Saturday, December 31, 2011

Don't think, just choke

"I know all 67 throws in the go kyu no waza."

is a brag I have heard rather often from a certain type. I have a confession to make:

  1. I don't know if it is actually spelled go kyu no waza.
  2. I don't know if there are actually 67 throws in it.
  3. I certainly don't know all of them.
Gasp! And I have a sixth-degree black belt!  Yeah, I have a bunch of of good medals, too. How can that be. What a travesty!

I don't believe being a good judo player, or a good coach, is a matter of knowing every possible technique. In fact, think of the number of times you have seen a player hesitate in a match. For example, one player attempts a throw and misses because the opponent stepped out of the way or pushed the opponent down.

Both players hesitate and in the end nothing happens.

 In a position like this, most people would probably try a sankaku time (also known as a triangle choke). I have no idea who the person is doing it in the video in that link but her sankaku looks pretty typical in that it takes a while to sink in.

I don't try sankaku from here for three reasons. First, I just don't do sankaku because for most of my judo career my right knee did not bend (I injured it seriously as a teenager). Second, even if I could do sankaku it probably would not be my technique of choice because so many people do it that your competitor is generally expecting it. The third reason is that it is just not the style of mat work that I do. 

Here is what I do. First, as in the picture above, I get the hell out of the way so that she can't throw me. Notice I have stepped around her so that I am at her head and I am pushing down on her shoulder, putting my weight on her to stop her from trying to pop up and throw me.

Next, I am going to DIVE over her towards her hips at a 45-degree angle  (and you thought there was no use for geometry in real life). If you aren't so good at geometry, look at the picture below.

Do NOT dive straight over or you will end up under your opponent, get pinned and look stupid. And I will say, "I told you so."

You are going to do a rolling break fall and as you do it you keep your right hand on the lapel, in the exact same grip it was from the time you started standing with a right lapel grip. This hand never moves. Just hold on to that grip for dear life.

Notice the movement in the picture below. You are sliding your hand under her arm and behind her head as you are rolling over her body NOT after you have completed the roll.

The picture below shows the position as the attacking player is in the middle of the roll. You can see that her right hand has hold of the lapel that is now pulled tight under the blue player’s neck. Her left hand is under the arm and moving behind the head.

Instead of continuing to a standing position as you would in a regular rolling break fall, you are going to slide back on to your stomach as shown below.

At this point, you are both choking your opponent and have her in a pin.

When I do drills starting from a particular position, like this one, I do the same couple of moves over and over. I don't have 67 different moves. I probably have a Plan A and a Plan B that I practice 1,000 times a year - EACH. Then I have a Plan C and a Plan D I practice about 500 times a year - EACH. 

Because I do these so often, when I am in a particular position on the mat I am going to hit that move, say, the choke shown above, automatically, without thinking. If for some reason I cannot get it, say, the player turtles up too quickly and I cannot get the roll in fast enough, then I am going to go to my Plan B - automatically.

Tomorrow .... Plan B.

In the meantime ... Happy New Year !

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Matwork drills for when you don't have a badger

I locked her in a closet with a badger.

That is the lie I have decided I am going to start telling people when they ask me what I did to teach Ronda when she was starting judo. 

If you've ever watched Ronda compete, whether it is in judo or mixed martial arts, you'll notice one thing about her - she's sudden. Often at clinics, like at the California Judo, Inc. winter camp this week, I'll show drills I had her do when she was young and I get one of two reactions.

  1. People think it is a good idea, looks like fun and try it. (This is usually kids and more experienced instructors.)
  2. People shake their heads and don't believe me. It's not complicated or impressive enough. (This is usually people who are legends in their own minds because they won the middleweight green belt division not once - but, TWICE- so they are just awesome.) They conclude that Ronda just won by luck and I just won because only dinosaurs did judo back then, and there probably weren't very many small dinosaurs so I had the division to myself.
A small dinosaur

I thought about making up some incredibly complicated move where I fake right, then left, then do a little two-step dance backwards and forwards, slip behind the opponent and tie their arms behind their back with their own belt. The badger story sounds better, though. Plus it requires less work from me.

If you don't buy the badger or dinosaur story, read on ...

Pin escape drill - inside turn

Did you ever see a situation where one player is on his back, maybe he just got thrown, or the other player managed to turn him over, and just at the last second, the player on the bottom turns out and escapes? Did you ever think that maybe the other player practiced for just that situation? Here is a drill I like for all levels from young kids to black belts.

