Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Matside Manner Matters

I thought about posting an Olympic Wrap-up, but I quickly realized that a google or twitter search turned up dozens of reviews written by writers more experienced and nuanced than I. From an American perspective, it was a great year - punctuated by Kayla Harrison winning Gold, and Marti Malloy's bronze. Thrown in Travis Stevens' Pool win and 5th place finish, and arguably, this was the best US Olympic Judo Finish ever.

But I want to talk about someone else - Jimmy Pedro Jr. While there is no doubt that Kayla, Marti, and Travis' success are the result of their hard work, focus and dedication, I think each would credit Jimmy's coaching as an aid in their success. as I watched those early morning matches on the computer (thanks to NBC's awesome coverage), You couldn't help but hear Jimmy's vocal guidance from the side of the mat. Jimmy, looking sharp in a suit (as opposed to the shlumpy warm-ups worn by some of the other coaches) cupped his hands at matside, and shouted the right encouragement to his players. Sure, every coach has their sayings and mannerisms, their methods for motivation. Listening to Jimmy's words made me realize how much in tune he was with his team.

In Kayla's semi-final, I remember him saying to her - 'Finish it now Harrison, finish it now'. He wasn't telling her to go to O-Goshi, or to stall the clock out, he was telling her - 'this match is yours, finish strong, and finish it now'. That was all the motivation Kayla needed - tapping out Mayra Aguiar of Brazil for Ippon with 15 seconds left.

In stark contrast, I am reminded of a scene at a competition I attended a few years ago. During a match, one of the coaches grabbed the competitor's teammate, and was showing the competitor how to grip, and telling him what techniques to use - as if the competitor's looking at the sidelines was not enough of a distraction to their opponents' advantage. I thought to myself - if you feel the need to teach technique at matside during a match, clearly you didn't do your job right with your student.

The truly good coach knows exactly what his player needs to hear during a match, what kicks in their x-factor, and how to bring out the best in them. And that coach is embodied by Jimmy Pedro Jr. - I hope USA Judo keeps him around for Rio.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Internet Never Forgets...

Hello everyone? Remember me? I am the guy who used to write this blog. I came back to it today for several reasons - partly because I am feeling the itch to start playing again, and partly because I've been getting up early to follow the Judo action at the London Olympics. But the real impetus to be writing again is because of a phone call I got from my brother yesterday.

He told me he was searching for a family video I had posted on YouTube, entered my name in the search box, and stumbled across this:

This is a video of the last non-dojo tournament I competed in. About 2-3 months before hurting my shoulder, and 6 months before my mom died. Needless to say the Judo is sloppy - I never claimed to be an Olympic-quality competitor, nor am I the perfect example of how to execute technique in a tournament setting.

I remember this tournament well - it was a small tourney-  my group was only 3 people - me, this opponent, and one other guy. This was my first match. I remember the throw - I was trying for Harai, and then as he changed direction, I started to move towards Tai Otoshi, but somehow caught him midway. When he landed, I assumed it was a Wazari and was about to follow up matwork when I heard the Sore-Made.

Unfortunately, my next match was better (the ones not recorded always are :) ). I tried throwing my opponent with O-Soto-Gari and he started to counter - I thought he had me - but a slight hesitation by him enabled me to pivot and WHAM - I threw him with Harai. Once in awhile - either in Shiai or Randori you get to land one of those textbook throws. And when you are in the -100KG weight class, it causes one of those loud thuds where the whole room turns aroumd.

I really felt good about that tournament, and watching this video (which I'd forgotten had existed) made me remember how much I love Judo - which means I'll need to keep playing, and keep writing - hopefully someone is still reading :)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Just when you think you have life figured out, it throws more lemons at you. I had finally gotten to the point where I was consistently going to practice and watching my skills steadily improve, and then in February it happened. I was thrown by one of our less experienced players, but it was a bit off-balance and even though I was able to to take a good breakfall on the throw, my Partner (who had a fair amount of weight on me) lost his balance and landed directly on top of my shoulder. In the mirror the next morning, it looked as if someone had implanted a grapefruit underneath the skin of my right shoulder. I figured I would give it a couple of days to heal before seeing a Doctor, but it definitely hurt and it was hard to use my hand for the first few days.

 Of course, two days later, on Friday, as my physical pain was slowly melting away, my emotional pain exploded. You see, that was the day that my mother was diagnosed with Actue Mylogenous Leukemia - AML. Suddenly the pain in my should didn't matter. Nothing mattered except my mom. Mom put up a good fight, but after two months and several rounds of chemotherapy, she succumbed to her cancer and passed away towards the end of April. 

 Regardless of the emotional pain, there is also the functional responsibilities that come with losing a parent, which have unfortunately caused me to have to give up Judo in the short term - at least until I sort some things out. 

 At least I can still blog :(

Monday, February 08, 2010

New Rules = New Strategies

I don't mean to harp on the no leg grab rules, but I just saw this on the USA Judo site, and I needed to share. First and foremost, I congratulate Travis Stevens on his hard-fought Bronze medal, and I also commend him on his quick thinking of how to use the new rules to his advantage.

