Training Smart (Part 2)

By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

The previous article was intended as an introduction to Masters and Veterans competition, aimed particularly at the individuals who may have been out of judo for several years. In this article we will look at how to begin developing a smart, age-appropriate training program.

But before we get into the subject of training, have you ever stopped to consider, who are these US Masters judo competitors? If you look back at the statistics for the US Nationals for the past 20 years, you will see that it is not unusual to have almost as many male Masters competing as male Seniors. This equates to considerable revenue for the tournament organizer and yet Masters have often been treated as the ugly step-child. Attendance by female Masters has always been weak, but these same competitors, male and female, represent some of the most experienced and active judoka, sensei, and coaches in the USA. US Masters competitors range from former international athletes to newly minted brown and black belts, but they are all willing and able to get on the mat and compete. Unlike so many high-grade judoka in the US who have earned rank by time-in-grade and have never competed, US Masters represent a huge national resource for judo knowledge and experience. Unlike their out of shape counterparts, often lacking in technical ability, Masters competitors are the heart and soul of US judo. They are on the mat teaching and training with their clubs and students every week, so major respect is due these men and women!


You will notice that I use the terms Masters and Veterans interchangeably, because what we call Masters in the US and Japan, the IJF and Europeans call Veterans. This came about because the IJF Masters Championship is actually a world class invitational Senior championship for athletes placed in the top 16 on the international points roster.


Obviously a 35-year old judoka who has just retired from Senior competition, and a 55-year old judoka who may have been out of judo for 30 years are in two different training camps. While both are classified as Masters, each requires a unique and individualized training plan.

Much Respect!

Much Respect!

The first step in developing an athlete-specific training program is a comprehensive physical assessment by a competent coach. If there are any pre-existing conditions, injuries or health concerns, then this should be preceded by a thorough physical examination and certification by a physician experienced in sports medicine, and appreciative of the physical demands of competitive judo.

Without getting into a detailed description of how the various Periodization models work, it is helpful to appreciate one of the values of this type of training model. A Periodization training program breaks the athlete’s development into a series of periods, often 2-months. Two-monthly meso-cycles are often used since it is possible to quantify change or improvement over a two-month period, but shorter micro-cycles can be used to address other specific training issues.

Within each 2-month period there will be a number of training modules with associated metrics to track improvement. For judo, these modules will include: general fitness, weight management, judo training, tactical training, mental preparation, and competitive analysis.

General fitness will include cardio training for stamina and resistance training for strength. For the Masters athlete, this should begin with low impact aerobic exercises, such as walking, swimming or cycling, before risking stress fractures from road work on hard pavement. Walking on an inclined treadmill is another option but judo training can also meet both cardio and strength development requirements. Uchi-komi, nage-komi into a crash pad, and newaza randori are all excellent conditioning exercises; and a whole lot more fun than training at a gym. Yoga can also be very beneficial for working out some of the old kinks.

Weight management and dietary control may be required to lose unhealthy weight and get down to a sensible fighting weight. A judoka who is obviously obese and carrying a huge beer belly is going to find himself in heavier weight categories with serious Masters athletes who are the same weight but more muscle than fat. The other danger is being an unfit 105 kg in the men’s +100 kg category. Most of the top players in +100 kg (220 pounds) will be upwards of 260 or 280 pounds. In addition, to see progress in training, a healthy diet is critical to general good health and recovery time. This means that junk food, sodas, high sugar and high sodium foods, and excessive alcohol are off the table. Beer and wine in moderation are okay and can be beneficial.


For IJF Veterns, a white and blue judogi are required. For Masters in Japan only a white judogi is required.

For IJF Veterns, a white and blue judogi are required. For Masters in Japan only a white judogi is required.

