Friday, September 28, 2007

Factors Preventing Me from Becoming a Serial Killer

"Don't give it any more energy than it deserves,"

was the sage advice from my fellow coach, Gary Butts. My moods tend to range from irritated to offended to morally outraged but this morning I was livid. Some days, being a serial killer seems like a good career path. The gene pool could be improved by the elimination of certain characteristics. Top of the list is the sort of butter-wouldn't-melt-in-your-mouth lying,

"I swear I never would have run over your puppy with my Hummer if I'd had any idea that would offend you."

The list is long and obsessing on it is a sure path to either taking a machine gun to co-workers or stress-induced cardiac arrest. It isn't easy to keep from becoming either a corpse or a serial killer. Still, while Sartre may be correct that "Hell is other people," I have found it equally true that other people are our saving grace.

People like Gary Butts, a former Marine Corps wrestling champion and judo coach, who every Saturday puts in six hours on the judo mat, who works with me in setting a schedule and has my back every step of the way. More people like Gary Goltz, Chief Operating Officer of the United States Judo Association who, incredibly, works for free, and has never once answered my numerous phone calls that begin,
"I need your help."

with anything but

"Tell me what I can do."

There are people like Bruce Toups, James Lally, the Bransons, and others who wish to remain anonymous, who have given substantial donations. When I wrote a letter to one donor detailing where we had used his contribution, he wrote back,

"You don't need to ever give me an explanation, I trust you implicitly."

There are the athletes who show up at practice every Saturday, some of them having driven for two hours to get La Puente. There are the kids who are impossibly young to be doing five hours of practice in a day but who do it anyway. These are the reasons I am up past midnight poring over DVDs of international tournaments, reading books on coaching and writing training plans, looking for any edge that might help them win.

So, yes, while there are some people that make me think that ax-murderer might be a good next career move, fortunately for both me and the criminal justice system, there are far more folks who in their daily actions remind me that, when God created the human race, he knew what he was doing.

----------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ----------------------------------
Do your matwork faster. Most people are unsuccessful not because they don't know any matwork but because they don't know it well enough to do it fast enough before the referee calls "Matte". Your matwork needs to be automatic. Pick four moves and practice them every day. Try to get to the level of 50 per minute. If you can only do 20 per minute when you start, push yourself to get 21 or 25 per minute. Do this every day until it is instinct for you. The second a person turtles up you should automatically do the technique you practiced from there.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Some people don’t like me. Yes, I know, I find it hard to believe myself, soul of sweetness and light that I am. The funny thing is, it isn’t that they don’t like me for the reasons you might expect, like that I said to them during one practice,

“If you don’t start doing those throws faster than that I am going to skin you alive and tack your hide up on that wall as a warning to other people not to waste my time.”

That, I could understand.
No, some people don’t like me because they think I focus too much on competition. They think I should not mention in a magazine like Growing Judo that Ronda won a silver medal at the world championships last week. They say it has nothing to do with grass roots judo. I completely disagree. It is good for young girls to have someone to look up to who is successful in her sport, who is a strong enough physically and emotionally to win. When I was a twelve-year-old girl at the Alton YMCA (you can’t get much more grass roots than that!) I would read about people like Diane Pierce from Minnesota, winning the U.S. Open and British Open and think, “Some day, I want to be just like her.”

We are just starting a clinic program with some of our USJA members who have been on World and Olympic teams. The purpose is to keep more teenage players in the sport. Every club has a problem retaining high school age students. As much as I hate to admit this, people my age are not considered very cool. (I am sure the word we’re not isn’t even “cool” any more, it is “phat” or “rad” or who knows what.) We will be having clinics with players like Ronda, like Asma Sharif who is not only a world team member but also graduated from UCLA with a degree in biochemistry and now works at Harvard University. Talk about a role model for your girls! Asma, Ronda, Rick Hawn and others will be doing clinics in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Texas, California, Mississippi and Indiana, for a start. We have been very careful in selecting our clinicians based not only on their competition experience but their teaching ability and rapport with young judo players.

