By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development 

Just as a doctor prescribes a specific remedy for a specific ailment, a sports coach can develop a prescriptive training program to remedy a specific deficiency in an athlete’s performance. The key to developing prescriptive training is in understanding that these are not “one size fits all” programs. Each prescriptive program is tailored to the competitive level of athletes and their individual training needs. Junior competitors, females, Seniors, elite athletes, and even Masters, all have specific needs. Similarly, an athlete returning to competitive training after an injury or long layoff will require special attention.

As a practical example, if a judoka is overly fatigued in the third minute of a five minute match, then an observant coach would prescribe more cardio-vascular conditioning. Or if a competitor is weak on the ground (grappling), then the coach would prescribe additional work on newaza and osaekomi-waza escapes. This may be supplemented with weight training to improve upper-body strength, since having a strong bench-press can definitely help in escaping from a hold.

While training at a judo dojo recently, I had the opportunity to observe a junior blue belt visiting from another club. He was thirteen years old, and going by the back-patch on his judogi, he had fought at the USA Junior Nationals. At first glance he exhibited all the characteristics of a seasoned junior competitor. He was solidly built, had a good appreciation for grip fighting, and attacked as soon as he had a grip. The problem was that he had no effective judo techniques and, therefore, was unable to throw any opponent in randori. In talking to him, it was also evident that he knew none of the Japanese terminology for tachi-waza or newaza.

As it turned out, this boy was from a non-traditional fight club that also practiced wrestling, Sambo, and MMA grappling. None of his instructors were formally trained judo sensei or coaches in the true sense, and judo was simply one of the many activities offered at their grappling club. The result was that this young fighter would probably plateau at the junior level and never grow into a well rounded judoka with a comprehensive repertoire of effective judo techniques. The prescriptive training, in this case, would be to step back from competition and begin developing this young athlete’s technical judo skills.

We often see a similar problem with Senior competitor who are physically very strong. At the lower levels of randori and competition they are able to rack up some wins with pure strength. But in depending on strength, they fail to develop speed, timing, and technique. By the time they begin competing in Senior competition with brown and black belts they are being bounced all over the tatami or being penalized for stiff-arm defensive fighting.

The prescriptive training, in this case, involves forcing the judoka to stop using strength and develop better judo habits. This requires regular moving uchikomi, nagekomi, and light randori with higher grades. Every time the coach or higher grade feels the player muscling up, they should throw that individual. The objective is to demonstrate that speed, timing and technique will beat brute strength. Teaching and mastering ashi-waza is also a valuable tool to improve technique and timing.

For a female fighter who is technically proficient, it can be the reverse. It is often necessary to focus on strength training to give them the added edge in competition. Genetically, women have less muscle mass and upper-body strength than their male counterparts; and in watching elite female competition, it is often evident that many women lose their grip when attacking. No grip, no throw. So the prescriptive training would begin with upper-body strength training, rope climbs, cable-pull machines, kettle-bells and cross-training. With sufficient gripping, drawing and pulling drills the female judoka will develop the necessary grip and upper-body strength.

For an older adult returning to judo, the biggest danger is that, after years of sedentary life, many of their muscles will have atrophied and the tendons and joints become stiff and inflexible. They may also have pre-existing injuries such as hip or knee replacements. The prescriptive training program should involve a prolonged period of low impact conditioning just to prepare them for the rigors of judo training. This may begin with walking or even a more low impact exercise such as swimming. The player should be encouraged to thoroughly warm-up before stretching on a daily basis, and not just before judo practice. Standing randori with younger Senior competitors should be discouraged at first, while uchikomi and newaza randori is recommended.

To conclude, there is no substitute for hard training in judo, but hard training alone does not produce champions or competent coaches. What it can produce is unnecessary injuries and early retirement from the mat. Hard training must be augmented with smart training if the athlete wishes to maintain good health and reach the elite levels. So it falls to the coach to introduce this element of intelligent training, and more importantly, to set training goals based on the needs of the individual. The prescriptive training process must begin with an astute assessment of the individual athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, to include: technical and tactical skills, competition experience, stamina, physical strength, mental attitude, and personal short and long term goals. Only after a thorough pre-training assessment can the coach and athlete form a cooperative relationship for effective future development.

Takamasa Anai, All Japan Champion, and Mark Lonsdale, LA Tenri Clinic 2012

Takamasa Anai, All Japan Champion, and Mark Lonsdale, LA Tenri Clinic 2012


About Mark V

Dedicated shooter, seeker, traveler, teacher, trainer, educator
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