Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Lion, The Anaconda and Reaction Drills

Just bear with me as you read this story. There is a point here. I promise.

Imagine you are an anaconda, lying in the grass, digesting the deer you caught a week ago, when a pride of lions comes by. You and the head lion get into a discussion about hunting. He explains his method of hunting to you. It is very organized. The lions stalk a herd of deer, following a scent. They select a deer that is slower than the others. They chase the herd one way and then the other until this deer is separated. They chase it down until it is exhausted. One lion leaps at the back legs and cuts the ham strings. Another lion goes for the neck, and the result is deer meat for dinner. The lion asks the anaconda, 

“So, how do you hunt?”

You reply, 

“Well, I just lay here in the grass and when something comes by, I wrap around it, squeeze it to death and swallow it whole.”

The lion exclaims, 

“That’s wrong! That’s not how you do it! How often does something just walk right by you? Maybe you’d catch something really slow and sick that way, but no, you have to chase things down and kill them. That’s what hunting is. Besides, look at you. You can’t swallow a deer whole. That is impossible. I don’t mean to call you a liar, but it sounds pretty unlikely to me.”

Now you are confused. On the one hand, you’ve seen the lions hunting and they are the king of beasts. You have to admit, they look really impressive and beautiful chasing deer in a disciplined formation across the plains. It certainly sounds  like the Lion King is right. He is, after all, a lion.
On the other hand, you’re lying here digesting a deer you’ve caught and you’re a 30-foot long, 500 pound anaconda, the largest snake in the world, which means you’ve actually caught a whole lot of deer. It’s all very confusing.

The lion is equally troubled by the thought of the anaconda spreading this misinformation on hunting to little snakes. Why, they’ll surely starve to death except for the odd exceptionally lucky one here and there.

This is almost exactly the conversation Jim Pedro, Sr. and I had earlier this week, well, it would have been if Jim was a lion and I was a giant snake and we were talking about judo instead of hunting.

I’d say, about two-thirds of the time that I send him anything for The Book, he calls me up and says,

“That’s wrong. You did that wrong. It won’t work.”

I listen to him, because I have a lot of respect for his judo knowledge, but at the same time, I think,

“I know it works, because I did it lots of times, and not just on little kids, but at the world level. I even do it some times now on people way younger and stronger than me.”

Sometimes he’ll send me several pages that show something really good and say,

“See, you had it wrong in the chapter you sent to me. This is how you do that move.”

And I think to myself,

“No, this is how you do some other technique. It’s very good. But it’s not what I was trying to do.”

Over the last few weeks, I have been editing the chapter Jim did on matwork series and it is brilliant. There is no question that the moves he showed will work for lots of people. I have seen Ronda , Kayla Harrison, Jimmy, Jr. and others do those exact same matwork series on many people at a very high level, and they have been very successful. At the same time, as I was reading it, I thought,

“If this was my training program, I would hate judo.”

In fact, when I was younger, my coach, Jimmy Martin, did a lot of these same series, like the tie-up series. He tried to get me to learn. It’s a great idea. Jimmy Martin won lots of matches doing these techniques, as did Tony Mojica, Dawn Beers and many others from our club. At some point, I told my coach,

“I hate this shit and I’m never going to do it. I just hate this.”

Having really thought about it over the past few weeks, I think the big difference between the way Jim Pedro does judo and the way I do it is that his is very methodical and predictable. That is not a bad thing. Watching both Ronda and Jimmy, Jr. over the years, there have been many times in a match when I know that they have got it won because they have passed the point of no return. That is, they have gotten far enough into a series of steps that the only possible end is for the opponent to be turned and arm barred.

Last night I finally had the chance to watch Ronda’s last fight on TV because we had it on Tivo. When she was pulling Tate over on the final arm bar, my husband  (who knows about as much about judo as I know about crochet, that is, he knows how to spell it) said,

“That was the point where I knew she had it”.

So, no, predictable is definitely not bad.