The new USJA/ USJF West Coast Judo Training Center just opened, made possible through gracious donations from local judo supporters such as Jesse Jones , Frank Sanchez, Gerald Uyeno, Jai Hall, James Lally and many others. We hope this will be a model for similar programs throughout the country. This center is in response to requests from our local clubs who want additional training for their players so that the more dedicated, more advanced players in their clubs don’t need to move away from home to get the extra workouts they need. These training sessions are open to anyone 13 and over.

Some people send nasty emails to one another about me every time something good happens, like setting up a new training center or starting clinics with Olympic athletes. They say,

"All she cares about is competition. She doesn't care about grass roots clubs like us. She shouldn't be in a grass roots organization like the USJA."

I think what they mean is, "It should be all about me."

All of those people who say how much they care about their students. Do they? Do they really? Then why do they want to stifle their dreams before they even begin? Why do they want to make their children, their teens think small? Maybe you live in a small town in Arkansas. Maybe you live in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin like Olympic silver medalist, Lynn Roethke. Maybe you work out at a judo club for children in a community center, like Ronda did for years. Maybe you are at a club in a YMCA in southern Illinois, like I was. Who says you can't win a world championships, an Olympic medal? How DARE people assume for children that they will never accomplish something great. Yes I DO think it is a wonderful experience for people to represent their country, to win a gold medal, to watch the American flag go up and hear the Star-bangled Banner play. I think it is possible to develop strong communities, good people and great athletes, all at the same time. If you really cared about those children, you would want them to be part of something great.

I believe in shooting for the stars. Even if you miss, you will land some place high. I won't encourage anyone to be less than they could so someone else can feel greater than they really are.

With the help of many people generous with their time, money and talents, I am working on building something great. If people don't love me, well... I remember reading a quote from a woman executive twenty years ago when there were almost no women in management. She said,

"Men at work try to tell me how much they appreciate what I do instead of give me resources, the people I need to get the job done. They have me mistaken for their wives and mothers. I want love from my family. From the people I work with I want respect, cooperation and support for a common goal."

As for me, I want to see judo in America become something great. As for anyone who that threatens because it makes them feel less, who is afraid they cannot accomplish it, who is willing to hold back the children they teach so they themselves can feel more important, if they don't like me - good! That is kind of like being called ugly by a toad. And I remain unrepentant!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Judo Gods Love Me

This week, the judo gods love me. First, Ronda wins a silver medal in the World Championships in Brazil. Less than twenty-four hours later, the opening day of the USJA/ USJF West Coast Judo Training Center goes off without a hitch.

I am only slightly less Catholic than the pope, the major difference being that the pope goes to mass more often than me. Every time Ronda goes away, Julia and I go down to St. Anne's Shrine and light candles for her. We always say prayers and light a candle in her room the day she competes. It is a family tradition that goes back over thirty years to when my grandmother did the same for me when I was competing.

On Friday, I checked the judoinfo site in the morning, the best judo site on the planet, and it showed she had won over Oka,the Japanese player who was the #3 ranked player in the world going into the tournament, so the day started off well. On my way in to a meeting at UC Riverside, 70 miles from home, I was chatting with a woman who said,

"My son just walked by and told me that Ronda is doing well. It shows on the website she just beat the Italian and she has the Brazilian to go into the semi-finals."

After she hung up, I called Jim Pedro, Sr. and asked him if he could leave me a message on my cell phone how Ronda was doing, since I was going into a meeting for the next few hours and wouldn't be able to check. When I pulled into the parking lot, I just could not wait, though, so I pulled up a site in Brazil on my iPhone. I was stunned. I don't read Portuguese very well. Actually, not at all, but it is pretty similar to Spanish, which I do read and I was pretty sure it said that both of the Brazilians had advanced to the next round, which would mean Ronda had lost.

Ronda always makes fun of me because I wear a St. Jude medal, have a statue of St. Jude on my desk and pray to St. Jude, who is the patron saint of lost causes. She says,
"Come on, can't you find a tougher saint for me? Do you really think I am a lost cause?"

I tell her that everyone feels like a lost cause sometimes, that I certainly have felt at times like judo in America is a lost cause and that she just might be the answer to some people's prayers. She remains unconvinced.

