Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Best Christmas Present Ever

Merry Christmas!
If I was more predictable, normal and maybe just a better person, I would say that the best Christmas present was spending time with my beautiful family.
But that wasn't it, beautiful as they are. I even have photographic evidence of their beauty in the form of the picture of Jenn, at right.

If I was more curmudgeonly (oh, wait, I am!) I would say that my best Christmas present was that Jenn graduated from college so my monthly bills have been cut in half.

That wasn't it, either, nor was it my first grandchild on the way, the many medals Ronda won this year or the fact that I finally finished the first draft of that final report on the Disability Access project that I have been working on the past two weeks. Give up?

On Christmas Eve, my husband walked into the room and said the last thing in the world I expected to come out of his mouth. No, smart-ass, it wasn't,
"I want a divorce."
In fact, as outspoken as I am in life in general, Dennis and I almost never argue, due primarily to the fact that he is one of the most laid-back people on the planet. It's fortunate that we are married because if he lived alone, he could probably be dead for three or four days before anyone noticed. They would just think he was quieter than usual. No, he came into the room where I was working on Christmas Eve and said,
"Would you by any chance want to not work and be a housewife?"
He went on to explain that he had been looking at our expenses now that Jenn has graduated from college and he figured that we could get by on just one income. I laughed and said,
"You're joking, right?"
He shrugged and said he thought as much, but he just thought he would bring it up as an option. No, this is not the blog where I announce I am going to ditch the whole corporate thing and have the cleanest floors in Santa Monica. Still, I have to say I was really touched. I left home 34 years ago when I was fifteen, have been married three times and never for a day in my life have I ever had anyone else support me while I didn't work.

The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was by the idea. Well, right now, I have two more reports to finish and a grant to write, but in February, here is my Christmas present - I am going to take a month off for the first time in my entire life.

Some of you may be skeptical. Specifically, those of you who are aware that I went to the Bahamas three times to try retirement and my record of time without working was 72 hours may wonder about my ability to take a month off work.

Those of you who think that I am going to just quadruple the time I donate to the USJA and other judo organizations, think again. I am not sure what all I am going to do but I am very excited and looking forward to it. Here is my list, for now:
  1. Write articles for publication in scientific journals using the data that has been collected and analyzed on the projects on which I have been principal investigator over the past two years.
  2. Learn more about HTML, CSS and PHP. I already use HTML pretty well but CSS I am far below proficient and PHP I should know more than I do, which is almost nothing.
  3. Listen to all those podcasts I have downloaded on wikis, moodle and other tech topics and never got around to listening to.
  4. Finally watch some of those judo DVDs that I have had around the house forever.
  5. Read a book a day, including books on web design, education and just general books with no socially redeeming value like Agatha Christie or Harry Potter (actually, I have read al the Agatha Christie books but my niece informs me that there have been two Harry Potter books published since the last time I actually had the leisure to read a book for fun).
  6. Update the Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. website and move the disability section to my new company, The Julia Group .
  7. Walk to the beach every day the weather is nice.
  8. Play baseball with Julia (the child, not the company).
  9. Read other people's blogs, not for information on technology or even judo but just for the hell of it.
  10. Get rid of 90% of the stuff in the closets, in the drawers and under the beds which was just shoved there because nobody had the time to figure out what to do with it.
  11. Go riding on the bike path through Venice and back.
  12. Take Julia to San Diego to the museums.
What would YOU do if you had a month off just to do whatever you wanted?
----------------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP -----------------------------------------
Background: When Ronda was 12, the local black belt association (Nanka) started a program for high school and college students, one of those perennial efforts around the country to help our young people move "to the next level". Hayward Nishioka was running the program, and, although Ronda was just a skinny little green belt in the eighth grade and not old enough or a high enough rank, I brought her any way. They let her stay, not because she had shown any amazing promise at that point but rather because I am a rather difficult person to say, "No," to. Let's just leave it at that.

