I ever took her to, in the heart of North Dakota. She did quite well on the swim team before she ever started judo.

Jim defines "athlete" as someone who has natural athletic ability while I define it as someone who is in excellent physical condition to perform the athletic requirements of a sport. As I told him, I look at it like when I'm hiring someone for my company. If they are like my husband, just naturally brilliant, taught himself Calculus in the eighth grade and picked up a book and learned C++, that's great. If they went to college for four years and took eleven courses to learn Calculus and become a good programmer, that's fine, too. I really don't care how they got there as long as they can do the job.

So, does it matter if you are a "natural athlete" or if you just got to that level because you trained your ass off? I don't know. I think perhaps it does. Once I laid down and did that first bench press, I trained and moved up from there. I happened to be in the gym because my coach had decided we should get a strength trainer for our team. Two years later I was doing a hell of a lot more than I did the first time.

As Lex (I think it was Lex), commented on an earlier blog, 'other things being equal', the stronger person will win, but that is a hell of a qualifying phrase. So, 'other things being equal', the person with natural athletic talent MAY win more.

When I recall Jim as a competitor (I was but a child at the time - no, seriously, I was), it's hard for me to believe he was not a natural athlete, but I'll just accept it, because he said so. Is that why Ronda and I ended up winning more international medals than he did?

I have no idea. I can say it certainly helped both Ronda and me to have some physical talent. On the other hand, like Jim, we both worked our asses off. I THINK (I don't know), that Ronda and I both had a little different perspective on winning during the match. Both of us would rip your heart out and eat it dripping blood in front of the referee to win a match if that is what it took and the only reason we didn't is there's a rule against it. The difference is Ronda would be nice to you off the mat and go out to a party with you, where I would just hope you died. I don't have that off switch she has.

Reading the comments on Talent is Overrated on Amazon was quite interesting. Many of them raised the same questions I have. If it is just work, what about those people who work just as hard but didn't win? What about support from family and friends?

I think one advantage I had over Jim is that I had one child while I was competing, where I think he had three. Once I had my third child (Ronda), I was done competing. Some things are just more important than winning - well, the only thing I'm sure is more important is your kids. Of course, Ronda had no children (and she better keep it that way until she gets married!)

Another advantage I had was the late Frank Fullerton, may he rest in peace, and the wonderful Bruce Toups, the airplane fairies, who paid for almost all of my travel, so that I could go and compete without worrying that I was taking money away that could be spent on my daughter, Maria.

Yet another advantage I had, and Ronda had, was coaching. One very telling comment Jim made one day was when he said he had to coach himself and I remarked that I thought a coach was really necessary to making it at the elite level and he answered,
"Well, I wasn't that successful, was I?"
I doubt it is coincidence that he was so dedicated to helping people like Ronda, his own son, Jimmy, Jr. and all the kids he's worked with over the years.

I was doubly blessed in having a lot of good coaches around - Hayward Nishioka, Jimmy Martin, Steve Seck, Richard (Blinky) Elizalde and more. I took every benefit I could from all of them. Ronda had me from day one when she stepped on the mat, and then all of my old teammates and mentors, like Hayward, Blinky, Steve, Tony Mojica and more - and then she went to Jim for even more coaching. And she had her own "airplane fairies" (you know who you are, and thank you).

So --- in all of the mix - how much does God-given talent matter? How much does that innate motivation matter, where you just REFUSE to lose? (As my good friend, Dr. Jake Flores used to say, "I can't put in what God left out.")

I don't know. It may be, as we often say in statistics, "a necessary but not sufficient condition". Or it may not even be necessary. Another thing we say in statistics a lot is c.p. or 'ceteris paribus', which is Latin for "all other things being equal"  (see what you learn in 10 years of graduate school?). If everything else is equal, natural talent can put you over the edge and make that gold medal yours.

But, as Lex said, how often is everything else really equal?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Athlete: I don't think it means what you think it means

"You keep saying that word. I don't think it means what you think it means."

If you don't recognize that saying, you never watched The Princess Bride. Oh well.

Some people may be surprised that our book will have 50 - 80 pages on physical conditioning for judo. (More than half of that is photos.) I'm sure that some people will just skip that section and go to the "judo" part. If they want to just be in shape, learn judo and have something more interesting to do than run on a treadmill, that's perfectly fine.  If they want to be a successful athlete, they've missed the point.

Years ago, a pretty good judo coach said to me,
"You know, Jim Pedro, Sr. really isn't as smart as you think he is. Any six-year-old can figure out if you have two boys wrestle, other things being equal, the stronger boy will win."
I told him,
"Then we ought to have a six-year-old running our judo development program in this country, because we're NOT winning."
That's pretty much the key point. From what I've seen in California, we have plenty of people who have good judo technique. They're good judo players. They're just not particularly good athletes.

The Olympics are an athletic competition. To win an Olympic event which requires physical effort, you must be in unbelievably good physical condition, better than almost anyone in the world.

I'm surprised I have to explain this to people. It seems obvious, doesn't it? And yet, I have people argue with me about this. They say they ARE in good physical condition. They run miles every week. They exercise regularly. They do push-ups, sit-ups, leg lifts. They lift weights. They can pull up their shirt and show you - they have a six-pack.

Well, guess what, so do I, and I'm a 52-year-old grandmother. The other thing you and I have in common, honey, is that neither of us is going to be winning the Olympics any time soon.

There is a vast difference between being in shape so that people don't hide their eyes when you go to the beach and being in shape to win the Olympics. There's a big difference between being in good enough shape to place in the national championships and being in good enough shape to win the world championships.

Jim and I come from thousands of miles apart, both literally and figuratively. Most of his life he has focused on teaching and coaching judo, while working as a firefighter. Most of my life, I've focused on statistical analysis and technology, while winning a world championships and coaching. And yet, we reached the exact same conclusion about why one person wins and another loses.

