Friday, August 31, 2007

Judo, Life, Success - in that order

A very wise man who is also a terrific judo coach wrote and gave me some great advice. In short, he said even though you have accomplished a lot, most of the people who are around you nodding their heads and smiling are not really your friends and would be just as happy to see you fail. He is one of a few people who have been honest enough to say to me,

"Your success is a threat to a lot of people. It makes them feel less when you do more. They want you to fail. Don't let the bastards get you down."

More than once, well-meaning acquaintances have cautioned me,

"Don't mention you have a doctorate. You don't have to mention you were world champion. People don't need to know you started a successful business. They get mad when you are acknowledged for doing those things because it makes them feel less."

This is a sad truth of life, the world is full of small men who want to tear others down to make themselves feel bigger. It is also interesting that well-wishers give me two very different kinds of advice. In short, one is saying to stand and fight, while the other advises me to give in, to not make anyone angry.

What does this have to do with judo? Lately, we have had a lot of success. Our new West Coast Judo Training Center will open on September 15. My own club, Venice Judo Club, is starting to grow. The United States Judo Association is doing well with great people around the country organizing camps and clinics, donating funds to support our programs.

There are really three keys to success, in anything, I think. The first is hard work. The second is overcoming fear. Everyone is afraid sometimes, and one of the most common fears seems to be that we will not be accepted. I was reading a post on a judo forum where someone made the comment that he could not speak up to another person because that man had been a black belt longer than he was. Someone else responded,

"So he is a higher rank than you. What is he going to do? Have you drop and do push-ups. Have you frowned at by a Council of Elders?"

Most of the things that hold us back are so trivial. Joe, who sits next to me at the meetings, might not think this is a good idea, so I guess I won't do anything. The way I see it, there are two possibilities. Either Joe is a good guy and will support me if my idea works and forgive me if it doesn't. Or, Joe is a jerk and just comes to meetings to make himself feel bigger by putting down, insulting and criticizing other people, in which case, I don't care what he thinks.

What does all of this have to do with judo? Shouldn't I occasionally post something here on ko uchi makikomi (hit it right off the grip. Hit low.)

The truth is that the key to winning, in everything, is you honestly have to believe. Deep down, you have to know that you can beat the other person, that you can get that pin, that throw, that armbar.

Hal Sharp once asked,
"What is the most important thing in making a throw succeed?"

Students gave all kinds of standard answers,

"Kuzushi - off-balancing - good technique."

Hal shook his heard,
"The most important thing is that you have to really, really want to make it go."

It's not easy to believe, especially when there are so many people telling you to not stand out, the nail that sticks up gets hammered, don't be too successful or people won't like you. Besides, who are you anyway?

It goes back to the first step. If you worked really, really hard, you have every reason to believe that you can win.

It's funny, people tell me all of the time that I am scary. I weigh 120 lbs soaking wet and am not quite 5'2" on a tall day. What is scary about me, to some people, I guess, is that I do work very hard, and whether it is a throw, an armbar or a new training center, I really, really want the thing to go and I believe that I can make it happen.

Okay, by popular demand, I will start including a judo tip in each blog. Tip #1: When you do an armbar, lock the opponent's arm against your body. You should not be using your arms trying to pull the person's arm in any direction. The most efficient way to do an armbar is to have the opponent's arm tight against your body, between your legs When you arch your hips,either the person will give up or her elbow will dislocate.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Old, Cranky and Annoyed

Warning: Today I am on my soapbox

This week, I had the unfortunate necessity to search for a page on myspace. Although one of my daughters assures me that myspace "is not just used by young people. Some of the people I know with myspace pages are 35," I have discovered something - teenagers do not become any more interesting in cyberspace.

Most of the pages I saw were the electronic equivalent of the ladies' room at your local dive bar that you would not go into unless you were drunk already. There, you can find such great literature as:

"I was so wasted last night. Seriously, I got SO drunk that I went home with Shana."
"Shana is a slut."
"You *&^%ing *@#! "

Clue to young people - anything stupid when you say it out loud is exponentially stupid when you post it where a billion people, including your parents, teachers, coaches and employers can read it. It's not that people of my generation never got drunk, went home with Shana or were Shana. They just generally were not moronic enough to post it on the Internet where Shana's husband and his divorce lawyer could find it.

Second clue to young people (and some old people)
- your personal life is just not all that interesting. No one really cares that you got drunk last night unless you were with Paris Hilton, you were both naked and you have uploaded pictures. The only people who care at all are your friends, most of whom, contrary to popular belief, you will never see again when you are old, which according to my daughter, is approximately at age 35. If you must tell your friends about your latest indiscretion, create a mailing list.

Name it something like, . Better yet, figure out how to do a mass text message. That is probably the least likely medium to be intercepted by USADA or your parole officer.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Invisible Ones

This is my daughter, Jennifer, when she was in high school, before she grew up, got beautiful and moved to San Francisco. As usual, it seems, the focus is somewhere else. In fact, the rest of the picture, which I cut off, is one of her sisters clowning around. I worry about Jennifer most of all of the girls now. That doesn't necessarily indicate anything. As everyone in my family will quickly tell you, I always have to have something to worry about.