The first day they met in the classroom instead of on the mat. Hayward had all the players watch videotapes of matches and discussed analyzing why one person won and another lost. He talked about gripping, false attacks, strategies when you are ahead or behind, and how those differ at different points in the match. I told him afterward that I thought it was way too much for Ronda at her age, but Hayward urged me to try it anyway. Since Ronda won almost all of her matches, even at that age, and like all kids, she liked to watch herself winning, I didn't see the harm in it. My view on judo for young kids is that anything that makes them enjoy it is good. The other day, Ronda says to me:

I think I really benefited from you and Hayward having me analyze films of myself and my competitors from the very beginning. I see a lot of U.S. players who will lose the same way over and over. Because you drilled it in my head from the very beginning, whenever I get a chance, I watch my matches and try to analyze every mistake I made. I also look at myself and think, if I were the other player, what would I be doing to beat me. I don't see other people doing that. They say things like , "I beat myself," or "My judo is better but he won."
I think that is just stupid and arrogant. Obviously, your judo isn't better because you lost. I know other people are studying me looking for my weaknesses, so I am studying myself and trying to find those weak points first. I want to be like trying to hit a moving target. At the same time, I am trying to see weak points in other people that I can take advantage of.
I admitted that, although I was all in favor of her doing videotape analysis when she was 15 and on, it was Hayward's idea to start so young. She must have been feeling in an unusually sweet and complimentary mood that day because she went on,

"You know, Mom, I think the thing that you did - that we did - right was to always be looking at what I needed to work on and who could help me with what I needed next. Like, you took me to those practices with Hayward. Then, when I was 16, do people really think we shut our eyes, put a finger on the map and came up with Boston? Remember how much we talked about what I needed to improve and how well Pedros was just the right fit for that? I think that is what I learned first from you and later from Hayward, to really analyze my judo. I don't see many other U.S. players doing that and I think that is one reason more of them don't win."

Ronda: Living proof that not all blondes are dumb.
P.S. For those of you who now think you are going to watch videos and become great judo players, I want to throw in the reminder that Ronda trains her ass off, too.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 21, 2007

Working and Getting Old in the Middle of Nowhere

For those of you who read this for information about judo, today, you are bound to be disappointed.

For the past couple of days I haven't exactly been in the middle of nowhere. It's more like the place nowhere ends up when it has been lost for three hours. The really insane part is we spent 20 hours in LAX and on planes to get here.

It wasn't a complete waste, though, I spent twelve hours in the airport grading final exams, answering phone calls and emails on our new Ethics Course and working on the final report on our Disability Access project.

Lately, I have been doing nothing but working. It's been the flip side of those days of the USJA Nationals when I did nothing BUT judo. It's a good balance - sort of. Once the nationals were over, I didn't want to think about judo for a while, and I had all of this work piled up on my desk.

One of the reasons I work so much, I realized, is that I want to live exactly where I live. I hate snow and I hate cold weather. People are always asking me don't I miss seeing the snow at Christmas. No. If I wanted to see the snow - which I don't - we have the weather channel. I work seven days a week so I can afford to live wherever I want. Everything has a price.

On the other hand, I think I reached my Pareto optimum with regard to time and money a long time ago. Pareto was the economist who said you reach a point where no one can be made better off without making someone else worse off. Earlier this year, I decided to switch jobs, and I think the likelihood I will draw the same salary is low, but the likelihood that I will work from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m. is about zero. My New Year's Resolution is to leave my desk the same day I sat down at it, every single day of the year.

On the way to do a judo clinic in Springfield, MO, Julia and I had dinner at Cracker Barrel and just hung out. As Al Franken said, what his child gets from him is not quality time, it is great big bunches of quantity time.

Four hours driving in the dark gives you a lot of time to think and one of the things I thought about was that I am not sure I will be ever ready to get old. Maybe I will think differently some day. When I was young I used to think it would be depressing to be retired from competition, that I would hate my life and that all those people like Dr. Jim Wooley and Professor Hayward Nishioka who appeared to be happy with life when they were no longer competing were just faking it. Today, I am pretty happy with my life, so maybe it is possible I will one day be ready to be old. Not today, though. I have too much to do.