Step 1: Start with the player on the top as close as possible to the bottom player, without yet touching. Notice that the blue player, Ana, a former successful international competitor, when given a choice, chose to start in position for an upper four corner hold. This position puts her at an advantage. Less experienced players will probably start from the side. 

Step 2: When the coach calls “Go!” the players have ten seconds to either get the pin or escape. In the position above, the best choice for the bottom player is an inside turn. That is, to turn in toward the opponent. Notice that the player in blue (Ana) has grabbed under the uniform of the arm pulling away from her. She has to switch her momentum from going straight forward and down to the mat to pulling her opponent back . It’s already too late. The bottom player continues her roll to the stomach and escapes.

Variation 1: Same drill from the side
We do variations on this drill, sometimes with the player at the top as shown above, and other times with the player at the side, as shown below. This is a more common position, where the bottom player has just been thrown, or the top player has passed the guard. Again, the drill begins with the top player very close but not yet touching the bottom player.

Players will soon learn that the inside turn, pulling  the shoulder closest to the opponent in and turning into the opponent is the most likely chance to escape.

Notice that with the blue player at the side, if the white player on the bottom (that's me!) had turned away, she would be more likely to be pinned, as the blue player could pull back with her left hand, where she has grabbed under the left arm and pull the opponent to her back. Also, if the white player had turned away, she would be more at risk of an arm bar on her right arm, as blue could easily trap that arm, throw a leg over and sit back for the arm bar.

The drill is only ten seconds, then the players switch positions.  The reason for only giving ten seconds is to force both players to react quickly to take advantage of an opportunity to win or to escape. In a large group, do this drill once, with each player taking a turn on the back, and then switch partners. With a smaller group, when there are only a few partners of the same size, you may want to do this drill several times with the same person before switching. 

A very bright young 11-year-old asked me if I remembered that I had taught this same drill at the 2009 CJI Winter Camp. No. I'm amazed HE remembers what I taught two years ago.  Good for him.

 I do use this drill a lot because you can practice this situation several times in just a few minutes. It's also good for learning to get out of a dangerous position.

What I like most about it though is that it is good for developing a feel for mat work, which is THE key to being successful on the mat.  After turning away from the opponent and getting pinned several times, gradually the player will get into the habit of turning toward the inside. At the same time, the top player should get the habit of catching the arm and arm barring any player that turns away, or find it easy to pull the player into a pin.

It's a drill that teaches players to react in a situation, without stopping to think. To be sudden.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Drills and series: Matwork ideas of the day

Wow, did we ever make some progress on The Book today! Jim is back from China, Japan and Tibet or wherever the heck he was and we got another 15 pages done in one day. How amazing is that? I also have a list of photos I need to take down at the CJI (California Judo, Inc.) camp in San Diego tomorrow. 

The more we get done, the more I am struck by how completely different Jim and I teach mat work. He wrote a whole chapter, which I think is great, on mat work series. Not only is each series complex, but they all flow into one another. For example, for several pages there is a whole sit out series (buy the book) that ends with this

When doing this move, if you don't feel you can get the arm lock, do everything the same, (that is, lock above the elbow, use your inside hand to post), then spin around behind your opponent as shown and continue your mat work from there.

Grab their wrist, pull it into their body, and then go into the wrist control series from here... 

 The next page begins a whole new series, for several more pages. It's brilliant, and anyone who has ever seen Jimmy Pedro,Jr. or Kayla Harrison or anyone else Jim coached knows that it works. I find it fascinating because it's also not the way I do mat work at all. This is chapter four.

So what did we talk about in the first three chapters?
 Chapter two is entitled "Ten quick ways to a submission"
Chapter three is "Two techniques everyone should know"

 But I don't want to talk about that, I want to talk about Chapter Seven, that I am working on now, which is situation drills. This is almost the opposite of what Jim did in chapter four. He says that you must always anticipate where your opponent is going to go.

My strategy is the flip side of that - having a reaction to whatever your opponent decides to do. The first drill is what I call "Help 'em up." If your opponent gets knocked to one knee and is so silly as to not let go of the grip immediately, you should do one of two things - either run straight into him, throw with o soto gari and bury him, or, if he is so silly as to try to stand up, step into an uchi mata and bury him.