But yet ... there is another way of doing judo and that is what I do. When I was looking through all of the pictures that Jim said were wrong, I noticed a couple of things. He was correct in that the reaction of the opponent varied from picture to picture. He was right when he said,

“Once in a great while, the person might move their arm out like that to stop a half-nelson, but maybe only one time out of a hundred.”
And yet, in almost all of those pictures I was arm barring someone. And yet, in almost all of those pictures, they were NOT posed. That is, I would try a half-nelson, and whatever the person did, I would go into an arm bar. So, they obviously DID put their arm out.

Why, they’ll surely starve to death except for the odd exceptionally lucky one here and there.

When I was competing, it was a big joke among my teammates and I how often articles after events said that someone else was favored but “AnnMaria got lucky and won”.

There are three differences in how I trained for judo and competed from what Jim does.
1. He sets people up to provoke a specific move, for example, he will pull in their wrist to control it, setting them up to pull the arm up allowing space for a half-nelson. I react to whatever the person does. That is, if they put their right arm out at all, even for a second, I am going to jump on it and do juji gatame. I may fall backwards. I may turn towards their hips. I am going to improvise based on whatever my opponent does. He plans. I react. Both ways require A LOT of practice, because, as Jim pointed out, for my way to work, I need to anticipate what the opponent is going to do. His way requires lots and lots of practice of the same few moves. My way requires lots and lots of practice of different moves. I would be bored to death doing judo his way, but for some people, it is just wonderful.

2. My way generally requires that you be faster than your opponent. That is, I grab the arm before he or she can react. Because I have practiced thousands of times being in that exact position (and my opponent probably has not), I am usually faster even when the other person has more natural speed than me.

3. In my way, it helps if you are stronger than your opponent. For example, in the rolling turnover, if you have enough strength to reach up, grab your opponent’s gi and roll him head over heels - or at least get close enough that he reacts by sticking out an arm to stop it - that helps.

Because of those last two points, the “reaction drills” that I do work more when you are young and fit. For this reason, a lot of older instructors won’t like them. I will be the first to admit that I am nowhere near as good as when I was young. Many techniques, I don’t have the power to force them through that I did when I was young. I’m fine with that. Judo is an Olympic sport. I bet whoever won the Olympics in the 100 meters in 1984 can’t run it nearly as fast now, either.

One (of many) reasons that I like matwork is that strength is more of a factor in matwork than in standing technique. If you are stronger than most people, which I almost always was in competition, then it is to your advantage to be in situations where strength matters most.

Jim’s very methodical way of teaching and training matwork is good because it works for a wide range of people, and as someone who has coached for many years, that is what he needs to do.  Jim’s way works for more people because it does not rely on natural athleticism.

Most of my life, I have only had to worry about two athletes - first myself and then Ronda. There is nothing wrong with using your strength and athleticism, if you have it. If you have it, use it!  My way might work for the top 10% in natural athletic ability - but if you are stronger or faster than most people, why on earth would you NOT want to leverage that in competition?

Years ago, a very good coach was watching Ronda and he commented to me,

"Your daughter is not fast. She is sudden."

He was right. When you have practiced many times to react when the opponent is "in the guard" and puts the left leg down just a little bit, allowing you to roll over it, it is sudden, just like an anaconda waiting to strike.

A snake doesn't hunt like a lion. It doesn't stalk. It doesn't have a process. It just reacts suddenly because it is ready when an opportunity occurs.

And a snake isn't a wrong lion.

It's just a snake.


Rick Lightfoot said...

Not sure if you're looking for Input from me because I'm neither instructor nor practitioner but I'll give it anyway :) I feel both approaches are perfectly valid. IMO, Mr. Pedros view of your technique "being incorrect" is pretty short sided. His approach seems to be that of a chess player, analytical and calculated. If I do this, he'll do that, and then I'll do this etc. It's logical and if your opponent is a predictable sort, you'll likely be victorious more often than not. But what if your opponent isn't predictable? What if they're unorthodox? What if they rely primarily on speed, strength and athleticism like you do or what if the opponent is just a better chess player? I imagine this can, and often does pose a problem for a methodical / analytical practitioner. Watching Ronda I can see a bit of both approaches in her. She's both calculated and improvisational. With Tate, and Budd, she worked to a dominant mount position, threw strikes and looked for her opportunity to take the arm. She put them in a situation that limited their options. That's calculated. Against D'Alelio Ronda was improvisational, catching a punch, trapping the wrist under her arm and jumping into that incredible flying armbar. She took what her opponent was doing offensively and instinctivly reacted to it. With Tate she was a Lion, With D'Alelio, a snake. Both were amazing and highly successful. Not sure If it means anything but I'm with you, your way isn't the wrong way it's just a different way. I can't wait to read your book. Cheers!

aglee said...

