If Defense Wins Games…

There’s an old saying in team sports that good defense wins games. I’ve never heard any similar statement applied to Judo but I think it should. If good defense does win games, why shouldn’t it also apply to winning matches in Judo? I can’t come up with a rational reason why it shouldn’t. To be more competitive at the international level, it’s time we change our training paradigm on a national scale to reflect this adage.

In Coaching Matters: Leadership and Tactics of the NFL’s Ten Greatest Coaches, Bill Parcells, who coached the New York Giants to two NFL Super Bowl wins, states that his high school basketball coach used to stress defense. According to his coach, by playing defense, you wouldn’t win every game but you would be in every game with a chance to win it. That’s exactly how I felt early on in my coaching career. My philosophy was if you can’t be thrown, pinned, armbarred or choked, you’re half way to being a champion.

To support this philosophy, I had to discard the traditional “ukemi-static uchi-randori” paradigm I was bequeathed by my senseis. In its place, I developed dynamic, situational drills built around defenses, evasions and turnouts from throws, and preventive measures and escapes from pins, armbars and chokes. The skills developed through these drills allowed my players, more often than not, to be in the match with a good chance to win it. It goes without saying that, in addition to our defensive skill training, much time was spent on the offensive side of the game.

One piece of information that I always pay attention to when I look at tournament results is what I call TIM or “time in a match.” Looking at data from international matches, it appears that when Americans lose a match, they do so on average in two minutes or less. This means that our players are getting thrown, pinned, choked or armbarred for Ippon much too quickly.

Fighting less than two minutes for what frequently amounts to once per tournament is certainly not the best or most economical way to “get competition experience.” A TIM of two minutes or less indicates, not surprisingly considering our average training model, that our players’ defensive skills are not quite up to par. It may also indicate that our players are entering the wrong tournaments for their skill level, but that’s a story for a whole different blog.

In a typical technique-based, uchi komi-driven training session, little or no time is spent on escaping from pins, turning out from throws or even countering throws, not to mention all the other combative behaviors our players should be exhibiting and performing. We also know how seldom skills are fully and successfully applied in randori. Without the repetition of full, complete, successful skills, there can be little progress. These are the weaknesses of this inefficient paradigm.

If we want to be more competitive, at any level but especially at the international level, we must change our training paradigm. The defensive skills that we should be developing in our athletes can be acquired if we recognize the need for them, and make time for them. Of the two, the former will be the more difficult to achieve.

If our players must lose a match, by golly, let’s make sure they go down fighting a full five minutes. I firmly believe that better defensive skills will beget an increased TIM, which increases the potential for wins, which eventually will lead to winning medals.

Note: Brad Adler, author of Coaching Matters: Leadership and Tactics of the NFL’s Ten Greatest Coaches, identifies the ten greatest coaches of the NFL since 1950 and explains just how they got to that level. He examines their character and leadership ability, and shows how they won — and won and won and won. Great source of information for Judo coaches who seek to professionalize their skills.

6 thoughts on “If Defense Wins Games…

  1. Mr. Lafon,
    Great point…

    Not knowing the knowledge/experience level of the people who read your blog, your brief explaination of Defense is a good start .

    I grew up practicing this way as a child. When I started Judo I could not do a cartwheels/round offs/spin outs during warm ups. After years, it was second nature and provided a basis for defense (but offense as well).

    Every so often, we would spend class time being thrown to allow Uki to spin out. This is definately something worth practicing.

    This is completely different to the Penalty game that we are playing today. The rest of the world are throwing, not worrying about 3-2 on penalties…

    With the rules today, if your back is exposed to the mat, the referee might call Ippon anyway. I witnessed this very example this weekend, when a young man (of 10 years) was thrown. His back never touched the mat and he rotated completely over to his knees. The Shimpan called Ippon…

  2. I have read your blogs with great interest and find you do have quite a knack for telling like it is. I would like to comment on several of your observations with the order simply being what comes to mind. You mentioned that Deb Fergus as the founder of the AWC. While Ms. Fergus is always available for photo ops, rest assured that she was not the person that made the AWC happen. While she tirelessly promotes the AWC she is also promoting herself. The fact that you are targeting a specific demographic is almost suicidal in a “sport” that has only cult type membership to draw from. The BOD meeting was interesting. I really did not know the reasoning behind Mr. Pedro’s decline as I do not know him personally. Did he really not want the position or was he just trying to “funny” ? It was not a good presentation for the BOD to be showing as it was an open meeting. Your view of high dan rank struck a special note with me. I hold the rank of godan and I am quite confident that I do not deserve it. I did have 12 years time in grade at 4th, but I still do not feel that I have done enough or know enough to have been promoted. I submitted paper work because I was ask to…in hind sight I should not have. My club is blessed with several quality black belt instructors of which I am not one. Being a black belt certainly does not make you a qualified instructor or coach. Can I instruct or coach? Yes. But there are far better people to handle this than me. I handle other areas of the club that no one wants or has the ability to do. I liked your garage concept. While we did indeed start small, 15 years and 3 moves later we bought a 5200 sq ft building for $285,000 and have 3000 sq ft of mat area. Start small and build works very well. Thank you for your insight based on common sense and continue to fight the good fight. GM

  3. Yes Coach…but, it´s not the same?… I mean, have the correct balance between attack and defense…I believe both are pretty much in the same movement, almost at the same time…shouldn´t?
    The attack starts with a defense posture, and if you are assuming the defense it´s because you should have to be thinking in the attack…so, you have the “circle of decision”, no start point and no end point…always in motion.
    At least my perception is that should have to be the way to train, not separating the attack from the defense, both have to walk together.

    Muchos Saludos Sensei.

  4. Balance between attack and defense would be great. Unfortunately, attack is king in Judo simply because of our model of instruction- static uchi komi. That’s why I emphasize through my drills attacks, combinations, counters, defenses and transitions, just as they appear in randori and competition.

  5. You don’t know what I would give to be able to buy a 5200 sq ft building for $285,000. Here in San Diego, I might find a 2850 sq ft building for $520,000.

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