An Interview with Rhadi Ferguson

Rhadi Ferguson is a 4-time US National Judo Champion, a 2004 Judo Olympian and a 2005 Abu Dhabi competitor. Since his retirement from active competion he is at the forefront of combative strength and conditioning training. Here he takes some time from his busy schedule to talk about his training history and conditioning philosophy.

Hi Rhadi, where and when did you start Judo?

I began the sport of Judo at the age of seven in Miami, Florida. My first Sensei was Jack Williams. From the age of 7-12 I did Judo

Then my family moved away from Miami and I wasn’t able to do Judo again until I finished college which was at age 22. After a long layoff I made the 2004 Olympic Team at the age of 29.

At what point did you decide you wanted to be in the Olympics?

I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics after watching Judo on television during the 1996 Games. The only thing was that I just didn’t know how I was going to do it, or how hard it was going to be :-)

What was your toughest match ever, either in Judo, BJJ or submission wrestling?

Toughest match in Judo would be against Ruslan Mashurenko from Russia at the 2001 New York Open. Although I’ve have some good submission wrestling matches they pale in comparison to the physical stress of Judo. Olympic Level Judo is hard as @#$%!!!!! In my opinion it is the hardest sport in the world – bar none.

At the Olympic Games the sport of Judo is represented by more countries than any other sport. Also, in contrast to wrestling, ALL of a competitors’ matches are on the SAME day, with a SAME day weigh-in. It is a brutal sport and requires so much from an individual and so much sacrifice.

So did you cut weight knowing that you had a same-day weigh-in?

In Judo I didn’t cut weight. I was small for my weight class, and I didn’t want to “fight against” the scale. It a battle that the scale wins in the end, so I didn’t want to pick a fight where losing was inevitable.

Also I wanted to enjoy my sport. Cutting weight over and over again makes you hate cutting
weight. And if cutting weight is a part of competing then it provides an aversive stimulus towards competition.

Have you ever trained Judo in Japan. And if so, could you describe the experience? Is it different from the USA program?

I’ve trained in Japan at Tokai University with Kosei Inoue and I was on the mat while Yasuhiro Yamashita was coaching. Training in Japan was one of the toughest and most mentally challenging experiences of my Judo career. When I was there they practiced at 5:30 am in January and left all of the windows and doors open. It was cold and I couldn’t feel my legs from the knee down. It was ridiculous. Practice that morning lasted for 2-1/2 hours. It was BRUTAL!! Is it different from the US, yes!

Why did you start competing in submission wrestling and BJJ?

I just wanted to continue to learn. There are so many things to learn in the sport of grappling and I wanted to cross train. Submission wrestling was an outlet to do a sport similar to judo without the pressure.

Most grapplers have heard of you via your participation in Abu Dhabi, but tell us about your BJJ competition experience?

I’ve place at the Mundials in BJJ at the purple belt division I earned a silver medal (lost by decision). If I was in shape – I could win without a doubt. I could lose as well, but I would have a pretty good shot. I’m not a pure judo player. I’ve been training BJJ since 1998. So my BJJ is good.

What are you and JC Santana trying to accomplish with Intocombat?

We are out to add threads to the fabric of the culture of Grappling in hopes of making it a coat of many colors. We are here to educate, build and grow. There is so much misinformation out there about training and we want to eliminate that and eradicate the B.S.

Were you doing all that innovative ball, band and circuit training when you were preparing for the Olympics or is that something that has developed since then?

Yes. My current business partner JC Santana was my strength and conditioning coach when I was preparing for the Olympic Games. JC was my strength coach, Eddie Liddie (1984 Bronze Medalist) was my Judo Coach and Lloyd Irvin was my BJJ coach. Together with their help I was sharp as a tack when it was time for the Olympics.

From your body’s physique it is obvious that you have spent time under heavy iron as well. How do you organize your workouts?

Ahhhhh, the secrets of training – Periodization. I do a little of this and a little of that. I do go through all of the cycles of anatomical adaptation, strength, power, power endurance and metabolic conditioning, but the organization of my workouts really depend on what I’m doing and what I’m preparing for. For the Olympic Games I was working out 2 times a day and cycling the workouts between hard days and easy days.

In terms of my training I would begin with Hypertrophy and then go to Power and then into Power Metabolic or what some people call Power Endurance. Usually JC and I would skip the Strength portion of the cycle or just do a hybrid of strength and power. The reason, I was strong enough and when you have a period of time when you are training for an event you don’t train what you have, you train what you need. My biggest issue that I was able to eliminate (well almost) was my inability to maintain a high level of explosive power over the whole time period. I was very pleased when I reached the Olympic Games in my second match against the Silver Medalist when I was able to explode and go all out for the whole five minutes. At then end of the match I was exhausted, but the training paid off.

