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1 Nov 2020 13:30
Travis Stevens is teaming up with his former coach, Jimmy Pedro, to launch a new website called the American Judo System. In this exclusive interview, our partner Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy spoke to Travis about his vision for this new website and cooperation with his former coach who led him to Olympic silver in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
JIC: You’re about to launch American Judo System. What’s it all about?
TS: It’s a platform to help expand the way people think about judo as well as how to watch and learn judo. Our aim is to have an all-encompassing platform that can help a child get started in judo, all the way to helping a top athlete get onto the Olympic podium. There will be something that everyone can learn from. There will even be a business side of the website that will help dojo owners build a strong business that the local community supports. Whether you’re a judo player or a judo coach, you will have direct access to Jimmy and me through video, e-mail and livestreams in a private online community.
JIC: With a name like American Judo System, it sounds like you’re targeting an American audience. Why not have a more universal name?
TS: Well, it’s very accurate to call it American Judo System because it is the system that we used here to build up champions. When you say “Japanese Judo,” everyone knows what that means. Upright, classical, beautiful judo. And when you say “Russian Judo,” everyone knows what that means too. Very physical, explosive judo involving lots of pick-ups. These terms are descriptive of the type of judo that comes from these places. When people think of “American Judo,” they are probably thinking of the type of judo associated with Jimmy Pedro, Kayla Harrison and myself. A heavy emphasis on gripping, strong transitions into newaza, good physical conditioning and so on. None of that happened by chance. Our judo is the product of a system. And we want to share that system, that has brought us success at the highest level, with the rest of the world.
JIC: Your partner in this business is your former coach Jimmy Pedro. Are there any other people involved in this project?
TS: Right now, it’s just Jimmy and myself overseeing everything. We do have people helping out with video editing and writing. But when it comes to getting everything up and running, it’s basically the two of us. It’s a big challenge doing all this because we both have other jobs but it’s 100% worth if it can help people around the world improve their judo.
JIC: Speaking of other jobs, you are also a partner in Judo Fanatics. How did that come about?
TS: You’re correct, I’m one of the owners of Judo Fanatics. Many people may not know this but I have been making instructional videos since 2012. I know many judokas tend to make videos only when they’ve retired but I started even while I was still competing. I had to. You see, judo is not a big sport in America. You don’t get a lot of sponsorship opportunities like in Japan or Europe. So, I had to find a way to make money even while I was training and sleeping. Judo videos was the answer.
You might find this funny but I attribute my success in Rio 2016 at least in part to the fact that I did those videos. It gave me tremendous peace of mind knowing that whether I succeed or not in competition, I had a way to pay the bills and put food on the table. This peace of mind allowed me to focus on my training and not worry about other things.
Towards the end of 2016, after I retired from competition, I met with some of friends who own BJJ Fanatics and pitched them the idea of doing a judo version called Judo Fanatics. I knew many top judokas from around the world. I could get them onto this platform. They liked the idea and the rest, as they say, is history.
JIC: From our conversation with Jimmy, it sounds like AJS is something that will really help judokas in places where there’s not a lot of judo.
TS: It’s true and that’s actually most places, if you think about it. How many places in this world is like Japan or France where there seems to be an unlimited supply of judokas to train with? Even here in the US, we don’t have a lot of judokas. Let me tell you a story. In 2012, the Russian team visited our club. The first day they walked into our dojo they wondered where all the athletes were. We actually had quite a few people on the mat but this included some 40- and 50-year olds as well as some kids below the age of 12. But that’s how it is in most clubs around the world. It’s not like in Japan where a top-level dojo would have 50 black belts on the mat.
People who see the results we’ve achieved would not believe just how severely lacking we are in terms of training partners. There was one year where the only training partner I had in the dojo was a 90kg white belt. I taught him the drills and told him what I wanted him to do. I trained like that for six months and won the Dusseldorf Grand Prix.