Old women clean. Old men putter. Puttering is how my grandmother described the way men walk around the house muttering to themselves about things that need to be fixed, bought or moved to a different spot. I think the word must be a combination of the word "mutter" and some word that begins with p - maybe penis, because it seems that this tendency is yet another one of those things that only men have.

We are staying at my sister-in-law's house. She moved here over a year ago and the pictures she meant to hang up are still sitting against the wall by the front door. If she had a retired husband around the house, those pictures would have been up the first week. His friend would call and ask him if he wanted to go to the hardware store and buy stuff - which is, I have noted, another predominantly male characteristic - and the husband would say,
"I can't go. I have a lot of stuff to do today."
In my life, here are some examples that fall into the category of
"Stuff I have to do"
  • Final reports to federal agencies which will not pay me until they get them.
  • Driving four hours to do a coaches' clinic that I promised to do months ago.
  • Making sure Julia brushes her teeth.
Things that do not fall under the category of "stuff I have to do".
  • Returning crap that doesn't work to Wal-Mart that you shouldn't have bought in the first place.
  • Dusting anything that is not a body part. If your body parts have dust you probably have issues that need to be addressed.
  • Sewing. Buy a new one. If you have had it long enough to rip, it's probably out of style anyway. Since I have so little idea about style that I am lucky there really is no such thing as fashion police, I better buy a new one just to be on the safe side.
Although I have been at the computer for the past few days virtually non-stop, including on an all-night flight, I am pretty happy with the balance in my life. I think the key factor in getting old is not having enough real "stuff to do".

Now I am so sick of working that I am delighted to be teaching judo again tomorrow. Julia has her own ideas. She mentioned three games we learned from Chuck that she wants to do at the clinic. Next year, I will have less money but more time to get back to writing articles for academic journals, developing a new web application I have had in mind for a long time, organize more opportunities for our youth at the USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center and teach Julia a better tani otoshi. Speaking of Julia, it is past 1 a.m. in Missouri and she is still watching TV, so I am going to quit writing and make her brush her teeth and go to sleep. Now that is definitely "stuff I have to do".

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Do You Want to Make Players or Take Them?

We were discussing the number of people who call me with the exact same line,
"I am offering a program, but I only want elite players. A minimum age of 15 and brown belts. Really, this is for your young black belts. You know, the people who are ready for senior national competition."

More than once, I have had people say to me,
"I am really not interested in that 'Little League Judo' stuff you do. I am more of an elite coach."
Ronda nodded understandingly and said,
"So they don't want to make judo players, they want to take them, is that it?"
That is it exactly and I had never heard it put so well. (Plus, as she pointed out, it rhymes!)

ULTRA-SENSITIVE ADVISORY WARNING: This is one of those posts where I am going to be - well, uh, me - so if you were looking for Strawberry Shortcake, you should quit reading now. If you ignore this warning and get offended, don't say I didn't warn you.

  1. A fifteen-year-old brown belt is not an elite player.

  2. It is not that difficult to win the U.S. Senior Nationals, unless maybe you are in the 70 kg division and not Ronda. In almost every division you have less than 20 players. In some you have less than ten. Winning the senior nationals doesn't give you a pass to have an attitude. Placing third out of six or eight people certainly doesn't.

  3. The above is a fact and I have to state it because when other people do they often get told by some smart-ass, "If it's so easy, why didn't you do it?" I did. Three times. If someone tells you not to do footsweeps standing still, they are right. If you have won 17 national championships and they never won anything, they are still right and making smart-ass comments like that makes you both wrong AND annoying.

  4. Most of our young brown and black belts start out as genuinely good people. They have a little success and then all of the people who are "elite" coaches come out of the woodwork. Next thing you know, that young person is convinced that he or she is the next Olympic champion, based on having placed third out of eleven at the last junior nationals. Because most of them were raised by very good parents, and really are deep down still nice people, they don't actually say, "What do you know? You never won anything?" but they begin to have that attitude, and their judo pretty much stops improving at that point.