It really is as simple as how much harder some people train. "Intensity" is a word that comes up in our conversations over and over. You can go to judo and you can fight my daughter, Ronda, who, as Kevin Earls, of the New York Athletic Club put it, "Looks lovely, but this young lady is Walking Death". Or, you can go to judo and fight my equally lovely daughter, Julia, who is a 13-year-old purple belt and kind of works out when the mood strikes her.

You may say that is an unfair comparison, but it isn't. For example, our book includes four types of abdominal exercises - bent knee sit-ups, knee-ups, V sit-ups and V sit-twists. Most people do sit-ups. Maybe they do two types. Most days. That's it. The point of adding the additional exercises is to make it harder. Take the V sit-up. You have both arms and legs off the floor as shown below.
Sit up in a V. 
Then go back to a starting position.
Do 10 of these without letting your arms or legs touch the floor.
Not all that tough, really. Except this one exercise is part of a circuit. You are going to do 10 of these, then 8-10 of several other exercises. That's one circuit.
Then you repeat the entire circuit two more times.
You time it and each day you try to beat your time.

And that is the difference in intensity and in being an elite athlete versus someone's grandmother. Doing one set of one exercise is not all that hard. Doing all of the repetitions of every set is pretty damn hard. Doing it regularly for years on end and getting better and better and better puts you at the top of the world.

One reason this book is taking so long to get finished is that we are including a lot of pictures. There's a very definite reason for that  - because we KNOW that people often cheat and lie to themselves. They'll do the exercise above and lay back on the floor between each repetition.

"Oh, were you supposed to keep your arms and legs off the floor? I didn't know."

So, for each exercise, we put in pictures and an explanation of how to do it correctly.

We pause here to prevent stupidity ....

It's easy to show how great your athletes are compared to somebody else. You have your athletes regularly do one set of exercises - bench press, barbell curls, bent-knee sit-ups, chin-ups and as many throws as you can do in five minutes (I just randomly picked those). Then, you have visitors come and they do the same routine and they can't do it as fast or as well or as heavy, so, hey, you're amazing and they all suck. This is a stupid comparison I see coaches make all of the time. They don't stop to think that maybe if they did the workout those other people practiced - push-ups, rope-climbing, five two-minute rounds of matwork drills - that they, by comparison would suck.

In fact, there isn't any magic program, although what we have laid out works very well, certainly variation is possible, even recommended and we do talk about that in the book.

What is key is to compare your OWN performance on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. How much more can you lift than a year ago? How much faster can you do your circuits than three months ago? If you can't answer that, why not?

Let me emphasize again, none of this is INSTEAD of your regular judo work outs. This is IN ADDITION TO. I used to have a sign in my room to remind me - if we'd had email back then, I'm sure it would have been in my signature -

Champions always do more.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Types of Athlete Complaints

Since I was busy this week, I stole all of this shamelessly from Jim Pedro, Sr. I'm trying to decide if it should go in THE BOOK and if so, where.

"There are different types of athlete complaints. 
There are the 10% or so of people who always complain about everything. They won't be happy no matter what you do.You can't worry about them.

Then, there are athletes who are complaining because they are tired and run down.  It's an athlete's right to complain. One thing I've learned over the years is that you can push an athlete further than he or she thinks is possible. In these situations, complaining is a sign the athlete is being worked to the limit. Some coaches take that as a personal affront and think the athlete is lazy or unmotivated. I don't. Of course anyone is going to be miserable and complain in that situation. Wouldn't you? Or are you just perfect? As long as they're working and training, the complaining shouldn't bother you.

One reason this complaining bothers coaches is they do personalize it, either the athlete is lazy or the athlete doesn't like them. If your players are working hard, that's the important thing, who cares if they bitch? 

The number one thing you need to remember is that you're athletes don't have to like you every day. Lots of days, they won't. They have to respect you and believe that you are doing what you sincerely believe is in their best interest.

Sometimes athletes complain because they don't understand the concept of periodization. This is especially true with athletes making the move from recreational players to more serious competition. When we have been working them really hard during the pre-season period and they are moving slower in practice, it gets frustrating. What I tell them over and over, is

We're not peaking you for practice! We're peaking you for the nationals (insert whatever tournament you're training for here)!

Then, there are those times when a complaint means something. If somebody who never complains that says he/ she is injured, you better listen. You want to look beyond the complaints. If your whole group, not just one or two people, is standing around talking more, slowing down, maybe it's time to cut practice short. Don't just listen to what people are saying, watch the intensity of the workouts to make decisions on whether you really have pushed to the limit.

Coaches need to have the courage to step into that role and make the decisions based on their own training system. Hopefully, you'll get the results you and the athlete are seeking. If not, you'll know that you tried your ideas, they failed, and you'll be able to change them. You can't  grow without having the information on whether your ideas, implemented as you planned, actually work.

If you really believe your training program will work, then you see it through and don't change it because someone was whining and crying about it. You're there to be their coach, not their friend. Following through and monitoring your results will hopefully make your players better athletes and you a better coach."

For those of you who asked me about THE BOOK, it's coming along slowly. I just mailed another chapter off to Jim yesterday. I've been busy with work. Had a very good session today with the North Dakota state judges on our data on ethical judgments on the reservations and tribal organizations. Ironically, the session next door was on courtroom security. You'd have guessed I was teaching that one, wouldn't you?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Controlling the Match

When you're already going over it is a little late to be thinking about what to do.

If you're in this position, you have failed to control the match, that's pretty obvious.

