Yes, Vladimir Putin's Judo is Real
by Jonathon Kneeland
I recently ran across the following article and it immediately caught my attention:
It caught my attention for two reasons. One, Putin's judo skills are entirely legitimate. Two, how could such a seemingly distinguished individual make such a careless display of poor judgement? Both of these topics are worth exploring.
I've been practising judo for a long time. I've had my black belt for much longer than it took me to get it. I also trained in Brazilian jiu jitsu on and off during all my time doing judo, and I've done a bit of boxing as well – just enough to know I prefer grappling sports over striking. Because of my age, and a few injuries, I don't train much anymore. My favourite thing now is to go once in a while and spar with some MMA fighter or high-level grappler for a couple hours a few times a year. I'm happy to pay for this experience because it temporarily quiets the continual nagging that comes from deep in my psyche to remind me I should be training. I search out fighters who are better than me because this greatly reduces the chances of being injured. These experiences leave me feeling renewed and full of life. One comment that I frequently hear from new training partners is "you're really relaxed when you fight". This wasn't always the case. The first decade was spent listening to frustrated sparring partners tell me that I was too stiff and that I relied too much on strength. I still remember hearing a coach yelling at my training partner to smash me right through the floor every time I tried to use strength over good technique. The training partner he was yelling this to was a Russian with a black belt in judo and who also held a Master of Sport in sambo. He was very good and very tough and I was only a brown belt at the time. He could throw me at will and had fast and deadly arm and leg locks. These people, and people like them, helped me to break bad habits and to fight properly, and they continually gave me something to aspire to. I really miss those days, I miss them a lot.
Judo is one of a small handful of combat sports that I would class as the real deal. Some of the others are Brazilian jiu jitsu, sambo, pankration, muay thai, wrestling, boxing and catch wrestling – if I've forgotten anyone, I'm sorry. By "real deal", I mean difficult to learn, rough to practise with any intensity, and constantly tested in a way that forces useless techniques to be weeded out and discarded. If you've spent some years training in any of these disciplines, there's no need to wonder if your techniques will actually work. If you've shown up to class, entered tournaments, and trained with people better than yourself, you have a very realistic idea of where you stand in the hierarchy of fighters and how your techniques will fare in the real world. You'll also have the ability to watch a fighter in your own sport and predict with some accuracy your chances of beating them in a match.
What I can tell you for certain from all my time on the mats is that someone has as much chance of faking judo as would someone faking being able to play guitar or perform a coronary bypass surgery. The thing just isn't going to be believable – especially to someone experienced in any of these areas.
What I see from watching Putin's judo in videos is a guy who's 66 years-old and was quite likely very good at judo at one time. I just finished watching a video of Putin training with the Russian judo team in Sochi. The video was posted in 2016 and so we are seeing Putin in his 60s. I'm impressed by his timing and his instinctive movements in both attacks and defences. He has excellent timing in executing foot sweeps and also instinctively lifted his foot just enough to escape one. No one can fake this – it comes after thousands of repetitions and thousands of hours sparring. About half-way through the video, Putin trains with a young woman who appears to be on the national team. This is judo as I know it: two skilled fighters moving around, trying to out-technique each other, and having fun doing it. This also can't be faked and it instantly brought me back to my judo days. In other videos, appearing to be around the same age, we see him executing major and minor throws accompanied by very relaxed and instinctive follow-throughs. Again, this comes only after many years of serious training. I'd be very happy to be able to move like that when I’m his age.
This is consistent with Putin having started judo at an early age and continued training throughout his life. I've personally been quite impressed with almost every Russian fighter that I've trained with, and I'm confident that if I were to spend some time on the mat with Putin I would be equally impressed. He did place well in competitions when he was young and there's no indication that his skill has declined at a rate not in direct relation to his age. He moves well, has good timing, and looks to be in excellent health. Judo has served him well.
And now we move on to the disappointing part of the story. This is Benjamin Wittes according to Wikipedia:
Benjamin Wittes (born November 5, 1969) is an American journalist who focuses on issues of national security and law. He is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he is the Research Director in Public Law, and Co-Director of the Harvard Law School – Brookings Project on Law and Security. He works principally on issues related to American law and national security. Along with Robert M. Chesney and Jack Goldsmith, Wittes cofounded the Lawfare Blog, which is devoted to the discussion of U.S. national security choices. Wittes is also a member of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law. Wittes is a frequent speaker on topics of detention, interrogation, and national security, before academic, government, policy, and military audiences.
Benjamin Wittes has stated that Putin's judo is "fake", and he went on to challenge Mr' Putin to a fight. I've read about vexatious lawsuits, but this is the first time I've seen a vexatious fight challenge:
I'm at a loss to understand how Mr. Wittes could be so wrong and also be such a jackass. Wittes is a practitioner of akido, which is guaranteed to leave him extremely disappointed as well as badly mangled should he get into a scrap with an assertive and competent grappler. Also, Wittes and I were born the same year (1969), and I find it offensive that he would challenge a 66 year-old to a fight. This tells me that he is entirely unfamiliar with fighting or its rules and etiquettes. Masters divisions are broken into five year increments. I've competed in these tournaments and there's a reason that 49 year-olds aren't paired up with 66 year olds. It's the same reason that 25 year-olds aren't fighting 50 year-olds.
What I suggest to Mr. Wittes is that he show some respect to Mr. Putin as a lifelong judoka. Putin has made many improvements for athletes in Russia and sometimes trains with them. This is a unique and interesting thing. If Wittes really wants to put his money where his mouth is he should respectfully request that Mr. Putin provide a judoka of the same age as Wittes and they can have a match wherever Wittes likes. There is no way that Wittes would consent to this, as he is well aware that anyone who has gone through the Russian judo or sambo program, and is of the same age as Wittes, is going to leave him broken and defeated on the mat and looking like a fool; so instead, he opts to challenge a senior citizen to a fight.
I'm embarrassed for Mr. Wittes and it concerns me that he holds such high positions as an intellectual. It seems almost every week I am further disappointed by another high-end intellect who turns out to be more of an idiot than I am. The man is influential in policy creation and implementation, and this ought to raise concerns for everyone living in America. This has to be at least as stupid as anything Trump has done. At the end of the day, he has exposed himself as a know-nothing and a bigmouth. Maybe he was lucky enough and spoiled enough to grow up attending schools where one could get away with being a bigmouth and never have it beaten out of him. While that might have been lucky at the time, it certainly didn't help to prepare him for the real world.
Mr. Wittes, if you would like to fight, let me know and I will start a GoFundMe campaign to fly you to Russia. You can enter in your own age group in a judo, sambo, or combat sambo masters tournament. I think for entertainment purposes, you should take your akido training and enter a sambo tournament. Mr. Putin will not have you arrested, but will probably be snickering on the sidelines, watching as you tap very shortly after the match begins.