Using the Power of Ritual to Get More Out of Judo

Discussion in 'Japanese Martial Arts Articles' started by benkei, May 30, 2014.

  1. benkei

    benkei Valued Member

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    I was at the gym tonight training when I took the above photo. Immediately a few of the guys started hollering "selfie!" and the like, and one of the older guys came over chuckling, and asked why I was taking pictures of myself. I told him I was writing an article on rituals, and he looked at me curiously before asking what a picture had to do with it. I said to him, "don't you notice I always wear the exact same outfit, down to my socks, on my heavy squat day? Do you think that's random or some kind of accident?"

    I traded judo for powerlifting last year, when I realised I couldn’t keep up my commitments after having my first child. I’ve since found that many of the secrets of success in powerlifting mirror those of judo. The one I want to talk about today is the power of rituals. Rituals have so much power, because they are born in the mind, and the mind controls our body. Below I’m going to give you an example of my ritual on max effort squat day, and show you how you can apply it to your judo practice.

    The first thing that happens on max effort squat day is I get changed before I leave the office - I don't wait until I get to the gym. I wear the exact same outfit each time - a retina burning orange singlet with a picture of Gohan going super Saiyan on it, my black shorts, my knee pads, my best fitting pair of socks and my bright red weightlifting shoes. There is a reason for each piece of clothing - the bright orange singlet lights the fire in my brain. I don't want to wear some pale, calming pastel on my torso when I'm squatting, I want something that is bright and jarring. The picture of a super Saiyan is for inspiration. The compression shorts keep everything tight. The black shorts are the perfect fit for squatting, with no bunching. The knee pads keep my knees warm and lubricated. When I drive to the gym, I have the heat on in my car, motivational speeches blaring through my earphones. At the exact same spot on the way, I start to down my large can of energy drink and visualise what I'll be doing. By the time I pull into the gym car park, the caffeine and sugar is kicking in, and I'm almost tingling with anticipation. I get out of the car, take my glasses off and put on my black baseball cap, and the transformation is complete. That black cap going on, it's like in Iron Man when he is fully suited up, and his mask snaps shut - you know it's on.
    See, other people might go to the gym and do squats or "legs day" - when I go in on max effort squat day, I'm going to war. The above, that's me putting on my armour, and getting in the mindset of battle because I'm going to have enough weight on my shoulders to crush 99% of the world's population. When I walk into the gym there is no doubt, no retreat, no surrender. Look at the photos on my home page, there are a couple of me squatting at my first powerlifting comp. Look at my face in particular, the expression on it - total determination, completely in the zone. That, my friends, is the power of ritual.

    The mind is an incredibly powerful tool, and when you train it correctly it can do great things for you. To give you an example, a few weeks ago, I was feeling really tired and unmotivated during one of my training sessions, so after my warm up I threw down a large can of energy drink. Because I would normally only do that on heavy squat day, it was like throwing a switch in my brain. I was instantly awake, alert, and massively psyched up, despite the fact caffeine doesn't kick in for half an hour. My brain was so used to a big can of energy drink being used for a specific purpose, that when I used it at a different time, I got the same results without even seeking it - I was really just after a little pick me up.

    Now, let's apply the power of ritual to your judo training. Are you one of those people that always turns up to class either just before it starts, or even late? You pack your bag hurriedly, half the time you forget your water or some other piece of equipment, and you get on the mat with your mind still making the transition to the fact you are at judo. If you’re wondering why you aren’t better at judo, your answer is right above you. Successful people in any field don’t do things haphazardly – everything is purposeful and has a reason. With the above approach to training, you’re not going to get anywhere near as much out of a session as you should. You step on the mat without any kind of mental focus, any plan, hell even your body isn’t ready to be doing judo because your mind is elsewhere.

    So let’s look at how we can put some ritual into your judo training to get more out of it. We’ll start with a good example – randori night. Most clubs have randori nights at least once a week, where a select group just fights for the entirety of the class. To get the most out of one of these sessions, your head needs to be in the game. For starters, pack your bag with plenty of time to spare before training. Fold everything well, put everything in a neat spot. Don’t just throw your stuff in anywhere – a messy space causes a messy mind. Pack your bag deliberately. Make sure you have eaten something and are well hydrated. Leave for judo at a time that will get you there at least 10 minutes before class starts. While you’re in the car, put the heat on so your body starts warming up. Listen to some appropriate music to get you in the zone, and start thinking about what you want to achieve during training. Think about each person you want to fight, and how you want to fight them.

    When you walk in the door, suit up, tape up and do anything else you have to do immediately. That was always a big part of my pre class ritual for judo. The kneepads would go on, then the pants and gi, then I’d start taping up the fingers and ankle. It was meditative, getting myself further into the zone. Don’t screw around chatting and cracking jokes – that’s for after class when you’ve earned it. Start warming up, you’ve arrived in plenty of time so go through everything you need to. Do it in the same sequence each time – the more you do this, the more your mind will make the association that you’ll be fighting in a few minutes each week. Whoever you want to warm up with before randori, ask them while you’re warming up so you don’t have to worry about it later. When you tie your belt, give it that snap at the end. There is your Iron Man moment. Now, it’s training time.
    Your coach now calls for the start of the lesson. Look at the difference between the two approaches: one has you flustered, arriving late, no plan and wasting the potential of a randori class. The other approach, everything is methodical, you’re in the right frame of mind when you get there, all your stuff is packed neatly and ready to go, you’re warmed up, primed and have a plan when the class starts. You’re going to extract everything from it. When the class finishes, you can chat and relax with your fellow judoka, because you know you’ve put in a great session.

    Another thing we need to talk about is your clothing. Most people will say that this is a superficial thing to think about, all you need to worry about is judo. I think this is short sighted – if we can use the power of the mind to take us up a level, why not do it? This is why when people go up a grade, you see them fight with a renewed vigour and confidence. They didn’t just get better overnight. No, it’s that sense of accomplishment from having a higher colour belt on that causes a shift in their mindset and self belief. So if you’ve been doing judo a few years and you’re still wearing your first judogi that doesn’t really fit you that well, maybe it’s time to trade up. I always felt like a lower class of judoka wearing my original uniform, because all the top guys were wearing Mizuno and Adidas. One year before nationals after I had just graded I thought, “you know what, if I want to feel like a real competitive judoka, it’s time to start dressing like one”. I bought a white and a blue Mizuno shiai. Seeing that little Mizuno logo on my sleeve, it made me feel like I was one of the crowd now. That was the best $300 I ever spent while I was doing judo.

    So if you’re one of those judoka that isn’t getting as much as they want out of training, give the above a try. Treat the lead up to each class as a ritual that gets your body and your mind prepared to do battle and extract everything possible out of any session. I guarantee after a few weeks of this you’ll see a change in what you get out of class, and your rate of improvement will increase significantly.

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    Last edited: May 30, 2014

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