One of the things that drives me crazy when I am showing someone a technique, and I hope my students never do this when visiting another club, is to have someone say, “Oh, well my coach taught me to do it like this” or “my coach does it this way”, or anything like that.
This is not about my ego and thinking that “I don’t care how your coach does it, my way is correct”. That is not the point at all, unless you say “my coach does it like this” then you demonstrate something and I have no idea what you are doing. In that case, I probably am thinking something along the lines of “well, either your coach is crazy or you have absolutely no grasp of what he/she was trying to show you and have gone in the wrong direction completely.” What I would say however, is something like, “ok, well let me just show you how I do it, and see how that feels.”
My wife, Heidi Moore, always says, you can ask 20 black belts to demonstrate a technique and get 20 different versions of the same technique. My best throws are ippon seoi nage and morote seoi nage. I do ippon to the left side and morote to the right side, both with a right-handed grip. I have won matches with several different throws over my competitive career, but if you look at my career as a whole, if I won a match with a throw, there is a 99% chance it was with left ippon seoi nage. My style of seoi nage tends to be a little different than the average seoi nage. I do not believe my style of seoi nage is any better than any other style or that I am a master of that throw. I do believe I have a seoi nage that works and has been very effective for me in competition and I believe my style is the best style for me, period.
People get so wrapped up with the idea that “my sensei showed it to me this way, so this is the only way I will do it” mentality. I had an excellent sensei, Connie Lavergne, who taught me seoi nage as well as most of the other throws I know. She taught me what we always called “text book” seoi nage, which meant, the way you would perform the technique on a belt test. I always thought, and still think, she was one of the best teachers/mentors I have ever had, in any subject, including life, but my seoi nage doesn’t look much like it did back when she taught it to me.
When I went to my first Paralympic training camp back in 1993, my favorite throw was uchi mata. The coach, Larry Lee, asked me why I was doing uchi mata, to which I replied, “It’s my favorite throw!” To which he replied, “Well, it sucks!” He gave me some pointers and told me to go home and work on it and at the next camp he had me show him how I was progressing. He looked at me and said, “Oh my God, it’s worse. You should never do that throw again.” He showed me what he called a double-fist seoi nage to the left from a right grip and had me work on it the entire camp. When I got home and showed my sensei, she didn’t tell me that I should ignore him and do seoi nage the way she had taught me, she said, “that’s interesting,” and helped me work on it. She wasn’t offended that I was doing a throw that was totally different than the way she taught me, she agreed that style of seoi nage along with the way I had developed my morote fit my body type and fighting style. Once I had developed it and was starting to get it a lot in randori and tournaments, she had me teach it. I have to admit that after several years it has evolved again. I don’t know when that happened but one day a teammate asked when I started throwing it “that way” after I had thrown it in a tournament and I asked what he was talking about. He showed me the video and I was surprised, and said I hadn’t noticed I was doing it differently, but it stuck.
So I learned a great lesson from her – my way is not the only way, or the best way, it is the best way for me. It might not work for you, but it might. How will you know if you do not try? Heidi and I have been the head instructors at Denver Judo since Larry turned the club over to us back in 1999 and when I teach beginners seoi nage, I teach it pretty much the way my sensei taught it to me. In the advanced “competitive” class, I teach it the way I do it. Some students like it and some do not. I always tell them, “this is the way I do it, try it, if it works for you, great, if it does not, that’s ok too.” I want my students to be exposed to different ways of doing techniques, not just my way. We have several other black belts and instructors in our club, some of whom have been our students from white belt and some whom have come to us as black belts, and they all have their own way of doing things. You can recognize our style in many of our students but those who have gone to other clubs and training camps have taken what they have learned from us and other instructors and adapted techniques to fit their body type and fighting style. As a coach, it is also my job to help my students, for the purpose of competition, to find throws that best fit their strengths and style, like Larry did for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I have had students learn something from someone else and come and ask me about it, and I have wondered if either the other instructor is crazy or if my student completely misunderstood what was being taught. I would never go to another club and have someone demonstrate something and openly disagree with them, especially in front of their students. What I tell my students to do, is to try what is being taught, whether you agree with it or not then when you leave, if you do not like it, just forget it, but if you do like it, bring it back and show us.
The other thing I don’t get is the proprietary mentality some instructors have. I had a teammate back in the day from another state who said if he wanted to go train at another club he had to sneak, because his instructor would not allow his students to train at another club. I don’t mean any offense, but that is a foolish notion and only hurts your students. When I moved to Denver, every club in town practiced on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and we had a Friday night practice too. Sometimes we would cancel our practice and go to another club, but the first thing I did when the club was turned over to me was move our practice days to Monday and Wednesday. This allowed two things to happen, both of which were positive: 1) It allowed students from other clubs to attend our practices which benefits our players by having other people to train with and 2) It allowed our students who were serious about competition to visit other clubs. It also allowed Heidi and me to visit other clubs so we could train and not be responsible for teaching. Ok, that’s 3 things. I was going to the OTC on some of those days but if we couldn’t or didn’t feel like driving down to Colorado Springs, we could go to Northglenn or Hyland Hills to train and they could do the same.