What do I mean by controlling the match? At least four things:

  1. Control the grip. Get the grip that you have when you do your throws, that's kind of the point of having a grip. Don't let the other person have the grip he or she prefers. This is pretty obvious and yet people don't always do it. Personally, I liked to attack one-handed (back before I was old and slow). I would get a grip on one arm and then hit with ko uchi makikomi or drop ippon seoi or soto makikomi.
  2. Control the tempo. For example, I am not particularly fast. Even before I was ancient, I wasn't particularly fast. When I got one of those people that tried to bounce around like a pinball, I would try to cross grip, get a high grip and pull them down with my weight on  them. Most of the time, though, as I mentioned, I preferred to attack one-handed because I was not the world's best standing and if someone else had both hands on me and better standing technique, I might get thrown. This would make me sad. If someone did manage to get say, a sleeve and lapel grip, I would attack immediately. If I couldn't control the grip, I was going to control the tempo. If you let someone get their grip and then move you around, you deserve to be thrown. Silly person.
  3. Control the proportion of time you spend standing versus in matwork. Notice the throws I mentioned above? All of them go almost immediately to the mat and with soto makikomi you are in a pin when you hit. With ippon seoi it is simple to go right into a pin. Same with ko uchi makikomi. My other favorite throw was tomoe nage, which goes straight into an armbar. 
  4. Control the position you are in on the mat. That is, if all of your techniques are from when your opponent is on all fours and you are on top at their head, then that damn well better be the position you are in. (Also, that's stupid if you only have techniques that you can do from one position - work on that.)

In general, if your opponent wants a fast tempo, you want to slow it down. If she wants to stay standing, you want to be on the mat. Be in control.

Think! If someone gets a left-handed grip on you and starts moving backwards quickly and pulling you towards them - don't you think it's because they want to throw you? What, did you just think it was "Fight Left-Handed Day" ?

I know these seem pretty obvious tips, but I am amazed by the number of times, even at the international level, that I have seen players just let their opponent dominant the match.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reasons for and against Uchikomi

I have heard all of the usual arguments against uchikomi , issued in the usual sneering tones. I read Geoff Gleason's books and I liked a lot of his ideas. Some people follow Gleason almost as a cult and they are the ones who believe anyone who does uchikomi is brain dead.

My feelings on those folks was best summed up by the way my friend, Lanny Clark, described one of them,

"He has some good ideas about judo, but he doesn't have ALL of the good ideas, which is what he believes."

If you do jiu-jitsu, wrestling or something else and you've never heard of uchikomi, here is a picture of one type. You can do it with an inner tube, rubber bands or whatever those pulling things Ronda has are called. Uchi komi is Japanese for "winding inside". So, you fit in to your throw and you come back out again.

The second way to do it is at practice with another person who stands there and lets you come in on them usually.

A third way is to do uchi komi with another person moving, and a fourth way is to do it moving with some slight resistance.

When I started judo at 12, we did uchikomi. Not a lot, maybe 40 -50 a night. I thought it was boring. But I thought history class was boring and they made me do that, too. Hey, I was 12.

I was a black belt and senior national champion when I moved to a new city and ended up at a club where uchikomi was considered along the lines of trying to improve your judo by praying to a piece of bubble gum. My judo got somewhat better while I was at that club. We did a lot of throws on the crash pad (believe it or not, a new innovation back then).

Then, I moved to Los Angeles, to Los Angeles Tenri Dojo, with Jimmy Martin, Miguel Tudela, Steve Seck, Tony Mojica, Blinky (Richard) Elizalde, Gokor Chivichyan , Diane Pierce Tudela, Dawn Beers and a ton of other tough players. We did uchikomi - probably 100 or more every night. My judo got WAY better when I was at Tenri. Honestly, I don't think the uchikomi had anything to do with it. It was having a good coach, good strength trainer and good training partners.

The argument against uchikomi is that it is stupid to go half-way into a throw and that if you practice going half-way in, you will do it that way in a tournament and stop. Maybe if you did thousands of them, but I don't really buy that argument at all.

Look at the photo above. Ronda is doing a weight-lifting exercise called a clean. You bend down and lift the weight straight up to your chest. There is another weight-lifting exercise called the clean and jerk. You do the same thing but on this exercise one leg goes back and you lift the bar over your head. I have NEVER heard anyone say "You shouldn't do cleans if you do the clean and jerk because you'll forget to do the last part at a crucial moment."

The second argument is that no other sport does this. You don't see basketball players run up to the basket and stop. Wrestlers don't do uchikomi. I have not done a poll of all other sports, so I can't really say. I am not sure this argument matters. It makes me think of the movie, Cool Runnings, where the captain of the Jamaican bobsled team is smacking the other guys on their helmets an one asks why he's doing it and he says,

"That's what the Swiss team does, and they win."

to which one teammate replies,

"Yeah, well they make them little pocket knives , too and I don't see you doing that."

To argue that the other teams don't do something like uchikomi is somewhat worse of an argument, to me, than that most people who win in judo, the Japanese players, the world champions that I know, DO do uchi komi. Frankly, I think neither is a particularly good argument.

My opinion? I can see three reasons to do uchikomi, in small amounts:

  1. When you are teaching someone new. John Dewey (no, he didn't do judo, he was an educational theorist) was a big proponent of the Whole-part-whole method of teaching, the idea being that you showed the student how the whole thing should look, then you broke it down to simple parts and came up with ways to teach each, then you put the whole thing back together again. Dewey is called the father of modern education and his methods are used to teach everything from math to -well, judo. Jigoro Kano was a contemporary of Dewey's and also an educator. Completely random fact - Dewey also created the Dewey Decimal System that many libraries use to catalog books, replaced in many larger libraries by the Library of Congress system. This is the kind of fascinating and useful information 3 graduate degrees will get you.
  2. For strength training. This is what Ronda is doing in the photo above, doing her throw against resistance. When she was about 13 or so, Hal Sharp, from Gardena Dojo gave all the kids some rubber tubing to use to practice their throws at home. We tied it to the railing upstairs outside of her room and every time she walked by she'd grab it and do an uchi mata. When she got a little older, I got her ankle weights and she would fit into that uchi mata with 5 pound weights on each ankle. As you can see from the picture at right, she still does a pretty nice uchi mata to this day. Doing uchikomi with resistance, like with the bands, and weights on your ankles, builds the EXACT muscles you will use in doing those throws.
  3. For conditioning. I like to run, but some people, and Ronda was one of them, hate to run distances. For those kids, doing 100 uchikomis a night is less boring than running for 10 minutes and it builds up muscles in their arms at the same time. Personally, I'd rather run, but for the kid who hates running, it's an option.
So, for the Gleasonites who want to know why we included a very little uchikomi in our book, that's why. I think small doses can help in certain specific situations, and I have never seen any evidence that it hurts.