Well, not much could be more of a lost cause than praying someone would win when it was already reported that they had lost, but I sat in my car and said a prayer anyway and then went into my meeting with a heavy heart, feeling very sorry for my little girl because I knew how sad she would be. Still, my grandmother had always said that no matter what, you should always have faith and somehow God finds a way.

About an hour into the meeting, the phone rang and Jim Pedro's name popped up on the caller ID. I went in the hall to talk, thinking he might tell me Ronda was done or in the repechage and he said,

"Ronda won. She pinned the Brazilian and she's in the semi-finals against Bosch!"

I couldn't believe it, not that she had won but that she had won after I had read (or so I thought) that she had lost.

When I finally got home, I fell sound asleep, partly because I had been up working until 2 a.m. for the report for the meeting that day, and partly because I was just nerve-wracked. I really prefer the tournaments in Europe where by the time I wake up, it is over and I don't have to chew my fingernails down to the knuckle all day. I missed the phone when it rang the first time and when I called Jimmy back he yelled,

"You were ASLEEP? How can you sleep? I'd stay up all night for this and she isn't even my kid! Your daughter is in the finals! She threw Edith Bosch for ippon! Do you know how great that is? It makes it all worth it, all the lip she gave me and all the times I had to yell at her to work on her throws and all those hours of gripping drills, and all the crying she does in the dojo, not to mention getting her to clean her room!"

Well, you probably know by now the rest of the story. Ronda lost by a yuko in the finals. She called home crying. I wished there was something that I could have said to make it all better. I just told her that I loved her and that it was probably all for the best. I do believe that, too. I remember all of the times that I lost and everyone of them made me more determined. For the next year, remembering that last match in Rio will get Ronda to go one more round at those European training camps, to get up for the 6 a.m. run in the winter in Boston, to spend two hours in the corner of the dojo working on something new, when no one else is around, trying to find that key to winning it all.

She will find it. After I placed fifth in a tournament in France, I called home crying, too. My grandmother said, with absolute faith,

"It will work out in the end. You will win."

When I asked her how she could be so sure, she answered simply,

"Mija, God always knows what he's doing, even when you don't."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Future Plans and Other Fictions

When I was young, I not only had a five-year plan, I even had life goals. What do you do when you have met your life goals by the time you are nineteen? Die? I decided not to die and got married instead. Depending on your own marital experiences, you might consider that a fate worse than death.

After getting divorced and finding myself still not dead, I set some new life goals. My first ones had been to get a college degree and win the U.S. Open. I decided that I needed BIGGER goals, that was my problem. My new goals were to move quickly up the corporate ladder and win the world championships. After a few promotions in fewer years and a shiny gold medal, still in my twenties, I was beginning to realize that life was perhaps going to be longer than I had originally anticipated.

The next time, I decided to set even bigger goals, to get a Ph.D., to publish articles in scientific journals, to become a tenured professor, and, after my second husband died, to do the best I could in raising my girls on my own.

Then there came a new husband and new goals, like getting a post-doctoral research fellowship, coaching, founding a company. Are we detecting a trend here, yet? By the time I was almost 50, it dawned on me that my daughter, Jenn, was right. I WAS a lot like a hamster running in its wheel. (I know the picture above is a guinea pig and not a hamster, but I don't have a hamster and the guinea pig was none too pleased to have her picture taken, so be appreciative.)

Now I have weekly goals, or maybe daily ones. My goal for tomorrow is to sleep late. After that, I am going to get banners made for the new West Coast Judo Training Center opening on Saturday, do as much as I can on finishing our new website section on Adults, Aging and Disability, read a book on research methods and watch some judo videos. The last time I used our DVD player was in 2004 when someone sent me a DVD of Ronda in the Titan Games, so I guess I am about due. My goal for Wednesday is to finish anything that I don't get done tomorrow.

Judo Tip: Learn a half-nelson, for crying out loud, and if you already know it, use it! I saw only two people in the tournament on Sunday use this basic turnover. One of them is a high school girl that wrestles and the other is a high school girl whose father was a very successful wrestler. The odd thing is, I know plenty of men who wrestled in high school and won huge numbers of matches, yet they seem to forget all of the matwork they know when they get on the judo mat.

