Monday, November 28, 2011

Jiu-jitsu habits I just can't stand

I'm not hating on jiu-jitsu in general, but having spent over 30 years in judo and misspent too much of my youth in actual fights, there are two things in jiu-jitsu that just have the effect on me of fingernails scraping across the chalk board. I realize that these habits are just as legal in jiu-jitsu as those pants the curling team from Norway wore in the Olympics and I am against both for the same reason - I'm pretty sure they will get your ass kicked if you try them out in the street.
(And yes, those are their actual uniforms and they won a silver medal and you didn't. The team, not the pants.)

One thing that irritates the hell out of me is what they call jumping guard.  When I saw this in a grappling tournament, I turned to my friend and said,

"What the hell is that? Why doesn't the other guy just drive his head into the mat?"

and he told me there was a rule against it. This is NOT a "judo is cool, BJJ sucks" post, because believe me I know that judo has its own share of stupid rules, starting with the fact that if you grab a guy's legs, pick him three feet off the ground and slam him hard on his back you lose because you touched his pants with your hands.  All that aside, doing a move where the only reason you don't get your ass kicked is that there is a rule against it is irritating. Notice that in mixed martial arts you don't see people do this move because there isn't any rule against driving your stupid head into the mat. You don't see people do it in judo because there is a rule against jumping guard, too. Judo keeps adding rules against everything. One day, we'll only be allowed to indicate with our eyes the directions we would move to throw the person if we were allowed to touch him. I won't even be surprised when this happens.

The second thing that irritates me is that lately when I watch jiu-jitsu people do matwork 100% of them start the same way, on their back. People in JJ tell me this is because it is the easiest position to defend.

Again, I understand this is true according to jiu-jitsu rules. (The alternate explanation, that 100% of the people I have watched lately are stupid, seems rather implausible.)

However, if you have ever been in an actual fight, or even watched one, you realize it doesn't go like this:
  1. Guy X insults Guy Y's girlfriend, mother and/or masculinity.
  2. Guy Y calls Guy X outside to the parking lot to see whose girlfriend/ mother / masculinity is the real #%^&&(!
  3. Out in the parking lot, Guy X falls on his back and yells, "Come on, sucker!"
In fact, laying on your back is a VERY piss-poor position to defend from getting kicked in the face, hit with a two-by-four, jumped on or even being urinated on by your opponent (speaking of piss). 

Rant off. For today. Tomorrow, in the interest of fairness, I think I'll ramble on about stupid judo things that irritate me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Arm bars and Legos

Today,  a boy at the West Coast Judo Training Center told me he did not want to learn turnovers or pins, he wanted to learn arm bars. When I asked him why, he said,

Do you know who Ronda Rousey is? Did you know that she won four matches, all of them by arm bar? I want to be like that.

I told him, that why, yes, I did know who Ronda Rousey was, that, in fact, I'm her mother and I taught her arm bars. He was too polite to openly call me a liar, but he looked very skeptical.

If my judo teaching was a lego, it would be that base piece. You know, the blue or green piece that you stick all of the other legos on to. That piece isn't cool. No one asks for the base piece. They ask for a pirate kit or the safari legos or the Star Wars ones.

Funny thing, though, look at just about any cool lego thing and if you don't have that boring base piece, it falls over. You lay out the beginning of your cool thingy on the base and build from there.

I explained to the skeptical young man that often right before you see Ronda do an arm bar, the opponent is on her back and Ronda is on top of her.

I pointed out that judo matches (and mixed martial arts matches) do not start that way.  .

Everybody who just wants to practice "the cool stuff" is missing two important points:
  1.  If you don't practice the boring basics (which I personally don't think are boring at all) you don't get a chance to get to the cool endings. I further pointed out to the boy who wanted to do nothing but arm bars that politely asking your opponent to lay down on the mat and let you get on top does not really work very well as a means of getting into this position. We spent the rest of the time doing the collect the arm turnover to get in position for an arm bar. We didn't do any arm bars at all today.
  2. As Jim said the other day, "The idea is to win." The final point I told the skeptical arm-bar- assassin - wannabe is that you will find that the better you get at arm bars, the more people you pin. The reason is simple - they are too focused on tucking those arms in tight to be able to defend against pins successfully. After I'd dislocated a half-dozen arms, I pinned a LOT of people. 
I'd have more to say about this but I have to go find A Christmas Carol because I am the mother of an eighth-grader who needs to finish her homework. (I'm also Ronda Rousey's mother, whether that boy believes it or not.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Save your breath on the trash talk

Just got back from Las Vegas and have a week of vacation. Also just getting caught up on twitter, Facebook, the Judo Forum and random sites. There seems to have been quite a bit of trash-talking from some woman trying to pick a fight with Ronda. I could tell her she might as well save her breath.

