Tag Archives: Athlete Profile

Metamoris 3 Predictions: A Tale of Awesome Mismatches

Update (Mar 29, 2014): The six video from our panel discussion are now added below.

Metamoris 3 is coming up on Saturday, March 29. It’s 20 minute matches, submission-only. Below is the line-up (along with whether I think it’ll be gi or no-gi). In bold is who I predict will win. I refuse to predict ties, but I know (sadly) several of the matches will likely go the distance without a submission. I’ll be watching this with several friends, and will take a big Russian shot of vodka for every prediction I get wrong.

  1. Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts (gi): Zak – armbar
  2. Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre (gi): Gui – bow and arrow choke
  3. Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral (no-gi): Dean – heelhook
  4. Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes (no-gi): Keenan – triangle
  5. Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie (gi): Rafa – armbar
  6. Royler Gracie vs Eddie Bravo (no-gi): Royler – rear naked choke

Do you disagree with any of these predictions? There are some more details below.

I joined a panel of podcasters to talk Metamoris: Raf and Kevin of Verbal Tap, Matt of Aesopian, and Paul of Open Mat Radio and The Journey Podcast. The YouTube links for each of the six videos from that panel discussion are included below:

Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts

zakZak was one of my first training partners / instructors. He left the school I was training at after only a couple weeks of me starting there. But I’ve got to know him pretty well through his friends, without ever exchanging more than a few words with him. The guy is a quiet, humble warrior. He is a much more seasoned black belt while still being very young (25 I believe). I don’t see him losing, but I expect this to be one of the more exciting matches, since Sean Roberts has a lot of submissions up his sleeve. Still, with a better guard and better positional control on top, I’m picking Zak with to win by armbar.

Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre

guilherme-mendesIf you bet against a Mendes brother, you must know something I don’t. Gui is a jiu jitsu mastermind. He is a much more accomplished competitor: a 3x world champ. A tie is possible here, but most likely it’ll be Gui by choke from back control.

Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral

Dean Lister is a philosopher, and that’s thedean-lister-contra-xande-ribeiro-no-metamoris-pro quality I value above all else in a warrior. If this was an MMA fight I’d give Babalu an edge, but even then it’d be a war. But in a 20 minute jiu jitsu match, I don’t see any way that Babalu escapes Dean’s heelhook, and even if he does that is definitely no way that he is catching Dean (one of the hardest guys to submit). So, Dean wins with a heelhook.

Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes

keenan-corneliusAssuming this will be no-gi, both guys are world class. This is artist versus fighter. Like in the song “Devil Went Down to Georgia”, Keenan is Johnny and Vinny is the devil. This will probably be by far the most exciting no-gi match of the tournament. Still, I just don’t see Keenan getting submitted. This is either a draw or Keenan wins by triangle.

Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie

rafaClark Gracie has a great offensive guard, so he will be exciting to watch, and he is 30-40 lbs heavier than Rafa, but… Rafa’s last name is Mendes (of the Mendes brothers), and that means you just can’t bet against him, ever. Clark won Pans in 2013, while Rafa won Pans twice, Worlds three times, and medalled at Worlds 5 times. There will be many submission attempts in this match, but in the end Rafa wins by armbar.

Eddie Bravo vs Royler Gracie

roylerThis is unorthodox weird jiu jitsu versus old school orthodox jiu jitsu. This is Goliath coming back after losing to David in 2003. Eddie is full of surprises, heart, flexibility, and creativity. But Royler is a 4x World Champ, 3x ADCC champ, and he has a room full of killers to train with. On the other hand it looks like Eddie is a bit more fired up for this, and he is getting a lot of love from people online, which is understandable. Eddie is a personality and someone that a lot of people connect with. But still, I’m picking Royler to win by rear naked choke.