Oh, just so you know, you ranting - that doesn't count as evidence.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Gripping and Your Plan B

Jorge asked a question a few days ago that I did not have the chance to answer as completely as I would have liked. In short, his question was that it seemed like everyone focused on attacking from YOUR grip but isn't there an alternative view, that you should have a Plan B and have something in mind to do when you cannot get your grip for some reason, like that they just beat you to the punch or that you can't break their grip?

My answer to this is that I think you SHOULD always have a Plan B. For example, when I was competing, my first plan was to get both hands on the opponent's right arm and attack before they had a second hand on me. The throws I normally did were right ko uchi makikomi (Jim always calls this ko uchi sutemi) and ippon seoi. I used to do drop ippon seoi before I wore my knee out completely.

However, sometimes, for whatever reason, I could not make that work. Then I would switch and try a left side ko uchi makikomi or a tani otoshi. Here is a really key point - both of those are throws I did a lot, fairly successfully. So, my Plan B was a pretty effective Plan B for me. I PRACTICED those throws a lot.

I asked Jim his opinion and it was pretty similar to mind. He said he really emphasizes the discipline of breaking a grip when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation because far too often what happens when an athlete is in a situation where someone else has the dominant grip, he or she bends over or accommodates in other ways which make it easier for the opponent to throw. Why do you think he/ she wanted that grip in the first place? He did say that they always try to have at least two different grips that a player executes most of his or her throws from.

So, I think we both agreed that it is fine to have a Plan B for when you can't get the grip you most prefer, but that you should be sure it is YOUR plan and not your opponent's.

I had more to say on controlling the match, and some thoughts on uchikomi as conditioning, but since I was too tired when I got back from the meeting in San Diego to finish this blog or do work, it will have to wait for tomorrow.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What I learned about statistics from martial arts

Bizarrely, I write a blog on statistics and statistical programming that gets read by about ten times as many people as my blog on judo.

Yeah, who would have guessed that programmers spend more time on computers than judo players?

I believe today is a first. It is the first time I have ever posted the same thing on both blogs. In fact, I was planning on writing about the Wilcoxon signed-rank test today and how I applied it to  -- well, never mind, I know you're not interested, and besides, here is what I wrote about instead.

I'm doing a workshop at the San Diego SAS users group meeting on Wednesday and had suggested opening the session with a clip of my daughter's last amateur fight. Someone politely commented,
"Uh, I guess that would be okay, if it was, uh, relevant."
Fair question, how can martial arts be related to statistics or to programming?

I was world judo champion, so I think I can claim a bit of knowledge of martial arts. In teaching over the years, I have seen thousands of up and coming young players, what I would consider the programming equivalent of those at the intermediate level -no longer a novice but not quite to the expert level yet, either. What the most promising of those martial artists have in common with the most promising young programmers and statisticians is, unfortunately, too often the same thing. They are in a hurry. They believe their own press.

They are enamored of the latest technique someone is doing in the Olympics or they want to do whatever the newest form of complex sampling - Rasch - IML - hierarchical -neural network model is without nailing down the basics first.

Here is what I have learned:
  1. Get off to a good start - make sure that you have the correct data set. Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? About once a year, someone sends me the wrong data, data from the previous year or month, the data set that was not corrected for invalid data, etc.
  2. Nail down the basics - make sure you completely understand the data you will be using. Do a reality check. Does an average income of $120,000 a year make sense to you? It's amazing to me the number of times that people think not having ERROR show up in the log means that there are no errors in the program. Don't just count on automated rules like there should be a non-negative minimum for age, weight, height, etc. Some of the biggest screw-ups I have seen are because the programmer did not reverse code the items before scoring. It wasn't that the person didn't know to do this, he or she just didn't think of doing it. Just like in martial arts, the things that are fundamental should be over-learned until they are a reflex.
  3. Automate what you can - I did the same "boring" matwork drills 100 times a night for year after year until I did them almost as a reflex. When my daughter hits certain positions, she will automatically spin out and land on her feet or rotate into an armbar. With programming, it's even easier. If you do the same thing over and over, turn it into a macro.
  4. Automation takes time - just like the boring drills, people resist writing macros because it takes time, and it seems, when you are doing it, to take time from the really important things that are going to make you better. (I already KNOW that armbar, Sensei, why are we doing it again?) I'd be embarrassed to tell you for how many projects I wrote essentially the same code before sucking it up, taking the time to turn it into a macro and rarely thinking about it again.
  5. There are many ways to the same goal. Whether you are using SAS, Ruby, SPSS or whatever your flavor of the month is, there are multiple ways to parse text, test relationships, validate your data.
  6. Size matters. What works on an opponent (or data) that is really big may be inefficient or inappropriate in a smaller situation.
  7. You can't learn it all from a book. This is a rather discouraging fact since I am just now writing a book on training champions in martial arts. The fact is, though, most statisticians I have met came out of graduate school unprepared for the real world. I hate that term by the way. I worked at universities for many years and if they really are an alternate universe, I think they should have flying cars and a unicorn or two. Still, one way in which universities do resemble an alternate universe is that data are all perfect and you're often told what statistical test you need to use. It's really very weird to me - you're asked a lot to prove theorems and equations, which you can look up, but the stuff you can't look up, like handling missing data or drawing conclusions based on incomplete and imperfect data, doesn't come up nearly as often as it should.
  8. People can train you, but once you're an expert, you're on your own. When you're out there on the mat fighting, you need to figure out the right thing to do all on your own. Many years ago, I was visiting my former advisor. I showed him an article I was working on at the time and asked his opinion if the analysis and conclusions were correct. I was a little dismayed when he said, "Probably. Your guess is as good as mine. What are you asking me for? You know this stuff as well as I do. Look, there comes a point when you aren't a student any more. You can consult with other people, you can read books, but in the end, you find the answers for yourself and they're as right as you know how to make them. That's it. No one has the answer key for the whole field, you know."
As they say in martial arts - and then the student becomes the teacher. That can be exhilarating in many ways, but I must confess that both in statistics and in martial arts, there are days when I say to myself, "Damn, I wish I could find that answer key for the whole field!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'll take an unexciting win over an exciting loss

I've been working on the conditioning section of our book for what seems like forever. We keep adding more details, like photos of each exercise, because I think maybe not everyone knows what a lat pull is, or a v-sit twist. So, three days were taken up taking photos for the weight training section, the plyometric exercises and the conditioning circuits on the mat.

