I 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.
Relaxing and Training Without Ego
I 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.
The 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.