I do this drill for two reasons. One is to teach the person who gets knocked to the knee that this is a very, very bad position and to not ever get here. The second is that, although you will not get a good player in this position very often, if you do, the person will only be there for an instant before they realize it is a huge mistake, drop the grip and either turtle up, get in the guard or some other more defensible position. Even really good players will make a mistake from time to time, but they won't make many of them, which is why you need to be able to capitalize on every possibility.

 I like the first drill because it allows you to catch even exceptional players because the bottom person is in such a bad position.

The next two drills are for positions that are much more likely to occur. Check back tomorrow night when I will (hopefully) have pictures of those, since that is part of what I'm teaching in the clinic in San Diego. 

Oh, The Book, right, when exactly will it be done and for sale? Well, our editor very inconsiderately decided to get married without consulting us in advance as to whether it would be convenient. While we thought editing our book was a perfect way to spend one's honeymoon, she apparently decided something else might be more interesting. (Yeah, hard to believe, I know.) Right now most of the photos in the book are "placeholders" so we know we want a photo of a counter to sankaku, for example, that shows the beginning, the exact placement of the hands, the roll, and the end but, of course, the quality needed for print is quite different than for on the web. We need to schedule a photo shoot in studio with the photographer. We're having Ronda do most of the demonstrations because she is much cuter and less wrinkly than me. We'll have to work around her fight schedule, so the photo shoot will probably happen some time in January.

 I saw a blog I wrote in January that said we hoped to have The Book done by the end of this year. I don't think we'll be too far off. How long after we get done all the publisher's end takes, I don't know. Guess I will find out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Dream is to Become a Zebra: Thoughts on the Olympics

Three times in the last week I have received an email or a link to an article asking me to give money to a player whose "dream" was to "win an Olympic gold medal". There is only one problem here. Each one of those people has exactly zero chance of winning an Olympic gold medal. If this post causes you to call me a mean, hard-hearted old lady, save your breath. Gary Butts calls me that every time he talks to me and I've known him for 11 years and it hasn't had a bit of an impact. Let me refer you to a wikipedia article on Olympic qualification for judo. While you're there, give them some money.
Qualification for Judo at the 2012 Summer Olympics will be based on the world ranking list prepared by the IJF on 1 May 2012. The top 22 men or 12 women from the world rankings in each division qualify, subject to a limit of 1 judoka per NOC per division. Further continental quotas (Europe 25, Africa 24, Pan-America 21, Asia 20 and Oceania 10 across both sexes and all divisions) also qualify subject to an overall limit of 1 per NOC.
(Interestingly, this other article by Burton and Fallon, who presumably know better than wikipedia, say it is 22 men and 14 women.) Let me clarify this. Each division will have the top 22 men in the world qualify, but only one per country. Let's say you are #99. You don't qualify. If two of the top 22 in your weight are from France and two are from Japan then the selection moves down and picks #23 and #24. You still don't qualify. The article by Burton and Fallon goes on further to state:
This list is used to add 25 more entrants from Europe, 24 from Africa, 21 from Pan-America, 20 from Asia and 10 from Oceania. However, in this phase, only one athlete per country can qualify across all weight categories and both genders. To take Europe as an example, where 50 countries could feasibly qualify an athlete, 25 different countries will end up filling those 25 continental places. This ensures a large number of countries get the chance to take part in the Games. In addition to this, there is a maximum of two athletes per continent, per category at this stage. (For example, Africa can only send a maximum of two athletes to the women's -48kg event using this method, regardless of which countries they come from.) There are 20 further invitational places on offer, which will be confirmed between May and July 2012.
In other words, if you are an American/ Canadian/ Mexican or any other Panamerican NOT in the top 22 men you have exactly ONE spot for your country that can be given to you or any of the other 13 weight divisions. You better be the number one non-qualified person out there. If you are ranked number 99, you are not that person. Even after that, you could conceivably get one of those 20 "invitational" places based on God knows what. While the means of determining those invitations is undefined, as far as I know, you had better believe the competition is going to be fierce to get them and I don't even want to think of the political trading, in-fighting and back-biting that will ensue. If it was me, I would NOT want one of those invitational spots.
It's like the old joke about the two guys who went hunting in a forest known to have grizzly bears. One hunter asked the other wasn't he afraid that he wouldn't be able to outrun a bear. The other replied,
I don't need to be able to outrun a bear. I just need to be able to outrun you.
If you are not in the top 22 in the world and not the top-rated in your country across all weights and both genders, then your chance of going to the Olympics is limited to one of the 20 invitational spots. I think it extraordinarily unlikely that more than one of those is going to a single country, although stranger things have happened. To this point, I'm questioning the probability of these people even GETTING to the Olympics. Now, let's say you manage to somehow obtain one of those invitational spots. Let's overlook the fact that your odds of doing that are only slightly better than me winning the 2010 Olympics in luge, which, need I point out, are already over and I did not win.
If you have not managed to crack the top 22 (really more likely the top 24 or 25 since some countries inevitably have more than one in the ranking) over a four-year qualification period, by what miracle are you suddenly going to become best on the planet on a day when ALL of the best players are expected to show up and bring their A-game? What would I suggest that you do, other than quit trying to raise money? Take an honest look at your life. When I retired from competition, I was very, very fortunate that I had the man of my dreams waiting to marry me and a good-paying job from which I was on leave. I also had a very definite idea of what I had been giving up the past decade and what I wanted to move on to - having more children, raising a family, moving up in my career. Think about what else do you want to do? WHY are you number 99 or 47 in the world anyway? Did you not train enough, did you not train in the right places, were you injured? WHY do you want to go to the Olympics anyway? I won the world championships then I went back to work, got married and had more children. When the first opportunity for women to compete in the Olympics came up, I took a pass on it and have never one day in my life regretted that decision. A few weeks ago, my niece asked me if I thought a person with a masters degree from a state university would make as much money as a person with a bachelors degree from an Ivy league school. I told her, other things being equal ,no. A lot more people have masters from state schools than bachelors degrees from the Ivies. She said,
Thank you for crushing my dream.
I told her,
I didn't crush your dream. Reality did. Find a different dream.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Running in Circles & the Spinning Back Fist of Death