I get that not everyone is into competition and we, of course, do not require it, but we do encourage our students to go to other clubs. We have a lot of really good coaches in Colorado, as well as some really good athletes. Even if you are not into competition, you seriously limit yourself and your knowledge of judo if you only ever train in your own club. I don’t care how great your instructor is or how strong your club is. Plus, as much as I loved competing, judo is a great community and I love going to other clubs because I have known many of the instructors and athletes for years and I enjoy working out with them and hanging out and chatting after practice or even going to get something to eat afterwards. I love judo, not only for the training but also for the community. I have friends all over the world, some who have only known me over the Internet but have taken me to their clubs and even into their homes when I have visited their town or country. I love my club and the people in it like family, and I am so proud of how hard we all train together, but I am even more proud of we encourage and support one another. I love our hard practices on Monday and Wednesday when the mat is full and everyone is working hard and Friday night with not as many people, but still going hard, but one of my favorite practices is Saturday morning, because we get a good workout then several of us go out to lunch. Not every Saturday but most of them.
The other great thing about having other people visit your club is being exposed to their techniques. We get a lot of visitors to our club from Colorado, around the US and even the world. We always ask our visitors to show us some of their favorite techniques. Even though it might be a throw we all know, they may show a new way to do it or to set it up. I have learned a lot over the years by having visiting black belts teach their favorite techniques. We had a visitor to our club last week from Iowa who I had heard a lot about from two of our club members who had trained at his club when living in Iowa. He has some excellent judo and showed a really cool way to set up tai otoshi. I promised I would give him a shout out when I pulled it off in randori. I’ll have to do that on Facebook because it has not happened yet.
People get so wrapped up in competition and keeping their techniques a secret, because no-one else in the world does ippon seoi nage “like me”, that they forget what judo is really about. By the way, in case you missed it, that line about no one doing ippon seoi nage like me was sarcasm. Give me a break. As good as I think my seoi nage is, I certainly don’t think I’m the only one doing it that way or that I am the best at it. It works for me and I have been successful, but I hold no secret key to unlocking the power of ippon seoi nage or any other technique. Ok, I do, but that’s another blog. Just kidding! The secret is thousands and thousands of repetitions and thousands of missed attempts in training and competition.
I am guilty of this to some extent, in my role as Paralympic team coach, my job is to prepare our athletes to the best of my ability and theirs for competition. My role as coach/sensei at Denver Judo is to teach my students all of judo, not just for competition, though we tend to be pretty competitive for a “recreational” club. And teaching them judo does not just mean teaching them to win tournaments. We have many students who do not want to compete in tournaments, but love judo and work just as hard as everyone else and they are just as much a part of our judo family as the serious competitors.
I use to think it was a cliche when I would hear people talking about judo being a lifestyle, but I get it now. I want my students to experiences all the great things I have through the sport of judo, not just medals, though winning medals is nice too. And at the end of the day, judo is so much more than just winning and losing. As I said, I have so many good friends all over the US and the world because of judo. I even share judo with my wife and son, which is such a joy, except when Heidi chokes me! Not everyone gets to spend so much time doing what they love, much less with the people that they love.
Ok, I’m starting to get into a whole other topic now. My point in this article, actually two points: be open to learning not only new techniques but new ways of doing the techniques you already know. That is one of the great things about judo, I have been doing it for almost 26 years now and I am still learning all the time, and not only from people of higher rank than me or even high level competitors. I have often learned from people who I out rank and even my own students. When I went to Paralympic camps I would learn so much I would have to write it down or video the demonstrations and the first thing my sensei would do when I got back was to ask me to show her what I had learned, not only so she could help me continue working on the new techniques but so she could learn and pass on new things to her students, and I try to do the same thing.
The other point is to share with others. That’s a good life lesson too by the way. See, I’m not only a judo thug, I’m a philosopher. But seriously, for those who think you have the secrets to judo and will only share with those who pay you, get over yourselves, you don’t know anything thousands of other people don’t know too. Maybe you do have a unique way of doing something, but even if you have adapted something to fit your needs, you most likely are not the first or the only person to come up with that variation. Besides, if you adapted something, it is something that someone else shared with you, so be a valuable asset to the judo community and pass it on.
As always, thanks for reading.
Talk to you soon…
- Scott Moore is a 5th degree black belt in judo and he head instructor of Denver Judo. He is also a 3-time Paralympic Judo medalist winning bronzed in Atlanta, 1996, Gold in Sydney, 2000, and bronze in Athens, 2004. Scott was the assistant coach for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Judo team and the head coach of the London 2012 team.
Find Scott on Google+