It's really interesting to see the contrast and tension (in a good way) between you and Jim Sr. I imagine this is a healthy thing that will make for a better book.

Competition aside, I wonder how many people have missed out on a lifetime of enjoying judo "recreationally" because they were turned off by the way they were taught, whether with too little structure or too little creativity.

Dave L said...

I love the concept; it sounds useful as a lens.

A) Can't anaconda judo players learn a lot from getting some lion-style strategies, and vice versa?

B) How does a player determine their type? I tend toward the lion approach in the way I like to train, in randori I'm half-and-half, and in competition I'm much more successful with an anaconda approach.

Anonymous said...

The more I do judo, the more I see that people have different approaches to even the same throw. I've been told over and over that David Williams' Tai Otoshi is wrong. Guess what-it works for me, so I'm keeping it.
Some peoples' coaching cues and approaches click with some people, not with others. If you have your own way and it's different than someone else's, it doesn't mean it's wrong.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Thank you for the comments. I'm not sure Jim's view is wrong, either. That's why I asked for comments, because I truly am confused. Jim's way has worked for a lot of people. I think he is correct in that the way I do judo may not work for most people.

You are right, too, that the way I teach is not structured enough for some people. They want a prescription, not a let's just see what happens

Mary Nicotera said...

I rather think my judo style was a combination of anaconda and lion. I did practice specific moves and setups, over and over...but my coach, Jim Hrbek, was also big on always having not only a Plan B, but C,D,E,and F. At least. So Plan A is the lion, the rest are anacondas. I also think there's no "right" or "wrong" way to do judo...there's just win or lose.

Jorge Almeida said...

I think that there is not a correct view. Both views are correct but there is something else missing that is implicit but may pass around without being noticed. What makes a good judoka (or anything else) is hours and hours of practice with good coaches/sensei. Without those hours they will not have the mechanization of the techniques nor the hours of practice to know how to improvise or the tool box to pull an armbar from any position. Second step: If they do not have someone close by to teach them more techniques then they should consult books (or their coaches/sensei) to improve their techniques. After that, some players will fall more on the lion and others will fall on the anaconda with all the gray shades in between. Some people like to do only one technique and set of combinations and moves, others like to bait the opponent for the counterattack and other work with combinations. There is no right way of doing things but there are many ways of doing them wrong. And you know that you are doing them wrong when they do not work and you loose. Then we are returning to the first step. The only way to understand if a technique/strategy/combination will work for you is to try them first in randori and then in competition. For all the people who seek an answer to their judo improvement, go no further. The answer is practice more.
My comment for the book is that you should include as many different approaches to the techniques as possible with the same detail (and if possible more) that you explain here. Books are no replacement for real people explaining techniques but they are the closest and the best thing that we can have to preserve knowledge. Your and Jim Pedro Sr. knowledge is what we will be expecting in the book.
As a side note, it is great that we can get a glimpse of how 2 great judo coaches view how the athletes approach the sport. Maybe this is also an important component of how people should perceive your book and you may want to add it to the introduction. Just an idea.

Unknown said...

hey mom, my matwork is not predictable, its inevitable, get that right! ;)

Jon Peltier said...

It's like you wrote on your other blog: Not all numbers are meaningful. What's important here is whether you got the deer or not. Not whether you strategized and chased it down, or sat around waiting (though sitting around sounds better to me). Whatever approach works for you is a good one.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Jorge, that IS a great idea.

Thank you.

Attitude said...

OK, AnnMaria, I’m game. I believe your Blog focuses on three interrelated subjects, the first is training, the second is conditioning, and the third athleticism.

In Training we say that Individual behavior is expressed in symbols or terms that are relative to the audience and to the situation. What this means is that when you discuss Chokes with a very broad, untrained audience, most of that audience believes that using a Choke means using any means possible to cut off an opponents air or blood supply in order render them unconscious.

