Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pride, Perseverance, Math and Martial Arts

Fairly often, someone says to me,

You must have been really proud of Ronda when she won XXX 

which I usually respond to by saying,

I am very proud of all of my daughters.

because this is the truth and I am a very bad liar.

I got to thinking about this yesterday when someone came by who is working on a movie script. He kept asking me about particular events and as I looked back on it, those days never stood out as much as people seem to expect. I am really proud of all of my daughters, though.

Giving some thought, I came to this conclusion ... It's not any one day that I am proud of them. It's the culmination of all of the days.

Everybody has good days and bad days. Winning a world title, earning a masters degree, getting a book on the New York Times best seller list, having a 4.0 GPA on your report card - all of those are good events. What I'm proud of,  I realized, is the total of the days leading up to those events, their perseverance.

Things finally clicked when he asked me,

Is there a connection between your 'two lives' , all the math and statistics that you do and martial arts?

There is. It's perseverance. It's being able to give up what you want now for what you want most, not just one time, but many many times.

None of my girls are perfect - and all of you people who want to pile on when one of them makes a mistake can go fuck yourselves. What they all have is persistence.  When they fail a test, have a bad day, make a stupid mistake, they may cry for a while but they pick themselves up and try again tomorrow.

The reason many people fail in math is that they give up.  They don't get the answer at first, they don't understand the problem, so they throw their hands up and say, "I'm just not good at math!"

There were times I would read my statistics textbook, get to the end of the chapter and not be able to do any of the problems. Then, I would just start from the beginning and read the chapter over again.

When Jenn received her masters degree from USC,  we didn't even go to the graduation. (I tried to talk her into it but she didn't want to go.) I wasn't any more proud of her on that particular day than I was on all of the days she got up early to go to class and studied late.

We're in an Ed Tech accelerator now and Maria and I are often exhausted by the end of the day. It adds hours of meetings, classes and gathering data on to the hours we already have to put in for game development and marketing.  Yet, we'll be up at 8 am tomorrow, for our first meeting.

I'm not proud of my daughters because they succeed one day or because they never have a bad day. I am proud of them because no matter what happens, they will get up and try their best the next day.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Popping the Ronda Bubble

First of all, if you came here thinking this was going to be a post trashing Ronda you can stop reading now because I'm her mom so of course I think Ronda Jean is a whole cupcake of amazing, frosted with awesome sauce and sprinkles of sweetness on top.
However, I think some of the people she hangs out with are douche bags.

I remember reading a few articles that described how some of the highest profile athletes and entertainers get so fucked up. They talked about getting 'sucked into the bubble' around people like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and other highly successful celebrities.

Didn't anyone ever look Elvis straight in the face and say,

You're fat and you do too many drugs. Cut that shit out or you're going to die.

or grab Michael Jackson by both arms, shake him and say,

Hey! Don't hang out with little kids! It's creepy weird. Find a woman. A man. An adult monkey. Seriously, what the fuck is it with the kids? Quit doing all those drugs, too!

My guess is the answer is, "No."

Here is what I see. The more famous, wealthy or successful you get, the more people are afraid of you. Most people are not fabulously famous, etc. so you end up with a lot of people around you whose major quality to offer to the world is that they are associated with YOU.

No matter how wonderful anyone is, they will do stupid shit from time to time.

The difference if you are rich and famous is that people don't call you on your shit.

Sometimes, people will say to me privately that they disagree with some decision Ronda has made. They might go on at length and in great detail. When I suggest that they tell Ronda that to her face, they make a lot of excuses. One person even suggested that I go with him when he talked to her. I refused, even though I agreed with his opinions. He's a grown man but he's afraid that if he disagrees with her then she won't let him hang around any more and he won't get to be a big shot.

Frankly, the whole thing makes me sick.

What happens when everyone around you is saying, "Oh, you're right. You're so great. You're the champion."

Well, then the one person who says,

"You know, maybe you should have acted a little differently in that situation."

... is the bad guy. After all, everyone else thinks it's fine that I got drunk and shot the TV.

(Chill. It was an example. That was Elvis. Ronda has not assaulted any household appliances under the influence of alcohol.)

Anyone who gets to know Ronda comments on what a genuinely good person she is, and I think a lot of that has to do with having a large family around her.

 Last night, because Maria, Dennis, Eric and I were out of town, she was babysitting her nieces until past 11 pm and less than 3 hours later was on the set for Good Morning, America.