I've been spending a lot of time on this conditioning section and it reminded me of a couple of people who had made snarky remarks about both Jim Pedro and me, and our supposed lack of knowledge. My lovely daughter, Ronda, commented,
"Why, on a beautiful day like today, would you waste one second of your time thinking about a couple of bitter losers? Neither of them have ever won anything at all and neither of them have been all that successful as coaches, either. Screw them!"
She has a valid point. However, other people who I respect and like and would never consider bitter losers  have brought up the same points, that I can be, well, kind of boring. I do teach uchi mata , seoi nage and juji gatame, but I have to admit don't I, that much of my judo was, well, grinding the other person into the mat. More than once, it's been said,

"You have to admit that other people had better technique than you but you just kept attacking and attacking until you wore them down"

Having beaten people because I was in better physical condition which then allowed me to apply what judo I knew at 100% force for 100% of the match doesn't seem to me like something one needs to "admit", on the order of, say having won through blackmailing the referee that if he doesn't call it for me I'll let everyone know about that little thing he likes to do with rodents.

The people who complain about the way I train and teach have a different view than me. In fact, the same people have asked me,
"Have you ever thought that it's maybe better to lose with flash than take a boring win?"
In a word - no.

In fact, I think it is a real myth that there are successful judo players out there who win by perfect technique without a lot of physical conditioning. I was looking for more judo blogs today and I just happened to come across this video on the judo podcast site of Mike Swain competing and he looks likes he's in pretty good condition to me.

For those of you who might think the same way as me, here are a couple of exercises we recommend in the book. (We also have a lot of throws and matwork, too, but I'm working on the conditioning section right now.)


Everyone knows what a bench press is, right? I'm putting it in here because I just cringe every time I see someone doing a bench press without a spotter.

See that nice man in the pictures above? He's standing over Ronda as she's doing her bench presses. She's in really good shape and she's not lifting very heavy weights and STILL he insists on spotting her. She had a really hard work out already that day (I came at the end to take pictures) and just for safety's sake, one of the trainers at the gym came over to spot her. A spotter, in case you don't know, is not someone on the lookout for people coming into the gym to arrest you on those unpaid parking tickets (you know who you are), but rather, a person who is working with you when you're lifting to help if your lose control of the weights.

[Thank you very much to Leo Frincu of Results Personal Fitness and his staff for assistance with the photos. ]

I snuck the shoulder press, shown below,  into the book as an example of supplemental or alternate exercises.  The shoulder press is something I used to do when I was training but it isn't part of the training program Jim has his athletes do. I really don't think there is any magic, perfect conditioning program. Although the conditioning I did and the conditioning program Jim recommends overlap about 80 -90%, we both agree that it is more than okay, it is actually recommended that you don't slavishly follow the identical practice every day.

It CAN get boring hitting the weights every day, running every day and then going to judo practice on top of that. Mental fatigue is as much of a problem as physical fatigue, probably more. One way to fight that mental fatigue is to vary your work outs from time to time.

Speaking of which, this website on 75 dumbbell exercises is AWESOME for adding variety to your training.

I don't know why Ronda has that cheesy grin on her face but I suspect it is because she LOVES getting away with things, even something as little as slipping in an exercise that isn't supposed to be in a work out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who's the Greatest of them all - how NOT to do a clinic

A few years ago, I went to a clinic taught by 1987 World Judo Champion, Mike Swain. It was a really good clinic, attended mostly by kids, and some green belt and brown belt adults. I brought my youngest daughter, who was probably seven or eight years old. When Mike saw me, he laughed and said something like that he was afraid to think what I would think when I saw his clinic.

Mike skipped (yes, actually skipped) around the mat as part of a warm-up. He taught tai-otoshi and o soto gari, two pretty basic techniques. He talked about doing o soto gari like you are running past the person.

It was all very basic. One of the players was from Steve Seck's club. Steve had been on the 1980 Olympic team and in 1984, he lost to Mike in the Olympic trials. I heard one of the brown belts walking out the door mutter,

"I can't believe that guy ever beat Sensei Steve."

What did I think? I thought he did a great job. I was very impressed. It's difficult when doing a clinic - to resist the urge to show off and try to impress people with your greatness - especially if there are other black belts there, doubly especially if they are people who have been international competitors.

I've attended a few clinics where the point was for the clinician to show how great he was. Twenty different really difficult techniques were demonstrated that no one could do, leaving everyone with the impression that this judo stuff is really hard, too hard for me, but yeah, that guy is great.

Or, they taught really impressive throws where you picked the person up with ura nage and slammed him, or did an uchi mata where you landed on the other person and the building shook. The impression you left everyone with is that this judo stuff really hurts, but yeah, that guy is really great. Oh, and unless you are in your twenties and can dead lift your own weight, you're never going to be able to do that technique.

Hal Sharp calls this looking at it with black belt eyes. As a black belt, you think that stuff is really great.

Since, at the time, I had an eight-year-old kid, I tried to see what Mike did through eight-year-old eyes. The skipping was funny so the kids liked it, plus they were warming up and thinking about timing. O soto gari and tai otoshi were just basic techniques they could do. They didn't do them amazingly well - most of the people there were below brown belt - but they practiced and they got a little better. When they went home, they had had some fun and been successful and they were happy.

