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.