Tag Archives: judo

Don’t Be a Spaz: Relax and Move Smoothly to Develop Precision

A “spaz” is someone whose movement is explosive but lacks precision. For the visually-inclined, here’s a Venn diagram:


Being a spaz is something we forgive beginners too easily, as if it’s the awkward teenage phase everyone has to go through, as if it’s not within their control. No, you don’t grow out of being a spaz, you have to work your way out of it from day one.

The basic principle of life is that you get good at what you do most often. Period. You’re not going to stop being a spaz by spazzing harder, longer, and more times a week. You stop spazzing by deliberately relaxing and moving in a smooth controlled fashion.


Relaxing is one of the most important things a beginner can learn. But it isn’t a switch you flip. It’s a constant struggle. You have to remind yourself over and over and over as you roll or drill to release the tension in your muscles. Only once you learn to relax can you begin to build precision in your movement.

I learned this lesson first when I was studying classical piano at a young age. The secret to moving ten fingers in a clean, crisp, super-fast pattern is to start SSSLLLOOOWWWW. Music has a beat, so “slow” has a number, thanks to the metronome. The process is simple:

  1. Set the metronome to super slow.
  2. Play at that speed without once tensing any of the tiny little muscles in your hands.
  3. Continue playing at that speed until you don’t make a single mistake for.
  4. Slightly increase the speed of the metronome.
  5. Go to step #2.

That’s piano though. In grappling, there’s often a big dude doing his best to break off your arm as you try to relax. So it’s different, right? Wrong. Never ever should you stop that dude by tensing or spazzing. When learning, whether you’re playing piano or are locked in a death-match with an NCAA All American wrestler, you have to relax.

Building Precision

So when you’re first learning a movement in grappling, here’s the process I recommend:

  1. Release tension: Relax as much of your body as possible while still accomplishing the movement.
  2. Move slowly: Perform the movement both in drilling and training at the slowest pace you and your partner can bare physically and psychologically. It doesn’t have to be glacial speed, but you can never go too slow at first. It is ALWAYS better to start super slow and increase speed when you’re 100% confident you got the movement down at that speed.
  3. Move smoothly: Each part of the movement should be performed at the same speed as every other part. Unless… gravity or momentum requires you to move faster in certain parts.

Once you achieve precision with the movement at the slow speed you can shift one gear up. For me, in training or drilling, each gear usually corresponds to approximately 100-500 reps.

When precision is developed, style can form. You might be an explosive cobra that’s loud and proud as it murders its opponent. Or you might be a giant python that hides away patiently waiting for the pray to wander into its death by asphyxiation.

But first: relax, slow down, and move smoothly.


I was dishonest in saying that there is no difference between learning piano and learning grappling. The truth is that getting smashed on the mat is somehow much more damaging to the ego. This is perhaps the biggest struggle of a martial artist: to relax and move smoothly as you get smashed over and over and over on your path to mastery.

Every man is born a spaz. It is his burden and his quest: to shed this robe of awkwardness and emerge a noble savage, a fearless primate in full control of his intent and action.

First Impressions: Cauliflower Ears, Tom Waits, Bukowski, Camus, Military, and Atheism

redfrogAposematism is the use of warning coloration (e.g. RED) by animals to signal that they are not to be messed with. A red frog is telling the world: if you eat me, you will probably die. So, when I meet a red frog in the forest, I usually don’t put in my mouth. At the same time, it is very true, that if a beautiful princess was a frog that only needed to be kissed to realize her true form, she would probably be a red frog.

Color is just one of many qualities that animals use to make first impressions. Most such qualities they can’t control, except indirectly through the frustratingly slow process of evolution. Us humans on the other hand can make first impressions by things we learn to do with our face and more specifically: with our mouth (aka talking).

