Kayla Harrison, the martial artist who won the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in judo, updates her fans on what she's been doing since her triumph at the 2012 London Games and where she will make her next tournament appearance.

After winning the United States’ first Olympic gold medal in judo at the 2012 Games in London, Kayla Harrison is ready to return to competition. She fine-tuned her skills in Japan in preparation to headline the USA Judo team at the Continental Open in Uruguay, scheduled for March 16-17, 2013. Harrison took a few minutes out of her hectic training schedule to answer a few questions. What is your goal at this upcoming tournament? Kayla Harrison: This tournament is really a let’s-get-back-in-the-saddle-again tourney. It is meant to shake off the rust and start preparing for the World Championships in Rio this August. Why did you select the Continental Open in Uruguay? Kayla Harrison: I started training again in January. So three months in seems like a good time to test out and flex my fighting skills. I will be in decent enough shape, but I won’t be peaking for this event. My coaches, Jimmy and Big Jim [Pedro], are ultimately in charge of my schedule. I trust them to know what is best for me, and my job is to “go and do!” What major tournaments are you targeting? Kayla Harrison: The main goal is always the Olympics and World Championships. I am eager to add another title to my name this August. What has your training program been like and where is it headed? Kayla Harrison: Because I am still traveling and speaking almost every weekend, training has come on slowly. I do judo every day and go to my strength trainer four days a week. I am also running a lot more these days because I am on the road much more. Eventually, we will gear back up to two-a-day judo and strength training, and running almost every day. But four years is a long time, and again the ultimate goal is always the Olympic championships. What do you think of the new International Judo Federation rules? Kayla Harrison: The rules are definitely going to take some getting used to. I have not had the chance to fight under them yet, but I can tell you in practice I am focusing very much on not getting frustrated. Reteaching yourself takes time. Another reason for choosing this tournament is to try out the new rules and see how I do. How does it feel to get back into competition after standing on the highest podium in the world? Kayla Harrison: Honestly, I am very excited to be back on the mat! I took some time off after London and have been traveling and speaking and doing all sorts of fun stuff, but nothing, nothing compares to the thrill of victory! I can’t tell you how pumped I am to be training again and doing what I love. I plan on making the most of the next four years and truly enjoying the journey. Not many people can say they get to wake up every morning and live out their dream. And standing on that podium — there is no greater feeling in life. I will work relentlessly for the next four years to give myself the best chance to get to feel that feeling again because it is so worth it. What has life been like as the nation’s first Olympic gold medalist in judo? Kayla Harrison: Life has been crazy! From meeting the President and VP, to attending the Country Music Awards, to speaking to kids and teaching clinics — life has been a whirlwind! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! I am extremely honored and humbled to be America’s first gold medalist, and I intend to use this platform to bring judo to everyone and to help change people’s lives — the way that judo has changed mine. Whether that is through my foundation, a judo lesson or just signing a picture for a young child, I consider it an honor and a privilege. Follow Kayla Harrison on Facebook. To see Kayla Harrison, along with MMA champ Ronda Rousey, in action, purchase a copy of Winning on the Ground: Training and Techniques for Judo and MMA Fighters. The book is written by Dr. AnnMaria De Mars (1984 world judo champion) and James Pedro Sr. (coach of international judo medalists). Go here to order.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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