Answering Reddit Questions

Mismatches that Look Like Good Matches

To me, it looks like every match was brilliantly put together to look like it’s an even match from a distance, but if you look at the actual competition record, it’s a complete mismatch. That’s brilliant because a mismatch is more likely to result in a submission, and that’s what people want to see. But, of course, I could be completely wrong, surprised, and drinking shots all night. To summarize my predictions are:

  1. Zak Maxwell vs Sean Roberts (gi): Zak – armbar
  2. Gui Mendes vs Samir Chantre (gi): Gui – bow and arrow choke
  3. Dean Lister vs Renato “Babalu” Sobral (no-gi): Dean – heelhook
  4. Keenan Cornelius vs Vinny Magalhaes (no-gi): Keenan – triangle
  5. Rafael Mendes vs Clark Gracie (gi): Rafa – armbar
  6. Royler Gracie vs Eddie Bravo (no-gi): Royler – rear naked choke

Do you disagree with any of these predictions?

AnnMaria De Mars Interview Takeaways

annmaria-de-mars-take-it-uneasy-podcastI had a conversation with AnnMaria De Mars on the Take It Uneasy Podcast. She is the first American to win gold at the World Judo Championships. She has a PhD in applied statistics, is a mother of 4 kids including Ronda Rousey, and a CEO of 7 Generation Games.

Just in case you didn’t know, here’s the list of Americans who have ever achieved the same feat:

  • 1984: AnnMaria De Mars -56kg (then: Ann Marie Burns)
  • 1987: Mike Swain -71kg
  • 1999: Jimmy Pedro -73kg
  • 2010: Kayla Harrison -78kg

She writes a great blog: AnnMaria’s Blog on Judo, Business and Life. I sometimes say that people have a “great” blog. What does “great” mean? In some cases, that means it’s very informative. But frankly, “informative” alone is way too boring for me to be a regular reader. What makes her blog “great” AND make me actually go there and read often is that she has A LOT of opinions and is not afraid to say them. I agree with her often, disagree with her often, but either way it’s always a good read.

I’m going to make a habit of writing up some post-interview thoughts for these podcasts, so here are some takeaways from the podcast interview I did with her:

Ronda Rousey: Going From Judo to MMA

RondaRousey_HeadshotBeltRonda Rousey was one of my favorite judoka when I first started judo. In fact, it was watching her and Travis Stevens in the 2008 Olympics that got me into the sport. So when she decided to leave judo after that Olympics for MMA, I was one of the people that thought it was a bad decision. And AnnMaria, it turns out, was understandably sceptical as well, but now admits that she was wrong. Ronda single-handedly changed the way the world sees women in any combat sport (including judo, jiu jitsu, wrestling). So beyond the money, the fame, the personality, she will be remember long after she retires as helping the public accept the idea that two girls can punch each other in the face as a sport. That will do more for women than Simone de Beauvoir ever could with her books.

Ronda is defending her UFC title this weekend in UFC 170 against Sara McMann. AnnMaria’s prediction? Quick win by armbar.

Fear of Death

“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”- Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death

200px-DenialofdeathcoverI tend toward the dark and the philosophical, so I asked an Ernest Becker inspired question about whether AnnMaria is afraid of death. I find it remarkable how differently people approach the answer to that question. Some of the most accomplished people I know are of the same mind as AnnMaria. They have “come to terms” with death, because they are essentially living their dream or are passionately pursuing it. But of course, it is the fear of death that has created this approach to life, this urgency. I didn’t want to delve deeper into this question, but I do with friends over vodka, and probably will in future conversations.

Aggression

catch-wrestlingOne of my favorite moments of the interview was when AnnMaria answered the question of “What’s more important, technique or aggression?” with: Aggression. Of course, it’s obvious that both are important, and she went on to say just that, but her instinctual response first was: aggression. That’s something every competitor learns through experience, and also is the reason that many people get run over when they first start competing. They are not used to the often violent pace of competition. Jiu jitsu is often gentler if style and technique, but even there, in time-limited matches, aggression can pay great dividends if you are mentally and physically tough enough to keep up the pace.

Win With What You Got

david-and-goliath-malcolm-gladwellOne of the common criticism thrown at AnnMaria and American judoka in general is that we lack technique and make up for it with gripping, groundwork, and cardio. That always sounds funny to me. Any statement that starts with: “The only reason she won was…” is probably going to be a stupid statement. “Won” is the key word there. What I learned from reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is that you have to be brutally honest with yourself about your strength and weaknesses. Based on that honest self-analysis you have to develop a plan on how you will win with the tools you have. You weaknesses have to become your strengths.

