Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Lego Theory of Matwork

Did you ever see a kid play with Legos?

You know why Legos are so awesome? Because you have a few basic blocks and you can build a million different things with them. Matwork is like that. Really. The Lego theory of matwork can be summed up as, “Everything connects to something else.”

One of the differences in the way I teach matwork is the degree to which I emphasize matwork combinations. You are going to be a lot better at matwork combinations, at teaching them, learning them and doing them, if you have mat techniques that fit together.

When adding a new mat technique to your arsenal, try to think about how it fits with what you already have.  One example of mat techniques that fit together was in a post I wrote a while ago with the demonstration of a move that began with an attempted throw by the opponent. From this position, you go to one armbar, if that doesn’t work, move to a second armbar and, failing that, move to a third armbar. That is one type of connection, where the techniques are all in a sequence, where you do step one, two, three and four.

A second type of connection starts from a base and branches out. One of the bases I use is the “collect the arm” technique I wrote about last month and connections to it are shown below.

 From the first technique, a turnover, I can move into one of two different pins. One of the pins has two variations I can choose from the standard pin. One of those has two possible combinations, one to a choke and another to an armbar. Or, I could just stay in the pin and win that way.  In coming up with these combinations, it’s not as if I sat down one day and laid it all out, quite the opposite. I learned the combination pin to choke when I was twelve years old - kata gatame. Probably about that same year, my first year in judo, I learned the next part of that combination, the tate shiho (mount), and quickly figured out I could put that together with my other pin and choke. It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned the armbar, and it wasn’t immediately obvious to me to switch from the pin to the armbar. I don’t know why, but it wasn’t.

When I learned the “collect the arm” turnover, I put that together with the pin, choke and armbar combination I was already doing. I learned the other pin variation last.

When I was in my twenties (better late than never) it occurred to me that the most effective way to improve my matwork quickly was to take anything new I learned and add it into an existing framework like the one above.

By that time, I had lots of opportunities to learn from camps, clinics and just visiting other clubs. When I would see a new technique, I would immediately try to find a way it connected to one of the existing sequences I had. Just like Legos, it could connect on at any point. The beginning of the scheme above, the "collect the arm" turnover, I learned second-to-last. The last thing I learned in there was the "Variation 1" on a pin I had learned when  I was thirteen years old.

Notice something else.  Remember, that first post I talked about, the one with the sequence of armbars?  It just so happens that if you try to push on towards me so that I can't get the armbar, you're set up for this "collect the arm" turnover. If you pull away from the "collect the arm" turnover, it is easy for me to throw my leg over and do the armbar sequence. It's all connected. (I really am smarter than I look. I keep telling people that but they don't believe me.)

Two points:
1. When you have a choice of new techniques to learn, always select the one that makes a connection with something you already do.
2. You can be almost completely unpredictable and damn near unstoppable if you have so many possible combinations and permutations that you have a matwork move no matter what your opponent does.

This weekend, at the Grand Opening of the new location for the West Coast Judo Training Center, I'll try to get some photos so I can illustrate these steps better. For now, though, having followed Andy Lee's advice on blogging  , first matwork , then statwork , I need to get to bed so I can get up in the morning and finish my lecture on the Central Limit Theorem.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Judo role model? Try Dave Winer instead of Homer Simpson

For years, I have been hearing that judo needs to be taught in the schools. Starting sentences with, "The problem with judo is ..."  happens so much when black belts get together you almost wonder if it is part of the promotion exam.

Two very, very common statements I hear are that judo needs to be in the schools and judo needs to be run more like a business. I never hear anyone say that judo coaches need to be more like Homer Simpson.

The first argument goes that everyone (or, at least, a lot more people) would love judo if they knew about it. Japan has very good judo because it is taught in their schools and millions of kids take it. The hundred thousand or so that get to black belt are the pool from which their Olympic teams can be drawn.

After this point, most judo coaches seem to adopt the Homer Simpson model. (A disadvantage of being married to someone obsessed with The Simpsons is that he has an analogy for every issue in life with a Simpsons' episode. In this particular one, Home is elected to public office based on the slogan, "Let someone else do it.")

Dave Winer is a pretty successful businessman. He's founded two software companies, made some interesting contributions to technology we all use - like the original outlining program - and has the opposite attitude of Homer. On his blog yesterday, he suggested that rather than complaining about all of the problems in America, some of us voluntarily roll up our sleeves and start fixing things.

Which gets me to my point - this is the third year that we have had a program at Gompers Middle School. For the first two years, the mats were loaned by a very kind karate coach. Now we have some different loaner mats surrounded by a safety area of very old gymnastics mats. We have a dozen used judo gis that kind friends and former students of mine donated (thank you!). That is not enough since we had 14 kids signed up for judo and not all of the gis fit all of the students. One young man much bigger than me was wearing a size 2 because that is all that was left. Still, we are in the third year of the program.