When Ronda was barely 17 years old, she was number one in the U.S., would go to judo tournaments and her competitors, all much older and with many more years of competition experience would walk by, try to catch her eye and glare at her.  Since Ronda was a huge Pokemon fan, she spent all of her time in between matches playing on her Nintendo and never even noticed these people giving her the evil eye.

One woman skipped several tournaments setting up a head to head match against Ronda that would occur at either the Olympic trials or the senior nationals. We were sitting at a tournament and my friend commented,
"You notice that (*** ) didn't show up again? She's trying to psyche Ronda out. She wants Ronda to get all nervous about fighting her, and then have a let down when she's not here. She's hoping your daughter will convince herself they won't have to fight, and then, when Ronda is unprepared, she'll show up. You better tell your daughter to be mentally ready at any time."

I looked down at Ronda, sitting on the floor, playing Pokemon and said,
"I'm not telling her anything. Ronda never thinks about those women walking by her trying to stare her down, and she certainly doesn't think about whether so-and-so is going to show up at this tournament. If anything, she is thinking of some excuse she can use to convince Jim Pedro that she's close enough making weight that it's okay for her to have a chocolate doughnut."

Ronda paused in Pokemon for a minute, looked up and complained,
"Big Jim will never let me have a doughnut."

Later, she put her Pokemon game down, went out and won.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

She calls it MMA now

Earlier this week, a judo coach I had not spoken to in a couple of years caught up with me on Twitter and said,
"I just heard that Ronda is a professional fighter in MMA. So, is she not doing judo at all any more?"

I responded,
"She's still doing judo. She just calls it mixed martial arts now and gets paid for it."

Now is the time in every fight when I call up Jim and say how worried I am that my little baby is going to get in a ring with people who are going to try to punch and kick her. Jim always says the same thing, that she'll be fine, that once they clench up, Ronda will throw the woman and arm bar her because it is what Ronda has been doing since she learned arm bars in the eighth grade. I pointed out that is what the other person would expect and that in the pre-fight interviews her opponent said they had been training for that. His answer,
Yeah, well what did you expect her to say to reporters? 'I think I'm going to get killed?'
Even though I think I will never get over worrying about all of my kids, I have to admit that Jim does have a point. Ronda won the high school nationals by arm bar when she was a freshman, before she was even old enough to be allowed to do them in the USJF Junior Nationals. She won the women's division of the California state championships with an arm bar the same year. When she was 16, she was winning matches in the Ontario Open with arm bars, beating the then-Panamerican champion.  At 17, she was winning matches in the Junior World Championships with an armbar, on her way to taking home a gold medal. She was the first American woman in a decade to win a World Cup, including a win with an armbar that made it into 101 Ippons.

So, yeah, however much practice that other woman has in avoiding arm bars, I'd be willing to bet that Ronda has a lot more experience getting them on people who don't want to be gotten, and who have practiced their defense a lot, specifically defense against her. Just like in the 2004 Olympic Trials, my money is on the little pumpkin.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I do what I do (useless pain is stupid)

I've been working on The Book (working title "Building Martial Arts Champions - from the Ground Up") a lot the past few weeks and come to the conclusion that Jim and I have a little different ideas on teaching beginners. I teach the turnover to a pin shown here with me starting on my knees facing the other player and them facing me.


In step two, I turn, get my hips in front, get a grip on the head and pull the opponent's arm tight across my chest.


into a pin.


Jim doesn't do this. In fact, he punishes his students by making them do bunny hops if they get in this position because he says (rightly so) it is a stupid position to get into and you should always be on the other person's back.

So why do I do it? Three reasons.