Sebastian Brosche Guard Passing Study (Inspired by BJJ Scout)

Update (Dec 23, 2013): Added the video for part 2 of the study.

Update (Dec 29, 2013): Added the video for part 3 of the study.

About a month ago, I did a podcast interview with Sebastian Brosche. As part of that, I watched a lot of competition footage, and saw a few interesting things about the way he approaches guard passing. I’ve been doing this kind of studying ever since I started jiu jitsu, but folks like BJJ Scout have inspired me to arrange these studies in organized form and put it online. It forces me to be more deliberate with my study, and hopefully it gives other people ideas. The internet more than anything else will help elevate the level of jiu jitsu that everyone is doing.

So I outlined a 3-part study on Sebastian’s guard passing. Here is parts 1 and 2, and part 3 will be coming soon. I’ll let the videos speak for

If it’s something that people find helpful, I’ll make more, and put it up here and on the Take It Uneasy facebook page.

Justin Rader Interview Takeaways: Training Culture, Building Confidence and Mental Toughness

I did a podcast interview with Justin Rader. Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes. The following are three post-interview thoughts I finally got around to writing up.

1: Wrestling Culture vs Jiu Jitsu Culture

“The wrestling environment can truly be summed up by ‘kill or be killed’.” – Justin Rader

corrida_quees_holl.gWrestling is about two things: (1) growing up on a farm and (2) grinding down your opponent until he breaks.

Jiu jitsu is about three things: (1) efficiently neutralizing force with technical trickery, (2) surfing, and (3) philosophical introspection.

I’m generalizing, but there’s no denying that there is a culture that permeates each sport, and the culture is different for each. The level of brutality is different. The hatred of losing is more pronounced in one than the other.

Rader has trained a lifetime in both wrestling and jiu jitsu, and we talk about this distinct difference. Part of the difference is that wrestling is often run as a school program and jiu jitsu is part of a standalone business. When you pay money directly to the instructor, the relationship changes. After all, it may not be a good business practice to make a student quit by pushing him/her too hard. In wrestling, this is a much smaller concern. In fact, trial by fire is standard operating procedure.

2: Believing In Yourself

coach-wrestler-after-loss

Loss is part of life, and it sure as hell is a part of sport. There is no way to escape it. In the end, what every champion shares is a unshakeable belief in himself and his goal. For many people the road to achieving that level of confidence is a long one. After all, winning matches is really the only effective way to build that kind of self-certainty. It’s hard to fake it. I would say impossible even. You can visualize all day, but without a lot of big wins on your record and on your brain, confidence will never sprout.

Like I said, the road to winning can be a long one, and this is where most people quit. It’s daunting. When you suck month after month, year after year, you get to thinking. Thinking leads to doubt, and at that point, most people are able to rationalize quitting, and so they quit. Of course, the problem is: quitting is perfectly rational. In a cold rational sense, success in sport in meaningless. Who cares if you can throw a ball into a hoop better than a million others? But it does matter. It matters because of the genetic history of our brain. It matters because doing something hard, and succeeding, provides a deep sense of satisfaction, happiness. A life full of sacrifice is also a life that can have the greatest moments of pleasure. The chase of the dream and the dream realized is the essence of life.

That said, a good support system can help carry you through the long road of struggle: coaches, friends, family. And that’s what Rader talked about. In his life, his parents and his coaches (both in wrestling and in jiu jitsu) were instrumental in their unwavering belief of his potential. When a coach believes in you, it is that much easier to believe in yourself, until the wins start racking up.

3: Cutting Weight

wrestling-weight-cutting-philosophyCutting water-weight, when taken to the extreme level that many wrestlers take it, can seem unhealthy bordering on dangerous. But having made big cuts myself and talked to many who have done it, the lesson is simple: your body can get used to anything.

Rader and I talked about the tough cut he went through for the 2013 ADCC tournament, and how he believes that the cut did not drain him for the actual matches. Sometimes you do have to suffer. You may be just two pounds away but too exhausted and thoroughly dehydrated to do the long 40-60 minute run that might be needed to make those 2 lbs disappear. That’s where the suffering comes in. You get up and do it anyway. The doubt, exhaustion, and any negative thought has to disappear and you just do it. One step at a time.