I think that is very healthy. You are part of the family and that means you pitch in. When I left for Utah, and Julia was flying home to an empty house, she stayed at Jennifer's house, because we're a family.

No one gave Ronda a pass on picking up the girls from school and preschool because hey, you're their aunt and the only one in town tonight.

Even though she always tells me not to worry, I still do - a lot.

It's impossible to read the news for a week and not see the report of some athlete or entertainer getting in some situation that shows incredibly poor judgement and not ask yourself, "How the hell could they make such a stupid mistake?"

I'll bet you that the answer is that they were living in a bubble, where no one dared to tell them that anything they ever did was wrong, and so they started to believe it. After all, who wouldn't like to believe that every decision they made was right? That bubble of what you see as acceptable - because everyone around you accepts it - just gets bigger and bigger until one day it pops when you rape someone in a hotel room or shoot someone because they annoyed you or overdose on drugs.

That's why I think it's good for her that ever since Ronda made her first world team she has had people around her to pop that bubble. As Jennifer said when Ronda walked in the door after competing in her first Olympics at age 17,

I don't care where you've been or what you've won. It is SO your turn to change the cat litter.

Totally unrelated to this --
My day job is making video games that make you smarter.
If you buy one here or donate it to a school then I won't be so broke that I have no time to continue writing this blog.

If you don't have ten bucks, that's okay.
You can download a free demo and play it here. 
We won't judge you. Have fun.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What I Learned about Life on My Birthday

It was seven years ago this week that Ronda won a bronze medal at the Olympics. I wouldn't even have realized that if I hadn't gotten a message on twitter from the Judo Inside people congratulating me on the anniversary.

It was a day of mixed feelings - disappointed when she lost in over time to drop her into the bracket to fight for the bronze, excitement when she won the bronze medal match. Ronda had trained for years leading up to that and as her family, it had been a lot of effort and sacrifices to help her get there.

Seven years later, I wasn't even thinking about it. I'm in Salt Lake City, Utah as part of the Boom Startup Ed Tech Accelerator. I'm sure Ronda wasn't thinking about it, either. She went on vacation somewhere with no cell phone service and no Internet.

Seven years ago, I left Beijing on my birthday, flew to Tokyo where I had terrific sushi, then flew home to Los Angeles and went out to dinner with my husband. Thanks to time zone changes, my birthday lasted much longer than 24 hours. It was a very nice day. At the time, I was on the USJA board and probably fighting with half a dozen people on the board and on the USA Judo board (because we were always fighting about something with no outcome but wasted time). I hadn't thought about them in years until I sat down to write this post.

Now, I spend my time very productively and happily making computer games that teach math, social studies and (soon) English.  The work I do improves people's lives and employs people (which also improves their lives because no one ever says 'Hey, look at me, I'm broke and unemployed. This is so awesome.' )

There is a point in here that is very important ....

I was talking to my brother, who teaches middle school, and he commented that his students get so emotional about insults (real or imagined), disappointments and accomplishments. We agreed that it because they have no perspective.

Recently, Ronda did something that made me want to smack her in the head. I was quite annoyed. Her sister, Jennifer, who not coincidentally also teaches middle school, commented,

I know you are upset, Mom, but it's not the first mistake she has ever made and it won't be the last. She'll figure out for herself eventually that it's wrong and then she'll do the right thing.

The point is that too often we make ourselves miserable or unbearably arrogant because of a single failure or success.  Whatever it is that you are sobbing or cheering about today you probably won't even remember happened five years from now.

I'm not saying that we should all go through life like robots because nothing really matters. What I am saying is don't get too stressed about the things that go wrong. Also, don't be a pompous ass about the things that go right. As both Ronda and Julia commented after winning the junior nationals, 10 years apart,

"It's great the day you win, but then it's tomorrow."

Here is the other important point - what matters isn't any single day. It's all the days added up together. And at the end of the day - there is always another day. You can try again tomorrow.


Feel smarter? Want to be even smarter? You can check out 7 Generation Games. This is my day job.
Because it's my birthday (today!) for any game bought or donated this week, my company will match it with a donation to a program for low-income youth.

Happy Birthday to me!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

How I Learned $100 Million Wouldn't Make Me Happier

Let's talk about money. There are a lot of people who think that if they are happier when they make $20,000 a year than when they make $10,000 that making $40,000 will make them happier yet. They might be right. The problem falls down when people who are making $100,000 a year think they would be 1,000 times happier if they had $100,000,000 . I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be happier at all.

