(Part 1)

 By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

 “Dreams and goals are positive forces, but both need to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality”

     So you want to go to the Olympic Games in 2016; or maybe just place at the Nationals…..well read on and see if you have what it takes to become a champion.

     Many people harbor grand dreams and high hopes, but only a few make any effort to bring those dreams to fruition. Predictably, many of the dreamers who actually begin a quest for greatness will eventually give up in the face of real and perceived obstacles.

Meanwhile, more pragmatic individuals would simply like to improve in their sport of choice, whether it is golf, shooting, or judo; but they too are often unwilling to make the necessary commitment. That commitment can range from a few more hours of training each week to an all-consuming passion for the sport.

So if you want to set long-term goals such as the Olympics, or even just win at a National level, then you need to understand what it is that separates the champions from the masses – the “also ran.”

Dreams and goals are positive forces, but both need to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality. This reality begins with some serious thought about personal motivation and the necessary commitment to achieve any given goal. This is assuming a reasonable level of fitness, coordination, and whether one actually has the time and financial resources to go the distance.

Judo is a sport where anyone with above average athletic ability can go for gold, but putting aside the costs of travel for the moment, most have little concept of the huge time commitment necessary. However, on a more up-beat note, don’t ever let someone tell you that, “you can’t do it!” of that your dreams are just that, dreams. Do what most great men and women have done – rise to the challenge and prove those timid souls wrong. In other words, don’t ever quit until you decide it is time to quit.

The first step on this long, but hopefully fulfilling, journey of many small steps is to become a serious student of the sport. Read and study everything you can find about judo, especially books like “Competition Judo” by Hayward Nishioka. Study videos of past Nationals, World Championships, and Olympics. Concentrate on studying the top judoka in your weight division. Look for top judoka you can model yourself after, but be aware that there are several world-class players with unorthodox styles, so the recommendation is to stay as close to good basic technical form until you are experienced enough to make educated changes.

The next step is to get paper and pencil (or computer) and rough out a training program that is realistic and within your time and budgetary limitation. And yes, writing it down is the first step to making a dream a reality.

Your personal training program must be realistic and not idealistic. We would all like to be able to do things we are passionate about every day, but most of us have school, jobs and other commitments. If you draw up a training program that simply won’t fit within your work and family commitments, then you will quickly begin making excuses to skip training. To stay focused and motivated, it is better to start light and add hours or days as you adjust your home and work schedule to suit. And you had better have a supportive and understanding wife, husband, girlfriend and employer.

Moving from generality into specifics, let’s explore the importance of commitment and sacrifice.

Equipment:  To begin with, if you have top-of-the-line equipment, in any sport – the same as that being used by the National champions – then you have eliminated one variable and several excuses. You cannot blame the gear! Also consider the fact that the dollar amount you may invest in training equipment is going to be a small fraction of the overall costs, compared to the time and expense you will put into training and travel. Fortunately, judo is not an equipment intensive sport. Most championship judoka only need three IJF approved judogi (two white & one blue), sweats, and box of sport tape. But quality, IJF approved judogi are not cheap, costing $200-$300 each.

Dojo & Gym: The average recreational judo dojo charges around $30-$40 per month, but a dojo that offers elite high performance training will run $100-$140 per month. And this is cheap when compared to elite gymnastics training centers that charge upwards of $300 per month. Then in addition to judo fees, you will need a gym for strength and resistance training which could add another $400-$600 per year in training costs.

Coaching: Do you have access to a good coach to work on technical and tactical aspects of your judo; and are you willing to spend the money to get the best coaching you can afford? Without a coach to get you off on the right foot, you may spend many hours just reinforcing bad habits and not progressing. The value of a good coach cannot be over emphasized, and their time has real value ($). What you learn from an experienced coach will be the foundation on which your future training must stand.

Training Time: Training at your local dojo once a week, and the occasional Sunday tournament, is not sufficient to progress in judo. The average recreational judoka trains roughly 100 hours each year, while an elite player needs to be training five times that. (When training as an elite competitor I was on the mat approximately 750 hours per year, mostly training but also some teaching).