The statement in the picture to the left has some important insight. Perhaps the weight cut is less about the weight and more about mental toughness, training it, proving it to yourself, and eventually, to your opponent.

Training with Ilias Iliadis in the United States

ilias-iliadis-lex-fridman-after-trainingI had the honor to meet, interview, and train with Ilias Iliadis yesterday. He is truly one of the legends of judo, an Olympic gold and bronze medalist, two-time world champion, and 5-time world medalist. And still only 26 years old (turning 27 tomorrow, and of course training on his birthday). He also happens to be a humble, charismatic guy.

Check out the podcast interview here.

Even though he was jet lagged, training at 7-9pm New York time, but 2-4am Athens time, his face lit up like a little kid’s when he stepped on the mat. That’s after 12 years of professional judo, intense training, pressure, injury, loss. The man still loves judo.

This is his first time visiting the United States. I was very fortunate to sit down and have a conversation with him for the Take It Uneasy podcast. I will put up the video and audio of that interview in a few days. I have to very much thank Alan Teo of Teo BJJ (Facebook) and Chris Skelley of Skelley Judo for hosting us both for the interview and the training. See the end of the post for a nice picture and more information about their facility. I believe Travis Stevens, who I interviewed in episode 13, also teaches here but he is out competing in California this weekend.

And, of course, this interview and encounter would not be possible without my friend and judo mastermind Niko Dax. Check our my two podcast conversations with Niko so far: Episode 6 and Episode 17.

Relaxing and Training Without Ego

ilias-iliadis-lex-fridman-trainingI trained with Iliadis before class for 20+ minutes on the feet and on the ground. He wasn’t wearing a gi top, so was okay with clinching, wrestling, leg grabs and whatever else. We quickly hit that place where you’re going relatively hard but at the same time are very loose and relaxed. Basically, that means playing with timing, movement, and just having fun. I think a bunch of people were watching, and I don’t think Iliadis cared one bit. He did silly stuff all with a smile, gave me his leg for the single over and over just to see where it goes, and even did a flying armbar. Again, if you take anything away from this little blog post is if you want to be a high level competitor, you need to LOVE the sport, the art, and every aspect of training.

Unknown Hero

ilias-iliadis-lex-fridman-podcast-interviewThe realization struck me yesterday that a man could be a hero to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people and still be completely unknown to the majority of everyone else. For example, there are whole countries where most of the population knows and admires the name Pyrros Dimas, one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. But were Pyrros to walk into most of the gyms in America, even Crossfit gyms, he would not be recognized neither by face nor by name.

I thought the same was true with Iliadis. In a class of jiu jitsu guys (of all ranks), understandably, he needed an introduction. The name Iliadis did not immediately speak for itself the way the name Rickson or Renzo or Marcelo might in a BJJ audience. And Iliadis seemed at home in that environment, just smiling, and happy to train. He didn’t seem to care whether he was in front of 30 people that were just learning about who he is or in front of thousands of fans cheering him on at the World Championships in Paris.

Teo BJJ Academy

We were graciously hosted by Teo BJJ (Renzo Gracie, Fort Lee location). Iliadis and myself were both very impressed with facility. Iliadis said that the best schools have a certain feel that makes you want to train, and this school had it. I took a class with Alan Teo teaching. He showed a bunch of different techniques off of the sprawl to the single leg, including a guillotine, back take, peruvian necktie. He came around and corrected a bunch of mistakes I was making. In fact, I never do the peruvia necktie because it doesn’t seem to work for me, but he gave me a little detail that make me understand the technique and how how to do it properly. That was awesome. As I said, I trained before and after class. All the students were very technical and made for a lot of great rolls.

ilias-iliadis-lex-fridman-teo-bjj-skelley-judo-renzo-gracie-academy

Best American Judo Competitors in 2013

olympic_gold_medal_dsc1446The following is a list of American judoka (male and female) who are ranked in the top 100 of their respective weight category as of September 2013 (based on this IJF World Ranking PDF). Pictures and links provided for the top 3 and also the people who I know personally. Ordering by their ranking, not their weight classes. It’s important to remember that these rankings are little weird, since a lot of judoka slow down a bit in the year after the Olympics, so their ranking may be very different by the time 2016 rolls around.