Birth order research (of which, as a statistician, I am quite skeptical) says that middle children tend to be ignored, invisible. Throughout childhood, they cannot accomplish as much as the oldest, and they don't get as much attention as the youngest. I wonder about this. Just today, I was talking to someone who was building a dollhouse for his granddaughter. It reminded me of the dollhouse Ron built for Jenn when she was little, just two or three years old. It was pretty sturdy, too, made of solid pine, two inches thick. One day we put her in her room as punishment, I think for hitting her little sister, Ronda. Jenn threw an absolute fit and when we opened the door she had smashed the dollhouse into nothing but boards.

She was one tough little kid. I can tell a half-dozen more stories like that, times she ran outside in sub-zero weather in nothing but her underwear, and came banging at the door of Ron's workshop in another building, just to see what we were doing. Or there was the time she ran the door of the hangar over her hand (yes, we had a house that came with an aircraft hangar- long story) and refused to cry because she knew she wasn't supposed to be playing with the door opener and she was too stubborn to admit she had been wrong.

So... why is it that Ronda, the little sister she was always picking on, grew up to be on the Olympic team and Jenn hates all sports? Why is Maria stressing about graduate school, writing articles for ESPN, Associated Press and freelance for magazines while Jenn is calmly finishing up her degree in history? How did she go from so focused, so furious to spending all day on Sunday watching old movies?

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of days I envy Jennifer. Frankly, I could not lay down and watch movies all afternoon if someone tied me to the couch. I'd chew through the ropes, then write a program, clean the house or go swimming, or more likely, do all three while talking on my cell phone most of the time. Before my knees gave out, I used to run, sometimes on the beach, and sometimes on a treadmill, which Jenn considered the perfect yuppie exercise since it so resembled a hamster wheel. I am certainly not prepared to argue with her that running until your knees give out and then working around the clock until your heart gives out is a significantly better lifestyle than riding the BART home and watching "All about Eve".

After years and years of working at least two full-time jobs, I am making a major effort to work less than 40 hours a week. Even taking off for my birthday last Wednesday, I still worked 40 hours last week. This week may be the first time I manage it in probably 20 years. I am the middle child of five, so the birth order argument does not hold water with me.

What makes children in the same family so different from one another? What makes people so different as adults than they were as children?

I saw an interview once with one of the Baldwin sisters. The four Baldwin brothers are all actors, and the sister joked that they had t-shirts made up for the family reunion that said Alec, Daniel, Billy, No One, Steven and No One.

Actually, the "no one" they were interviewing was spearheading a fundraiser for breast cancer, so that hardly makes her a non-entity in my book. There's another question for you.

Do the "invisible ones" have better lives than their more notable or notorious siblings?

If you know the answers to any of these questions, please post and let me know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Funniest Judo Donation This Week

One benefit of being Development Chair for the United States Judo Association is that I see the good side of so many people. We receive donations of $25 from individuals or $250 from clubs that are really not wealthy at all, but they give it to help others who cannot afford to attend a camp, clinic or tournament. So many letters I receive begin,

"I trust you to use this where it will do the most good."

Recently, I sent a letter to a donor explaining how we had spent his fairly large donation. He wrote back and said,

"You don't owe me an explanation. I trust you completely."

This all is very humbling and I try very hard not to let people down and deserve people's trust. Sometimes, though, the letters I get are not as serious. Recently, I received one that is my new favorite. Someone with more opinions than facts posted on the Internet that if my daughter, Ronda (shown above back when she really was my LITTLE Pumpkin) won the Olympics it would be due to the National Governing Body for judo. I was tempted to right something obscene back but out of respect for the person who maintains the site, Neil Ohlenkamp, a really great guy, I restrained myself. I did post that it was a lot of nonsense and any success Ronda has is largely due to her sacrifices, those of her family, the generosity and goodness of the southern California judo community in helping her and the Jim Pedros, Senior and Junior.

I received an email from a gentleman who said,

"I was SO mad at what that idiot wrote on the Internet. You and Jimmy coached Ronda. She trains her heart out. And then this organization goes and takes credit for her. I thought it was too bad there was nothing I could do. Then I realized, I could. You and Jim Pedro have to listen to this idiot taking credit for your work. So, here from me is a $250 donation to the USJA in compensation for you and Jim having to put up with that idiot."

I laughed so hard when I got that letter. It made my day. Katrina Davis, the USJA Executive Office manager, recommended to me that I write the gentleman back and tell him that there are a lot of idiots we have to put up with and maybe he would write a bigger check!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Judo, Death and Love

I attended John Ogden's funeral yesterday. John had a judo club in Los Angeles since 1953, years before I was born. When I first met John, in 1982, he was in good health, had a great sense of humor and was a leading figure in judo in southern California. The last few years, he was a frail man in his eighties. We were playing around at a tournament, pretending to fight one another, like judo people always do, and I accidentally scratched his hand. It took weeks and weeks to heal.

