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?”
“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,
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.
“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.”
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?
"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.