I know tons of people in judo who don't even know what a half-nelson is. You can find an explanation here or in any basic wrestling film or book.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Great Advice from a Great Scientist

When I was in the eighth grade, I read the book, The Double Helix, by James Watson, about the discovery of the structure of DNA. No doubt that is an odd choice of books for a twelve-year-old, but I would have been described by even the kindest observer as an exceedingly odd child.

One of the things I loved about his book was that there was no bullshit about him. There was none of this,
"Aw shucks, we got lucky and we never expected this to happen."

The thing that irritates me so much about false modesty is that it is just that - false. None of that for Watson (or Francis Crick, either, from the stories told about him in the book).

Watson and Crick set out to win the Nobel Prize and they did it. There is no question that they were great scientists, brilliant men who were exceptionally hard-working. They also knew their own value, believed they could achieve great things and had a passion for their field.

As for me, I drifted away from biology and chemistry after high school, attracted by other interests. Still, when reading Watson’s article in the latest issue of Technology Review, I was once again impressed by his insight into excellence not just in science but in the world. So much of his advice would apply to a technology company – or to an athlete. These included:

1. Choose an objective apparently ahead of its time.
Solving the mystery of DNA seemed far ahead of its time, but Watson believed it was possible in the near future. Actually, he was the one who had good reasons for his belief. Those scientists who said it couldn’t be done were basing it on the fact that everyone else thought so.

Our USJA/ USJF West Coast Judo Training Center opens on September 15. So many people said it couldn’t be done because the two judo organizations would never work together, coaches would never encourage athletes to train at other facilities, no one would ever accept a woman as a head coach, even if she was a world champion. Turns out they were all wrong. People are better than you think, sometimes. For all of the evil, petty, self-centered acts in the world, you’ll find twice as many instances where people donate money, teach children in their spare time, support one another's efforts for no personal gain simply because it is the right thing to do.

2. Never be the brightest person in the room. Watson asserts that it is better to be the least accomplished in a super chemistry department than a superstar in mediocre department. Speaking of another scientist, Watson said,

"He wanted adoration, not criticism."

In both judo and business, I have met so many people like that. When someone else in an organization begins to shine, to outdo them, they try to force him (or her) to run for the hills. Recently, an obviously intelligent, very kind woman with a doctorate advised me to pretend that I did not know how to operate the equipment in a classroom. When I objected that I knew perfectly well how to use a computer and a great deal more, she nodded and said,

"Of course, dear, but you'll find the students will like you better if you seem just a little bit pathetic. Then they won't resent you for being so smart. Trust me, it works."

I do trust her that it works. I just don't understand why I would care about the opinion of someone who would like me better if I was dumber. Many of the mentors I have had over the years have passed away and others I have just passed up, as my knowledge in the field increases and as they ease into retirement. The first time one of my former mentors called and asked me for advice on a technical question, I was gratified, but stunned. Now, it happens frequently. I feel good about having accomplished a certain competence, but a little sad and lonely at the same time. Of course everyone can learn and everyone has something to teach. Still, Watson is so right. It's better not to be the smartest person in the room.

3. Stay in close contact with your intellectual competitors.
This is so true! Whether it is science or business or judo, you should never be afraid of your competition and you should definitely never avoid them. Your competitors will make your mistakes apparent. They will keep you honest.

Judo tip #3. This is not a technical tip but it is far more important. Face down your fears. If you are not nervous before a competition you are probably a crustacean and not really human at all. See if you can have your DNA checked. The only way to success is through, that is you have to go right through your fears by competing every chance you get and with the best people you can find. Eve Aronoff won the bronze medal in the 1982 World Championships. She and I fought each other probably half a dozen times a year, and we lived four thousand miles apart. We sought each other out. Two years later, I won the world championships. Four years after that, when I was retired, Eve went to the Olympics. Someone asked me once:

"If there are no points for this tournament toward the Olympic Trials or junior world team or Panamerican team, what do I get for competing in it?"

I was stunned into silence for a moment and then I finally hissed at the person,

"You get better! That's what you get, you get better!"

