By Jerrod Wilson

image002 Mike Swain Interview -- Judo Champion

I recently attended a Judo clinic conducted by Mike Swain at a local kenpo dojo. My sister saw a flyer in her coffee shop and told me “There is some kind of grappling thingy at a karate school I thought you might be interested in.” Doubting it would be worth attending I asked who was teaching the class. “Some guy named Swain.” was her answer. Some guy named Swain!?! This was awesome news! I had been trying to get to a clinic taught by Mike for about 4 years. He typically would teach a clinic once a year in the LA area. I live about an hour north of Los Angeles and for some reason something was always coming up to prevent my attendance. No excuses this time! I contacted the school (Sasaki Kempo in Oxnard, CA) and they informed me that this was a beginner’s class and that I might be bored. I told them I would be there knowing that I would pick up something.

As I was warming up Mike came out and introduced himself to me. He explained that I may find the clinic a little simple (I am a sankyu) at which point I told him I was there to work out with him and pick up what I could. Mike then offered to stay after the seminar to go over more advanced techniques with me! So what had started as hoping to get a couple scraps here and there turned into a mini private session! Needless to say I couldn’t wait for the class to end. I ended up being uke for Mike a few times. His kuzushi was almost more powerful than his throws and illustrated to me what kuzushi is really supposed to be. I also got to have the pleasure of watching the amazement on the face of my partner (a kenpo student) as he did his first throws, pins, and armbars. Mike kept the class moving and focused while also making sure people had fun and were entertained. During the class a fellow sankyu from my club showed up and made the session after the official seminar ended that much better. Since my sensei is Neil Ohlenkamp I had hoped to get a chance to ask Mike a couple questions for Mike was more than willing and the following interview was done via email.

JudoInfo- What do you think of the overall USA Judo team’s performance in Athens this summer?

Mike Swain- The results in Athens were par for the USA. Judo has spread throughout the world faster then any other sport. We had over 50 countries participating and 180 countries doing Judo. Our USA Team Judo Budget is small compared to France and Japan however the results from France were not much better. There are seven weight classes and with the exception of Japan no other country dominated all weight classes. We still can make many improvements but the fact remains it is a tough sport with many countries involved.

JI- What does the U.S. need to do to become a truly competitive force in world Judo?

MS- Currently there is no specific USA training program to take a player from a JR all the way to become an Olympic Gold Medalist. Meaning we do not have the funds or the numbers, therefore I believe the best path after 17 or 18 is still to go overseas to Japan for high level very competitive training at the Universities and compete in Competitions in Europe where Judo is much more popular. Once you get a flavor for international Judo then it motivates the young kids to do it themselves.

Having said all that I do believe we can create a great Program/ USA Program until 18 that conditions athletes and prepares them technically to be ready for Japan and Europe. Most of the Top countries still send their team for training to Japan and Korea or France. Also many of the countries taking the Medals today are from the old Soviet Union. Understanding the sambo/wrestling moves and how to defend against them is an advantage but in the end pure speed, gripping and technique still wins the Gold in Judo.

JI- You mention money and participation as being our roadblocks to the next level for our Judo program. It seems to me that the usual “American” methods to generate either (i.e. a Red Bull logo on the tatami, kids wearing different colors of gi’s) tend to conflict with traditional views of Judo. Even your Pro Sport Judo could possibly be viewed as a conflict with some of Kano’s ideals by traditionalists. What should we do to capture the minds of the kids and the dollars of corporate America without getting to far from Judo’s roots?

MS- Yes My Pro Judo was a conflict but at least we got Judo on TV for viewers to watch Judo. The idea was to show more action, more throws with an easy scoring system. It worked but the amount of funding needed to keep up the Programming was just too much. UNTIL you get the TV exposure the sponsors are hard to come by.

JI- How about Pedro and Rousey? (I ask about them in particular because they seem to get the most press.)

MS- Jim Pedro’s Bronze was a great feat. I believe he could have won the Gold just as easy on another day. At 33 years old to come back and be in top shape is no easy task. Jim had an excellent career and deserved every win because his work ethic and dedication to the sport were unsurpassed. Jim lived in Japan and toured Europe to compete and train. He basically did whatever it took to win. That is the key to success. It will be a very long time before we see another Jim Pedro.

