1) Many of our readers are BJJ practitioners. Do you think BJJ athletes should crosstrain in Judo?
After watching many BJJ competitions, the level of skill on the ground is very high (even amongst the blue belts and purple belts); however, the level of skill in regards to takedowns and throws is very poor (even amongst some of the brown and black belt level fighters). And, more importantly, I have noticed an ever increasing importance of the takedown on the outcome of the match. Therefore, unquestionably, I believe that it would be to every BJJ athlete's benefit to cross train in judo - especially at a place that has experience in jiu-jitsu and has competitive judo athletes to train with. Additionally, cross training in judo will increase the BJJ athletes power, grip strength, and overall level of conditioning since it is a faster paced and more explosive sport.
2) Which do you prefer tachiwaza or newaza?
Good question! Well to be honest, I like both for various reasons. In judo, there is no greater feeling than executing a perfect throw and slamming your opponent onto his back - especially with throws like uchimata and taio toshi where they go head over heals and onto their back. It is exhilarating. Also, I enjoy training tachiwaza because it is a very grueling and high intensity workout that really taxes all of the muscles in your body. It is a great way to get a good sweat. However, training in newaza can also be very fun and challenging. And, no doubt it is easier on the body! So, as I get older, I find myself enjoying newaza a bit more because I can train longer without as much pain the next day.
3) What's your favorite throw and why?
My favorite throw in judo is uchimata. For one, I think it is the single throw that represents the essence of judo the best. Also, it takes a high level of skill to properly execute this throw, and many years to master. Finally, it is the throw that helped me win my first Olympic bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
4) I've seen many MMA fights with high level Judoka where they have had a very hard time using their Judo when their opponent wasn't wearing a gi. Have you worked much on adapting Judo for no-gi grappling?
Yes. I actually have a ton of experience with no gi grappling as I wrestled in high school for 3 years and also wrestled Division 1 in college at Brown University for 4 years. This was perfect no gi training, and I used to hit many throws in wrestling such as; ouchi gare, kata garuma, osoto gare, ashi barai, and even a nice harai goshi off of a stand up.
Just as in jiu-jitsu where it is important to train with a gi to learn the pure technique, I think it is important to train with a gi in judo to learn the essence and fundamentals of throws. Once the fundamentals are learned properly, it is easy to transition over to no gi throwing.
The current MMA athletes who utilize judo the best are Ronda Rousey and Hector Lombard. They were both high level Olympic judoka who have been training MMA now for a good length of time where they have learned how to adapt judo into no gi situations. Hector's recent match with Jake Shields proves how effective judo can be in mma as he hit multiple footsweeps as well as a nice taio toshi in that bout.
5) What is the biggest joy you have gotten from practicing Judo for so long?
The biggest joy for me has to be representing the United States at the Olympic Games!! That was an incredible experience, and I was lucky enough to do it 4 times as an athlete and 1 time as a coach. In fact, I was able to be a part of history when I helped coach Kayla Harrison to USA's first ever Olympic Gold medal in the sport of judo. That was truly an honor.
Lastly, I feel blessed that I have been able to make my living from the sport as well. Not only do I run my own judo center (Pedro's Judo) which is a USA Judo National Training center in Wakefield, MA; but, I also work as a sales executive for FUJI Sports. The work with FUJI doesn't even feel like work because I am helping to develop innovative and creative gi and gear for grappling that I get to try out myself! And, I get the opportunity to attend events and watch competitions, talk with athletes and school owners, and help build an incredible brand.
Check out this exciting match with Jimmy Pedro vs Vitaly Makarov from the 1996 Olympic Games:
Want to learn some Olympic level takedowns? Check out the Takedown Blueprint with Jimmy Pedro & Travis Stevens: Click Here