If we narrow that audience to Judokas or Jujitsu players and then use the term Rear Naked Choke most would accept that this is when an attacker's arm encircles the opponent's neck and then grabs his own biceps on the other arm while placing the hand on the back of an opponents head. The attacker then brings his elbows together such that lateral pressure, from the bicep and radius bone, is applied to the neck on both sides, pushing it forwards and down, and rendering the opponent unconscious.

If we narrow that audience to the children you train for tournament situations at the USJA/USJF WCJTC then the Rear Naked Coke means placing the non-choking forearm against the back of their opponents neck and rotating the wrist of their choking arm, whose hand is locked onto the biceps of their other arm in order to scoop up their opponents Adam’s apple.

Training children to be expert competitors requires Sensei’s or Instructors with expert situational awareness that know how to apply techniques that actually work in order to win. If you train the mind the body will follow. Only true Champions have the expertise to be situational trainers.

Physiological psychology has repeatedly demonstrated that although an event or move may be recognized by any one of the senses the mind must process it in order to respond properly. Conditioning creates speeded up response times. In conditioning behavior the Sensei or Instructor must first measure the amount of time it takes a subject to respond properly to a stimulus and then create a training modality to shorten the amount of time needed to respond. Is there anyone out there that has not yet noticed how a video game improves both the manual and the mental dexterity of youngsters? All pilots are now routinely trained on both flight trainers and video games. Why not judokas and Jujitsu players?

Athleticism is another subject entirely. You can be the best-trained subject in the world with excellent conditioning and a master of most techniques but without the appropriate athletic ability you will only be able to reach your own level of competition, after which your genes become the determining factor. At this point everyone should understand that although they may never have the athletic abilities of an Olympic Gold Medalist they could always be the ardent supporters of those that are. God bless!

Tree Frog said...

While I realize the Lion/Anaconda story is an allegory, I have a couple of minor quibbles with it - and they're statistics, so you should probably perk up at this one.

I recall hearing a documentary say that roughly 1 out of every 4 hunts for a lion pride is successful. The success rate for anacondas is likely way lower too - and the snakes have evolved to a point where they can live off their few successes for a very long time.

Obviously, elite judoka win more than 1 out of every 4 with their favorite techniques, but it's an allegory. Not super important.

Anyways, I think your way is actually harder than the way Mr. Pedro Sr.'s way.

He is giving his students a hammer, a screwdriver, tape measure, saws etc. in a standardish tool box. You are more of the "get a big honkin' hammer and hammer every nail in sight until they stop you from doing so" school of thought.

You had early on a relentless self-belief that you would figure out some way to rig things so that every situation has a nail that you can bash the heck out of with your hammer. You did that so successfully that you won a world championship with it and many other big matches and even developed other big honkin' tools in your set. That type of belief and development is actually harder for a beginner/middle level person to stick to and keep going forwards with.

Most people get to near the top with a standard toolbox and then start individualizing their orders of preference and unique tricks.

That's my two thoughts. Both approaches are valid, but your way is harder, although it's also harder to stop.

Human nature is to do something successful until it stop being so, and then minorly innovating upon it until it's successful again. It's how the lions got to be lions and how the snakes got to be snakes.

Thanks, Doc. You're awesome.

PiP said...

I found this one confusing. I don't mean that to be critical at all. It's a good post and brings up a lot of interesting ideas. But I don't think I followed the thread to the end, so just as a warning, my comments are coming from a confused brain.

1) The lion is hunting with his(really HER) buddies, so that's cheating. Okay, I guess that's not so hard to make sense of. It's really the hunting method of the pride vs that of the anaconda. In the end, what matters is, once in proximity of grabbing the deer, it's the latching onto the neck that delivers the kill. So the difference lies in the way each gets close enough to grab hold of its prey. The lions work in coordination, forcing moves and nabbing the deer they've selected. The anaconda relies on surprise, taking whichever unfortunate deer wandered to the wrong spot. (It's interesting to think that, due to the randomness of the anaconda's strategy, if the strongest/fastest deer in the herd actually gets eaten, he/she is probably in a snake's belly.)