We had an experiment of sorts last week when the whole family stayed at the Copacabana Palace. Ronda had asked if we were coming to Brazil, and after hesitating a bit - because when you found a start-up, especially in a competitive field like video games, you do try to conserve funds, I said, yes, Julia and I would come. It is important to support your children, even if it takes some sacrifices. It was only then I found out that someone else was picking up our expenses for the sort of vacation God would go on if he had the money. The moral of this story is either a) always support your children or b) I am very lucky.

Rio was lovely. We had terrific food at both a Michelin star restaurant and at some small local place that served traditional Brazilian food, fed monkeys that came down from trees to take fruit from us, sunbathed at beautiful beaches.

About 100 times each, we told Ronda,

This is all very appreciated, but not necessary.

We all agreed at the end, that it was fun but we were very glad to return to our respective homes. I think we all had a very liberating revelation of something we had always suspected. That is, that we really don't need a lot to be happy. We can enjoy outstanding service, but we are not dependent on it. That is a very, very good thing because I have seen too many people sacrifice what matters in life for money.

You don't need diamonds or special treatment to make you happy. Most people know that, but they see a thousand ads a day that try to convince them otherwise. If you start believing the hype, then you are willing to work at a job you hate, spend too much time away from your family, tolerate indignities from your boss or customers, make unethical choices, all so you can maintain a certain lifestyle.

As with many things in life, what at first glance seems like a disadvantage is really in our favor. Since, in our family, we have all had times when we had to do without, not fly first class, find our way around without guides, greeters, drivers and a hundred other accommodations, we know not only that we can but that sometimes it can be quite nice.

Freud was right. The only two things you really need to be happy are this; to love and to work.

Everything else is just frosting on the cake.

Speaking of work - I have a day job, making video games that make you smarter. Download Spirit Lake or Fish Lake. Improve your math skills and learn some Native American history. Good stuff !

If you're already too smart for your own good, feel free to sponsor a game license for a classroom or school.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Day Off with the Family

I'm taking a day and a half off. Thank God we are now at a hotel that has working Internet access, unlike the last week. However, we were all up until 7 a.m. this morning.  Ronda had a fight last night, which she won, followed by hours of media and chicken wings specially arranged by the UFC (thank you!).

After a few hours sleep, we checked into a new hotel for a family vacation.

Where we stayed for exactly 20 minutes before heading off to watch a soccer game, Flamengo vs Santos, which was GREAT fun.

The players were amazingly good. I didn't realize that Ronda had never attended a soccer game before. On the other hand, Julia plays soccer and Maria used to cover college soccer as a sports writer. Maria said to Ronda and me,

You guys don't really understand this game. You are just clapping when everyone else does.

I'm not sure how she felt that was great investigative reporting, as if she had uncovered some great pretense, because since we had no idea what the crowd was shouting, when everyone else clapped and cheered, Ronda and I would jump up, clapping too and chant,

"Portuguese, portuguese, portuguese ."

It was still a lot of fun to watch. Plus we had a private box and they gave us ice cream!

Thank God we have security with us, though, because it has been CRAZY everywhere we went. Ronda is a sweetheart about taking pictures with people, but sometimes we have to get places, like the soccer game or dinner at a restaurant where we have reservations.

It's been a pretty great day with the exception of the lack of sleep. So .... I'm going to sleep in tomorrow, go sight-seeing with the family for a few hours and then get back to work. I will be SO thankful to have Internet again, you can't believe it.


You can get an insight into what it is like working without Internet here. I was not nearly as calm about it as Maria was. I spent less time on beaches and more time swearing.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Industrial Engineering Applied to Coaching

 Today, I was walking along the beach explaining to my lovely daughter, Ronda, about learning curves, a basic concept in industrial engineering.

 It's logical, really. The second time you build something, it is going to take you less time than the first. You've figured out that you need 12 widgets, so you get all 12 before you start, rather than making 12 trips to the widget cart. After turning your thingamajig over a few times and looking all over, you realize the 4 screws go on the bottom. The third thingamajig you build faster yet. Each one you make, you learn a little more how to make it better. Eventually, though, your improvements become so minor to be insignificant. The 11,001st thingamajig is probably not built appreciably faster than the 11,000th.

