Can a fight be won or lost in the face-off?

I’ve mentioned before that Judo is a bit of a “sudden death” combat sport where it could all end in an instant. You could step badly, be countered brilliantly, you could be lacking in concentration for just a split second. However, let’s take chance out of the equation and consider when a fight typically gets won or lost.

I was listening to a Neil Adams podcast a few months back. At the risk of misrepresenting the great man himself, he said the victor of a Judo match could often be determined within the first few seconds of the bout. This is fascinating to hear as an average recreational player like myself.

Years ago I heard from a boxer that a fight is won or lost in the face-off, before the match even starts. I can’t attest to this personally as I’ve no boxing experience however it’s somewhat relevant to the topic at hand.

From personal experience, the first initial moments I’m in randori with someone less experienced on the mats I start to notice subtle details:

  • I see my foot movements dictate where the battle is going to go. I can inadvertently control the mat space. If I move aggressively forward, uke more likely retreats.
  • I can dictate the tempo during the grip exchanges.
  • If I’m more assertive, then the assertiveness is matched. 
  • Interestingly, if I feign momentary passivity I will more likely provoke an assertive response from uke.

In a Superstar Judo interview, the accomplished French champion Darcel Yandzi mentions that often when he’s sparring he will have a song in his head. He says he uses the song to determine the tempo of his movements. Fantastic as a concept, I can only imagine it sets him up well with coordinating and almost choreographing the bout.

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.

Mohammed Ali

Another angle can be taken from the famous Mohammed Ali quote. His take is slightly different but still relevant to this discussion.. That the preparation a fighter takes before a bout is what determines the fight result. It’s the reason why odds are against the UFC fighter who is given only a few weeks notice to stand in for another fighter. The work you put in, the mat time, the hours at the gym, the private lessons, the instructionals, the Youtube videos, they all increase your odds. They contribute to your chances of success. They determine your positioning as a competitor.

And then your opponent gets that lucky counter… You sweep your opponent in newaza and he continues to roll until you get caught and mounted. Or you don’t see that fantastic o-soto that came from nowhere.

We can’t live by what-if scenarios in life indefinitely as we’d paralyse ourselves. What we can do is increase our chances of success. Look into the eyes of your competitor in that next bout that really matters, if you can honestly admit you’ve done everything you could to prepare, then take solace in that. Accept the outcome, whatever it is, but owe it to yourself to make that preparation count!

I hope you enjoyed my judo rant for today. If you did, please consider subscribing to this blog (link at the bottom right of this page) so you can be emailed when I come up with something new.

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