So, I began to think about all sorts of things. Why do we do judo? In the final analysis, what are the things that are left when life is over?

Hayward Nishioka's remarks at the funeral gave one clue. He talked about the first time a throw really works, when your opponent's toes are peeled from the mat, he flies through the air and is slammed to the earth, all in a second, but the memory lasts a lifetime. This is what psychologists call "flow", those moments in life and sport where time and effort flows effortlessly are a thing of beauty. As Hayward said, it only takes a second, but the memories last a lifetime.

I saw a young man today at the Nikkei Games, just barely 18. He had a new tattoo and I teased him a bit about what it might say. He pulled his shirt down and I read it,

"Steve Bell. Forever my coach."

What makes judo so different from other sports and activities? Why do people fly from Arizona to their sensei's funeral, or have his name tattooed in memory? Why do people name their children after their favorite coach, student or teammate?

More than anything else I know in modern society, success in judo requires a sustained effort from an individual to give a student a sound basis. Someone needs to correct when your foot is too far forward, is turned in the wrong direction, when your balance is back on your heels instead of distributed on the balls of your feet. Someone needs to look at you as an individual and identify the best techniques for you to learn, the weaknesses in your current repertoire and the strengths on which you can build. That person needs to continue doing that for a year or two to allow you, with hard work, to develop into a decent judo player. To become a great judo player takes many, many years and many people who care enough about that person as an individual to be helping, guiding toward continuous improvement.

From A Wrinkle in Time, to Harry Potter, plenty of books have that sappy ending where the secret weapon the hero has is "love" or "hope" or something like that.

Today, Jenn, my second daughter, was recounting to me all the hardships she had endured in her life, and pointed out that, despite her father's death when she was young, despite having a mother who worked three jobs and was often out of state or even the country, she had grown up to be pretty functional and only a little jaded.

I argued that she had, in fact, had a big advantage in that her entire life she had never had reason to doubt, even once, that her mother and father loved her.

That is one thing that makes judo different. Those of us who are lucky enough to be proficient are the literal embodiment that someone cared about us and believed we were worth their efforts.

John - we will miss you.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Choices We Make

I was going to write something this week about judo, organizations and the impossibility of satisfying all the people all of the time. However, Maria, my oldest daughter, decided to get married this week, so that took precedence.

Let me clarify. She did not just this week decide to get married. Maria is so organized and bossy that I am certain she missed her calling in life and should have been a nun, but it is definitely too late now. As can be seen through photographic evidence in the background of this picture, she was married and hereby loses any credible claim to celibacy. Oh well.

Maria decided months ago that she was going to get married on August 3rd, so there was nothing to be done but go through with it. There was a brief moment when, after reading the Gospel, her sister, Ronda, the blonde one in this picture who had just won the Panamerican Games gold medal in judo, was waved over frantically by the maid of honor. At this point, Jennifer (the not blonde one) and I were speculating that Maria had developed last-minute second thoughts and was telling Ronda to block for her because she was going to make a run for it. Ronda is a pretty awesome athlete, and Maria herself ran track at NYU for four years, so I could just see them going down the aisle with one of them tossing people to the right and left like a very fashionably-dressed linebacker while the other sprinted behind like a Vera Wang quarterback.

Fortunately, it simply turned out that the maid of honor had lost the ring for Eric (soon to be husband) which was shortly found (the ring, not the husband, he is quite tall and was never actually missing) and the wedding completed.

Having married off my first child, this seemed like as good a time as any to reminisce. I have been accused of taking this to a fault. When my husband met my best friend of the past 34 years, Laura asked him,

"So, does she still re-evaluate her life EVERY DAMN DAY?"

Dennis nodded and said, "Yes, pretty much."

I am not much of a poetry fan. In fact, other than everything ever written by Ogden Nash, about the only poem I like is the one by Robert Frost that begins:

A path forked in the woods and I,
Took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I am not sure if it is the one less traveled by, but I know that for me personally, the choice to have children has made all of the difference in my life. It wasn't simply giving birth (although that is anything but simple!)

Throughout my life, my children have been my first priority, even if they did not always feel that way. When I remarried after my husband died, it had to be someone who could accept that my daughters were going to get a good education and whatever support we could give them to pursue their talents. If that meant we didn't have the newest car or could not buy a yacht, oh well.

Life is full of choices and at every fork in the road, I picked the one that meant the best for my children, even if it was not always the first choice for me personally. I gave up some great career opportunities and some other very tempting choices as well.

When I look at them now, all of them, I am sure those were the right choices. They have all grown to be people who make me proud. I am convinced still that children are one of the few things in life of which it can be definitely said that they are more worth than they are trouble.

Congratulations to Maria and Eric and best wishes for their future children.