Playing judo like an old man




In general, I've always disliked a lot of lecture and stories during class, and much prefer to keep things moving. We have an hour or an hour and a half, two maybe three times a week to do this. That's not a lot. Let's make the most of our time and be productive. (I have a very influential college professor to thank for that, I think.)

But once in a great while, the course of a class will turn more to discussion than the practice of technique. And periodically, I think that's a good thing. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if I've prevented myself from doing it too much. There are some things we need to learn that have more to do what what and how we're thinking in MA than what and how we're doing something, and that needs to be addressed sometimes.

Today, for example, in judo, we talked about a certain high ranking judoka (and aikidoka, but we were talking specifically about ne waza) who, despite pushing 60, proved to be more than a handful for a young, fit 30 something brown belt. Many of the elements we addressed had to do with his approach, his strategy. 


For beginners, your emphasis should probably be on ingraining basic movement. But as you advance, start thinking about how you're working. Here's a few things we noticed about the "old" man in question:


He worked slow
We teach our escapes in fairly big, powerful movements. And you need to get that down, because there will always come a time when you need to bring out the big guns. But once proficient with those, advanced ranks will get very, very smart about conserving their energy. They move in small, incremental movements.


The other benefit of this is that big, sudden movements tend to put uke immediately on the defensive. With small, incremental changes, however, he's more likely to not notice he's lost control until it's too late.






He wasn't afraid of being on the bottom
This comes simply from doing an ungodly number of escapes. We like to approach things from the gutter. If you can get out of the worst possible position, you can handle ever thing else. That knowledge allows you to relax, which allows you to conserve energy, and to work smarter, not desperately.


He talked while he grappled

Granted, in a real life self-defense situation, you're probably not likely to chat with your attacker while you defend yourself. But in everyday practice, it actually has it's benefits. When I first encountered that sort of thing, I thought it was psychological warfare, pure and simple. Years ago, I remember grappling with Nick Lowry Sensei and being completely thrown off by the fact that he was whistling the whole time. The aforementioned "old man" often talks about the fact that he's "old and feeble" and how his partner is "so strong, oh no!" 


That sort of thing has a way of getting into your head. Pro athletes do that sort of thing, too, talking smack to the other team, and that sort of thing. The New Zealand national rugby team will perform a tribal war dance called the "haka" before games as way of psyching themselves up and scaring the willies out of their opponents.


The better I got, I noticed myself whistling while worker with lower ranks. But I discovered that it had other benefits as well. Talking or whistling keeps your breath slow and measured, which keeps you calm and prevents you from burning all you gas.


He never got married to making a technique work
He simply flowed from one thing to another. If he started to get his hand in place for a choke and his younger partner started to block it, he went with it and worked on an arm bar. And then to a hold, then to another choke, and so on. 


Sometimes, we can spend a tremendous amount of valuable energy simple trying to make one thing work. Our "old man" didn't care. If it worked, great, if not, he wasn't going to just give up either. He waited for his partner to do something about it, and road that reaction to the next technique.


He worked his own speed
The best judo players, young or old, you'll find will work at their own pace, and play their own game, not someone else's. Of course, the older you get, the less your body can do, certainly, but many of the best young players also worked slow. While we've talked about the benefits of slowing down already, it's important not to get sucked into the other person's game and play their speed.


Part of that comes with simply getting comfortable with being on the ground, which only comes with time spent on the ground. But it also takes conscious thought, just as any of these ideas do. And that's the flip side of the training coin, working on the mental aspects as well as the physical. And there's more, for sure, but I'll stop here for now.


I often think of Helio Gracie, who, as a very old man himself, often told young, fit ju-jitsu players, "I bet you can't beat me!" He never said, "I can beat you," but that you couldn't get him. And no one could.


You might say it pays to fight like an old man.

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