As an instructor, I did NOT think it was a waste of time. Quite the opposite, I got some good ideas for teaching basic techniques to beginning and intermediate players, who comprise over 90% of who comes in the door. What Mike did that was very smart is taught to the great majority of people who were there, not to the one or two black belts. As one of the few black belts there, I didn't stand around and sneer that I knew o soto gari, I took the opportunity to steal some ideas on teaching it better.

I knew Mike when he was young, by the way, and he was as much of a show-off as anyone, but I'm guessing being a parent is what changed his perspective. If you're a decent parent, you go from it being all about how great you are to actually caring about these younger people in your care.

 Oh, and that young brown belt? The two of us had a talk at the next practice. I did not sneer about how I knew more advanced judo than Mike or he wasn't really that good of a player.  For one reason, neither of those things are true, but even if they were, what is the point in running down another instructor? So I can look better by comparison? I see people do that all of the time but I don't think it really works. Not with me, anyway. I just think the person complaining is an ass, because almost always the real complaint is, "That person doesn't teach exactly like me".

Instead, I pointed out that what Mike had done was exactly right for the level of the people in the room, with one or two exceptions. Instead of patting themselves on their backs for their greatness, what those few exceptions should have done is tried to see how he taught and picked up some pointers for teaching. Those young brown and black belts were very new to teaching and the ones that weren't too busy telling each other how they were too great to practice o soto gari learned something about teaching judo.

Of course, maybe I was just impressed because when I teach a clinic, I try to do it the same way, so that people leave having learned something they can do, rather than having learned how much judo I know but not able to do any of it.

The point of a clinic isn't to show how great you are or even how great judo is. It's to help whoever is there get a little better.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Five Habits of Highly Effective Athletes

We were working on the chapter on coaching and Jim made a comment on the difference between recreational and elite coaches.

"Anyone who looks down on coaches who are only coaching at the club level is an asshole. I'd be an idiot to do that because all of our players came from somewhere else. That guy - whoever it was - brought this person up to the level where they are motivated enough and have had enough success that they want to train at the international level. If it wasn't for those so-called recreational coaches, we wouldn't have a program here. I wouldn't say I'm better than those coaches, but I'm definitely different because we have a different focus here and when players get here, we have to break some habits."

I thought that would make an interesting topic for a blog, so  I asked him about what exactly were the habits he had to break.

First, is conditioning. They just have to get in better shape. The conditioning you need to be the best player in your state or region is a far cry from the conditioning to be the best player in the world. They have to get in the habit of doing a serious conditioning workout and a hard workout on the mat every day. That takes discipline and they haven't needed that level of discipline to get to be say, number three in the senior nationals, but they are sure going to need it to make it at the international level.

Second, they have to learn to listen during practice. If you're working out at your own club, you go every round of randori, you're the toughest guy in the room and everything is fine. When people first come here,  they are not going to be in the same shape as the athletes who have been training here for a year or two. So, a guy goes out and wants to show how tough he is, he wants to do every work out, he's going every round with people who are in top shape and by the end his legs are rubber, he can't stand up. He's sore for the next two days, he's worthless in practice and he gets discouraged and quits. I'll tell people, "You take this round off, go every other round."  As a coach, with a whole lot more experience, I want them to get into the habit of working at the pace I want, not the pace they want.

(I remember when Ronda first went to Pedro's, she was 16 years old and she would complain all of the time because he did not have her doing the same work outs as Jimmy, Jr. and Alex Ottiano. He told her, "Look, you're 16 years old. No, you're not doing the same workout Jimmy is doing. You're doing the same workout Jimmy was doing at 16. ")

That's the big attitude change that has to come about, the realization that there is a long-term plan and you need to stick with it. You don't need to train every single day, twice a day, and have a monitored plan to be the toughest guy in your local area, but that's exactly what you need if you're going to win at the international level.

Third, there's habits in gripping and this comes to listening, too.  A big one is being disciplined about getting your grip. Usually, players take the easy route. They can't get the grip they want because the other player is stopping them, so they switch and take a different grip. No! I don't know how many times a night I have to tell people if they don't have the grip they need to attack to break the other person's grip off you and get the grip you want.

(One of the reasons I thought Pedro's was a good choice for Ronda when she went there is that gripping was one of her weaker points and one of their strongest points. I asked her how it was going and she said that Jim, Sr. sometimes spent hours on the mat with her just going over gripping over and over. What you really need to do is make it a habit, so when someone gets a grip on your lapel where you don't want it, you break it automatically and re-grip to get the grip that you want.)

Fourth, there's posture, and often this is related to the gripping, too. For example, someone gets a high power grip and pulls you down. The person feels uncomfortable in that position and so bends over and puts the opposite foot forward. Now, you're easier to throw. You need to NOT do that. You need to break that grip off of you. So that's another habit people need to get into.

Fifth, there's learning not to follow. Any time you're chasing the other player, you're asking for trouble. If you're following the other person, you'd better stop because you're moving into their throw. If someone is running across the mat, they're running across the mat with a purpose and that purpose is usually to set you up for their throw. You're just following them waiting to get thrown. You need to slow the tempo down.

So, yes, there is a lot of work to change habits that were not a problem for you when you were at a recreational level - probably because everyone else had the same habits - but are going to be a problem for you at the elite level.

It really is a culture shock for most people and not everyone can handle it because all of a sudden, a lot more is demanded of you and not every player is able or willing to make that commitment.

P.S. There was a question from Jorge on whether you should also train to accommodate the other person's grip, or if you should always be breaking that grip and going for your own. I think this post may answer part of it. I'll try to give a more complete answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Conditioning Takes Away from Time on the Mat

Let's get this one out of the way right now - there is no reason ever you should skip judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, grappling, whatever your sport is , so that you can do a weight-training, running or other conditioning workout. That's just plain stupid.

The whole purpose for your running and strength training is to get better at A SPORT so why would you not go to practice in that sport? That's kind of like skipping a job interview because you were taking a class to work on your interviewing skills.