2) I'm not quite sure what the deer is in this scenario. At times it seems like it is a specific submission, such as an arm bar, while at other times it seems to be the opponent in a more general sense. The difference between hunting the two ,in my mind, would be technical steps toward the arm bar vs a general strategy to bring to a match.

3) The three points points you make for the anaconda don't quite compute for me. This may be because my background is in jiu jitsu & not judo. After the first point, you say:
"His way requires lots and lots of practice of the same few moves. My way requires lots and lots of practice of different moves."
Your third point is that strength is more beneficial to the anaconda. I would think that, having a wider variety of techniques in your arsenal, this would be the opposite? (If I have one technique to use, I may have to force it. If I have 10 techniques, I should be able to use more finesse.)

4) To address the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a technique, I'd say that if you won a tournament with some specific armbar, then you did it right. Maybe you didn't pinch your knees together, or crossed your feet, or something else, but if you got the tap then you did the right thing. However, from the standpoint of what to put into a book to teach technique, it's probably more important to study the armbars that didn't work. When you couldn't quite get the tap, what things could you have tweaked to finish the hold properly. I would think this is what you would aim to have in a book; the "ideal" technique that would be most likely to work if done right, such that if an armbar didn't work, you could probably identify some difference between what you did and the ideal technique (i.e. you may lose an armbar because your knees were apart, but you're unlikely to have an armbar fail because you had your knees pinched too tight).

Well, when most of this was typed I had a 3-year-old yelling in my ear and occasionally kneeing me in the back. As I return to double check that I'm not writing gibberish before I submit, I'm a few hefty glasses of wine into a Friday night, so I hope my comments are semi-coherent.

Lastly, to the internet hooligan "ronda" who posted "hey mom, my matwork is not predictable, its inevitable, get that right! ;)", we're not falling for it. The real Ronda would show much more respect for her brilliant, talented, & loving mother ;-)

Jeremy said...

I got your next book right here: AnnMaria's Fables.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Tree Frog -
I agree with what you said about my way beng harder and Jim's way working more for beginning intermediate people. He said that, too, and I agreed with him, too. As far as the just being a hammer - not sure what you meany by that. Could you explain

Dr. AnnMaria said...

PiP -
If my technique worked then why is the other technique ideal? Do you mean the ideal technique works a greater percentage of the time?

PiP said...

- "If my technique worked then why is the other technique ideal? "
As confusion is my forte, I believe I was blurring two things: an indifferent difference in technique (I don't bother to pinch my knees together because I think it isn't important, and I got the tap, so there!); and intentional differences (I like to cross my feet, it feels more secure, and I got the tap, so there!). I had been thinking more along the lines of the indifferent differences, where you may win with different technique, but the difference may not be why you won, and may not be the best thing to teach.
However, the things you intentionally do different than the standard accepted "ideal" are absolutely important and should be addressed in the book. I don't particularly like golf, but this analogy comes to mind: Suppose there is some great golfer who uses an unorthodox stance when he drives off the tee. If he writes a book on golf technique, he may not actually recommend the stance he uses, but if I buy his book, I would expect to read some details on his stance and why he uses it. Similarly for your book, I'd expect to read about the techniques in judo that you find effective....and don't let Jim push you around, you're a world-frickin'-champion after all, your opinion matters! ;-)

- "Do you mean the ideal technique works a greater percentage of the time?"
I think that's a pretty good way to define an "ideal" technique. Opinions on some details may differ from person to person though, since we're all made a little differently (like precious snowflakes).

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I like the indifferent versus intentional difference (and I really like the - so there!)

Actually, Jim doesn't push me around so much as he makes me think, which is a good thing. He really is a brilliant coach, so if he thinks something is wrong, even if I disagree with him, I take the time to try to figure out WHY he thinks it is wrong and generally asks him so many questions I think it drives him crazy.

Often, my friends will say, who the hell cares what he thinks, you're doing most the work. The fact is though:
A. I'm not doing most the work, he is doing half of it, so his opinion counts and
B. I don't want him to have a book with his name on it that is promoting what he thinks are wrong ideas, just like I wouldn't want my name on a book that I thought had wrong ideas.
C. If what I am writing or showing doesn't make sense to him, there are going to be a whole lot of people out there who are a whole lot dumber than Jim it doesn't make sense to, either.

