Mental Toughness and Judo.

Judo is a difficult sport, it is not only immensely demanding physically but mentally also. As a Judo athlete you need to be aware of the mental and physical demands and prepare yourself to deal with them. In this article we will explore briefly the mental aspects of Judo and how you will need to be mentally tough to succeed.

Judo 2007 Ryoko TANI (JPN) – Alina DUMITRU (ROU)
by boumpaterre

In the video to the left you will watch a master of the strategy of a Judo match and an incredibly mentally tough fighter, Ryoko Tani (nee Tamura).

In this video you will be able to observe a closely fought match which Tani controls Alina Dumitru well to take a well deserved victory.

In the first minute you will see how Tani forces Dumitru to adopt a crouching stance, which Dumitru tries to avoid doing, but Tani forces her into.

Immediately after both players get penalized, Tani makes an effective attack and gets Dumitru onto the floor, although for no score. Consider for a moment the mesage this conveys both to Dumitru and the referees. Tani is able to knock her opponent over “on demand”, imagine being Dumitru. You have been fighting a legend and holding your own for 60 seconds, then the moment Tani gets a penalty she knocks you over.

Tani then dominates the Kumi Kata for another minute, making a couple of scary, but non scoring attacks, including dumping you on your butt after you have both left the contest area, is she making a point? You’ll notice that Tani periodically chooses to completely disengage, bounce around and then re enter kumi kata, Dumitru does not do that. Tani is bouncing about showing shes fresh, she is also making it clear who is in control of when grip fighting is going to happen… when she wants it to!

And then the referee pings you (Dumitru) for non-combativity! “Come on ref, I can’t get a grip!“. You get a bit miffed and start throwing the big over the top grip, which works! But each time you do Tani runs about and gets you out of the area for Matte. Then there is that leg grab and lift after Matte and when I stand over here after that attack she just stands up and lifts me off the floor. And now I can’t get the righthand grip over top, Tani is running all over the show! But whats this? The referee spotted her stepping out, we are even again! Kata Guruma, doesn’t work but I got the attack in….now the O Uchi, no score.  This would be easier if I could get a damn grip!

One Minute to go, scores even, matte….

40 seconds…

WHOAH!!! That Ko Uchi was close!!

30 seconds left…

BANG! Wazari OH NO!!!!

13 seconds left… okay got my grip over the top…. aarrgghhh, she just dumped me again!

Okay, the point of my little commentary is to point out that Tani dominated Dumitru both is Judo specifics and also mentally. Take another 5 minutes and watch the fight again, this time just look at the faces of the two players. Tani’s does not change and is… well a bit scary. Dumitru’s face however starts to show the strain, the grimace tells a tale of what is happening inside her mind.

The sory of this fight is to me that Tani is 100% comfortable she will win, I suspect she knew that eventually Dumitru would crack. And that is what happens, with less than a minute to go Tani scores twice and wins the fight.

Tani’s response to Dumitru’s increased workrate after the penalty is telling also. She negates the work that Dumitru des by running aorund and leaving the mat area, a couple of quick Matte calls and Dumitru’s flow is broken and Tani is back to controlling the fight again.

As a Judo athlete, you want to be Tani, not Dumitru. You need that confidence in your abilities that you never lose faith in yourself. You need to know your opponent will lose, that they will crack, that they will give you the opportunity you need to win. You also need the ability to stick to the game plan, yetbe able to quickly adapt to negate any advantages that your opponent may secure. Had Tani failed to deal with Dumitru’s surge she may well have lost the fight.

You need to be physically and mentally strong enough to be unflappable, to always look like it is “another day in the office”. You don’t want to be like Dumitru and be showing that itis hard on your face and with your body language.

But how to get mentally tough?
That is the hard bit and it starts with acknowledging that you need to be mentally tough. Then you need to devise strategies and train methods that will give you that toughness. You can start in the Dojo, during Randori or Uchi Komi. Decide to never look tired, even when you are. Do all the Randori and keep your facial expressions passive or positive, anything other than negative.

You could schedule your randori, so they get progressively harder. Start with lighter players and move onto the heavier players, give yourself a target to never lose the gripping battle.

Maybe go for a distance run once a week and then sprint the last mile? Refuse to slow or stop before you reach the end of the run.

In Randori, refuse to let any score go un answered perhaps? You get thrown for a Koka, the next throw is a Yuko to you.

Maybe you will sit in your room before bed and visualise yourself in Dumitru’s position, but you don’t lose. You get a big ol’ grip on Tani and then slam her with your trademark Uchi Mata for Ippon. Maybe visualise yourself fighting teh last person you lost to, create the scene in your head and at that point when you lost; change what happens. Picture yourself dealing with whatever it was that caused you to lose, picture yourself taking control and dominating the fight again. See, smell,hear and feel yourself throwing your opponent for Ippon after coming back from a wazari down. Hear the crowd as they clap and cheer you on as you come back from behind to win.

Create your own little Jerrry McGuire moment in your head, live it till it sticks.

Comments (3)

Lex FridmanMarch 12th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I like this post. It’s kind of an extension of the previous “your personal Olympics” idea.

If I could smell fear and uncertainty, I certainly don’t smell any when I watch top-level Japanese judoka both in Judo and MMA competition. I’ve been meditating for some years now and I think that the toughness you mention is the ability to focus on the fight so much that suffering, exhaustion, etc are simple blocked out. So that look of pure unaffected concentration is just a face callused by years of blocking out the pain of hard training.

I agree with you, running (for me best is interval training of sprint, jog, sprint, jog, etc.) is an excellent way to really push the limits of your mental toughness. The problem with pushing that limit in judo for me, as a beginner, is that my technique starts to suffer, so I try to relax and go full speed, but not where I want to crawl back to mom afterwards.

TimSeptember 22nd, 2009 at 6:51 am

Seoul, 1988: After South Korea failed to win a medal at the 1987 World Championships, coach Chang Eun-Kyung employed what he called “Devil Training” to develop his judokas’ “fighting spirit” and “guts.” Not wanting to be embarrassed at his nation’s own Games, Chang led Olympians-to-be into a cemetery at midnight and forced them to sit by themselves for at least an hour to meditate. The peculiar preparation proved worthwhile when the host nation was judo’s only double gold medalist at the Olympics.

XenonDecember 28th, 2011 at 8:32 am

And one year later, same two characters ..but you want to be in the shoes of Dumitru, not Tani’s.

Leave a comment

Your comment