Judo, Olympics, and Mental Toughness #223 | Travis Stevens on the Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • “There is an issue with goal setting, nobody teaches you how to transition from the goal to reality” – Travis Stevens
    • Travis never identified as an Olympian. He is proud of Travis, not proud of Travis the Olympian.
    • You should take pride in the skillset, not the title
  • “Stories aren’t always about winning, they’re about continuing to fight” – Lex Fridman
    • Travis’ horrifying injury history and Olympic challenges to get to the podium are a testament to the process oftentimes being more valuable than the result
    • “If I can’t find my endpoints, that means everyone else has given up before me”Travis Stevens
  • Travis doesn’t comprehend athletes that don’t make weight – it means that you gave up a long time ago, prior to stepping on the scale
    • Although, he doesn’t believe nutrition should be the focal point of a weight cut or fight preparation
    • It’s only suffering if you expect the other side – the cost/benefit of your nutrition can be managed by what your mental expectations from the food are
      • “I want a Snickers bar when I’m tired. I need a little sugar, it makes me feel better, what do you want me to do?” – Travis Stevens
      • This analysis can be applied to many things in our lives, happiness/success is subjective and rarely lives in a narrative
  • Main principles of Judo: Having the lowest center of gravity and making your opponent unbalanced (derives from pulling, faking shots, subtle head movements)
    • Travis doesn’t always know how he’s going to win, but he knows how to make it very difficult for you to win
    • “The number one skillset Judo is going to teach you is the ability to give people false hope” – Travis Stevens

Intro

  • Travis Stevens (@judosilencer) represented the United States as the 2016 Olympic Judo silver medalist and is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Lex and Travis discuss his tumultuous Olympic career and how Judo has shaped him into the resilient and proud man he is today.
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Judo

  • Originated in Japan as a police tactic – a technique designed to control and subdue a human conflict
  • Judo – the main objective is to throw or takedown your opponent (without touching the legs on offense, only allowed for defensive counters) and then attempt to pin or submit. Thrusts and strikes are also allowed in proper Kata form (prearranged, choreographed movement).
    • Check out more on the scoring system of Judo
      • Judo takedowns/throws reward high action, straight from feet-to-back will be scored higher unlike traditional wrestling
    • The rules and techniques allowed are constantly reviewed and revised
    • Practiced in a Judogi
  • Travis considers himself a judo strategist, he aggressively visualizes his opponent’s faults
    • He doesn’t know how he’s going to win, but he knows how to make it very difficult for you to win
  • “Judo, when done at the highest level, seems effortless when the big throw happens. When the timing is right, there’s no other martial arts form like it” – Lex Fridman

Judo Techniques

  • Two principles of Judo: Having the lowest center of gravity and making your opponent unbalanced (derives from pulling, faking shots, subtle head movements)
    • Osoto-gari – technique to destabilize the upper body with a pull and attacking the lower body with a leg sweep
    • “The number one skillset Judo is going to teach you is the ability to give people false hope” – Travis Stevens
  • Ippon Seoinage – Judo throw technique that Travis has mastered
    • Inspired by watching Koga, Japanese Olympic Judoka – check out his video: A New Wind
      • He uses about 8 variations from the position – variations usually come from different gripping techniques
    • Travis loves the throw because he hates ‘leg day’ at the gym
      • With the right center of gravity, momentum, and proper mechanics, you don’t need much leg strength to execute the throw
  • Gripping – the ability to hold your opponent in a way where you can be offensive and defensive simultaneously
    • Maximize your weapons and nullify your opponent’s weapons
  • Sacrifice Techniques – Attacker falls onto the back to use momentum against your opponent upon pulling them to the ground

Weight Cutting & Nutrition

  • “You can always win regardless of how bad the weight cut is, you can never win if you miss weight” – Travis Stevens
    • Travis doesn’t comprehend athletes that don’t make weight – it means that you gave up a long time ago, prior to stepping on the scale
    • Weight cutting is a 3-day process for him and doesn’t start until he is off the plane and at the location
      • Everyone’s process is different
    • He eats every day and the workout is designed to outpace his food/water intake
      • He knows exactly how to evaluate his environment to make a strict clear plan to make weight
    • Weight cutting workouts vary depending on the resources in the given international location
      • Was in China in the middle of winter, and it was too cold to sweat outside so they had to improvise inside
      • Hates the sauna, the way time crawls by is dreadful. Would rather do anything else.
  • Travis eats what he wants. He doesn’t believe your ability in combat sports is dictated by your nutrition.
    • Your optimum state of nutrition is whatever you’re used to
    • It’s only suffering if you expect the other side – the cost/benefit of your nutrition can be managed by what your mental expectations from the food are
      • “I want a Snickers bar when I’m tired. I need a little sugar, it makes me feel better, what do you want me to do?” – Travis Stevens

The Brutality of Judo

  • Travis has had a horrible history of injuries, he has been willing to battle through immense pain to achieve his world-class ranking:
    • Tore everything in his knee in middle school wrestling and had to learn how to walk again
      • Didn’t participate in sports from ages 12-15
    • Won high school nationals with 9 broken ribs
    • Broken collarbone, 5 herniated discs in his neck, fractured back twice, broken tailbone, tore his hamstrings, broken ankles.
    • Doesn’t view his injuries as damage as they only strengthened him
      • None of the injuries were in Jiu-Jitsu, all were in Judo
  • Judo is a war. If you had the opportunity to tap, you had the opportunity to think about how to get out and decided that you can’t.
    • “It’s [body part] either broken or I don’t have it [submission]” – Travis Stevens

Olympic Career

  • “There is an issue with goal setting, nobody teaches you how to transition from the goal to reality” – Travis Stevens
    • Travis never identified as an Olympian. He is proud of Travis, not proud of Travis the Olympian.
    • You should take pride in the skillset, not the title
  • In 2008 in Beijing, Travis forgot to train for the Olympics because he got wrapped up in the achievement of simply getting through the trials stage
  • In 2012 in London, he wanted to prove to the universe that he was the best in the world, an external goal. Ultimately, he finished 4th.
    • The judges made some questionable decisions in the medal match that forced Travis to consider quitting the sport
    • Played by his own Judo rules, didn’t care if they penalized him anymore, and ended up winning the Germany Worlds Tournament
    • Struggled with concussions and didn’t believe he could compete at the same mental capacity he used to
      • Went to an extremely competitive Judo academy in Japan to push himself to exhaustion on daily basis, was able to redevelop his skills
      • If I can’t find my endpoints, that means everyone else has given up before me”Travis Stevens
    • In 2015, he almost lost his leg with multiple bacterial infections
  • In 2016 at Rio, he anticipated his success, didn’t visualize it as a goal. Let his own internal determinism drive him. Finished as the silver medalist.
    • Never felt like he was beaten in the finals match; he took risks in the match and faced the consequences

“Stories aren’t always about winning, they’re about continuing to fight”– Lex Fridman

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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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