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.


One thought on “Training with Ilias Iliadis in the United States

  1. Enosis

    Your point about “unknown heros” is right on mark. An ethnic Greek organization I belong to hosted Pyrros here in the US. In the process of introducing him to the athletic and non-athletic part of our community, it was amazing how little was known about him. The same stands for Iliadis. Not many of the Greeks in our community even know that Greece was affiliated with such a superstar like Ilias. Also amazing how sheltered the BJJ community is to judo. Most BJJ’rs can tell you who the fourth born grandson of a given Gracie is but not be a able to name one world champion judoka.

    1. Lex Post author

      Exactly, thanks for sharing that. I think BJJ is actually one of the least sheltered martial arts communities, and still you’re right. As a BJJ guy myself, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the universe of jiu jitsu and forget that there is a world outside of it with different ideas, perspectives and challenges.

  2. Enosis

    FYI..Pyrros is also a very approachable interesting guy. He would be a good interview for you to have some time….interesting background.

    1. Lex Post author

      That would be very interesting. I’m planning on interviewing a weightlifting Olympian soon, but interviewing Pyrros would be tough because I imagine he is not very comfortable talking in English, but maybe he is. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion. It got me thinking 😉

  3. sid

    ill be driving from toronto to montreal in early jan2014 for Iliadis 3 day seminar held by judo quebec, i cant wait and this post has really pumped me even more.
    i went a few years ago to the same place to see the kosei inoue seminar and needless to say my uchimata is much better,…
    since i know how good restaurants are there, i might throw in a few evening wrkouts as well to help with the extra calories and found a dojo about 10mins by car from hotel and sports complex where it will be held. its the biggest club in canada which is going to be quite different from our small university judo club.

  4. Javier

    Sid, I was also at the Ilias Iliadis seminar in Montreal you mentioned. I bet you didn’t need those extra workouts after all the push ups and sit ups he forced us to do 😉 There was probably less in the way of technical instruction than at the Inoue seminar. I think communication between Judo Quebec and Iliadis got a bit confused as I got the impression he thought this was more like a training camp than a technical seminar. But this is a clearly great champion with an inmense work ethic. The attendance was extraordinary. Nicholas Gill, Travis Stevens and Antoine Valois-Fortier were also on the mats at some point and I probably missed a few others.

  5. Nikos Bakos

    Hey Lex,
    Do you still have any contact with Iliadis or with anyone Judoka in Athens? I’m moving there for work in a few weeks and it’s been hard finding a dojo just on-line. If you could hook me up with the judo scene in Athens I’d really appreciate it.



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