I’ve long ago learned that the person I believe to be is not always the person I appear to be on first meeting or even to friends of many years. I am, like everyone else, one giant misunderstanding. Philip Roth in American Pastoral puts it most beautifully:

“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”

And yet, despite all that complexity, over the years, I have develop certain positive prejudices. I will immediately make a connection with a person without knowing anything else about them if one of the following is true. In other words, I will have a drink with you and likely enjoy the conversation, if:

  • You have cauliflower ears. This means you wrestled or grappled. Anyone who has trained long enough to get cauliflower, has likely been taken to the limit of their physical and mental capacity, and in that process was humbled. A humble man is often a wise man.
  • You have competed extensively in a combat sport like wrestling, judo, MMA, jiu jitsu, etc. Or better yet, you’ve been in a lot of street fights. This is basically the same as the first point. You’ve been through some shit, and so much of the useless stupidity of ego is out of your system. You are not pretending to be something you are not. Anyone who’s been pushed to the limit, usually doesn’t see any value to pretend to be anything.
  • You saw combat (war) AND are an atheist (secular, agnostic, all the same). Some of the most real people I know are former Israeli military who don’t give a moment’s time to bullshit of any kind . Sometimes, if you are religious, the kind of brutal lessons you might take away from war are clouded by a kind of mystic relationship with a supernatural being. Soldiers, in my experience, are almost always good people, more real than most. But I’m a man of cold rationality and religion can often spoil a perfectly honest conversation.
  • You are a blue collar worker. A man who does manual labor is a man who doesn’t have his head in the clouds. The conversation is real and so is the drinking.
  • You like Tom Waits or Charles Bukowski. This means you live on the edge of normal, sticking to the outskirts of the room at a party.
  • You read more than one novel of Albert Camus or Fyodor Dostoevsky (and their ilk). This means you have a mind that is prone to bouts of existential dread. Prolonged thoughts over big life questions make for an interesting brain.

These are some “human colorations” that I have discovered for my own self. Everyone is different, and many of my friends (including my best friend) do no have any of the above qualities. Still, if you do, I’ll buy you a drink, and talk for a while.

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.


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.

BJJ and Judo Competition Goals for 2014

worlds_medalI’m a big believer in setting goals: tough, reachable, and numeric.

Most of my day is spent at my job (that I love) but jiu jitsu is an escape from that, and an important escape. It’s the most easily accessible, systematic way I know of taking myself out of my comfort zone: especially when I compete.

I keep my goals for work and life private, but for jiu jitsu and judo I like to write it in a blog so that my teammates and friends might join me in on some of these, and we can support each other. So here we go…

Competition by Numbers

These are numeric goals I MUST reach, no matter what. It’s a small simple list, but that’s what a goal list should be. The rest of this post is philosophical chitter-chatter.

  • Win: Win 100 matches in BJJ competition (gi or no-gi).
  • Submit: Get 50 submissions in BJJ competition (gi or no-gi).
  • Judo: Win 10 matches in judo competition.
  • Big Throws: Throw 5 black belts for ippon in judo competition

Mindset Goals

These are not really “goals”, but things to keep in mind and strive for, in order to make the actual numeric goals make me a better human being and fit into my life.

  • Lose: It’s okay to lose over and over. Lose a million times, as long as I reach the above goals.
  • Forget: Put every loss behind me immediately (except for the technical mistakes made). Just because I get mounted and submitted, doesn’t mean I can’t come back in 5 minutes and return the favor to the same guy.
  • Fun: Have fun competing and training. Smile (at least on the inside) and enjoy the fuck out of the ride.

Competition Attendance

Again, these aren’t really goals but are guides. Travelling far for a tournament is tough especially when I’m working weeks of 10-12 hour days, so I’m not going to put the pressure on myself that I *must* do it, but I do strongly believe I should and want to. Here are the BIG tournaments that I want to attend with the full intention to win gold.

  • World Pro Trials Montreal
  • Pans
  • NY Open
  • Worlds
  • No-Gi Pans
  • No-Gi Worlds

See “Forget” above. It’s very important to put any losses at a major tournament immediately behind me.

Drilling, Cardio, Training

I set drilling, training, and cardio goals often and I think these goals work a lot better on the scale of 1-3 months. Competition goals are the ones that work better on the scale of 1 year, so that’s what I did in this post.

Ouchi Gari in International Wrestling Competition

Here’s a very nice ouchi gari (or as wrestler’s call it: inside trip) from Victoria Anthony (USA) against Anzhela Dorogan (AZE) in the 48 kg division in the Heydar Aliev FILA Golden Grand Prix in November 2013.

