Interview With U.S. Olympic Judo Coach Jimmy Pedro, Part 1

Photo via JimmyPedro.com

This is a very exciting guest feature by BE reader Dan Pedersen aka judonerdPart II is here. See also their analysis of Yoshihiro Akiyama's judo. Kid Nate. 

Dan Pedersen: First off, for the sake of BE readers who aren't familiar with you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jimmy Pedro: Absolutely. Currently, I am the 2012 US Olympic Team coach for Judo. In my career, I was a four-time U.S. Olympic Team member. I was twice bronze medalist at the Olympics in 1996 and 2004, and in 1999, I was a World Judo Champion, one of only two American males ever to win the Worlds in the sport of Judo.

Pedersen:  Who was the other American?

Pedro: Mike Swain won the Worlds back in 1987.

Pedersen:  Other than your coaching and competition, what else are you currently involved in?

Pedro: I'm currently the Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Zebra Mats http://www.zebramats.com/. We're the leading brand in the traditional martial arts, and the leading brand in the MMA business, and we're known for having the highest quality mat available on the market today for those specific applications. We also do complete training center design and installation, including our own line of fight cages, bag racks, MMA rings, wall pads-basically we are floor-to-ceiling. Anything anybody would need for their MMA or traditional martial arts training center, Zebra provides.

Pedersen:  For anyone who might not know, can you explain what Judo is?

Pedro: Sure. Judo is a grappling martial art. There are essentially four ways to win a Judo match. You can throw your opponent directly from his feet onto his back. And you can instantly win if the throw has enough force to it. You can also win by pinning your opponent-similar to wrestling-but you need to hold him down for 25 seconds. You don't have to have both shoulder blades down on the mat, but [you have to] have control over your opponent, pass the guard position, and keep them on their back for 25 seconds.

You can also win by submission, similar to Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. If your opponent submits to either a choke hold or an armlock-only on the elbow joint-you can win by submission.

Judo is an art that originated in Japan. It stemmed from Jiu-Jitsu, and essentially, the founder of Judo took all of the small joint manipulation out of Jiu-Jitsu. So, for example, finger locks and ankle locks, techniques that were difficult to control-he took the dangerous techniques out and created a sport called Judo. And back in the late 1800's, Judo became the national sport of Japan.

Pedersen:  Is there anything else you would add that differentiates Judo from Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, some of the other grappling arts people might be more familiar with?

Pedro:  Absolutely. Judo is unquestionably the largest martial art in the world, in terms of money that is spent on the sport by the national federations, as well as the number of people that actually participate in the sport from the various countries. There are over 190 federations that compete in the sport of Judo, and over 100 are represented at the Olympic Games each year. That's another thing that differentiates Judo from the other traditional martial arts, with the exception of Tae Kwon Do, is that it's a recognized Olympic sport. It's been in the Olympics since 1964, and no matter where you go on the entire planet, there is only one set of rules for Judo. So what's nice about it is, if you go to Africa or Australia or Japan or Brazil, everybody that does Judo does it under the same rules, no variation.

Pedersen: We're starting to see more and more Judokas cross over into MMA. What are your overall thoughts on MMA, and what can you tell us about which aspects of Judo you see successfully crossing over?

Pedro: Well, I think MMA is a very exciting sport, and, I mean, it's certainly the sport of the present... the fastest growing sport on the planet. In the United States it has taken off and exceeded everybody's expectations of how popular and how mainstream it would become.

It's very exciting to watch. The fighters of today are very skilled in the various arts. No longer can you just be a good stand-up fighter or a good grappler to win. You have to be solid in all aspects of the game if you're going to want to make it to the top.

What we're starting to see is more wrestlers-and now more Judo players- getting involved in Mixed Martial Arts... As a way of making a living, as a way of becoming a professional athlete, and as a way of extending their career far beyond their competitive "Olympic hopeful" days. That's both on the wrestling and the Judo side.

In amateur sports, you do it for the passion. You do it because you want to pursue Olympic gold. But it's becoming far more costly to get there than ever before, just based on how difficult they've made it to qualify for the Olympics now. It used to be, if you were the #1 U.S. athlete in the country, you got a shot to go to the Olympics. That's not the case anymore. For the men, you have to be in the top 22 in the world-for the women, you have to be top 14 in the world-in order to even go to the Olympic Games.

So, the only way to qualify is by fighting all over the world in hopes of getting points and, you know, trying to out-point these other countries. The disadvantage that America has is that these other countries have very large budgets and are funded by their government or by sponsors in all these international events. Unfortunately, only our top athletes are funded. So the person that hasn't quite broken through at the Olympic level is pretty much on their own to fund themselves internationally. And that's just not realistic. So those athletes are converting and seeing an opportunity with MMA to make a living. That's why you are seeing more and more Judoka jump in the ring earlier than they used to.

Prior to the last four, five years, the only Judo athletes you saw in MMA were guys that were way past their prime. Older, mid-thirties. Their Olympic days were ten years in the past and they were trying to fight MMA.

Pedersen: Hidehiko Yoshida, for example?

Pedro: The thing to understand about Yoshida is this: Yoshida was Olympic champion back in 1992. And he competed at 172 pounds. The guy was a phenom at 172. Now he's fighting in MMA as a heavyweight in his late 30s, early 40s. Well past his prime. But he's still competitive and still a good athlete, but had he competed in the 170 division or 185 in his prime, I think he would have been a force in MMA.

In the full entry Coach Pedro will break down one of Lyoto Machida's famous foot sweeps. With gifs.

Lyototripsbjpenn_mediumPedersen: So what's going on here (Lyoto Machida vs B.J. Penn, March 26, 2005)? Machida isn't a Judo player per se, but this certainly a technique his style of Karate shares with Judo.

Pedro: The foot sweep technique is one of the most fundamental throwing techniques of judo. And it epitomizes the fact that a smaller person can defeat a larger person regardless of size. The key to a successful foot sweep is the timing and power generated by the attacker.

Every person-whether they are fighting or simply walking-relies on their legs and feet to hold their body up.  It's an automated process: A person takes a step and assumes that, when they step forward and begin to place their foot on the ground, that the ground will actually be there. That their weight will be held up by their foot and leg when it touches the ground. With proper timing-by sweeping someone's foot just as it is about to hit the ground-one can take down an opponent effortlessly.

In this instance, BJ steps forward a bit too deeply and slightly off balance.  Machida uses that as his kuzushi, his off balance point, and executes a foot sweep. Notice that Machida's posture is strong. The power of a foot sweep comes from one's hips, so it is extremely important to stand up straight in order to have a powerful and effective foot sweep.

The reason why BJ falls so easily is because his mind assumes that, because it told his foot to step forward onto the floor, that it would support his weight. But Machida's timing was perfect and took the foot out just as it was about to touch the floor, allowing him to take down BJ with a simple foot sweep action. This was superb timing and power just at the right moment. Great Judo by a Karate expert.    

World Champion Jimmy Pedro is one of the most decorated judo players in American history.  Jimmy is world renowned for his judo expertise, coaching ability, and training methods. A newaza (ground techniques) specialist, Jimmy currently owns and operates Pedro's Judo Center in Wakefield, MA and teaches clinics and seminars throughout the country.

If you are looking for a fun and unique way to increase membership and retention at your martial arts studio, motivate and inspire your students, incorporate grappling into your current curriculum, or add to your students' judo skills, book Jimmy Pedro for an appearance or seminar today.  For inquiries, please send an email to 
jimmypedro@zebramats.com    

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