On the judo forum, someone commented that there are three types of judo instructors, the kind that believe in giving a man a fish, the kind who believe in teaching a man to fish and the third kind that tells you "a story about this one time in 1968 when I caught a fish". My children say I tell the same stories over and over. This is true, largely because I can never remember if I told that story before. Also, because I don't care what they think. Someone trying to show me the equivalent of the spinning back fist of death, reminded me of that one time in a judo match ....

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Matwork on Purpose

Everyone I have ever seen teach throwing techniques in judo acted as if the only purpose of throwing was to do as textbook perfect a throw as possible. The one and only point of throwing is to throw for a full point - an ippon. Do you agree?

If you do, then it follows logically that mat work only happens by accident. All mat work is secondary to throwing. It is Plan B. You throw to win and if you fail, then you do mat work. By this logic, no one ever goes to the ground on purpose. On the rare occasions that you see anyone practicing transition from standing to ground techniques it is taught as,

"If you do this throw and for some unknown reason it does not work, then you can follow up into a mat technique like so ..."

Can this be really true, that no one ever goes into groundwork on purpose? I know I did. My reason for adopting this style was simple, I had no choice. As I mentioned before, I hurt my knee badly when I was a teenager and after that I couldn't do throws that required bending my knees more than a few inches. Often, my competitive style was referred to derogatorily as "koka judo", meaning I only won by a slight advantage rather than dominating my opponent with a big throw. In fact, though, although I threw almost no one for an ippon ever, I won almost all of my matches by ippon year after year, including every match in the Panamerican Games, Austrian Open and world trials. I just happened to win them by pins and arm bars.

When I look at pictures of myself throwing, they never look like the textbooks. This never bothered me until I started writing a book and had to debate whether I should include pictures like I was SUPPOSED to be doing the throw or how I actually do it.

The truth is, I don't do matwork by accident. I do it on purpose. When I take a grip and go into a drop shoulder throw my end goal is not to throw for the win but to knock the person down and do a pin. When I do a standing shoulder throw, my first goal is to go for an arm bar and if I can't get the arm bar, to win by a pin. If I actually ever threw anyone for ippon and won by the throw alone, THAT would be by accident.

While I adopted this style because I had no choice, it was very successful for me. I know I'm not the only one who competed  this way. I was talking to Hayward Nishioka about this today and he recalled someone he knew in Japan who was not that great at throwing, " ... but, man could he beat everybody on the mat!"

