Letter to a Dad

One of my readers is a father of four young, dynamic Judoplayers, who have great potential as Judo competitors. His kids have been to my practices and have competed in my in-house tournaments. He has participated in a USJA Coach Education Program I’ve run. He hates the new IJF rules. Who can blame him? So now, in addition to Judo, his kids are doing jiujitsu. His latest comments to my posts have encouraged me to address issues he brings up.

Martial art or sport? Dad, like many in the martial arts community, perhaps you think that Judo is not self-defense, but jiujitsu is. Every one of the activities that make up the combative arts has its own set of rules to make its activity safe, as well as self-defense advantages and disadvantages. Sure we give up our back in Judo ne waza because of the rules, but so do jiujitsukas. They have no qualm getting slammed on their back from a standing position because it’s only an opportunity to transition to ne waza in their sport. The problem with that from a self-defense aspect is that getting slammed on mats and getting slammed on concrete are two different things. In the street, it may not be wise to get slammed with O soto just so that you can try to choke your assailant. What do think is more valuable for your three daughters? Slamming a creep onto concrete or slapping on a triangle?

Short-term vs long-term development. Not understanding this fundamental concept will produce disappointing results sooner or later. Just because we don’t choke or armbar early on in Judo doesn’t mean that we don’t or can’t ever learn these skills. The same goes with the selection of throwing skills. Sure Uchi mata might be a good throw in elite competition, but are your 5- and 8-year old ready for that throw? Many parents and coaches look for immediate gratification- meaningless wins at an early age when it doesn’t really matter- at the expense of long-term performance- meaningful wins at the highest levels when it really counts. Dad, don’t fall into that trap. The sky isn’t falling down, if young kids aren’t introduced to all skills early on.

You wanted your kids to do leg grabs, and your kids’ coach wasn’t in favor. She was right. While I deplore the banning of leg grabs in competition, I also don’t favor leg grabs for kids early on for a good reason. Early introduction to leg grabs and flop and drop Judo tends to make it more difficult to learn the more complex, big Judo throws. We in the U.S. have a plethora of teenagers whose only skill is dropping seoi nage. They win up to a certain age, then the bottom drops out when they transition to senior competition. Judo Canada and the British Judo Association have created long-term athlete development plans as well as modified competition rules for certain age groups all with the purpose of developing sound Judo skills once kids reach adulthood. You may want to check out those plans and rules.

To cross-train or not? That’s the $64,000 question. I guess that depends on what your goals are and what resources you have at your disposal. So dad, do you want your kids to be generalists and “jacks of all trades and masters of none,” or do you want them to be specialists?  Want them to enter mma fights or to be Olympians? Would it be nice if they excelled at the international level, or would you be happy with less? Do you want them to be Judoplayers who do jiujitsu, or jiujitsukas who do Judo? I’m not sure you see the difference, but there is one. And what about the goals of your children?

Here’s some insight for you if you want them to be successful Judoplayers. Japanese Judoplayers don’t cross-train, yet they just won 35 percent of the medals at the 2010 World Championships. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are successful because they don’t cross-train, although the principle of specificity of training clamors for this, but it certainly does say that you don’t need to cross-train in order to be world champion. The Cuban Judo development program doesn’t favor cross-training in wrestling. Wrestling compromises Judo posture. The same could be said of jiujitsu. The Brazilian women’s team doesn’t cross-train in jiujitsu.  Cross-training is in vogue, but does it really make sense all the time?

You are right that in my article Coach, I Want To Be A Champion, I recommend some cross-training. But there are caveats to that. If your resources for training partners are meager, as is often the case in the U.S., then seeking out wrestlers and jiujitsukas may provide you with positive training effects. If you choose to cross-train for Judo, then do so with Judo rules in mind.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist (1984-88) Peter Seisenbacher from Austria said that he knew going in that referees would allow him no more than 30 seconds to effect his ne waza skills. Consequently, all his ne waza training reflected this basic premise: I must complete all my ne waza moves in less than 30 seconds. Unfortunately, in today’s Judo, if we are lucky, we have maybe ten seconds to get our act together. Thus, if we decide to cross-train in jiujitsu and we approach it with a jiujitsu mindset and jiujitsu rules, the positive carryover to Judo will be negligible under Judo rules. The same holds true for the jiujitsuka who cross-trains in Judo. If the jiujitsuka is cross-training in Judo to make himself a better jiujitsuka by learning take-downs, then he doesn’t need to worry so much about being thrown on his back because there is no terminal ippon in jiujitsu, or self-defense, unless, of course, you just got knocked out by that pesky O soto. On the other hand, if the jiujitsuka wants to become not only a better jiujitsuka, but also a better Judo competitor, he ignores terminal ippon, and a few other things that jiujitsukas are susceptible to, at his own peril.

Dad, as you know, I am not in favor of the new IJF rules, or even the not-so-new rules that prevent Judo from being more martial artsy. I’d like to see some of the old Judo techniques be brought back to life to emphasize self-defense reality. Daki age is a no-brainer for starters, with Dojime not far away. I am confident that Judo rules will change again, and hopefully very soon. Until that happens, and even after it happens, every dojo and every coach must decide whether to toe the official IJF line or not. I have decided not to toe the line. Sooner or later, more clubs will choose the same route and develop tournament rules that make sense for the ever-changing world of grappling. The bottom line is that restrictive Judo tournament rules don’t need to interfere with development of martial arts skills in the dojo.

It is said that a little knowledge in something is dangerous. Armed with that knowledge, far too often we parents think we know what we are doing, but we can’t or won’t see beyond today. Consequently, we lose sight of the big picture. I’d like to encourage you to learn more about long-term athletic development, and make sure your kids are having fun while they develop their skills. Regardless of the rules, Judo is a great sport for kids.

One thought on “Letter to a Dad

  1. Just my 2 pesos..

    Recently went on a family outing to a Pumpkin Patch in North County San Diego. My youngest daughter and niece, both judo players with Coach Lafon, dismissed the astro jumps and pony rides, and demanded the opportunity to try and climb this portable 25ft rock climbing structure. They assured me that it was worth ten dollars to press the buzzer at the top and my money would not be wasted. A second niece, about one month into Judo with coach Lafon, did not want to try it. Well, the girls thought the line for the ‘kids’ side of the structure was too long and went to the next level. Both girls scaled the structure with speed and agility and hit the buzzer.

    Sometimes we only see the success of our kids judo through medals won and titles earned on the mat. I would dare to say that the off mat benefits of self-reliance and confidence are worth far more to me, as a parent, than any medal or fancy ribbon. Without Judo, it is doubtful that either girl would have the strength, agility, or the belief in herself to reach the top. I am almost positive that my second niece won’t be watching next year but part of an argument on who will be the first to try and climb. That’s a win in my book.

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