First, novices (not stupid people, but people with very little judo experience) DO get in this position quite often. Over the years, I have taught a lot of people who were a long way from becoming international players. These included six-year-olds, white belt kids taking judo once a week and adults who just want to get some exercise after work. My goal for them is to feel successful immediately and have fun. This is above where you can learn to do a turnover, pin, escape and a second pin, learn the concept of matwork connections and look and feel pretty cool doing it.

Second, it teaches you to move your hips in front of the other person, which is something people always seem to have a hard time learning. Compare Tony's position in the picture above with my position in the previous picture. It is the exact same move as o soto makikomi  or harai makikomi which is a really, really hard fall to take from standing. People who are not very used to getting thrown are likely to stick their arm out to keep from landing hard and hurt themselves. At the very least, if someone throws you from standing with that move and then lands on you, you'll probably get the wind knocked out of you.

So what? Usually the person saying so what is the coach standing on the sideline who hasn't taken a hard fall in 30 years. Yes, I remember taking falls on the tatami at Tenri Dojo, over and over. I remember how much it sucked. It didn't make me any better but I had to take falls because I wanted my  turn at throwing my partner. When we got crash pads at other clubs like the Naval Training Center down in San Diego, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. After that lots of people would let me throw them, even if they weren't personally training for anything, because the fall didn't hurt.

So, the second reason is that I can get the students to learn how to get a grip for a throw around the opponent's head and on the sleeve, a grip used for all kinds of effective throws.

When I am teaching this move, beginning on your knees, face to face, I teach it as a sequence. So, novice players get in this position and they can surprise an opponent by doing a matwork counter. When the opponent grabs the head and arm, you can get a grip around the waist

.... turn your hips in front of her ....


and throw her into a pin. So, now, the student has gotten the basic idea of a matwork counter. Also, her opponent is pinned ...

with a pin that can be escaped by doing an inside turn ....

Which allows the second player to work on her escapes, and allows the first player to hook the arm coming through 

and do a kami shiho gatame, which is a really good pin.

The third reason is that the sequence from six on works at all levels. I can guarantee this because either Steve Scott or Hayward Nishioka (in a Rick Perry moment, I can't remember which) has a picture of me in one of their books pinning someone in the world trials with this exact move. You know those last two parts, where the person is in kuzure kesa gate, turns in, I catch the arm and pin with kami shiho gatame?

You know the other time you get in that exact position? When you do a wrestler's roll.

In short (well, I guess it is too late for that now) - I teach the way I do because it will give the players early success, teach some basic movements they need to learn and part of it will be techniques in their repertoire that will work the exact same way for as long as they compete.

Jim's argument, on the other hand, is that I am letting them get away with bad habits and no one should be on their knees face to face, ever.  Maybe he is right, but I would say more likely it depends on what it is you are trying to accomplish.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Jiu-jitsu for judo is a bad idea

Jiu-jitsu and judo are two different sports. 
- Captain Obvious

I'm surprised I have to explain this to people but I often do. I cannot tell you the number of judo players I meet who are convinced that jiu-jitsu will help their matwork. If that is true (and it often is) it's because their matwork really sucks.

The haters who only read the first paragraph are now writing long diatribes on how a purple belt in jiu-jitsu could kick my ass (maybe, by the time you are an old grandma - or grandpa -, a lot of people can kick your ass, and the judo and jiu-jitsu coaches that pretend different are delusional).

The reason jiu-jitsu does help some people is their matwork totally sucks. They spend all of their time at judo practice working on perfecting their throws. Not surprisingly, then end up with great throws and terrible matwork. So, they go to jiu-jitsu where 90% of the time they work on matwork and, no surprise again, their matwork gets better.

This proves - what? That you get better at the things you work on.

HOWEVER, I have seen over and over those people who are doing all of their matwork at jiu-jitsu never win a single match in a judo tournament using matwork.

Here is why - the rules are different. In jiu-jitsu you get to roll around for quite a long time trying to get a score. That's fine, that's the rules of the sport. In judo, you do not. You get a few seconds and then the referee makes you get up. This isn't a discussion of who would win if a judo player and BJJ player got in a fight. See my earlier post on unicorns for my opinion on that. This is a discussion of whether BJJ is the best way  to improve your judo matwork. I would suggest it is not.

What if you don't have any people in your judo club who are near your size and the BJJ club has more people who are your size/ age to train with? Even in that case, I think I would stay at my judo club and do drills of judo matwork.