Now that I am vice-president of the national organization, a former state president and chair of development for the USJA, I did not end that last sentence with,

"You get better, you dumb %^&! "

Are you not impressed with how mature I have become?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Midlife Crisis is Better than It Sounds

The Dakota believe that how you act in the first year after a loved one's death is how you may act for the rest of your life. If a belief survives for thousands of years, it is probably not on just pure luck.

Yesterday, my niece asked me,

"Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? You're cutting back your work hours. After 17 years working with the same partner, you're starting your own company. Now you are leaving your judo club where you have been for eight years, going to a different club to teach."

She may be right. My reaction when Ron died was to work three jobs, plus teach judo at the college twice a week and run practices at the local judo club. Work was my answer to everything. I paid off the medical bills, funeral bill, unpaid taxes, two mortgages and saved money for the girls' college. If I needed a break from my kids' constant squabbling, I went to the office and worked. If I needed more money, I went to the office and worked. If I was bored or lonesome, I went to the office and worked. Are we detecting a pattern here yet? I even met my husband on the Internet and met him in person for the first time when I was in Washington reviewing grants for - you guessed it - work.

Now, three of the girls have jobs, the medical bills, funeral bills and taxes were paid long ago. Still, I have been working 80-hour weeks, spending more time in airports than any human being should have to endure, waking up in North Dakota one week and in Georgia the next. In the newspaper recently, I read a comment from someone else who decided to retire, he said,

"I woke up in the morning and for a minute was irritated the hotel had forgotten my wake-up call. Then, it hit me - I was home in my own bed."

It was 5:30 a.m., about 40 below zero, in Devils Lake, North Dakota this January when it hit me. I didn't want to do this any more. I was done. There may be something to this belief about staying on the path you have chosen after a loved one dies. Otherwise,only an abnormally slow person would take 17 years to come to the logical conclusion that being in an airport, before dawn, in North Dakota in the middle of winter was about as far as one could get from ideal working conditions. This would be particularly true if one happened to have a perfectly good home in Santa Monica where it has not hit 40 below since the last ice age. I called my partner and told him that I was done. After this year, I was going to retire from the company and do something else. When he asked me what, I told him truthfully that I didn't know, but whatever it was would definitely involve less snow and fewer airports.

Having kept to my word and just returned from my last business trip three weeks ago, I have found that -- life is better. I am working just as many hours, but from my desk at home, and in graduate schools less than ten miles from my house. The result is more time on work I enjoy and less time in security lines.

Last week, it became apparent to me that the philosophy in our judo club had just diverged too much from mine. I really think the focus for small children is on learning technique, having fun, making friends and getting exercise. I don't think winning local tournaments or even national tournaments is important for kids under 13. In fact, I don't think it is important for anyone unless it is what they want to do, not what someone else wants for them. I really don't think learning 'the way we did back in the day' is necessarily a good thing. A lot of those old ideas, like not using crash pads, never taking a water break - well, I like the way Billy Joel put it,

"The good old days weren't always good and tomorrow aint as bad as it seems."

In fact, tomorrow seems quite good. For a while, I will be working out on Saturdays, instead of having two nights after work that I am teaching. I'll have more days when I can go to the beach with Julia or meet with clients and not have to rush back to teach. I am going to be working with two new programs, a class for girls at Hayastan, and a USJA/USJF West Coast Judo Training Center. Tom Peters said that it is always easier to build a great new organization than turn a mediocre organization into a great one. I believe that is true.

A crisis literally means a point when a decision is made which determines one outcome or another. Simply, we create our future by the choices we make. As I have gotten older, there are more demands on my time and I have had to make choices about where I choose to spend it. One way to look at this is as a negative, stressful time, but, after years of experience, I look at these points as an opportunity to make life better.
Judo tip #2: Watch videos of top players in action, the world championships, the Olympics. Observe where the player's feet are when she is throwing, her movement, whether it is fast or slow, in what direction. I have heard people say that uchikomi is a poor way to practice because players in competition do not move the same way as with uchikomi. In fact, though, when I watched many, many ippon throws with harai goshi, which I was teaching this week, it looked exactly like the way I am trying to get my students to move in moving uchikomi. Don't let someone else tell you how a throw looks in competition. Watch and decide for yourself. Video tapes from Fighting Films and others are great for this, and so is youtube.