If you’re interested, check out my two interviews with Nick Delpopolo and Travis Stevens on the Take It Uneasy podcast.

Male

nick-delpopolo travis-stevensbrad-bolen

Female

marti-malloyhannah-martin kayla-harrison

  • 5. Marti Malloy (-57kg)
  • 14. Hannah Martin (-63kg)
  • 15. Kayla Harrison (-78kg) and also #30 at -70kg
  • 22. Samantha Bleier (-78kg)
  • 24. Angelica Delgado (-52kg)
  • 31. Hana Carmichael (-57kg)
  • 51. Bianca Lockette (+78kg)
  • 56. Janine Nakao (-63kg)
  • 73. Christal Ransom (-63kg)
  • 77. Kathleen Sell (-70kg)
  • 79. Nina Cutro-Kelly (-79kg)
  • 87. Leilani Akiyama (-63kg)
  • 95. Alexa Liddie (-48kg)
  • 97. Ronny Elor (+78kg)

Interview with Travis Stevens, 2x Judo Olympian

travis-stevens-interviewTravis Stevens is an American judoka, 2-time Olympian, and has recently been making a splash on the jiu jitsu competition scene as a Renzo Gracie/John Danaher brown belt. Both in 2008 and in 2012 he put in an Olympic performance worthy of a gold medal, losing only on the thinnest of margins. A few weeks ago, I got to interview him over email. The text of that interview is below. Last week, I also had a conversation with him over the phone for the Take It Uneasy podcast. That episode will be up in the next few days.

Big ippon or big submission:

Lex: You’ve trained in both sports and competed in some epic matches in both sports. What do you love most in competition: a big throw (e.g. standing seoi) or a big submission?

Travis: Well for Jiu Jitsu it’s only about the submission, you don’t really gain anything for throwing your opponent through the floor, 2 points is 2 points regardless of how they fall. But for Judo I like to throw, I love putting people through the floor it gives you such a rush of pleasure. But I end up beating people on the ground because it’s so much easier for me. Judo players make so many mistakes it’s hard for me to not capitalize on them. I’ve been in some judo matches where I try not to capitalize on there mistakes but when they don’t fix there mistake or keep leaving there arm out there I’m going to take it and try to break it out of pure annoyance that they just don’t know any better. I take it as an insult that they feel they don’t have to protect it so they don’t.

Difference in competition judo and bjj:

Lex: From having watched your matches, it seems you have wisely approached your jiu jitsu ground game very differently than your judo ground game (newaza) in both technique and philosophy. What do you think is the difference in what’s required to win on the ground in sport judo vs sport jiu jitsu? Timing? Intensity?

Travis: Judo: I’m just a mean S.O.B. If I have to throw a right hook to get my hand under your chin so be it. Or if you don’t let me grab the back of your collar I’ll just start smashing your face into the mat in frustration. In judo I have such a small window to work with and a lot fewer moves to be able to pick from. I approach it with “the faster, more violent, and aggressive I can attack the position the better”. Most of this is because the refereeing in judo doesn’t have the knowledge to know if you’re close or just BS’ing it. So they stop a lot of things early when they shouldn’t and let a lot of things go for to long that they shouldn’t.

BJJ: there is only 1 move I do in BJJ that I use in judo I keep everything else 100% different including takedowns. I respect the technical side of BJJ a ton and try to never over power or run throw anyone. I try to use my movement to creat opportunities and use my creative thinking to try and make things happen the people would have never seen coming. I also try and stick to a lot of leg locks in BJJ. I love foot locks. And use the. Every chance I get even if I have to give up position.

The Takedown Blueprint:

Lex: You have a new instructional DVD out with Jimmy Pedro called “The Takedown Blueprint” that covers some of the most effective judo techniques for BJJ competitors, including seoi nage, tai otoshi, tomoe nage, sumi gaeshi, ouchi, osoto, kata guruma, and more. In judo, your style of seoi nage is similar in footwork and gripping to the Koga’s seoi nage. How did you develop your standing seoi? And do you think it’s an effective technique for high level jiu jitsu? Are there adjustments that would make it more effective?