Hence, the usefulness of comments from people like you all (thanks, guys!) that help me see where it is not as clear as it could be.

Chad Morrison said...

It reminds me of something my old roommate used to say about fake boobs: "If they exist, they're real." - So in this case, if you're actually doing an arm bar, then you're doing an arm bar right. Whether it's "ideal" is another matter... It's a subjective thing, but a popular ideal in Judo is the whole maximum efficiency/minimum effort. Another part of the ideal for many is whether a technique can be done to a stronger opponent... If your techniques rely on you being faster and stronger than your opponent, then it probably isn't a good fit for a mass-circulation book... but if it just requires you being more "sudden" (i.e., you have to drill drill drill), I'd buy that book.

In any case, one of the things I enjoy about your blog is that a lot of your personality shines through (at least, since I haven't actually met you, I assume it does). Letting that show in your book may not be a terrible idea either - and where you disagree with big Jim, it could be cool to have a "He said/She said" box to give your opposing takes... The debate itself can be educational.

UGer4ever said...

Love your blog! This is a tad off topic from this current discussion but I was wondering your insight about the safety of chokeholds since you're a groundwork specialist. Its been talked about all over the internet since some kid killed his adult relative with one

Dr. AnnMaria said...


First of all, I think both Jim and I require that you drill, drill, drill. There is no magic bullet .

I dont think my way relies JUST on that you be stronger or faster. What I am saying is that you take advantage of any natural or trained advantages you have over your opponent , whether it is strength or speed, rather than acting as if those aren't or shouldn't be factors

janna said...

I went through an annoying phase in my 20's where i could win any argument with "its all about marketing". I wasn't annoyed, but i'm sure everyone else was. If your style is only going to work for 10% of the athletic population... well... the book won't sell much. And it would be a different argument if that didn't matter. But if you want to "help" a ton of people? Then Jim is right.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hey, Janna -
Well, I learned in marketing that not all customers are created equal. So, the top 10% may be way more likely to buy the book than the other 90%.

I don't think it is an either -or approach. I think the answer is to have the series that Jim has been teaching in the book -well, we already finished that section, actually -and then have a separate session - plan B called Reaction Drills or something.

That way the 90% can buy our book and benefit and so can that top 10%.

That also gives us a market for our second book to help that 90% get more physically fit (-:

And yeah, I was really annoying in my twenties also. Some people would say I am annoying in my fifties also.

Chad Morrison said...

You mean I will have to *practice* this stuff? Bah.

No, my point was (and I was zeroing in on the point you made about still being able to do this stuff to the faster and stronger) was that your drilling is the thing that makes you faster (or more sudden). You practiced being in the position enough times that you react, rather than having to evaluate and then act. Sure, if you happen to also be faster and/or stronger, that will help (same as with Jim's series drills) but that seems to be beside the point, almost.

J'OL said...

I think as a person who is an artist, musician , a freethinker, and a bit of a butthole, I like the freedom of playing by ear. The stiff, militant approach takes away all the excitement and makes it feel like a job. I have a job. I hate my job. I don't want another job. I find I can work very hard at things and remain happy if I'm allowed to be creative. And what better way to come up with new stuff yohh?

jcp said...

I came to this post a little late through "Pins, men, coaching and The Book". One thought is that the Anaconda may be regarded as a counter puncher. It seems to me that your approach is to let them put themselves into a bad position and then explode and take advantage of it. In other words let them give you the kasush and then the direction they become weak you know how to react quickly and exploit. The Lion's approach seems more aggressive in that they are eliciting a specific initial response and then quickly cutting off the opponents options until the result is a submission. I wonder if we have to start life as lions and then as we get more experience on the ground and gain ground awareness we learn to exploit others positions without directly eliciting the initial response.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Hey, Jcp -
The counter puncher analogy is interesting especially since one of the stories in the book is about Dr. James Wooley telling me at the Panamerican Games "You don't have to be perfect to win. You just need to make one less mistake than your opponent."

I think the counter punch theory is all about just taking advantage of their mistakes