Here is how it started - the teacher asked Jennifer, my second daughter, who was a student teacher back then, if she knew anyone who might teach judo. Jenn got Ronda, her younger sister, who had just come back from the Olympics, to volunteer.  We borrowed mats from Sean Davila, a karate instructor who also writes Christian books. Sean is one of those people who give Christianity a good name, a follower after Father Loyola Ignatius who believed that God's charge is that we do good in the world - NOT that we go around judging other people, like some right-wing nut jobs seem to think. But, I digress. Anyway, I knew Sean was the type of person who would let us use his mats for free if he wasn't using them - and at the moment, he wasn't.

Ronda taught there for a year, and I would substitute when she couldn't make it. After she started MMA, it got to be more me teaching there and her substituting when I couldn't make it. After another six months, Blinky Elizalde began teaching as a substitute as well. Ronda now drops in once or twice after a fight during the period she is taking a break from training, or if we really get in a bind and neither Blinky nor I can make it.
My point is that if you really want to have a judo program in a school - just do it. If you really think the Los Angeles public schools (or your school district) needs more help - just do it. Find a teacher to sponsor the activity, borrow some mats, get some judo gis from your friends and show up.

I really think the success of the Gompers program is in part because we have multiple instructors. We never cancel practice. Sometimes the school cancels practice because they have an event, like a school dance, but WE never flake on them. Yes, it is a volunteer activity, but there are three of us and between the three of us, we can make it there one day a week for thirty-six weeks out of the school year.

Speaking of showing up, I better get in the car and head out to the new West Coast Judo Training Center location.
859 W Foothill Blvd
Claremont CA 91711

(Sekai Black Belt Academy)
See you there.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Son, I do think you'd be more likely to turn her if you under-hooked that left arm of hers with your right and got up on your knees so you'd be in a stronger position to turn her.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Out of Shape or Over-training?

I was going to write about something else today but the comments on the last post on over-training were so interesting that I decided to write about periodization instead.

Just like within my family and friends, the larger population view on over-training seems to be split along three lines, those who believe it never happens (Maria), those who think it seldom happens (me) and those who think it happens all the time (Jim).

Michael Hulstrom said,
To talk about an absolute level of overtraining that isn't tied to how well trained you are to start with is the wrong way to think about it.

I kind of agree and kind of disagree. Certainly what is "over-training" for, say, Ronda, who is a professional athlete and Blinky, who is a grandfather many times over, are two completely different things. I will bet he was a lot more fatigued after this workout than she was.

Jorge says
Empirically I would say that every time that you start training and you feel as tired as you have been at the end of the previous training, you have not rested enough to recover. 

I have never felt that way but I would certainly agree that if I did it would be a very bad sign.

Where I disagree is with those athletes who take their fatigue as indication that they are training "too hard".  Rather, I think their problem is usually that they have not been training hard enough and are out of shape.

The FIRST thing those athletes need to do is train less today than they did yesterday because they aren't in good enough shape to do a workout at the level they should be doing it to win. However, the mistake they often make is to stay at that lower level of workout for fear of "over-training".

The SECOND thing they need to do, which most of them don't, is increase their training gradually over time so it is at a much higher level.

This goes back to the concept of periodization. (See, you should really read our book. However, since it is not done yet, you can read this post on periodization instead.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

How Much of a Problem is Over-training?

Yesterday, I was talking to sports writer Maria Burns Ortiz about the issue of over-training. She said,
"I have covered all kinds of professional sports and I have NEVER heard a coach say that an athlete was over-training. "
Personally, across all sports, I have seen a very few players who I think over-trained, but I have definitely seen some. These were mostly players who had an eating disorder, who were training so much they were burning muscle, or players who did not take enough time off after an injury. I've heard a lot of people say their problem was over-training when I thought their problem was they did not train enough.

Today, I was talking to Jim Pedro, Sr. who said that he saw players who over-trained all the time, that he thought it was very common. I don't have any problem saying that Jim knows a lot more about coaching than I do - because it's true - so I was very surprised to hear him say that he had over-trained when he was a competitor because he didn't know any better. He said that he would train right up until the day of the tournament and he sees a lot of other players that make the same mistake now.

Which led me to the two questions of "How common is over-training?" and why do three people who have a lot of sports knowledge and experience have such different views?

One answer, I think is that there are two definitions of over-training.
  1. Not enough recovery time is allowed between workouts . The intensity of workouts is so hard and workouts are so close together that, physically and mentally, the athlete gets torn down and gets progressively weaker instead of stronger.
  2. The failure to apply periodization, which is breaking your training cycle into periods which vary in intensity.
I think these are two different ideas. One is that you are training too hard. I see very, very few people who ever do that compared to the large number who delude themselves into thinking they do. The second is that you are training hard at the wrong time.  This occurs far more commonly than the first problem.

I think Maria and I are only considering the first definition as over-training while Jim calls both of those over-training. If that is the definition you use, then I'd say he is right, it's very common.

Many people who THINK they are over-training just are not in good enough shape. Yes, perhaps you do need to rest more but the reason is not because you are training too hard and the solution is NOT to not train so hard in general. What most of these people need to do is gradually increase their training because they come in to practice and train very, very hard but because they don't do this often they end up exhausted the next day. So, what do they do? They take three or four days off. Instead, what they ought to be doing is training at 70-80% capacity and increasing what they do each day.