Travis: I devolved my standing seio over the years of training just trial and error. It clearly works in high level BJJ competitions as I used it in Copa Podio but I would not recommend that throw to people. I would recommend a dropping one. It’s just too dangerous. Your back can be taken very easily. My body and the muscles needed to pull off that throw are very developed through years of doing it. There are a lot easier throws to develop that will score you two points and we show these takedowns in the DVD.

Fear:

Lex: We’ve recently talked about Tamerlan Tmenov striking fear into the hearts of his opponents. Has there ever been an opponent in your judo (or bjj) career who you feared facing? If so, how did you overcome that?

Travis: This is a joke and I laugh at people that get scared. How can you fear someone in a competition. There are rules in place to protect the competitors. If you look at a list of people competing and you fear someone in the bracket just quit and go home and save your money and don’t waste the time of the people who want to compete. Because what you really fear is yourself and you don’t have the confidence within yourself. You think you don’t have the ability and if that’s the case why bother. You should be itching to fight the best and prove yourself, not hiding in a corner hoping for easy street to just land at your feet.

Toughest opponent:

Lex: You’ve faced Oleh Bischof several times, with exceptionally close matches. He was the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold and silver medalist. Has he been your toughest opponent?

Travis: No Bischof was not my toughest opponent. He didn’t have throwing capability. And if memory serves me right he has only beat me on a penalties. But I never seen opponents as tough. Yeah I lose matches but not because my opponents are so great but because I make mental errors or take a risk that back fires.

Visualization and Game Plan:

Lex: Do you regularly visualize your matches leading up to competition? Do you have a specific game plan that you prepare and visualize for a particular style of opponent (righty, lefty, Georgian, Japanese style, etc)?

Travis: I do for left versus right. But not for individuals or for regions. I could care less what they do. I plan on going into the match and imposing what I want to do. But when I do visualization my opponent is a blur and I’m just focused on me.

Drilling:

Lex: For the beginner, intermediate, and professional judoka / bjj competitor do you see drilling as an important part of training? Is it essential to get thousands of reps in on a technique before you can pull it off successfully in competition? Or is practicing the technique in randori / sparring more important?

Travis: They are both equally important. Drilling is far more important in bjj because the moves are very foreign to the body. And there are so many types of positions you have to be familiar with that if you don’t drill you will always run into something you are not prepared for. For judo you can do all the reps in the world but if you’re too scared to pull it off in live training it will all be for nothing. So drilling is important but developing a lack of hesitation for the judoka is even more important.

Support Structure:

Lex: I remember reading an interview with you by Dan Faggella where he draws a distinction between two learning paths: that of the “soldier” and that of the “wanderer”. He put you and Ilias Iliadis in “wanderer” camp. You’ve traveled all around the world to train. Where did you look for the mental (not to mention financial) support in your journey? I imagine it gets lonely putting your body through hell without a strong support structure back home. Does it?

Travis: It doesn’t get lonely at all. I wake up every morning excited to do my job and train. I want nothing more out of life than to be healthy enough for the next training session. The financial backing for it will always be there I never asked for hand outs but people were always willing to help because they saw the effort I was putting in. And when there was no financial backing I got the money myself working for Roof Top Services of Central Florida, Inc, landscaping, you name it. I would work any job if it put money in my pocket that could go toward my goal.

Mental toughness:

Lex: You train 2-3 times a day, I imagine usually with very high intensity. Have you ever felt like not training or even quiting judo? How do you overcome days/thoughts like that?

Travis: I only feel that way when I’m training in Japan. Everything there is so boring. I hate training there. But anywhere else in the world I love it and wish we could train more. That feeling of tired is what I love. Your body has been pushed to the limits your mind can’t think straight I live for it. And if I’m in a lot of pain, I just tell myself I’ll feel better after. And I always do.

International camps:

Lex: Is participating in camps and training sessions around the world (like many European players do) the key in creating successful judoka who is able to win world or Olympic titles?

Travis: It’s a part of it. But it’s not the answer by any means. You have to want to learn and when you step on the mat you have to put your ego aside and be willing to see your faults and make adjustments.