Similarly, hitting the weight gym every day, and being able to bench-press 300 pounds, may help in the early days, but without technically sound judo training it will not help at the elite levels.

Now if you are into judo purely for personal fitness or the social aspects of the sport, then once or twice a week may satisfy your needs. But if you have aspirations of winning at the National level, then you had better be prepared to train at least three times a week, with additional technical coaching at least once a week. And be assured, that three times a week will grow to five or six as you approach the international levels.

Training Goals: This is where that Eastern philosophy comes into play – particularly the proverb about a long journey being many small steps. Initial training goals should be to hone your techniques and combinations, and then dominate randori at the club level. The next goal is to medal at the local tournaments, then the State championships, and ultimately the Nationals. Only once you are winning silver or gold at the Nationals should you consider competing internationally.

Each training session should be carefully planned with specific training goals. This is where a coach can be of assistance. Championship athletes need to balance several aspects of their training – cardio, resistance, technical, tactical, strategic, and the all important rest & recovery periods.

With judo it is possible to achieve a number of these simultaneously. Judo randori offers the opportunity to hone techniques and tactics, while also developing cardio-vascular capacity, endurance, and strength.

Competitions: There is no substitute for competition experience if one aspires to be a successful competitor in any sport. Participation in a single tournament offers more training value than five or ten training sessions in the dojo, and the lessons learned are invaluable. It is only through exposure to progressively more demanding competitions that an individual can learn to control match nerves, perform under pressure, and gauge personal ability and improvement against worthy adversaries.

One secret to progressing in competition is to compete with both yourself and your opponents. Set yourself a goal such as attacking off first grip or attacking three times per minute. You can also set the goal of beating your arch-nemesis; or picking one individual who routinely beats you and set a personal goal of beating him or her.

When you select a competitor to try and beat, this may require learning about their training schedule and then committing to train just a little more than they do. In this way, you are motivated to train a little harder, a little longer and smarter.

By keeping the goals small, you will frequently meet and surpass these way-points and at the same time build confidence.

Travel: If you do not have the time or finances to travel, you will probably not gain the experience necessary to make the major leagues. Even if you are not a National level player, it is still highly beneficial to compete in National competitions to get a feel for the big time. The more big matches you can get under your belt, the more you will learn to control nerves – and be assured that a significant part of winning in judo is psychological.

These tournaments will also give you the opportunity to compete alongside the best judoka in the country and learn from their successes and mistakes. Watch them like a hawk and video every move they make for future analysis.

Apart from competing within the United States, a motivated competitor should take every opportunity to attend foreign competitions to gain international experience. Instead of taking a vacation to sunny Cancun, consider attending a tournament in Europe, followed by an international training camp.

In addition to tournaments, one should be prepared to travel out of state to participate in training seminars, training at Olympic training facilities, coaching clinics, and anything that will improve your knowledge, fitness, form, and ability.

Going International: This is the biggest expense for an aspiring World Champion or Olympian. To simply qualify for the Olympics, a judoka must be ranked in the top 22 players, in his or her weight category, in the IJF points standing. This means attending a lot of international Grand Slams and Grand Prix to accumulate the necessary points. This is not difficult for the European competitors who can just take a train, but very expensive for US players. Air travel, hotel, ground transportation and expenses for each championship can run $2,000-$2,500, but one cost saving trick is to try and hit two or three championships in Europe if they each fall a week apart.

So to conclude, if you are not prepared to commit to a significant amount of time and money, not to mention physical and mental anguish, then your journey will end long before you reach your goals. And if that goal is on the same magnitude as the Olympics, then the commitment must be of the same magnitude – enormous!

Part 1 has covered training commitment in broad strokes. Look for Part 2 for the blueprint to developing a realistic training program that will take you wherever you are truly committed to go.

“Dare To Dream, Train Hard, Train Smart, Stay Focused & Never Quit” Mark Lonsdale


About Mark V

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