The interesting thing to notice here is that the trip is done on the overhook side. This is how I’ve seen it mostly done in high-level wrestling. That’s different from how it’s done in judo where it’s done on the “underhook” side. Of course, in judo, it’s usually a lapel grip and not an underhook but those are actually similar in terms of how the throw is performed.

Here’s one of many instructionals on this basic takedown from a wrestling perspective:

And here’s one of many instructionals on this basic takedown from a judo perspective:

How to Get Back Into Judo or BJJ

One of the cool things I get from having this blog and competing a bunch is that people ask me for advice. I’m flattered, of course, but my advice-giving abilities are quite frankly shitty. I make no money from these sports, and so I have no interest in or practiced-ability of convincing people to sign up or get back into it. So my advice tends to be brutally honest and (I fear) not very empathetic. But I’m getting better. The beginning is always rough, and so most of us need to be guided gently at first, before we’re thrown in with the wolves.

Here’s where I’m coming from… I train jiu jitsu almost exclusively now, not having gotten my black belt in judo… yet. That’s where my current struggle lies: trying to get back into judo while maintaining a more-than-full-time job and a serious competition training regimen in jiu jitsu. Anyway, the following are good rules that have worked for me many times in the past when I was first starting or re-starting an activity.

1. Just do it, and never stop

uphill-both-waysYou don’t need a master-plan. Just show up, and keep showing up, until you figure out a plan that works for you, but never EVER stop showing up. If you are injured, have staph/ringworm/ebola, do something at home that physically drains you more than training. You can’t let your mind see an escape from training. If you get sick, you should be upset that you’re sick, because that means you have to do something that’s less fun than training, but you still have to do that something.

When I drill, there’s a tendency to not do it until I figure out a detailed set of techniques that I’m going to drill, but thanks to the infinite capacity of the brain to procrastinate, that approach results in me never drilling. What works is just doing it for 40-60 minutes, with or without a plan, and what happens is I actually quickly figure out a regimen that works.

No matter what, do not stop. If you’ve ever quit anything in your life, and I’m sure you have, you know that quitting gives your mind the knowledge that there IS an escape. And when shit gets tough, your mind will immediately against start looking for that same escape. You have to convince yourself that quitting is not an option. By the way, quitting is okay as long as you acknowledge to yourself that you are quitting and accept the consequences, but most people (like myself) gradually fall of the wagon without ever being brutally honest with themselves and quitting openly, clearly, and carrying the full weight of that decision.

2. Make a set of rules that cannot be broken

must-be-at-least-this-tall-to-rideAfter you started showing up (see #1), it’s now time to make the concept of “showing up” more concrete. You have to set a minimum number of times you’ll train every week. It has to be tough but realistic. This is a “rule” you can never ever break, unless you plan for it way ahead of time. You have to write down modifications to this rule for special situations like if you’re sick or you’re traveling or there’s a huge deadline at work or something you have to do with the wife, kids, family, etc. For example, for training, here’s a rule for a competitor:

  • Normal: Roll at least 40 minutes (actual rolling time) every day.
  • When a little sick: Run outside or on a treadmill (at home) for 40 minutes, at a pace of 7.5 mph or faster.
  • When really sick: Your body needs rest, but we can still torture the mind (in a good way)! So, watch 2 hours of instructionals, taking notes.
  • When hurt: Do any kind of exercise that doesn’t affect the injured area for 40 minutes at heart rate of 150 bpm or higher.
  • When traveling: Try to find a place, if not do the same as if sick.

That might sound like a lot, but it’s not. I’ve never actually have written it out like that. It’s just in my head. I have the same for reading, for programming, for learning.

3. Set a numeric goal

Tally_marks_counting_visitorsI write about this a lot, and those that train with me, know that I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and numbers. I like setting goals like: get 100 submissions in competition or do 30 tournaments this year or run 365 miles. A good goal is quantifiable, reachable, but tough. It should last several months, or at least a month. The point of a numeric goal is to get you to focus on progressing from 0% to 100% completion, one percent at a time. And while you focus on those small increments, time flies much faster, and most importantly: the habit of “showing up” builds. Once you get the habit going, everything becomes easier. For me, it takes about 3-4 weeks to build the habit of doing a new thing on a regular basis.

Hope some of this helps.

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.


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.


nick-delpopolo travis-stevensbrad-bolen


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.


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.


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.


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.“