Ronda Rousey – She is young 17 years old, with lots of fighting spirit. Although she did not place at the Olympics, she just won the World JR Championships (up to 20). She was only the second person to win that event in the US history. She came to a Jr camp at San Jose a few years back and we all knew one day she would do great things. Time and patience is all she needs now. Her Mom was the first American to win the Gold for the US at the World Championships so, I am sure she had some Home schooling. Ha!

JI- Any players you enjoyed watching this year from outside the U.S.?

MS- NOMURA 60KG from Japan, 3 time Olympic Champion, to me is the essence of pure Judo. He is not big and strong but his technique and mat smarts can defeat the toughest of any country. He also trained with us at San Jose State a few years back. He actually lived in California for one year on vacation after Australia Olympics then came back and won Gold.

JI- What effect do you think (if any) the spread of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu over the last decade has had on Judo and Judo players?

MS- ON the highest level I do not think the BJJ has had much effect at all. Although the ground game in Judo is almost the same techniques as in BJJ (arm and chokes) the Judo Game is a much faster pace standing and also on the ground. Because of the rules we must make something happen on the ground in 20 seconds or less. That changes your strategy and forces you to be much more aggressive and open on the mat. However, on a more beginner and intermediate level you can learn and apply many of the BJJ ground techniques and combinations much faster. I think if a person can cross train now then in the long term your Judo Game will be much stronger. This goes visa versa for BJJ fighters. Learn the gripping and standing as a beginner now, and in the long run your game will improve.

JI- What do you think of modern MMA now that it has evolved from a spectacle to more of a legitimate sport?

MS- I think Modern MMA opens everyone’s eyes to the fact that just because you are tough in one sport or Martial art unless you have experience in striking and ground your chances are much lower. A complete fighter must train in all aspects. In the end the one with technique, the biggest Heart and fighting spirit will win!

JI- What do you think of the idea that MMA provides an arena for Judoka to go into after or instead of the Olympics? Do you think that such exposure is good or bad for Judo in particular?

MS- It would be like asking a ping pong player to enter a Tennis match. I think Judo’s advantage is the fact it is an Olympic Sport with 180 countries participating in Judo. MMA does not come close to that yet. It’s hard for Americans to understand just how big Judo is until you travel to Europe or Japan. Esecially with the craze over UFC etc in the states. Even in Brazil where BJJ is from Judo is very big and popular with kids. They are too different arenas. Put a Judo uniform on the toughest MMA fighter and ask him to enter into a Judo match with Judo rules and you will see a very frustrated fighter. If a good Judo fighter wants to try the MMA ring he better train for at least 1 yr in striking and grappling with no gi before entering the ring.

JI- Finally, where do you stand on the current IJF rules? Do you think overall kokas and yukos are a good thing or should we get rid of them and run things more like the All Japan? Also is a newaza focused Judoka given enough time on the ground in the modern era?

MS- The IJF is moving toward more action but at a snails pace. Basically my Pro Judo is where the IJF will be in 10 yrs. Allowing more ground time in Judo is a great idea as long as both fighters are aggressive and not stalling or resting. What the fans want is throwing, submission, action by two strong characters. That is why Pro Wrestling makes money.

Mike’s Biography

Mike is the first man from the Western Hemisphere, to win a gold medal at the World Championships, since its inception in 1956. The World Championships is a very prestigious tournament held only once, every two years. As a World Champion, 4 – time Olympian (bronze medalist in the Seoul Games) and 1996 Olympic Coach, Mike has gained a phenomenal amount of valuable knowledge and experience. Throughout his many years of competition and coaching, Mike has traveled the world competing against and analyzing hundreds of different styles and techniques. His knowledge of standing techniques and ground work is unsurpassed. Visit to see the wide variety Judo and Martial Arts products Mike developed. I recently got a copy of his new DVD and I can’t recommend it enough. I would also like to thank Mike again for his time and the effort he makes toward the betterment of Judo.

image003 Mike Swain Interview -- Judo Champion image005 Mike Swain Interview -- Judo Champion image004 Mike Swain Interview -- Judo Champion