Yesterday, Lex Fridman, who is very, very NOT stupid (check out his blog if you don't believe me) posted a comment about running.

Jim and I discussed this at length and I wrote a very long response in the comments section of the blog which somehow did not get saved. I think maybe my computer re-started to install updates while I was off taking pictures of the workout at Results Personal Training (awesome place, by the way).  I needed to get some pictures of different exercises for illustrations for "the book" and I may have run out the door without saving. )-:

ANYWAY ... I decided to post his comment and our answers here because I think Lex's point is one that a lot of people raise, which is how to maximize your conditioning without impacting your time on the mat.

Lex said that he had been running the last month and, with two mat sessions a day, he was really feeling it in the last several rounds of randori.

First of all ... if your running is interfering with your randori something is wrong. We don't know you, but we speculated that one of these may be true:
  1. You are running too soon before practice. Normally we space practices four hours or more apart. For example, when I was competing, I would get up at 5:30 a.m. (I still shudder at the memory), run, go to work, lift weights at noon and then go to judo at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.  If you're in good condition, you should have recovered after a rest of several hours.
  2. You're doing too much in your running work out. The in-season training program I posted yesterday only includes a two-mile run (3 or 4 if you need to cut weight), three days a week. Three other days of the week, the program includes wind sprints. Personally, I would run six or eight miles some days at lunch but that is certainly not necessary and I know Jim never did that nor Ronda (she hates to run). I love running, and having a sedentary job as an engineer back then, it was nice to get some exercise in the middle of the day and clear my mind. HOWEVER, I never ran those six- or eight-mile runs on the days I had a lot of randori planned for the evening. During the in-season period, when you're doing a lot of randori, you really SHOULDN'T be doing a lot of running or super-hard conditioning. Not knowing you well, we kind of suspect that your problem is that you are running either too much or too hard. You don't need to run a four-minute mile or 40 wind sprints. That's for the out-of-season training.
  3. Maybe you just recently added running as part of your workout ? In that case, if you aren't used to it, it's just a matter of getting in better condition. Run slower or a shorter distance, say one mile, or fewer sprints. Gradually increase the pace and the distance.
 After we'd talked about this for a while, Jim called me back and said,
"You know, he could just run AFTER practice."

Uh, yeah.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Glad I'm Not Young (It's too damn much work)

So, I've been working on THE BOOK and I'm stuck in the conditioning section, not because it's that hard to write or even that much material but because I have had other completely unrelated projects interfering - for example, I promised to give a talk on uses of statistical software for open data (don't pretend you care).

As I've been writing this section, two things struck me:
  1. Anyone who follows the conditioning program laid out in these two chapters will get immensely better. The average American judo player would improve at least 100%. Don't bother to write and tell me how great you already are of how that cannot possibly be. I've seen you compete, I've seen you train and I know how different what we've written is from what the typical person does.
  2. Almost no one will do it because it's too much work.

When Jim first started writing a lot of coaching articles I was amazed that it was pretty much all of the things I had done when training but he had formalized them. As for me, I  watched the people who were winning international medals and did what they did. (I'm good at detecting patterns, that's why I became a statistician.)

Those people trained super-hard at the beginning of the year, then coasted on the conditioning they had built up and focused on situation drills and randori the weeks before the tournament did better.  They trained all year but they didn't train the same way all year. The people who came in six weeks before the tournament and trained all out could never understand why they didn't win, because they trained so hard.

Unfortunately, because there are always more losers than winners in any sport (only one person gets to win), the people who came in the last six weeks and saw themselves working just as hard or harder than that person who went on to win gold medals came to the conclusion that it was just luck or some other unknown, inexplicable quality that enabled people to win and you couldn't replicate it. I say "unfortunately" because a lot of those people went on to become coaches - after all, they were black belts, won the odd bronze medal here and there or a national championship or two in a pretty weak division. 

Actually, hard work explains an enormous amount of the variance in results. (Gee, I feel like I'm writing a statistics article here.) Yes, they did train hard, but you also need to train long. It needs to be a year-long process for years on in. What Jim did was put names to a lot of things successful judo players were already doing and create a replicable system.  And yes, a lot of this draws on books on weight-training and conditioning for other sports. So, for example, you have out-of-season training, pre-season training and in-season training.

I don't think most people really understand how much work goes into being an international medalist. Here, for example is one day of in-season conditioning:

Run two miles. Make it three or four miles if you need to cut weight. (I used to do this on my lunch hour. Since I really had to cut weight for me it was often six to eight miles. But I like to run and I had a very sedentary job as an engineer, so that was actually okay with me.)

Do five or six circuits. (This is what I did first thing in the morning and I hated it. I didn't really mind the circuits as much as the fact that it meant getting up 30 minutes earlier and I hate mornings.)

Listed below is one circuit. You do every exercise in order, without resting. When you get to the end, you start all over with the first exercise. Ready?

  • Step-ups (bench or steps) 10lb dumbbell x 20 reps (10 each leg)
  • Clap push-ups x 15
  • Chin-ups x 10
  • Squat thrust (or burpees) x 15 reps
  • Plyo Jump ups to bench x 10 reps (jumps which push off of both feet simultaneously from a squatting position)
  • Uchikomi with inner tube x 50 reps
  • Bent knee sit ups x 25 reps
You do this five times. If you can do five circuits in under 20 minutes, you add another circuit and do it six times. At the most, it should take you 30 minutes to do five circuits.

If you're not sure what a plyo jump looks like, here is Ronda bossing around (um, excuse me, coaching) her younger sister at the park. Julia is jumping up to the step.

After you have done your circuits in the morning and your running at lunch you've done your conditioning for the day. Remember that this is an in-season conditioning work out so it is relatively light compared to the out of season.  Also, this is your conditioning work out, you still have judo practice in the evening. And, you work out like this EVERY day. For years.

When people ask me if I am afraid that if we publish all these workouts and drills people will catch up with Ronda or the players Jim is coaching, we always say no, because a) it's too much work so most people won't do it and b) she already has an 11-year head start.