How is that possible? It’s because we have a system and it can work for anyone who invest time and energy into it. A lot of judokas instinctively look towards Japan and want to train like the Japanese. It’s understandable because that’s where judo came from. But anyone who tries to copy the Japanese will end up getting disappointed. You can’t just adopt a training system when you don’t have the same resources as they do. What’s great about our system is that it’s designed to work even when you don’t have a lot of training partners. Through our system, you will learn how to learn judo.
JIC: Over in the UK, there’s Fighting Films, which has a subscription site. There’s bound to be some comparisons. Are they your direct competitor?
TS: I wouldn’t really consider Fighting Films a direct competitor because our approach and aims are different. I think Fighting Films has a really nice production studio and they make outstanding videos from a production standpoint. But they don’t really go into the kind of intricate details that we will. I remember looking at some of the stuff Kayla did for them. As someone who is very familiar with Kayla’s judo, I can tell you that there are a lot of details missing. So, you will get a basic understanding of her techniques but once you run into resistance, you won’t know what the problem is, what to look for and how to solve it. It won’t be like that at AJS. I recently did a breakdown of Joshiro Maruyama’s uchimata for my YouTube channel. So many people were shocked — literally blown away — at the level of detail I went into. They had no idea you could break down a technique so thoroughly. It just goes to show people don’t know what to look for when trying to learn a technique. That’s the kind of thing we will teach you at AJS.
JIC: Do you think many judo champions will start creating their own sites and selling their own videos?
TS: I don’t see many current champions doing this. It takes a lot do run a video-based website. It’s not just about making the videos. You have to market them and that’s an ongoing thing. Top players are busy training and they’re exhausted by the time they finish their training. They won’t have the time or mindset to run a judo video business. But I also think athletes should not wait until they’ve retired to start making videos. They should do it when they are at the peak of their popularity. One of the reasons we started Judo Fanatics is that I wanted it to be a platform for current athletes to make an income while still training and competing. Through Judo Fanatics, they just have to demonstrate their techniques and we’ll do the rest. They don’t have to run a website, do any marketing or deal with sales and customer service issues. They make their videos and they earn income from it every time someone buys their videos.
JIC: You’re an example of a former competitor who managed to make that transition into business. Most top competitors aren’t able to make that leap. Why do you think that’s so?
TS: I’m not sure I have a great answer for you but if I had to guess I think it could be that they are too used to being in the limelight. In a way, I was fortunate not to have been a very popular judo figure. People in judo knew me but I was never considered a judo hero like some of the more popular champions. The downside to being a famous player is that there is a tendency for them to get complacent and to expect things to be done for them — whether by the IJF or sponsors or business people who want to do things with them. I never expected anyone to do anything for me. I understood that when I was an athlete, I was paid to be an athlete. But once my competition career was over, nobody is going to give me anything anymore. Every time I take on a new business venture, I treat it as if I’m starting from zero, and I understand it’s going to take real work with long hours to make it successful.
JIC: You run your own BJJ dojo, you’re an instructor at Jimmy’s judo dojo, you work for Fuji Sports, you’re a partner in Project 2024, you’re also a partner at Judo Fanatics. And now, you’ll be doing American Judo System. Are you sure you’re up for this?
TS: Challenge accepted! I know it’s going to be tough because AJS is not just about making videos. There will be live sessions and it will be very interactive. But the goal of this site is to scale it up to a point where eventually we have lots of people involved and helping us run the program.
JIC: In his interview Jimmy described in detail the short-term, medium-term and long-term goals for AJS. How would you describe in a nutshell your aspirations for the site?
TS: My goal is to make sure anyone who wants to improve their judo skills, coaching skills or dojo busines, regardless of where they may be in the world, is able to sign up and learn how to do all these things through American Judo System. Over the years, Jimmy and I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge in all these areas and we want to share it with the world.
Check out their new web site www.usajudo.com
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