It is impossible for me to go into all of our training systems or my whole training macrocycle in one question, but I will tell you this. The “money” cycle, the training cycle – in my opinion which is the most important – is the Power Metabolic Cycle. You can take the same workout in the Power Metabolic Cycle and tweak it for strength, for power, and/or for Power Endurance. A great example of our Power Endurance circuits are in our S.A.I.D. DVD series. Now the way you can tweak these workout for the cycles that I mentioned is this. You can take each exercise which is in the circuit and do it in what we call a “Component Style”. Meaning you take each exercise and add some external resistance to it. An easy fix is a weight vest, a medicine ball or in some cases some dumbbells are barbells. And you just perform the reps and rest and then move to the next exercise.

Once you’ve done that for about 2 weeks, you can begin to reduce the rest time between each exercise and then you can do that for two weeks. After that you can remove the vest and eliminate the rest between the exercises and perform the circuits as fast as possible. We call that “training under the hood”. Because in order to do circuits faster, you can’t do more circuits. You have to add more power to the output of the exercises. And to make a car go faster you can’t drive it faster, you have to open up the hood and replace the engine. This is the same for marathon runners. They don’t get faster by running longer. They get faster by doing intervals and sprints and then their marathon time decreases.

So if you are practice, the key is not to roll for 2 hours. The key is to roll hard for 5-7 minutes and then take a break and roll hard for another 5-7 minutes. Press the pace and move. Sacrifice good position to try something and keep moving. There is a time to do this of course, but this is the philosophical premise. When you are in a live match you will not sacrifice good position, but the constant moving from training in practice will allow you to develop the sports specific conditioning that you will need in live situations. Thus, SPECIFIC ADAPTATIONS TO IMPOSED DEMANDS! You will be able to adapt according to the demands placed on the body.

If you would like to know and get the system that we used to train our fighters then I would recommend the Program Design Book from our website. I would also highly recommend the Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (S.A.I.D.) DVDs as well. We understand that a lot of fighters have these questions so we have constructed an ebook how to “Avoid the Five Biggest Mistakes that Coaches Make with Combat Athletes” and that is available by sending an email to intocombat@aweber.com The free ebook comes immediately after signing up for our newsletter.

So what are your best ‘numbers’ for the basic powerlifting exercises?

I’ve squatted 650 lbs.

For the bench it was 405 lbs: I did that in college 1996 and never maxed out again. I just didn’t see the purpose. I’ve done 30 reps of 225lbs as well.

For the deadlift – I’ve never maxed out.

Any plans to compete in MMA?

No MMA for me. Right now I really live vicariously through the fighters that I help and the ones that I train. That is joy enough for me. I’ve been to the pinnacle of sport (for my sport – judo) and I’m satisfied with my career and I’ll that I’ve accomplished. I’ve competed at the Olympics, the BJJ Worlds and Abu Dhabi. I’ve done the best that I could have done at all of those competitions. I hear people speculate and talk trash all the time, but the honest truth is this… You can grab a magnifying glass, a flashlight, some binoculars and a fine tooth comb and you can scour the globe and you WILL NOT find another individual who has competed at the Olympic Games, the BJJ World Championships and the Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling World Championships – Period.

I don’t write that in the spirit of arrogance, but in the spirit of open-mindedness as one who actually took the TIME to practice and embrace the best that all of those disciplines have to offer. As a judo player I didn’t snub my nose at BJJ, and as a BJJer I didn’t disrespect no-gi grappling (I went out and competed), and as submission wrestler I didn’t refuse to learn leg locks, or different types of joint manipulations. I learned or at least tried to learn everything. This requires a different approach, it requires for you to visit different schools, to travel to different places and to step on the line and put your reputation on the line and that is “real”, that’s the truth and that’s what will allow the culture of grappling to grow. Lloyd Irvin did this as well. When we met each other back in 1998, he decided to learn Judo and I decided to learn BJJ. Together we won National Championships and excelled in eachsport. He went on to win Sambo Championships and I won some BJJ titles earning a silver at the World Championships and the Pan Ams.

JC Santana is the same way in Strength and Conditioning. He believes in functional training to the core, but I’ve seen him do some High Intensity Training, he competed in Olympic Weightlifting Competitions, he does circuit training, he’s even sat down and tried to get a better understanding and learn yoga. This is the type of mindset that champions have. Others, sit back and speculate and pontificate and talk mess about the people who are competing. It really burns me up. But that’s how it goes. If you don’t step out there – they won’t have anything to talk about. But, as I digress – the answer is No! No, MMA for me. I’m not pretty and I don’t want to get any worse :-)

How do you deal with injuries?

You can’t avoid injuries. They are like bumps in the road that you don’t know are there until you hit them. The best thing to do is take them in stride and understand that if you do a contact sport – a day will come when your “number” is called. So enjoy the time when you are healthy and train smart and not hard.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

You’re very welcome. Good luck in your training.

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