Sometimes I miss being young. Mostly I miss being able to do stuff, like run eight miles along the beach. (Yes, I could, but after having my knee replaced once, I'm never doing THAT again. See post "If a man wants to saw off your leg, tell him no.")  Sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to do all of the techniques I used to do as fast and hard as I used to do them. Sometimes I just think it would be nice not to have gray hair and wrinkles.

Then, I look over workouts like this and remember, 

"Damn! Being young was a shit load of work!"

If you don't know what a clap push-up looks like, see below.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Kind of Asshole Sets Fire to a Judo Club?

Years ago, I was at a judo tournament and saw a coach who was too young to have been someone I competed on teams with, but I couldn't get over how familiar he looked. Finally, I went up to him and truly hoping he would not take it as the pick-up line it sounded like, said, 

"Don't take this the wrong way, but do I know you from somewhere?"

He laughed and said,
"That happens to me all of the time. You probably knew my father, Mario Rubio. My name is Greg Rubio."

Well, of course I knew Mario (didn't everyone?) He was that awesomely strong judo player in the lightweight division who was about four foot three (okay maybe a little taller, but not much).

Not only did his son grow up to be a good judo coach, but he is an incredibly nice guy, as you might guess from the story above. That's why I was twice as pissed off when I read the email below:


On April 26, 2011 Five Cities Judo Dojo/Boy Scout Troop 413 Hall was broken into.  The vandals attempted to set fires on the floor, caused a huge mess and wrote profanity on our blackboard.  They also caused minor fire damage to one of our mats.  Both the Judo club and Boy Scouts thought this was a onetime occurrence.  On Sunday May 1, 2011 at around 4:30 am, a fire destroyed the Five Cities Judo dojo along with the all the materials that belonged to the Boy Scouts of America Troop 413.  It has been a devastating loss to us and we do not understand why someone or some individuals would perpetrate this act of hate and violence.  We hope that the individuals are caught and justice is swift as the flames of beloved dojo.  Today We/I reach out to our Judo family to ask if anyone would consider us to either borrow, possibly purchase some used mats or if we can get information on resources to obtain mats any help would be appreciated.  We are a small humble dojo with big hearts and great students and through this we will return with pride and dignity to the up coming May 15th tournament.  Thank you for you time.

If you can help out by donating / lending mats or money,  you can  send them to:

Greg Rubio
PO Box 1007
Pismo Beach, Ca 93448

His email is, and his phone # is 805 440-7308

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Judo is Not Jiu-jitsu is Not Wrestling is not MMA: AnnMaria Explains it All

Some people say BJJ stands for Basically Just Judo.
They're wrong.

Other people think that if someone is a good wrestler, they'll kill everyone on the mat in judo.
They're wrong, too.

Some people think that jiu-jitsu players will beat judo players on the mat.
They're often wrong.

Other people think that most judo players suck at matwork.
They're right, but it doesn't mean that jiu-jitsu players and wrestlers will necessarily beat them.

I can't believe I have to explain this to you --- jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling all have different rules. The MAJOR difference in matwork is in judo you get very little time to score with your technique, where BJJ and wrestling referees will let you hang around on the mat all day.

That's just the way it is.  It's like in football where five guys can jump on one quarterback and knock the guy down and that's not cheating but if you step over a line it's a penalty. Those are the rules and don't whine about it.

This does have some implications for cross-training. If you are a judo player training at BJJ it may not help you as much as you expect on your offense because they often take longer to set up than will be allowed in a judo match.  Also, there are a lot of restrictions in judo - and they vary from one tournament to the next. In some, only brown belts can do armbars, in others only black belts. Young kids are never allowed to do armbars at judo tournaments.

On the other hand, if you are a judo player cross-training in BJJ your defense should get better because they get a LOT longer on the mat. You won't be able to save yourself by waiting for the referee to stand you back up. Also, if you are AWARE of the differences, you really can get a lot out of BJJ because they do spend a lot more time on the mat and, consequently, have a lot better defense for matwork (because they need it) and may have some entries into armbars you haven't seen before.

Admittedly, I've been in judo a LONG time .... but I've never seen anyone in BJJ do an armbar I hadn't seen. I mean, let's face it, there are only so many ways you can twist an arm. I have, on the other hand, learned new entries, new escapes and new drills.

Does wrestling make you brain-dead? Seriously, I'm asking because I've seen some very good judo players who were also very good wrestlers that, when they competed in judo, never did so much as a half-nelson. They'd do their standing technique, like a double-leg takedown, which is now illegal in judo, but perfectly legal wrestling moves on the mat, they never did. When I would ask them about it afterward they would say,
"I don't know. I guess I just never thought about it."

I am embarrassed to admit that I would have known the answer if I had only listened to myself talk during practice,
"You'll do in tournaments what you practice. In the middle of a match is one hell of a time to be figuring out what you want to do next in this situation."

 If you don't practice doing a half-nelson or a sit-out in judo practice AS A TRANSITION FROM YOUR STANDING JUDO TECHNIQUES you're much less likely to do it in a tournament.

 Judo matches start standing every time, unlike in wrestling where there are periods where you start on the mat. For many people, avoiding matwork is a strategy. To score in matwork you have to be good at transition and fast enough to score before the matwork is stopped. That takes a lot of drilling until it is almost a reflex, which is one of several reasons why most judo players don't get very good and one of several reasons why, for most people in judo, going into MMA is not going to turn out well.

Judo matwork techniques CAN be lethal if a person gets really good at them, and judging an individual based on the stereotype of a sport is always a bad thing.

When Ronda first started in mixed martial arts, a lot of women in jiu-jitsu and wrestling made comments like,
"She may be an Olympic and world medalist in judo and have some good throws, but I have a game plan. I'm just going to the mat with her."

To which I, Blinky, Gary Butts and the other coaches at matches would always reply,
"Yeah, that sounds like a really good strategy, You should go with that."