By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development

Many coaches will share personal stories and experiences with their athletes to illustrate a point, and as long as these do not devolve into longwinded war stories they can be useful. But in judo, it is often useful to take oneself out of the equation and instead use analogies to illustrate a relevant point.

The most common analogy used in judo and martial arts is in drawing comparisons to water. Just as water flows around rocks and in time wears them down, the judoka also flows and moves around hard objects, such as a person who uses strength without technique or keeps their arms stiff. With time, practice, and technique, the proficient judoka will learn to flow around those stiff arms and use the opponents’ strength against them.

For a less traditional example, if a coach wanted to make a point concerning the importance of warming up before judo, he may use a rubber ball as an analogy. When a rubber ball is warm and pliable it can be bounced on the ground and absorb a lot of abuse, much like a warmed up judoka. But if you were to take that same ball and freeze it with liquid nitrogen, and then drop it on the ground, it would shatter. Even children would understand this imagery and realize the importance of not training when they are cold and brittle. It is all about creating a vivid image that people will remember.

In explaining the importance of age-appropriateness in teaching, coaching, and athlete development, you could use an analogy comparing people to trees. When a new shoot is young and tender it needs to be protected and sheltered from animals and abuse, as with small children or new students. But then as the young sapling grows faster it responds well to water, sunlight and nutrition. From there the sapling grows into a young tree that is strong and flexible, but still green and not matured. This would be a young teenager going through his or her growth spurt. If abused the tree will be damaged or destroyed, but if protected and cultivated correctly it will grow and become stronger.

As the young tree turns from green to brown it becomes tougher and stronger. It can withstand stronger winds and even allows young children to climb in its branches. This is the young athlete approaching peak performance while giving back to the community as an assistant instructor. He or she has reached the balance of toughness and flexibility necessary for high performance judo.

As the tree continues to age the wood will continue to mature and harden, but in the process loses some of its flexibility. This is the athlete passing his or her prime and hitting their thirties or forties. From there the wood continues to gray and harden but is still strong and useful. Some of our strongest and most beautiful furniture and building materials are made from aged woods.

But as that wood (judoka) ages, and the flexibility is lost, the training must change. Just as you cannot bend aged wood, there is a limit to how much you can bend aged athletes. The wood may also have cracks that have been repaired and need to be guarded and protected, as with our sports injuries and battle scares. We would also like to think that the young sapling looks up at the mighty oak and dreams of the day that he or she will also be a strong and proud tree.


And in the spirit of “mutual welfare and benefit” the aged and majestic oak serves many purposes in modern society. It is wondrous to behold; offers shade and shelter; blocks the wind; can be climbed in by children; and serves as a home for animals and birds. Even in death, and for centuries into the future, the mighty oak, as with so many other trees, is remembered for its fine wood. How many times have you run your hand across a fine mahogany tabletop or maple gunstock and marveled at the swirls of the grain? This is the legacy of respected judo sensei(s), in that their contributions to society live on for generations within their students.

That, my fellow judoka and aging trees, is how an analogy works. So the first lesson in life is to learn to bend but not break, to weather the storms, and to bounce back after a strong wind. This should resonate with all judoka.


About Mark V

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