Neil Adams: Judo, Olympics, Winning, Losing, and the Champion Mindset | Lex Fridman Podcast #427

Neil Adams: Judo, Olympics, Winning, Losing, and the Champion Mindset | Lex Fridman Podcast #427

Introduction (00:00:00)

  • Neil Adams introduces the idea that in Judo, anyone can be thrown by anyone, even those who are not world champions.
  • He gives an example of a businessman who would come to the dojo during his lunch break and quickly go through the British team, demonstrating the unpredictability of the sport.
  • Adams suggests that the businessman might have been successful in Judo if he had continued training.
  • Neil Adams is a Judo legend with an impressive record:
    • World Champion
    • Two-time Olympic silver medalist
    • Five-time European champion
  • He is also known as the voice of Judo, commentating on major events and bringing the sport to life for fans.
  • Adams speaks from the heart and captures the drama, triumphs, and surprises of Judo, making fans feel connected to the sport.

1980 Olympics (00:01:46)

  • Neil Adams, a renowned judoka and Olympic medalist, shares his experiences and insights from his illustrious career.
  • Despite nutritional challenges, Adams' excellent fitness and judo training helped him overcome obstacles.
  • Adams' strengths included quick victories through throws and armlocks, while his weakness was fighting left-handed opponents.
  • Adams reflects on his Olympic loss, expressing regrets about his suboptimal diet.
  • Lefties have an advantage in judo due to increased opportunities to fight right-handers.
  • Adams' unwavering desire to win, ingrained from a young age, sometimes led to an arrogant demeanor.
  • Even after retirement, Adams maintains a competitive spirit and believes he could still challenge current world champions to some extent.
  • Adams emphasizes the importance of adapting training intensity with age to avoid injuries while preserving a competitive mindset.
  • At just 17, Adams achieved notable success, competing with and worrying the reigning World Olympic Champion, Nerov.
  • Adams' unique judo style relied on technique and exploiting opponents' panic rather than physical strength or traditional throws.
  • Modern judo, especially among younger athletes from Eastern Bloc countries and Mongolia, emphasizes powerful throws that lift opponents off the ground, contrasting with Adams' more traditional approach.

Judo explained (00:19:09)

  • Neil Adams discusses the evolution of Judo, highlighting the traditional Japanese style and the influence of wrestling styles from Eastern bloc countries.
  • In 1995, the International Judo Federation (IJF) intervened to preserve Judo's uniqueness by restricting leg grabs, promoting dynamic and visually appealing throws.
  • Judo instills discipline and respect from a young age, as exemplified by Adams' grandsons prioritizing the Dojo over family visits.
  • Judo fosters a respectful and peaceful atmosphere in dojos, promoting reverence among practitioners.
  • A true champion exhibits good sportsmanship and composure, especially in defeat.
  • Losing at the Olympics is devastating but underscores the unpredictable nature of the sport.
  • Great champions, like AGB, approach losses positively, viewing them as learning opportunities and stepping stones to future success.

Winning (00:27:14)

  • Neil Adams emphasizes the importance of a positive attitude, proper nutrition, and training in achieving success in Judo.
  • Adams discusses his experience winning the 1981 World Judo Championship, highlighting the intense physical and mental demands of the sport and the importance of quick transitions and constant pressure in Judo groundwork.
  • He reflects on the challenges he faced throughout his career, including the fear of losing and the need for realistic expectations from parents and coaches.
  • Adams also discusses the different levels of competition he encountered, emphasizing the importance of gripping and the unique power generated by certain grips.

1984 Olympics (00:45:28)

  • Neil Adams, the renowned judoka, reflects on his loss at the __1984 _Olympics___, where he won a silver medal instead of the gold he had set his sights on.
  • Adams acknowledges that he was the favorite and felt immense pressure, which may have contributed to his defeat in the final against Frank Wieneke.
  • Despite his disappointment, Adams managed to find the strength to switch techniques and secure a victory against the favored British judoka using the drop seoi-nage technique.
  • Winning the German Open three weeks later failed to alleviate Adams' disappointment as he had hoped.
  • Adams emphasizes the profound significance of the Olympic Games, believing that they represent more than just winning a gold medal.
  • Adams credits his losses and the resulting inner struggles for shaping him into the legendary figure he is today.
  • Adams strives to be remembered and make a lasting impact through his commentary and coaching, aiming for excellence in everything he does.

Lessons from losing (00:54:29)

  • Neil Adams discusses the importance of handling defeat gracefully and using it as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement.
  • Adams emphasizes the significance of recognizing and addressing one's mistakes and taking responsibility for one's actions.
  • He describes an incident during his time working for Belgium Judo that served as a wake-up call and prompted him to confront his drinking problem.
  • Adams highlights the need for gratitude and appreciating the things one has, even in the face of challenges.
  • He reflects on the difficulty athletes face when deciding when to retire from their sport and the challenges of adjusting to a new lifestyle after retirement.
  • Adams discusses his accidental entry into commentary and how it gradually developed into his signature style.
  • He emphasizes the importance of timing and knowing when to speak and when to remain silent during commentary.
  • Adams recommends the website for accessing a wide range of Judo matches from major events.