By his own admission from the USA Judo site, he coaxed his opponent into an illegal leg grab to win his match and put him in the semifinals:

"I was shaking my arm out and trying to figure out how I was going to beat this guy when I remembered from watching his other fight that he was always trying to grab [Takahiro Nakai's] leg when he stuck it out," Stevens said of his strategy to capitalize on a new rule that bans grabbing your opponent's leg during a match.  "So I decided to go with that and I was able to trick him into grabbing my leg and trying to throw me with a te guruma [hand wheel throw] and it worked."

Stsiashenka's failed te guruma attack resulted in a hansokumake (disqualification), making him one of seven players to be removed from the tournament for violating the new rules.

I will re-iterate, that they need to add a shido for these rules (at least for the time being) to help set the tone. In this case, Stevens' opponent might have had the ability to change his game to prevent being disqualified (and if he didn't, he'd deserve it). At first, the IJF was reluctant to change the rules during the qualification period for the Olympics. If only one or two people had been dq'd by the new rules, I'd say that the effect was not as bad as I thought, but 7!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Baseball, Neil Adams, and the New IJF Rules.

If you are a practicing Judoka, and haven't been living under a rock for the last few months, you should already know that the IJF has put a lot of rule changes into place as of January 1st. Like everyone else, I will give you my two cents, but first, in order to paint the picture, I want to talk about Baseball - specifically about Balls and strikes.

Two rules that even the most casual observer about Baseball knows:
- If you hit a ball that lands outside the foul lines it is considered a foul ball, and is out of play.
- If the umpire considers a pitch to be hittable, even if the batter doesn't swing, he can call it a strike.

These rules are considered fundamental rules, and even my 6 and 8 year old kids know them already. The first rule, the fall ball rule, has very objective criteria. If the ball lands on one side of the line it's fair and on other side it is foul (yes, if the ball lands close to the line on either side, it is subject both the umpire's perspective but you get my point). The rules have very clear application. As for the calling of balls and strikes by the umpire, while there are official guidelines, every umpire has a slightly different strike zone. But, even though the umpires have leeway and are allowed to use their opinion in the calls, the very nature of the game, rules it out as a factor - for example, after the first few batters, it is apparent to each team what the umpire is calling as a ball and what he is calling as a strike. Even for the first few batters, players can gage the size of the strike zone by the first few pitches thrown.

On the surface these rules may not seem to have any connection to Judo, but if you think about it for a moment, it illustrates a good point about the rules of sport and how they're applied by officials:

- Try to make the rules as objective as possible
- If you must make them subjective, at least allow some opportunity for the competitors to understand how the particular judges judging the match might apply the rules.

While following these two rules does not guarantee that refereeing will be free of controversy (for an example, google Douillet vs. Sinohara, Sydney Olympics),  it does at least help the players understand the referees perspective and enables them to understand what is allowed and what is not allowed - even if that is defined in part by the referees judgement.

So here is where my complaint comes in - the new leg grab rules in Judo violate both of these principles:
- They are not truly objective as they require that the referees asses the situation in which a leg grab attack is made.
- They also do not allow for any margin of error, as the result is a direct Hansoku-Make. 

When they were testing these rules, the initial infraction was Shido, and the second infraction was Hansoku Make. At least in that case, no matter the situation - try a specific technique once, if the ref didn't like it, you get a Shido, and you make a mental note not to try it during a match. Now, even if the most natural tendency is to grab the leg while countering or completing an attack, if the referee feels its not the correct sequence of events, your SOOL, and you've lost the match.

Neil Adams, the legendary British Judoka, has a great video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8tGY-oKhK8&feature=player_embedded) illustrating plenty of gray areas brought about by these new rules. For example, the rules show that if your opponent grabs your belt from over the back, you can grab his leg for a takedown, so what happens if he grabs your gi, just above your belt? Most importantly in the video, Mr. Adams keeps reiterating that this is according to his interpretation of the rules - i.e. YMMV (your mileage might vary).  Mr. Adams also posted a blog entry (http://naeffectivefighting.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/the-new-ijf-rules-out-of-hand/) as well, indicating some other things that I never even thought of. For example, if referees are overzealous with dishing out the Hansoku-Makes the first day, they might be more lenient the next and vice-versa. 

I guess ultimately, what I'd like the IJF to do is either a) Ban leg-grabs altogether or b) Give warning Shidos for the first infraction. Let's watch the upcoming European tourneys and see how it plays out.

NOTE: As I wrap up, I just thought about this one - if my opponent tries a leg-grab, and gets Hansoku-Make, do I get the win by Ippon? I imagine you would, which looks to be fodder for a whole 'nother blog entry.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Club Competition

We had our Annual club competition, and all told it was a weird experience for me. Last time around, I had just started refereeing. Fortunately I had Sensei Jesse Wang with his years of experience as a guide. In addition, Larry and Wilson - who both had significantly more experience than me were there as well. All 3 gave me advice and tips as I was going through the matches. Unfortunately, Sensei Jesse passed away earlier this year, and Larry wasn't able to make it. Thankfully I still had Wilson and Mark joined us as well, but I was refereeing a lot more matches this year. It was just strange on so many levels without Jesse.

