Moscow, Russia: Baby boomers were raised to believe Moscow the very fount of evil. The name engenders visions of Kruschev; shoe in hand, Mayday parades featuring ICBMS amidst a sea of precision troops and Siberia.
To this, Judo playing boomer, the mention of Russia recalls names like Stepanov and Mischenko (the only occidental ever to defeat Okano). The name recalls musty articles describing the unorthodoxy of Russian Judo, the derision, of said unorthodoxy, thinly veiled; the envy of Russian success, clearly obvious.
What is it that made Russian Judo so very different? How did the vaunted Russian unorthodoxy lead to such success? I was going to find out. I was going to Russia!
Six of us; Gregg, Cory, Ryan, Adam, Emmett, and George departed from Davenport, Iowa on a hot June morning. Gregg, our group leader, has a long standing with our hosts. He has taken several training trips to Russia. He also brings them to the US to conduct clinics.
The trip to Moscow is not for the feint of heart or un-calloused posterior. We endured 16 hours of travel. On arrival your body must cope with the disparity of nine time zones and, during the summer, the white nights of Moscow. Notwithstanding, we got there, we were with friends and we were ready to learn Judo.
The training arrangements were, to say the least, fantastic. Our base was Club Boretz, a relatively new, small club, of 900 students. We also trained at Europe’s strongest club, Sambo 70 (1000 resident students, 4000 athletes) and, just for variety we spent a day at the State Academy of Physical Education and Sport.
The credentials of our Coaches were even more impressive. Yuri Alekhin; Merited Coach of Russia, Coach of World Champion Kosorotov: Alexander (Sasha) Yakolev; Merited Master of Sport, former Coach of the Russian World Junior Team: Sergei Lichev; Merited Master of Sport, former Coach of the Russian World Women’s Sambo Team: Sergei Tabakov; Merited Master of Sport, Chief Judo and Sambo Coach, State Academy of Physical Education and Sport and Igor Kourinoy; Merited Master of Sport, 3 time World Sambo Champion, Russian international Judo representative. Even the assistant Coaches were Russian international Judo representatives.
Last, but certainly not least, is our most important ally, our interpreter, Linna Moratcheva. In her younger days Linna was a gymnast for Russia. Her duties now include acting as interpreter for Vladimir Putin.
Training was strenuous. We worked-out twice daily; calisthenics, drills and randori with no water breaks. (Our Russian hosts don’t believe in water breaks. Thankfully they looked the other way when the more physiologically minded Americans slipped a sip.)
Training partners were plentiful, helpful, courteous and always friendly. No one was out to prove that Russian Judo/Sambo is stronger than American Judo. We already knew that Russian Judo/Sambo is stronger than American Judo. That’s why we were there! Our hosts only wanted to help us improve. And improve we did!
BUT!! Did I find a big secret to the success of Russian Judo? Coach Alekhin and I discussed the Russian system of training Judo players. Herein lies the difference between Russian and American Judo. The secret to their success is that the Russians have an established development system. The Russians also have a very different attitude about developing Judo players. We trained with five, count-em five, prominent figures in the Russian Judo program. Each of these men told us the same thing. Russia does not have a program specific to Judo! Russians players are trained in Judo, Sambo, Greco-Roman and Free-Style Wrestling. Russians simply “compete to the rules of the day” (Sergei Tabakov; Chief Judo and Sambo Coach, State Academy of Physical Education and Sport). Wow, what a concept, learn all you can about wrestling sports and then apply your knowledge to a wrestling sport.