I would do drills like the Collect the Arm and then connect it to the pin combination shown here.

I once had a disagreement with a judo coach who was in favor of having excellent BJJ players teach our players armbars. He said to me,
"Just ask the players. We went to this guy's club and he did moves they had never seen before."

Why do you think they had never seen them? The players weren't stupid and neither were the moves he taught. The armbar combinations he did were great - for jiu-jitsu - but in judo, they often took longer to set up than the rules allowed.

What I see as one of the biggest problems with matwork for most judo players is that they are too slow to pull it off in the few seconds the referees allow for you to "show progress". Training in jiu-jitsu, with different rules and more of an acceptance of matwork makes that weakness worse, not better.

In other words, if you want to do well at a sport, train in that sport.

Captain Obvious is all over the place this morning, no?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Do You Know When Your Child is Really Injured?

Ronda suggested to me that the book Jim & I are writing should include more on what we know that is rather unique, that is, about coaching your own children. While she was over today we were discussing one of the most troubling questions to parents, I think, which is when you know that your child is injured as opposed to just tired, sore, bored,scared or wanting to get out of practice for some other reason. As a parent, it always helps to have an experienced coach to ask. But what if you ARE the coach?

Here are the list of steps I go through to determine if my child is really injured. Take these with a grain of salt. As my grandmother used to say, I am not the kind of doctor that does you any good. I'm a statistician with a Ph.D. Your mileage my vary.

  1. Tell them to get up & quit whining & go back and work out. If they do, they're fine.
  2. If they keep crying, invoke the 5 minute crying rule. Sometimes kids just want to know you care or want attention. Let them sit out for five minutes, get iced, get fussed over by mom or dad, whatever. Then ask, "Are you ready to go back?" If they do, they're fine.
  3. Check them out when they don't know you're looking. I can't tell you the number of times that I have seen a kid get knocked down and they're fine. Ten seconds later, they see Mom or Dad looking at them and they let out a howl like they've broken every bone in their body. If they are limping around when they go back on the mat, keep an eye on them. When the coaches and parent are not paying attention to the child, watch out of the corner of your eye and see if he or she is still favoring the injury. Often kids will forget they are supposed to be injured.
  4. Play a game at the end of practice, a really fun game. If the kid magically recovers and can run or pull during the game, they're fine. 
  5. At night, when your child is asleep, go into the room and gently touch or move the injured part. See if they react. If they react, this is a really bad sign. Go to the doctor. (Ronda wanted to know if I really did this when she was little. Yes, to her and all of her sisters.)
  6. Don't mention the injury the next morning and see if your child still complains.
  7. Take a day, a few days or a week off of practice. Maybe your child just needs a break. Ask your child each day to rate the pain on a scale of 1= doesn't bother me to 10 = I think I'm gonna die. If the number doesn't go down, A LOT from day one to day five, call the doctor.
  8. Anything that doesn't get better after a week or two, call the doctor. Kids heal fast. If something is still bothering your child two weeks after it happened, something is wrong.

Also, even if you are the coach, don't hesitate to call a more experienced coach and ask for advice. I'm lucky that one of my good friends who knows my children well is both a judo coach and physician.

    In the end, you know your own child best. It's popular (and a way to prevent lawsuits) to say that you should call the doctor or take your child to the ER any time you are in doubt, but that's not always practical unless you have infinite time and unlimited money.

    One of my daughters hated sports and had a new injury every day. A second likes sports a lot but is a bit of a hypochondriac. If I took her every time she said she needed to go, we'd have been in the doctor's office every two weeks. The other two, if they say they're injured, I drive them to the emergency room.

    When I hurt my knee as a teenager, before orthoscopes, no one could see anything on an x-ray and the first doctor told my mother

    "It's psychological, she's just afraid to compete."
      My mother said,
      "I know this kid and she's never been afraid to compete in her life." 
      She took me to a new doctor who pulled a sample of fluid from my knee and said to my mom,
      "It's not in her head, it's in her knee. I can see pieces of cartilage floating around in here, it's that bad."
      Your kid is, well, a kid! How does he or she know if this is just a minor injury that will just heal up on its own or something more serious? By the time your child has been competing for a few years, you can usually call it right away, like my mother did, but in the first few years, the steps above may help ease your mind a little and help you and your child make the right calls.