Hayward said that what I called my method of competing, "Matwork on purpose" and the general view, "Matwork by accident" didn't sound important and academic enough. So, just for him, let me reiterate.

Almost everyone uses the "secondary theory of mat work", where the primary attempt and goal is to win by throwing. Matwork is secondary. My "primary theory of mat work" allows for the possibility that winning on the mat is the goal and the throw is secondary, just a means of getting to the mat to win.

This next point is very, very important so pay attention ...

Often, the way you do a throw to set up mat work is different from the way you would do it to win by ippon. For example, at practice today, Richard (Blinky) Elizalde was teaching a drop shoulder throw. He had students throw and keep driving with their legs so that the opponent was driven to flat on his or her back. If successful, this will give the player a higher score, a waza ari (half point) or ippon (full point). HOWEVER, it puts the thrower in a less advantageous situation for mat work, with his back on the opponent's upper body and neck exposed.

Since Blinky and I were team-teaching today, I taught the same throw next, except I had the students throw their opponent and immediately follow up to the pin.

When I do ko uchi makikomi, I drive straight into the opponent. My goal is to end up with my opponent on the mat and me largely at her right side (assuming I did the throw right-handed), in a good position to turn quickly on my stomach and pull myself up into a pin or roll (the backstroke ) into a pin. Other people (Ronda, for example) often do the same throw rotating much as Blinky teaches in a shoulder throw. Again, you're more likely to score a full point than the way I do the throw, but if you don't win by ippon you are in a weaker position for mat work.

Time after time, when I won matches, the competitors and their coaches would comment on how I had just "gotten lucky" to stumble in the perfect position for an arm bar, turnover, choke or pin.

So, next time you see someone perform a throw "incorrectly" and end up winning on the mat seconds later, consider this - maybe they meant to do that.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Stuff is Ugly but it Works

Within the span of two weeks, I have seen two separate people, both good coaches, former outstanding competitors, demonstrate a technique that I have never seen work in competition. They looked really good doing it, though. Both of these coaches, I saw compete on many occasions "back in the day" and never once did I see them even attempt the technique being demonstrated.

One of the coaches trained at many of the same practices with me when we were young. I might have seen him do the technique he demonstrated once or twice on someone half his size or a new white belt.

Often, whether at a clinic or when visiting a practice, when coaches are asked to demonstrate several techniques an odd thing happens. First, they show the techniques they do best, the ones they have won matches with. Most of those techniques are pretty basic - throws like o soto gari . Everyone has seen o soto gari. It's not fancy and shiny new but it wins one hell of a lot of matches.
After that, the instructor seems to feel that he or she should do something "impressive", so then they move on to "let me show you this trick".

I feel a little funny watching these demonstrations because, quite the opposite of the perfect posture and exotic techniques that many people show, I don't look like a textbook at all. For example, in the transition from a shoulder throw to a pin I showed on this blog the other day, I have terrible technique. My knees are not bent and my back is, the exact opposite of the way seoi nage is taught. Of course, as I explained, I do it that way because my knees don't bend.

So, what should I do, show the technique the way it appears in the textbooks? Or the way I actually do it?

In the end, I decided to go with the way I actually threw people in competition and then went into the arm bar, not the way the books SAY you are supposed to have done it. I am sure some people will look at the book and say, "That's not the way you're supposed to do it."

Maybe I don't look pretty doing my techniques. Maybe I don't have the best-looking, most impressive clinics. I've heard people comment sometimes after clinics,

"That guy looked a lot more impressive and taught a lot more techniques. His looked a lot better than hers. I thought she was supposed to be good. I wonder how she ever won that much."

One reason, I guess, is that I was only worried about winning, in any way the rules allowed, and not at all about looking good.

The question that still puzzles me, though, is WHY people who really do know judo, who were legitimate competitors, who should know better, still demonstrate techniques that I've never seen be effective in competition, whether done by them or anyone else.

These are the kinds of questions I'd usually discuss with Jim as we are working on The Book but since he is in Japan for the next couple of weeks coaching, if anyone else has any opinions, please feel free to jump in.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Most Important Things I Learned from Judo

and how destroying my knee made me a world champion

I'm not very good at throwing, as you can see by my less than perfect technique here.  At a very young age, I had what in a less stubborn person would have been a career-ending injury. My knee was so damaged that it became physically impossible to balance on my right leg and throw someone - eliminating a whole range of throws. Eventually, my other knee started to give out, from years of bearing 80% of my weight, and it became increasingly difficult for me to lift anyone even when standing on both legs. The only reasonable decision was to quit competing.