As for periodization - well, there is a lot about that in our book, but since I have to be in Malibu by 8:30 a.m. I guess I better turn in.

So..... what's YOUR opinion? How common do you think over-training is?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

WHY COMPETE? Guest post by Ken Brink

Thank you to Ken Brink of Welcome Mat Judo for giving permission to reprint his article here. It was in Steve Scott's Welcome Mat newsletter and I thought it was well worth repeating.

     A recent conversation I heard someone say, "It’s better for young players to focus on the fundamentals of the game instead of winning and losing. There can be a lot of anguish associated with competitive sports for young players".

     It got me to think about how the kids in the class were talking about some of the other entry level sports that they competed in and how they don’t keep score, there are no winners , everyone gets to bat or shoot the ball there are no team trophies. Everyone gets the same generic award and the same generic end of the season party.  

     Life isn’t generic; competition varies in everyday functions. I believe that many youth sports are missing the coaches and parents who know how to set the essential ground rules for healthy competition for their athletes.

     Since our club was formed, I’ve witnessed an underlying fear or reluctance by many of our kids to compete in a tournament. Some of the kids that do compete are so overcome with anxiety that they struggle to perform during the match. After speaking to many of the kids after the match about how they thought it went, many just answer "I don’t like to compete" or a parent will inform me that they are "afraid it will ruin my child’s confidence." Judo is a tough and challenging, physically and mentally. No one has ever gained confidence without having overcome a significant personal challenge. A parent who shelters their child from challenging situations will keep their child from developing the vary skill they want their child to learn.

     My personal belief on this matter is that competition is an important valuable and critical element of our society. Every child, during the course of his or her lifetime must compete in some form. It may be for grades in school, on the playground with friends or even in the work place for advancement. At some point a child must be empowered with philosophies and values about competition. Reflecting on my own childhood I began to realize that not everyone has had the advantage of experiencing a unique coach or leader who was able to instill a positive philosophy about competition that I had. There are many parents that don’t understand the attitude towards healthy competition. Another reason is that society is in love with the winner, only caring about who took first. Can you remember who took 2nd place on American Idol last year?

     Through my years of coaching I’ve watched children quit because of a bad experience they had during a tournament. Regardless of the sport or child, it can usually be traced back to parents, coaches or a family member who is solely focused on winning that the child learns to associate losing with failure. Many times losing for these kids’ results in a verbal or physical punishment. Does it make sense why kids don’t like to compete?

     During a tournament we ask that a child does their very best, gives 100% effort during the match and utilizes the skills that they have been taught. Winning is not based on the end result of the match but what happened during the match. Did the child gain ground on an opponent that they had lost too previously, did they work in the new technique they just learned, how did they handle themselves after the match was over, regardless if they won or lost. If the end result is a victory…Great, but should they lose then it is my responsibility to figure out why and help them improve.   

     As the child matures this becomes a team effort. This approach empowers the child to focus on something within their control, personal performance. It teaches them to ignore things outside their control, like the draw of the bracket, referees, or what color the opponent’s belt is. It’s a simplified approach to focus on one thing which allows the child to be more successful.

     In our program, we teach self-confidence, self-discipline, self-control and self-respect. These are all life skills that are acquired as a result of an extended participation within our program; these are not skills that can be taught within one or two sessions. One of my fundamental beliefs is that empowering the child’s belief about competition will help them become more self reliant, mentally tough and self confident. By avoiding competition kids may be missing these valuable life lessons.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Matwork secret #8: Don't give the opponent time to escape

            A person does a throw and lands on his side, at the side of the other person. For a side four corner hold down (called yoko shiho gatame in judo, a side mount in jiu jitsu), all you really need to do is turn on to your stomach, as shown in this photo. This is a photo of Ronda landing in a pin.   

Her opponent hasn’t completely hit the mat yet, his legs are still in the air and not only is she already in the pin, but you can see that she is already moving her right arm to make the pin tighter. To make the hold tighter, move your top arm under the person's head and hold tightly, so he can't bridge. If the person is wearing a gi, you can feed the lapel of the gi into the hand under their head to hold tighter. Since Manny is not wearing a gi, Ronda is going to slide her right hand under his shoulder.

            Do people throw into a pin? Generally, no. They throw, then let go, and try to get on top of the opponent, of course giving the person time to escape. Whether you go to a club that does grappling, jiu-jitsu, judo or MMA, you’ll often see the same thing.
            There are two reasons people do such an illogical thing. One is that they aren't used to thinking of a match as one connected whole, because they don’t practice that way. We already discussed that on this blog before and the solution is simple. Practice going straight into matwork from your throws. The other reason I bring up here a lot is that must people have a very limited arsenal of matwork techniques.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ronda Rousey Female Fighter of the Year

Ronda is one of the finalists for female fighter of the year. People are always telling me judo is the second most popular sport on the planet. I am skeptical of this but would love to be proven wrong in this case.

You can vote for Ronda for female fighter of the year at this link

Reasons you should vote for her
1. She's good at armbars
2. She teaches at the West Coast Judo Training Center, supporting judo

3. She helps out at an urban school, giving back to the community
4. She is undefeated in MMA with a 6-0 record

5. She likes camels.