The beauty of Refereeing was that I was able to see all of the matches. It was nice to see all of our students - both young, old and in between get a chance to compete - even if it was against the same crowd. My son Mitch took second place in his division. He led most of the way through his first match - with a Wa-zari and a couple of Yukos, but then was caught in the last minute and thrown for Ippon. In his second match he also had 3 Yukos and a Waza-ari and held on to win. I am happy with his progress - looking at the video replay, his focus and intensity was there, but still has room for improvement.

As I've mentioned many times before, our Sensei teaches Judo at two colleges, and our competition also included these students as well. The were some great ippons that left no doubt, and there were other calls that, while watchin the video, probably should have made. Still, all told, I don't think too many people were upset with the officiating.

Finally, it was my turn to compete. I got to compete against Mark and Mike. Quite frankly, I didn't bring my "A" game. I played Mark first, and got a Yuko off of a Sloppy Tani-Otoshi attempt. I managed to quickly transit into Ne-Waza and pinned him well enough to hold on for a Waza-ari to win as time ran out. Unfortunately for me, I had to play Mike immediately after. Mike managed to throw me for two Yukos, and I lost the match. He told me afterward that he thought I had him a couple of times. Watching the video, I saw that I had several opportunities to throw him, but I was so winded that I couldn't capitalize. That, coupled with how fat I look in the video is my motivation for losing weight for the new year - at my next tournament, I'd like to play 198!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trophies, we don't need no Stinking Trophies

When I try to explain Judo tournaments to people, I say that they're a lot like Disneyland - you wait in line for two hours for 2 minutes of excitement, but those two minutes give you enough excitement to make you want to wait inline all over again. I competed today, and I had exactly that experience. I fought two quick matches, won them both, and took first place

This morning when I woke up, I was a little worried. The bathroom scale read 220.3 - 0.3 lbs over where I wanted to be. I skipped breakfast, and dressed in layers - I also cranked the heat up in the car on the way over. I even parked farther away from the venue and jogged from my car to the registration desk. Whether driving in the heat paid off, or whether my bathroom scale was a few lbs over, I wound up being safe - I weighed in at 217.7.

I must say that for the most part at tournaments, I tried spending as little time at the tournament as possible. i.e. Show up for my matches, and then leave when I was done. This time around, however, I decided to stick around and catch as much of the action as possible, even encourage and/or coach my dojomates. I have to say it was a lot of fun. A lot of our guys managed to bring home the hardware, and I got two watch at least two of my teammates pull off some great moves in matches that they, unfortunately, ultimately lost.  Brandon, one of our teenagers, was trapped in Sankaku against a player who had him wrapped up real good. I thought he was done for, but Brandon managed to get out of the Sankaku by sliding his hand in a preventing the choke. Ultimately he lost the match a few seconds later, but it was a great escape. Then there was Chuck. Chuck is one of our lighter adults, and was playing in a division where he was one of the only non-black belts. But Chuck is in awesome shape and is very athletic. I saw one of his opponents throw him with Seoinage, and his feet sailed over his head and I though he would fall into a picture perfect Ippon, but somehow Chuck managed to twist in midair, and landed on his feet. It was amazing. I think that everyone watching that match was stunned that he managed to escape a certain Ippon.

But on to my matches. First and foremost, this wasn't a big competition. My division only had two other competitors and I didn't want to be the 'default' third place guy. I got the luck of the draw in the sense that the other two guys fought first, so a) I would be a little fresher for at least my first match and b) I could see their style. I gleaned a couple of points about their techniques and their gripping styles, and got prepped for my first match.

My first match was against the loser of the first match in our group - a guy from Long Island. We came in a couple of time trying our throws, on the third try I got in deep enough for an O-Uchi-Gari, and I threw him to the mat. Based on the throw, it seemed to me that it wouldn't go for an Ippon, so I immediately began an entry into ne-waza. I pushed him down to the mat and started to attack his arm. Of course, what was really about 4-5 seconds since my throw seemed much longer, and it seems that two judges called off the initial wa-zari in favor of Ippon in my favor. 1 down, 1 to go.

My second match was against a guy from New Rochelle. I knew that he liked playing lefty like I did (from watching the first match) and I thought I would play to my strong, left-handed, side.  I came in for O-Uchi, and it failed, so I pulled out. He realized I was stepping back, immediately jumped in for an O-Soto-Gari, I felt him catch my leg, but I knew that I had one shot to wiggle out of it. I spun around to my right and countered him with a Right-handed Harai-Goshi. It was timed almost perfectly, and he landed on the mat with that loud thud that is the telltale sign of a beautiful Ippon. I was told by someone watching the throw that it was a really nice technique. No matter, I was just happy that I had taken home first place.

When I got to the awards table, they had ran out of first place trophies. No matter, I got my win, I played well, and I didn't need no stinking trophy to remind me of that.