Representing the United States:

Lex: I started judo after watching it in the 2008 Olympics. You and Ronda are the two people I remember from that Olympics. I imagine there are other Americans like me that were inspired by your performance. As one of the best American judoka, do you feel pressure to represent your country and inspire new athletes to join the sport?

Travis: I don’t. I’m very happy to hear that people joined because they were inspired by my performance. It truly does a lot for me but I know on the flip side I can’t make anyone do anything I’m just happy that they tune in for their support.

Future of Judo and BJJ:

Lex: You are connected to the elite-level of both jiu jitsu and judo communities. What is your sense about the growth of both sports in the coming decades? Do you see the recent rule changes as a positive change for that growth?

Travis: I wouldn’t say I’m at the elite level of BJJ. I have the potential to get there but I’m not there yet at least in my eyes. But I think BJJ has gone as far as it will in growth in the United States. With the caps on number of athletes as a whole rather than per division I just don’t see it growing. There is also no support for BJJ guys. Because they compete for clubs and not a country there is no organizing body for these people to receive help from unless the clubs start taking on a more professional role and paying top athletes to compete and represent them. But I don’t see that happening on a national level. Maybe a few guys here and there but nothing wide range. Judo’s rule changes are what they are. I hope that they take the sport to the next level. That way they haven’t been for nothing. But it’s hard to say. I don’t know what gets discussed behind closed doors.

Teaching:

Lex: Has your experience in BJJ affected the way you teach judo, given that as you said before BJJ is more detailed art? Do you like teaching? Do you see owning your own BJJ/judo academy in the future?

Travis: I love teaching I look forward to all of my classes as if I was going to train. I love to see my students grow and learn. I currently own two BJJ schools. And enjoy teaching at both. I wish there was more time in the day so I could live my dream longer.

Interview with Judo World Champion Georgii Zantaraia

The following is an interview with 2009 Judo World Champion and one of  the most dynamic judoka in the world, Georgii Zantaraia, arranged by Niko Dax. Niko kindly let me ask a few questions, but first a highlight of Georgii:

Lex, “In 2012 Olympics, Ukraine for the first time did not come away with a medal. Do you feel extra pressure on your shoulder leading up to the 2016 games?”

Georgii, “ I would like to emphasize that Ukraine have strong players in all weight classes. Coaches would never bring anyone as a tourists . Judo is the most competitive sport in the world so everyone can win and get a medal. I can’t think about Olympic Games in Rio 2016 since its so far from now and it would be so many tournaments before that. Usually our team for A level events consists of at least 16 players and everyone is elite judoka with chances to medal. But to answer your question I don’t feel like Im special or coaches treat me differently from other teammates.

Lex, “In the last 6 years, there have been more changes in judo rules than in all of the 50 years of its history in the Olympics. From what you saw in the world championships this year, do you think these changes have had an overall positive effect on the sport? For the athlete and for the spectators?”

Georgii, “I can verify significant increase and growth of the judo as sport around the world. When I started competed on international level 7 years ago judo already was really big but now its truly top major sport in Europe. Most of this success is due to the rule changes and great IJF work. Judo become much more quicker and offensive. There is huge decrease in negative, defensive actions as its getting punished with penalties immediately. Matches are shorter and more dynamic and I can see way more big throws than it used to be before. So overall I think all those changes made a great positive affect. I think judo now is much more understandable for spectators because players forced to play upright game which leads to big terrific throws. Big terrific throws attracts people despite their familiarity with the game. Worse judo player has less chance to neutralize better judoka with defensive stalling strategy . I personally loves te guruma as it was one of my signature throws but I didn’t have any trouble adjusting as overall positive effect outweight the loss of this technique. If you look at elite players who are competing at A level 4 years ago and now …they are still the same people. Its not like IJF changed the rules and bunch of players quit judo. It still the same people cuz leg grabs is just little portion of overall judo.
* Note from Niko “ We can see the players adjust kata gurumas , te gurumas and still able to perform variation of those techniques without leg grab”

Lex, “On September 8, the IOC will decide on the fate of wrestling in the 2020 Olympics. Judo and wrestling are the only grappling sports in the Olympics. How important is it for wrestling to stay in the Olympics? Does judo run the danger of suffering the same fate?

