By Rhadi Ferguson - M.A.T., CSCS and Juan Carlos Santana - M. Ed, CSCS  


I remember when I was growing up people used to call the house and ask my mother for some advice. The funny thing about it was, my mother is a lawyer.  I used to see the frustration on her face sometimes when she would get off of the phone and she would say, "I'm an attorney, all I have to give is advice." And I understand her frustration now. As a strength and conditioning professional and the Vice President of I can tell you that the most frequent question that I get asked is, "Can you write me a program?" and the other one is "Hey, can I ask you a question about my training program?"  Before I get upset or become frustrated I think about my mother. And the one thing that I always remember is that she was always willing to help out even through her frustration. 

As judo practitioners and strength coaches, Juan Carlos and I looked at the judo population and asked, how can we help out? We believe that the one thing that makes all of us proud is to see individuals achieve and know that they did their best in an effort to reach their dreams, so we decided to share some things that we have learned from training some of the world's best athletes, mixed martial arts fighter, brazilian jiujitsu players and judokas.


The sport of judo has changed - the principles of the art are the same, but the game has changed. Just like football and basketball. The fundamentals of the sport are still the fundamentals and it is imperative to know them in order to put oneself at an advantageous position for success.  Nowadays, successful competition in the sport of judo requires an enormous amount of resources. It requires for the judoka to run their life of judo as if it were a business.  And that means getting or "hiring" the best people or human resources for the job.  These resources are not only physical in nature, but include psychological, spiritual, and financial components as well, not to mention the time and knowledge needed to train and compete at a high level. The modern judo dojo, as well as the individual judoka, must not only acknowledge the existence of these resources, but also have a keen understanding of how to develop and manage them.

What we have found out is that a failure to develop and manage this "package of resources" will lead to suboptimal performance and wasted potential. And we all have a "clock" that is ticking. Everyday, every practice and every session to get must be used to get better.  Therefore, sophisticated planning and purposeful training will dominate the judo arena. It's cliché but people don't plan to fail, they fail to plan.

To successfully manage all the resources of today's judo player, one must first understand the nature of the biggest obstacle to overcome - tradition. There are two types of Judo. Yes, there are. There is Judo: The Sport and Judo: The Martial Art.  When it comes to the sport of judo sometimes the obstacle of tradition is very hard to overcome. What are some of the traditional concepts that govern the psyche of today's judo? 

  • Athlete turned coach - Great athletes make great coaches!
  • No pain, no gain - Train for trauma with more trauma!
  • Gripping isn't necessary; learn how to do judo - Proficiency at throwing is all you need!
  • More is better - If two hours works, three hours will improve us by 50%!
  • Train hard every session - If you are not exhausted, training is ineffective!
  • True champions don't complain - You must prove your warrior's heart every day!
  • Rest is not necessary - You'll get all you need when you die!
  • Cut weight to be relatively stronger - Cut weight to fight the smaller fighter!
  • The "I don't need a coach" mentality - How can four eyes be better than two?
  • The "All you need is judo" mentality - If you want to get better at judo - just do judo.
  • The "Run, run and then run some more" mentality - If you want to get in great shape: RUN!!

Tradition is at the core of the cultural identity of any sport. And judo's identity on the world scale is known as being a hard core and rough and tough sport. It is known for its relentless action, tough training camps, high arching throws, submission and bone crushing falls. Although this tradition has cultural and spiritual roots that can be used to inspire and motivate, it can be the enemy of evolution, innovation, and advancement. A perfect example of the need to step out of the "box" of tradition can be seen in the today's judo competition. Ever since Aurelio Miguel of Brazil won a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics without scoring a point on anyone - we've seen the game of judo change. Some would say for the worse and some would say for the better, but the fact is - the game has changed!

The evolution of judo has taught us a valuable lesson: in order to be a pioneer, you not only have to accept uncertainty and change, you must embrace them. This means that the psyche of today's modern sport judoka must undergo a shift in paradigm. The new fabric of the modern judo players training quilt must have these threads running through it:

  • Choose a coach on their ability to adapt and change, not based on past titles.
    • Most great sports coaches/trainers are not former titleholders or even good athletes; they are "students of the game."
  • The sport of judo is abusive in nature; training does not need to add to the trauma.
    • Training should fortify the body, not tear it down.
  • A lesser amount of meaningful and purposeful training yields more than lots of senseless abuse.
    • Training should be planned around recovery, not recovery around training.
    • Why train for 15-20 rounds when you fight for 4-7. Learn to operate at a level no one will be able to match for 4-7 rounds!
    • Any time in the gym/dojo is time taken from recuperation; it takes time and energy away from recovery. A short, intense practice session (e.g., 60-70 minutes) is best, but hard to execute. Traditionalists love the 2-3 hour technique/tactics session where only 2% of practice is of a meaningful and productive intensity.
  • Training requires strength and conditioning, technique, strategy and tactics!
    • All are equally important, but don't require equal physical effort. All sessions should NOT be turned into 100% all-out randori or conditioning sessions!! There is a time for 100% and there is a time for 75% and 50%.
  • If something feels wrong, you are probably doing something wrong.
    • If something feels wrong today, it can kill you tomorrow. Acknowledge what your body is telling you and seek guidance and therapy.
  • Training is the stimulus and REST is where the body ADAPTS to the stimulus.
    • No Rest = no adaptation.
  • Become a strong and healthy fighter at your natural and healthy weight. Otherwise, you will be a sickly and weak fighter at a lighter weight class.
  • It takes a team to develop a good judo player, not a dojo or gym.
    • This includes physicians, athletic trainers, therapists, sports psychologists, sport coaches, and strength coaches.

As judo has shifted its fighting and competition paradigm, the judoka and coach must change their approach to preparation. The career of a judoka, as well as the philosophy of a school, must be planned and continuously evaluated! The first step is to acknowledge and understand a very important point: With the influence of mixed martial arts, brazilian jiujitsu, sambo, and submission wrestling - the sport of judo is evolving, so no one person knows everything, and nobody needs to. Experts from various disciplines and areas of expertise (i.e., finances, management, physiology, sport coaches, health care providers, etc.) must be incorporated into a cohesive team. The goal of this team must be to develop a model where the judoka can develop and excel to their full potential.

This team of professionals must create a sensible plan and STICK TO IT!! Regular evaluation (e.g., every 2-3 months and after each major competition) will ensure that the plan stays updated, specific and effective. The results of competition and feedback from the athlete (biofeedback) will provide all of the data required to zero in on the specifics necessary for advancement. Today's modern judoka and his or her supporting cast have nothing to lose and everything to gain by shifting their preparation paradigm. Knowledge and courage are needed for the mind to accept what the eyes see, and even more courage is needed to act on the knowledge the mind acquires. Change is scary sometimes, but advancement requires all of us to divorce ourselves from marriage of traditionalism and mediocrity.  Change is not only good, it's necessary. 

Juan Carlos Santana and Rhadi Ferguson are the founders of, a company dedicated to providing the combat athlete and coach with educational and training tools. www.intocombat.comis based out of Santana's world-renowned training facility, the Institute of Human Performance, in Boca Raton, Florida.