Neil Adams

Judo, like so many sports, was hit hard by the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic. Not only were Grand Prix's canceled around the world, but athletes tried to find ways to emphasize solo practice and strength training, always in hopes of being ready to hit the mats again when the lockdown was lifted. With all the challenges of 2020, I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with a martial arts legend, champion, and true gentlemen, Neil Adams.

Two-time Olympic silver medalist and 9th dan in Judo, Neil has a wealth of knowledge and experience as a teacher, coach, and competitor. When not teaching online classes and developing new content for his online platform Effective Fighting, Neil is the euphonious voice of the IJF's exciting Grand Prix tournaments which are broadcast around the world. One should never forget that his accomplishments and skills on the mat are why his commentary is so informative and compelling: He's been there.


Covid-19 has thrown a complete curveball at everybody and everything, but some have weathered the storm better than others. Like many teachers, Neil's teaching had to migrate from running an in-person school to an entirely online program with his wife Niki (former Olympian herself from the Canadian Judo team). Luckily, Neil and Niki had been preparing to take their online program to the next level but were not sure how to do it, and then Covid hit. Neil describes the cosmic timing, "We finished the dojo probably two months before the first lockdown came...It made us redirect. It made us concentrate very specifically on this aspect of it." Timing is everything in martial arts and business, "Thank goodness for it during this lockdown because it's enabled us to keep tabs and touch base with everybody." Is it successful? He told me that he recently had a Zoom class with 150 participants from the US.

Judo and BJJ

Neil Adams Judo

Judo is a sport that is practiced much more widely around the world than in America where Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu seems to be more popular. Who better to ask about this anomaly than the man with the legendary Juji Gatame. "Jiu-Jitsu has exploded, but Judo has it's roots, you know, and, of course, Jiu-Jitsu is part of those roots and so we try to encourage, you know, obviously, working together feeding off each other, and I think that that is important, and not forgetting that they are two different things." How are they different? "The difference with ours, of course, is that it's a different pace, totally."

Judo has limited time for Newaza, and Neil explains how the transition and timing impact the execution. "The time restraints on the amount of time we have make it different because it means we have to be a lot sharper with the catch, and with the follow-through, and with the execution." Neil illustrates the difference in Judo's shift to groundwork, "Judo has a different transition as well, it's a different transition from standing down to ground, because it's from a throw, and you must remember a throw and a takedown are two different things. They're not the same thing."

Judo: Getting Started

Neil has been a teacher for a long time, and his thoughts on getting started and being successful boil down to finding a good teacher and, "The classes have to be progressive." Does that mean learning a bunch of techniques? Neil elucidates his priority for teaching and learning: principles. "If you don't know the basic principles of how to make things work, then you're going to find it really difficult to progress onto other things." Neil explains that once understand the concepts, then you can apply them, "Being able to adapt to situations is paramount to our sport. You need to know how to change balance and direction so that you can move with the flow of the movement."

Juji Gatame

Famous for his vice-like Juji Gatame (armbar), I asked Neil to describe how it evolved and how it became a successful technique, "The concept that I had was applying pressure into the right places and connecting to the head as well as the arm." Even more important than technical prowess was Neil's willingness to take a risk and try it, "The key point for me was that not only did I train it, but I dared to try it. When I got out in competition, I went for it. I think that a lot of top athletes…when they learn something new, they're not scared to go in and give it a go and to try it, and fail the odd time and catch it. That's how I built it." Check out the video link at the end of this piece to watch Neil's Juji Gatame application in action.

Older Students

Most martial art practitioners, like myself, and likely you the reader, would like to keep studying, practicing, and training well into our golden years. Neil Adams, who at 62 has a level of fitness that puts many people even half his age to shame, has simple training advice for others in their 50's and older, "Do it systematically, and build it up." A methodical approach coupled with patience is best as Neil instructs, "I know I keep using the word progressive, but I think that's the key point. I think a lot of people want immediate results." Acknowledging that seeing someone demonstrate something quickly makes most people want to go faster than they should, Neil gives advice that every student of every age should write down and tack up in their dojo next to the due date for tuition payments, "If you can't do it slowly, you cannot do it quickly." Great advice from a Judo legend.

Check out Neil Adams' incredibly entertaining color commentary at the next IJF event in Doha Qatar on January 11, 2021.

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