 How does this apply to coaching? Simply this -

 1. There is a finite amount any coach can teach you. 

When you reach that amount will vary greatly from one person to the next. When you start out, say the coach knows 4,500 knowledge units (KU, for short) and you, a recreational player, are learning at the rate of 15 per week. Your coach is busy, having to teach the same techniques to multiple people, maybe with other responsibilities, a full-time job, running the business side of a school, whatever. Plus, he or she is at the OTHER end of the learning curve, not learning as much from each new game or practice. If your coach is picking up 5 units a week, you are learning 10 more units than the coach. It will take you about 9 years to have learned everything from that coach. Wait, though. There are a few variables here. Let's say you are an elite athlete, training every day. In that case, you will learn 60 units a week, exceeding that coach by 50 a week and will have outgrown him or her in less than 2 years.

 2. An experienced player going to a new coach will almost always improve performance - for a while. 

 (In my experience, this applies to individual sports. I have no experience coaching team sports.) Go back to my point about the 4,500 knowledge units. Say you have learned 90% of what the first coach had to teach you. Let's assume, unlikely as that is, that you go on to another coach who has exactly the same quantity of knowledge. It is almost certain that the actual content of that knowledge won't be the same. Perhaps the first coach was better at standing technique and the second on ground work. Now, you are learning these new ground moves that you had not seen before and - remember the learning curve - you are improving at a rapid rate. Does that mean your old coach sucked? Nope. Does that mean the new coach is "better"? Well, if you define "better" as, "will help you improve faster", then yes.

 3. When several players all go to the same new coach, they will all improve for a while - until they don't. 

Because of points #1 and #2, you may see several players 'jump ship' to a new coach and all of them improve. All of a sudden, that new coach is the flavor of the month - until those players are not improving any more and start losing. Did that mean it was a mistake for them to change from the original coach? Nope. Clearly, it helped for a while. What is a mistake is that often athletes stay with the second coach far too long. Their rationale is that "I improved so much when I came to Bubba and so did my friends, Billy Bob and Eustace. He must be doing something right." What they fail to realize is that they would have shown that same level of improvement at Mary Lou's Just-As-Good Gym down the road.

 4. Coaches who "take" champions instead of "make" them often have a better reputation than they deserve. 

There are clubs in every sport I know who make it a point to swoop in when a player starts to show promise and recruit the athlete to their "higher" level club. Because they have done this over and over, with most of the athletes initially showing improvement, they get a reputation as a top club. They find athletes who are already successful and bring them into a new place where there is a bump in performance, for a while. Since they do this drill over and over, the fact that the crop of recruits from 2 or 3 years ago is not performing so well is overlooked. The athletes who are performing below expectations are blamed because, after all, it can't be the coach. Look how much better they became when they came here initially

.... The moral of the story - you will often get better faster if you get out more.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BJJ is not Judo

Last week, I went to the new Gracie Barra club in Newport Beach to work out with Tom Reusling . It was a lot of fun. Plus, it is in a great location just a half-block off of the beach.

Although it was a good time, it was also a good opportunity for some reflection. This is NOT one of those posts on how "the martial art I do is the greatest and all of you peasants should bow before me".


BJJ does NOT stand for "Basically Just Judo" 

and I have to take issue with those who say that it does. I asked Tom a lot of questions about rules for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and those different rules make all of the difference.

It's not just allowing things like toe holds, knee bars or ankle locks. Those are actually minor differences.

I say that simply because there have always been people who will try to cheat in judo when the referee is not looking (just like there are those people in every other sport). I've had years of experience of protecting every single part of my body from anything anyone would try to throw at it.

The differences between BJJ and judo are in the rules and those rules are crucially different. For example,
  •  In BJJ you are not penalized for going straight to the mat,
  • Judo matches allow you, on the average, less than 30 seconds of matwork before the referee stands you up

You might think that for someone like me, who focused overwhelmingly on matwork that this would be an advantage.  That's really not the case. The difference between BJJ and judo means that there are fewer transitions from matwork to standing. You can go straight to the mat and once you get to the mat, you can stay there. If you take advantage of those transitions, like I do, a sport that has significantly fewer of them would require a substantial adjustment.

A second difference between the two sports is in the speed of matwork. If you only have 10 or 15 seconds to lock in a submission or secure a pin, you are going to do things differently. For one thing, you take more chances, especially if you are behind in a match. You don't have time to wait for an opening. You have to make the openings.  Defensive players are more successful in judo matwork than in jiu-jitsu because they only have to stop progress for 15 seconds or so before the referee stands them up.

None of this means that a person could not go successfully from judo to BJJ, or vice versa, but rather to say that those "minor" rule variations can make a major difference.

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Another cool thing to do is our Camp Don't Get Dumber Over the Summer site, with options for kids and teens. That's free, too.

See how nice we are?