In October of 2012 my coach Luke and I sat down to discuss moving forward after London 2012. Luke said to me that I needed to get better technically, a conclusion I had also come to whilst having a period of downtime back home in Shropshire post Olympics. I was 23 and had been doing Judo for 19 years. I’d trained like a bull in a china shop my whole life up until that point, as much as I could as intensely as I could. I also grew up in Shrewsbury where there wasn’t any elite level clubs or coaches. For the majority of my time doing Judo any competitive success that I had had was mainly down to the fact that I was always keen to fight and was very well prepared from a physical standpoint because of how hard I trained and how often I did it. I could outfight a lot of people that were technically superior to me; enough to gain a certain level of success but not to beat the very best fighters in the world. The possession of a full fighting system covering all the areas of a contest and that includes 1 or more techniques so polished that, should the opportunity arise, could be scored on anyone in the world, would be, Luke said, what would be required.
As I watched videos back of my competitive matches I could see so may areas in which to improve. I crossed my feet when I moved, I’d be in the wrong stance, I’d put the wrong hand on at times, made the wrong decisions. The improvement needed in my standing attacks made sense, have a couple of main threats and then answers to any reaction the opponent may give in defending the initial attack. I’d fallen in love with the armlock Ju-ji-gatame a few years previous after being shown a very brutal version of it by Jim Warren. Because Jim’s way of doing the technique applies so much pressure to the opponent it forces them to react out of desperation, I had begun to find answers for all the reactions my partners were making so the idea of an interlinking system made perfect sense, I just had to meticulously practice.
Another resolution I made after the London Olympics was to take the technical aspects of strength and conditioning much more seriously. I’ve been so lucky to have Ben Rosenblatt as my S&C coach for nearly all of my senior career. Something Ben said to me one session really stuck in my mind, “own every inch off the lift”. That got me thinking about all the elements of a Judo contest, all the small inches, about owning every inch of a fight; how to move, which stance, how to stand, how to pivot, which hand angle for grips etc. Some of these things I’ve been shown by my coach and some I’ve researched myself, the main thing for me was it was at this point that I realised there were many simple areas that I could improve in, and by doing that I was edging closer to controlling all that I could. That meant swallowing my ego at times, one example being that I’d turn up to beginner Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes instead of going to the regular session where I could hold my own against, and submit, a lot of the brown belts. I realised that I needed to brush up on the very basics, because of Judo we were able to mix it with the higher grades but that meant that we missed out on a lot of the key simple learning. Carlson Gracie run an excellent beginner programme which meant I got to go through things like a closed guard, basic sweeps, hip escapes etc properly, I was missing so many small details. Every now and again I go back for a session with the white belts and I always learn something new.
The idea of this post came as I was asked to write something by Stuart Tomlinson who runs a brilliant online tutorial system called the Warrior Collective, well worth a look if you’ve not come across them before. Stuart has asked some coaches to write a couple of paragraphs on some methods of training for this isolation period. Although it’s probably not quite what Stuart asked for I’d say, from my experience with how to train and practice, consider the Rohn quote “Wherever you are, be there”
If you are in a skill acquisition session, train slow and let your mind learn the technique. If you a drilling a previously learned technique or scenario then go slow to medium pace and let your body learn the motor skills of the movement. If you are sparring outside of fight preparation then practice, if you are sparring in fight preparation then practice more intensely. If you are in the weights gym do strength training. I’m not a fan of replicating things. For me, while I’m in isolation I have no partner to grapple with, so, any combat sport training I’m doing I’m practicing everything that happens in a contest after the referee has said start that doesn’t require me having my hands on someone else; stance, movement, pivots, feints, reactional footwork, side steps etc. It’s not often I can focus solely on those things, so I’m going to make the most of this opportunity in which to do so.