No one has ever accused me of being a reasonable person. Instead, I pursued international competition, rather successfully, if I do say so myself.

What I learned was to turn strengths into weaknesses. As you can see here, my throwing technique is not the best. I start in a standard grip.

I turn into a throw, just like anyone else.

Because my knees are very bad - better now, since I had one replaced, but prior to that I had one ligament and no cartilage in the right knee - none, not even the stuff that is supposed to cover the end of your bones - and was missing one ligament and some of my cartilage in the other knee - I can only bend a very little, as you can see.

The opponent just sort of ungracefully rolls off of me and lands on her side. Not very hard and not completely on her back.

However, I am in a perfect position for an arm bar. I have her arm at the elbow, her arm is straight up in the air. My right foot is close to her body to keep her from turning to the right. My left foot is near her head, also keeping her from turning to the right.

It takes less than a second for me to fall backwards, taking her arm with me. As I fall, my right leg goes over her body and both hands slide up to her wrist so that I have her arm locked against me with two hands. Then, I just arch to finish the arm bar.

What I learned was this -- to turn my weakness, that is, my inability to lift someone up so that I could throw them hard and flat on the back - into a strength, by practicing the transition from that rolling off my back position into a really tight arm bar. 

When I got injured, I thought it was the end of the world, that I would never be able to do judo again. Oddly, it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned to focus on what I could do and not what I couldn't do. When I was injured things like ligament replacements and total knee replacements didn't exist. That meant I had to find a different way to win that didn't require being able to stand up very well.  I learned to look at what other people were not very good at as an opportunity - that was mat work in general and particularly the transition from standing to mat work and the transition between mat techniques. 

If I hadn't blown my knee out when I was a teenager, I'd probably have gone along like everyone else, trying to do a better shoulder throw and never have really won very much outside of the U.S. 

Three other really important lessons I learned at the same time were:
  • that success often comes from doing what no one else is doing,
  • hard work has an almost infinite capacity to make up for what you're missing in other areas, even missing body parts,
  • it's perfectly fine to pursue goals that are completely unreasonable.

 For example,  I decided to write a game in javascript, just because. The fact that I didn't know javascript when I decided this did not deter me in the slightest. Today I got it to work. Tomorrow, I'll get it to work better. 

While I'm getting too old to pull off the arm bars 100% of the time, those lessons help me in business every single day.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I didn't show up here to look good losing

If you looked at me and Jim Pedro, Sr. as competitors, you might guess the big body-builder - looking guy with all the muscles (him) was the one who would really focus on using strength to win and the little midget-sized one (me) would be all about technique.

You'd be wrong. One of the people I really learned a lot from was Miguel Tudela, a teammate of mine at Los Angeles Tenri Dojo, a member of the 1980 Olympic team and national sambo champion. Miguel was ungodly strong. He was also a very, very intelligent person, with a degree in international business and fluent in Spanish and English. He won national championships in multiple sports and in multiple weight divisions from 189 and under to the open weight category.

Two really valuable lessons I learned from Miguel were:
1. Use your head. Literally. When attacking someone with a double-leg take down he would grab both legs but he would also smack into the opponent's chest with his head. He figured for a guy his weight the head was at least 15 pounds and having the force of a thrown bowling ball smacking into your chest could only help off-balance you and send you in the direction of the throw. Miguel would come off the mat with mat burn all over his face because he used his head as an extra appendage to hold you down and to block in matwork. Pretty soon, I, too, came of the mat looking like I had wiped out on my bike and hit the pavement with my face. The other thing I had in common with Miguel is that I won.

2. If you're stronger than your opponent, use that advantage.  Jim disagrees because he says that at some point you're going to run into someone stronger than you. (I'm not sure he really disagrees, because he later said that, sometimes even if you have better technique than someone, if they are a lot stronger than you, they'll beat you any way. I suspect he just argues with me for a hobby.) Here's what I learned from watching Miguel - both he and I were stronger than at least 95% of the people we fought. Technique may beat strength but people with technique AND strength have a better odds of winning than people with just technique. To win, I only needed to have technique as good as the people who were not as strong as me. I only needed to have BETTER technique than that 5% or so of the population who were stronger than me.

