Judos Unknown Unknowns

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” So spoke Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, back in 2002, regarding our knowledge of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He could have been talking about Judo, too.

Several weeks ago, I came across an announcement for a development clinic geared for coaches and instructors. Of the five hours of instruction offered, half were devoted to the history of USA Judo and medical safety, important subjects that could be transmitted via documents rather than time on the mat. The other half was billed as coaching procedures and etiquette, and explanation of waza. The staff was truly top-notch; the topics, not. Too many known knowns, unless participants had lived in caves for the last thirty years. Perhaps there might have been some known unknowns. And based on past history of coaching clinics in the U.S., fat chance that unknown unknowns were covered. Why is that relevant? Because coaches are tired of attending clinics that keep rehashing old, not very relevant material, while the truly eye-opening unknown unknowns are kept under lock and key.

For a large part of the Judo community, Geof Gleeson, the father of modern Judo training, is firmly entrenched in the unknown unknowns category, for reasons I do not comprehend. In this era of blogs, the Internet, and Skype, I could accept Gleeson being a known unknown, but an unknown unknown?  I guess we have too many people living in caves. It also means that we, who do know about Gleeson and know what his message is, have not reached enough people and not done a good enough job to promote his ideas. I know how he has impacted my own coaching skills, and because of that, I encourage coaches and players to read his seminal works; Judo for the West, Anatomy of Judo, and Judo Inside Out.

The most common comment I hear from coaches and players who discover Gleeson is, “Why didn’t I hear about him years ago?” Good question. I think the bottom line is that we are not skeptical or inquisitive enough to search for and discover outside-the-box thinkers and ideas.

It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed. Albert Einstein

Another example of unknown unknowns. Most of us have been to clinics run by elite athletes. It’s always interesting to see what kind of questions the participants ask during the open discussion segment. Invariably, it’s how do you do x, y, and z, which isn’t surprising because so much of Judo training revolves around practicing single, isolated techniques. Can’t throw Uchi mata in randori or competition? Then it must be because something is lacking in the Uchi mata itself. Or maybe, you haven’t done enough static uchi komi. If only the champion could make your Uchi mata better. Little thought is given to the preamble of Uchi mata or any of multiple variables that affect performance, which may be the real cause of your lack of success with the throw. For players, and far too many coaches, this is unknown unknowns territory.

As a proponent of not only coach but player education, I would like to offer some topics that should no longer be kept under lock and key under the unknown unknowns heading. Things like the principles of individuality, transference, activity, simplicity, overload, and foundation.  Or how about technique-, situation-, and games-based training. Backward and forward shaping are always a good bet, along with the open and bridge project methods. If you think 200 static uchi komi are the way to go, then you definitely need to look into blocked, varied, and random practice. It’s always good to know the definition and requirements of skill acquisition, since “in its entirety” and “reflects the conditions under which the acquired skill will be ultimately performed or used” are absent in most Judo practices. Understanding what a feedback bandwidth is will help your players thrive. Of course, there are a lot more unknown unknowns, but these are a good start.

He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice. Albert Einstein

It is clear to me that Judo suffers from unknown unknowns syndrome. And our rules surely are not helping our cause. In parting, I leave you with two more quotes from Albert Einstein. Enjoy.

It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

3 thoughts on “Judos Unknown Unknowns

  1. Another great read…While I agree that there are unknown unknowns, there is quite a bit we do know. The problem is that we do not share what we know or learned…

    Not many people can compete on the level of the World Champion. Those that get to travel to International events don’t often stay on the mat long enough to gain the insight that they need to break throw the walls. A while back you wrote an article about the average time in match for US players at International events. This is where we are stuck at.

    In order to get pass this level, we must fight our way to the next round.

    How do we progress? We need a National Coaching Program that identifies kids to train. I mean regular training sessions and fighting overseas…

    It is going to cost some major money!!!

  2. I totaly concur with your point on static, uchi komi training. How does practicing against a static, compliant, opponent mimic the tournament experience? Learning to throw in motion is far more important than learning a particular throw. At least to the commentator. If it is ipon, who cares what variation? In fact, who cares what throw? It’s ipon. One young man told me he could do 20+ throws. In fact he could apply none. What a waste.

  3. Gerry,
    I want to comment on Geof Gleeson and the (unfortunate) fact that few people in the judo world (or even the world of physical education or education) have taken the time to read his books. In my upcoming book, which should be coming out in January or February, 2011, I attempt to give Geof Gleeson the credit he deserves. His work influenced me a great deal and he’s given credit for it…at least by me. While his book JUDO FOR THE WEST was groundbreaking, the two books that were his best (at least in my opinion) were JUDO INSIDE OUT and ALL ABOUT JUDO.
    I don’t know about you, but I still compare Geof Gleeson’s work as “counterculture” to the existing judo of the 1960s-onward. To me, his ideas made a lot of sense, and I used them here in Kansas City to good results. From Gleeson’s work, I formulated the notion that since we didn’t have a strong judo community or a large group of athletes to work with here, I would replace quantity with quality and provide the best coaching possible using many of Gleeson’s ideas. I think my situation is similar to others in that Geof Gleeson ran counter to the accepted uchikomi-based/randori-only type training that was offered in most places (and unfortuantely, still is). His structured approach to the coaching and teaching of judo in general, and his structured approach to developing athletes were a major influence on me. I used his ideas and philosophy when I was the coordinator for junior development for USJI. It worked, and our junior program was a strong one…at least until I got fired by the powers-that-were.
    You are correct when you say that Geof Gleeson is the father of modern judo training.

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