This brings us to judo training. We as judoka are fortunate that judo is, by design, one of those sports you can do for life, provided you approach training sensibly. This means focusing on the aspects of training that minimize the potential for injury. Those are routine warm-ups, stretching, ukemi, uchi-komi, nage-komi, newaza, and technical development. By technical development, and in addition to dojo level Kodokan judo, I am referring to the process of building a family of competition techniques, set-ups, combinations, and counters. These can be done in a relatively safe training environment with accommodating training partners.

Randori is where we start seeing unnecessary but sometimes unavoidable injuries, especially if the randori sessions are not structured for older veterans.  What you do not want is being seen as “fresh meat” for the younger and stronger ground-and-pound crowd. While club sensei and coaches have some control over how partners are paired for randori, it falls to the individual veteran to ensure he or she is not being thrown in at the deep end.  For the first few months, select weaker less experienced partners so that you can work on technique and timing, but do not succumb to the temptation to use superior strength. Try to throw your partners with speed and timing.  This will contribute to your technical development provided you are training at least three times per week. Technical development can also be supplemented by studying technical and competition videos on YouTube or by building up a library of championship DVDs.

Only after laying a solid foundation of good technical judo will the veteran and coach want to begin working on tactical development. This should start with an in-depth review of the current IJF competition rules, best achieved by attending IJF or USA Judo referee development clinics. Only once competitors understand the rules and corresponding limitations, for example no hand or arm contact below the belt in tachi-waza, can they begin developing the tactics that will support their style of judo and techniques.

The most common form or tactical training found at many clinics centers around kumi-kata and gaining grip advantage. Grip fighting is important, but aspiring veterans should also be studying their future opponents at local tournaments. Again, if you have no experience in competitor analysis or profiling then you will benefit from a national level competition coaching development clinic.

One area that is often neglected by many athletes is the psychological aspects of competition and mental preparation for championships. As a returning veteran competitor you will find yourself harboring a whole raft of conflicting emotions, doubts about your ability, fear of injury, concerns that you may not be ready, wishing you had trained more, and the list goes on. These are best addressed by going through a psychological sports profile and mental inventory with a qualified coach. Most are not qualified to do this so seek out someone who knows how to do a full inventory and has a time proven methodology.

To keep track of all of the above, it is recommended that the veteran begin a training log. This can be in the form of a journal or in computer format. I use both – a journal for making notes before, during and after training, and a series of computer files on my laptop that cover training plans, periodization, championship calendars, and the various metrics to track progress. As a simple daily visual reminder and motivator, it is also a good idea to have a large wall calendar that shows your judo training days, gym training days, and up-coming clinics and tournaments. When your Masters judo becomes more than just an amusement, then training time and resource management will become important parts of your training plan.

A few final words of advice: For veterans who have not done judo in twenty or thirty years, you will need to proceed with caution. For the individual who has not maintained a good level of flexibility and fitness the potential for injury is high – and injuries can be expensive in both medical costs and time off work. While one may be comfortable in light randori with juniors and kyu-grades, the muscles, tendons and ligaments may have lost much of their elasticity. Muscle aches and pains from training are to be expected, and often can be remedied with Advil, but tears in tendons can be extremely painful and debilitating.

Therefore, the longer you have been away from judo, the slower you should proceed in the gym and on the mat. The first few months should be dedicated to low impact conditioning, warming up thoroughly prior to judo, stretching, and building aerobic capacity before attempting heavy resistance training or hard randori. One recurring issue with old war horses is they tend to remember how they used to train and fight in their teens and twenties, and now think that they can do it again. Not true! You may need to change the way you do judo to best accommodate your loss in flexibility, agility, ability and strength. It may be time to give up the big groin-tearing uchi-mata in favor of some nice ashi-waza and a deadly juji-gatame. But in the mean time, maintain good health, train for fitness, compete for fun, avoid injuries, and learn to enjoy your judo.


Mark Lonsdale is available for Masters and Veterans coaching seminars and clinics nationally or internationally. Contact to get costs or schedule a clinic in your area.



About Mark V

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