I saw this video of the finals of the Panamerican Games where I was fighting Natasha Hernandez. At the end, I locked her arm, rolled to the mat and when we were on the ground, I grabbed her legs and hauled her over into a pin.

Two things amused me by this. One is that the video had edited out the two times when I armbarred Natasha. (It was a double- elimination tournament, so she had tapped earlier in the day.) The second match, she did not tap and the match kept going. They did show her being taped. Almost 30 years ago, people being arm locked seemed a bit extreme for network television.

The second thing that amused me was a comment on the video, "Some of the worst judo I have ever seen". Natasha wasa gifted judo player. She moved up in weight and won the world championships the following year, at 61 kg. I had already beaten her once by ippon that day and I beat her by ippon again in the finals to win the gold medal.

I'm not sure how many international gold medals that commenter had won. I don't feel at all bad about winning because I am stronger than the other person, we're talking about a sporting event here, not the SATs. To some people the main point of a judo match is to look good, to throw with a nice, pretty uchi mata. To me, if I am representing my country in an athletic event, the goal is to win the event any way the rules allow.

As my friend, Steve Scott, often says to his athletes at major events,

"Guys, we didn't come all this way to look good losing."

For those of you who want an equation (all two of you), it would look like this:

y = a + b1X1 + b2X2

where Y = the log of the odds ratio of winning versus not winning
X1 = strength
X2 = technique

You're welcome.

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.

      Monday, October 31, 2011

      Do a half-nelson, damn it!

      It has never made the slightest bit of sense to me that so many judo players who wrestle in high school and college forget wrestling once they put on a judo gi. Some of them are really good wrestlers. One technique I cannot believe that every judo player does not know and use is a half-nelson. Here is former Marine Corps wrestler and West Coast Judo Training Center coach, Gary Butts, demonstrating on his fellow WCJTC coach and head instructor at Ontario Judo, Victor Ortiz.

       The first thing to notice is that Gary has his weight on Victor. He is reaching around Victor's waist to pull him closer and put even more weight on him.  At the same time, he has his left arm under Victor's arm

       Notice how Gary shoots his left hand through and is grabbing his opponent's neck.

      As he turns Victor, Gary pulls his right arm back and shoots it through underneath to grab Victor's bicep.

      You can see below that Gary continues to crank on Victor's neck with his left hand as he pulls the opponent's arm in toward him with his right. Notice how his weight is STILL all pushing against Victor. There is no space between the two of them. Also, you can see in both photos that Gary is driving against Victor with all his weight. Notice how he is pushing off of his left leg.

      The half-nelson finishes with the opponent on his back, pinned with yoko shiho gatame (what jiu-jitsu players call a side mount).

      Now I know that anyone who ever wrestled learned a half-nelson and I see lots of judo players who are successful wrestlers get in the same position that Gary was above and they never try this move. It is just ridiculous. Cut it out! Do a half-nelson, damn it!

      Friday, October 28, 2011

      Book cover - what I did when I should have been working

      I don't know why I spent so much time playing with the cover. In the end, I'm sure the publisher has far more artistically talented people than me who can put something together, but, I hope, this gives an idea what the book is about - physical conditioning, matwork and coaching, for judo and for other sports, like mixed martial arts.

      So, what do you think?

      Spent hours today working on the book when I should have been writing a statistical paper (good thing I'm president of the company). Still, I have commitments to meet to clients, so, I'm off to that now.

      Thursday, October 27, 2011

      Matwork Connections: Tie-up series

      Many judo players do a move called a tie-up or key-lock, where they slip one arm through the opponent's bent arm, pull over the gi and "tie-up" the opponent's arm. If you want to see the whole series (and there's a LOT of it), you'll need to buy our book. Since I am working on the outline, synopsis and all that stuff publishers want, here is a guest post from Jim Pedro, Sr. today. Thanks to him and thanks to Kayla Harrison for the demonstrations (congrats on the Panam Games medal) and to Riley McIlwain for taking the photos.

      Another matwork connection sequence is when you are attempting to do the tie up, as your opponent starts to get up on her hands and knees. You step around and get your knee in front of her chest as the other knee is controlling her head. Then, you take your free arm and shoot it through the arm that you were trying to tie up.

      You cross-face (put your bicep into her face) and drive her to the mat

      into the pin shown below.