Teddy Riner (01:10:11)

  • Teddy Riner, a legendary judoka, has won 10 World Championship titles and two Olympic gold medals, making him the greatest Judo winner of all time.
  • Despite his age and emerging younger fighters, Riner remains a top favorite for the upcoming Olympics in Paris.
  • Riner shares a common technique called "oo gari" with Yasuhiro Yamashita, another great Judoka known for his technical prowess and understanding of Judo principles.
  • Neil Adams, a judo expert, discusses the challenges of judo, including throwing a moving target while simultaneously defending against an opponent's throws.
  • Adams emphasizes the importance of versatility and adaptability in judo, as the best fighters like Riner and Yamashita can change their strategies to overcome challenges and secure victories.
  • Adams analyzes a judo match between Teddy Riner and a Korean opponent, highlighting Riner's signature move and his difficulty against smaller opponents who employ drop techniques.
  • Adams mentions that Riner has never been thrown for an ippon but was recently thrown with a nice technique, indicating that his opponents are getting closer to defeating him.
  • In the Paris tournament, Riner faced a tough opponent from Korea who gave him a real challenge, but Riner managed to turn the match in his favor and win in golden score.
  • Neil Adams, as a commentator, strives to be truthful and fair in his analysis, and most athletes appreciate his commentary.
  • Adams highlights the importance of how athletes fight and represent their sport, rather than solely focusing on winning medals.
  • Adams praises Ono Shohei, a three-time World Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, for his versatility and empathy.
  • Adams emphasizes the significance of how champions present themselves on and off the mat, including how they interact with people and serve as role models.

Training in Japan (01:29:46)

  • Neil Adams trained in Japan to enhance his Judo skills and faced challenges that helped him grow.
  • He had a memorable rivalry with a Japanese Judoka nicknamed "Gold Tooth" and eventually became competitive with him.
  • Adams expresses admiration for Kaki Sensei, a Judo genius who won the World Championships in the same year as Adams.
  • Adams emphasizes the importance of seamless transitions from standing to groundwork, persistence, and maintaining composure during competitions.
  • He compares Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, highlighting differences in rules and techniques, and praises Travis Stevens for his adaptability in excelling at both sports.
  • Adams stresses the significance of understanding the mechanics and culture of a combat sport to achieve success and draws parallels between different combat sports, noting the successful integration of techniques from various styles into Judo.
  • He discusses the evolution of Judo, particularly the significant change where athletes no longer grab below the legs, which happened rapidly at the highest level.

Jiu jitsu (01:45:25)

  • Judo emphasizes urgency and quick progression, while Jiu-Jitsu allows more time for building and finding control positions.
  • Judo practitioners tend to be more aggressive on the ground due to the urgency of the sport, while Jiu-Jitsu focuses on finding control and positions while conserving energy.
  • Roger Gracie, a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, learned Judo to improve his transition into ground fighting and is known for executing basic techniques exceptionally well.
  • Judo pins involve a power element that can only be fully understood through firsthand experience, and Judo practitioners excel in pinning techniques, demonstrating weight distribution and balance changes.
  • Neil Adams' loss in a contest motivated him to never lose on the ground again, leading to an undefeated competitive career, and his style of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, with its transitions, aggression, and effectiveness, would have been well-suited for the early UFC.
  • The early UFC showcased different martial arts and skills, with ground fighting (newaza) emerging as a crucial component and neutralizing other aspects of combat.
  • Judo does not allow strikes, which can be a disadvantage in mixed martial arts (MMA) where strikes are permitted, but exceptional judokas like Ronda Rousey and Kayla Harrison have successfully transitioned to MMA due to their strong aversion to losing and extraordinary work ethic.

Training (01:56:33)

  • Neil Adams emphasizes the importance of hard training and a strong work ethic, even at the age of 65. He prefers a group of hard trainers over a few skilled but less dedicated individuals.
  • Adams takes pride in training many Olympic medalists and values the camaraderie and friendships formed with his athletes.
  • His peak physical training routine includes preparation training, running, weight training, and skill development.
  • Adams specializes in Uchi komi, working with bands, practicing throws, and focusing on the tiny details of techniques to ensure proper repetition and execution.
  • Repetition is crucial, but it must be correct repetition with the right partner to avoid developing bad habits.
  • Adams criticizes incorrect teaching methods on YouTube, such as using clipboards and stopwatches to time drills, which he believes creates a technical mess.
  • He stresses the significance of randori (practice fights) and believes many people today are not getting enough randori, leading to a lack of proper training.
  • Adams sought out extensive randori sessions, aiming for 40 to 50 per week, and recalls tough training partners like Nida, who pushed him to do multiple 15-minute randori sessions back-to-back.
  • Adams discusses the physical and mental challenges of competing in judo tournaments, including extreme exhaustion and difficulty gripping due to lactic acid buildup.
  • He highlights the technique and skills of Japanese judoka Hashimoto, who is set to represent Japan in the 73 kg weight class at the Olympics.
  • Adams emphasizes the importance of maintaining a positive mindset and staying motivated, even when faced with challenges like lost luggage or closed gyms.

Advice for beginners (02:19:52)

  • Good instruction, teaching, and a positive club atmosphere are essential for beginners in Judo to develop their skills and enjoy the sport.
  • A solid technical foundation is crucial for long-term success in Judo, allowing practitioners to overcome physical limitations and execute beautiful techniques.
  • The Paris Judo tournaments are renowned for their passionate and knowledgeable crowd, creating an electric atmosphere during matches.
  • The __2020 Tokyo _Olympics___ witnessed a surprising upset when Judo great Ono was defeated by a German judoka in the team event, highlighting the unpredictable nature of Judo competitions.
  • The upcoming Paris Olympics holds special significance as the well-balanced French team is expected to dominate on home soil.
  • Neil Adams expresses excitement and nervousness about commentating on the upcoming Olympic judo matches, acknowledging the importance and pressure of the event.
  • Adams emphasizes the significance of celebrating athletes appropriately, especially in high-stakes competitions like the Olympic finals, where mistakes are scrutinized and remembered.
  • He discusses his approach to commentating, balancing excitement with empathy for athletes experiencing triumphs and defeats on the Olympic stage.
  • Adams recognizes the impact of his commentary on athletes and viewers, understanding the responsibility and honor of being the voice of these significant sporting moments.

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