Georgii, “I personally love wrestling as I think most of judo players do as well. Since wrestling was the original antic sport I think it must stay in Olympic Games program. Wrestling is significant part of grappling art and Olympic Games is key for sport growth and development. I don’t think judo is in any danger of losing Olympic Games as I mentioned before judo is as big and popular as never before. There are some countries where judo is not mainstream but in majority of the countries judo is the most popular martial art. Millions of people are practicing judo around the world and its only getting bigger.”
Note from Niko,”Today we already know that wrestling is back. I think judo popularity depends on strong national organization . Good example is USA , due to the total lack of finance and tiny media exposure on the national televison judo popularity is very very low compare with european and asian countries” where poeple with financing problems just get help from lån uten sikkerhet and solve the problem with no problem.

Lex, “Ronda Rousey, an American judoka, is one of the most recognized judoka in the world because of her success in MMA. Have any of you considered a move to MMA in the future?

Georgii, “I love MMA and really would love to continue my career in MMA . However , I never got any offer so for now its just virtual possibility. I love competing and challenging my self so MMA always was very appealing to me. If some major organisations would approach me I would definitely consider their offer.“

Breaking News: Lloyd Irvin, Keenan Cornelius, Jordon Schultz

breaking-news-lloyd-irvin-keenan-jordon-atosI heard a bunch of “breaking news” references on the mat over the last couple of days. I find it fascinating that our jiu jitsu community has grown big enough that the news of drama from 100’s to 1000’s miles away reaches everyone from white belt to black belt where it becomes a topic of conversation. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter have created online jiu jitsu celebrities, and not all of them are famous for just their jiu jitsu. Lloyd Irvin is an example.

The Lloyd Irvin off-the-mat soap opera has captured the attention of thousands of people, probably all of them grapplers… Lloyd Irvin’s sexual misconduct, Keenan leaving the team for Atos, Jordon coming along with him, etc.

The sexual misconduct charges are very serious and it’s important for anyone who did anything bad to get punished.

Instead of going on the forums and contributing to the senseless scream-fest, I’ll just do what most of the people I look up to are doing: focus on creating a positive and respectful environment for the people I train with, and make sure there’s no place for drama on the mat. It’s a sanctuary of sorts, and one that has changed my life for the better. All I can do is help pass it on in small ways every day.

The Best Unknown Jiu Jitsu Competitor in the World

Leo-NogueiraLeo Nogueira, in my mind, is the best jiu jitsu competitor in the world right now. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to say he is “unknown”, but relative to the other big-name contenders, it does seem to be the case, at least just based on the conversations I’ve had with other jiu jitsu folks. Most people know the other top players from young guns like Buchecha and Rodolfo to veterans like Xande and Roger. In fact, I don’t even have to say their full name and you already know who I’m talking about. On the other hand, do you know who Leo is?

I first saw him at the 2012 Worlds, warming up, pacing with the probably the most confident look of determination I’ve ever seen. I turned my head and when I looked back he was already mounted on top his opponent getting the tap. “Who the hell is that guy?” was my thought, and it wasn’t until I got back and started looking on YouTube that he has been a quiet but dominant force on the competition scene.

He has a very basic game akin to Roger Gracie, but what impressed me most is how little threatened he is by the best closed guards in the world. His closed guard split and pass is the most relentless that I’ve ever seen. Here’s a video of him showing one variation of it. It looks incredibly simply and you might wonder: “Yeah, but can he do that in the final of the black belt Worlds?” Yes, yes he can.

Keenan Cornelius is facing him next Sunday (Jan 13, 2013) in the Copa Podio. It’s a heavy weight tournament with 10 competitors who are the best of the black belt heavies, except Keenan who is a brown belt who until recently has been competing at Middleweight. I think this will be the toughest opponent Keenan has ever faced. If Keenan wins that would make a powerful statement about the growth of jiu jitsu in America, but he is up against steep odds. Leo is probably going to be on top playing a very conservative passing game. In some ways, this will be a chance to see the best of “old school” jiu jitsu against the best of “modern jiu jitsu”. Here’s an interview with Leo about the match.