Yes, I actually did win some things, but they reason it was a long time ago, so people like me don't know anything either. It's actually amusing to watch some of those 'elite players' with Ronda because she has won a lot, and recently, too. I can actually see them trying to think of a reason why she can't tell them anything because they are 'elite' players.

It would be funny, if it wasn't so sad, and I have seen it through generations of players now. What is the solution? There are a few, really.

  • Focus on developing players and let them have a good time. This is why Chuck Jefferson, shown above, is one of my new favorite people. He was willing to come out to the USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center this weekend and work with a group of kids age ten and under for two hours, and then stay and work with our more advanced players for another three hours. As a very insightful coach from Texas once told me. I firmly believe that for the cream to rise to the top, it must have something to rise from" For kids to stay in judo, they have to enjoy it. Your next Olympic champion is going to come out of those hundreds of "Little League judo players" who are having fun. And the hundreds of kids who aren't going to the Olympics are having fun, which is great in itself.

  • Focus on making our players at ALL levels and ages in better physical condition and better technically Below is a photo of Chuck helping our young players with uchimata. He didn't come in with the attitude that, having won international gold medals he should not be teaching kids ten and twelve years old to have a better uchimata or that he was doing anyone a favor teaching them. He conveyed to everyone in a very businesslike sense that this was important. Okay, we all had a good time playing games and now we are going to get to the serious work of making your judo better. If we did this for all of our young players, they would be better when they were 15-year-old brown belts, not elite, but better.

  • If you are one of those "developing elite" players or if you really are at the international medalist level, be humble and be hungry, two traits I have seen far too little of. In the U.S., you can get recognition for being a national champion at age 11. In most other countries, they don't even have junior nationals for that age group. What if you were the toughest ten-year-old in the entire world? As Ronda said yesterday, "One, no you're not and two, who cares?" Must have been her day for one-liners. If you really want to make it, you should be trying to learn every day. I know that there are suggestions for different techniques or different ways to do a technique that Ronda hears from me or Jim Pedro or other people that she is skeptical about but she tries out anyway. Sometimes she concludes she is right and no, that won't work for her. Sometimes, she finds a new way to win. Right up until the day I won the world championships I was convinced my judo wasn't as good as it should be. Twenty-three years later, I still feel that way. The key is to never be satisfied that you have all the answers, to always be looking for a way to get better. HINT: The way to jump up another level is seldom to keep doing the same things over and over again faster and harder. SECOND HINT: If you weren't working very hard to begin with, ignore that first hint.

  • When you really do get to that developing stage, always go after the one person in the dojo who you think can beat you up There was a great article by Nobel Prize winner James Watson. One piece of advice he gave was, "Never be the smartest person in the room." His reasoning was that, if you can learn from the people around you, you will get better and better. Below, the last picture of Chuck is with Victor Ortiz. I was proud to see all of our players at the training center lined up to randori with Chuck over and over. They wanted to fight the best person in the room, rather than grab someone smaller and less experienced to show off. It's times like that I am reminded that it is all worthwhile and we are moving in the right direction.

Well, I remembered I WAS going to post this time on the discussion Ronda and I had about why most U.S. players don't win, but well, I didn't. Maybe I will do it next time. Or, then again, maybe I won't.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What Makes a Champion?

"When I was 13 and 14 years old, no one but you thought I was going to be anything special. What made you think I would succeed when other people didn't? What was it you were looking at?"

Ronda wanted to know, she said, because she was going to be coaching some day and she wanted to learn all she could about it. Here are a few things I look at:

When a junior player is winning, is it early physical development, or is it technical ability and mental toughness?
Often, the winners in the 13-14 or 15-16 year old divisions are physically men and women, fighting in a kids' division. If I see someone who is still physically a kid but winning anyway, on technique or pure determination, I know that as soon as that kid grows full strength, he or she will be walking through the division like nothing. Ronda was a skinny, scrawny little kid. The picture above is a year before Ronda qualified for the U.S. Junior World Team for the first time, two years before she made the U.S. women's team for the first time at 63 kg. She was a little girl beating women. That was one of the things that set her apart from the other junior national champions. The other girls who were placing in women's divisions were physically already fully grown. I knew that when Ronda put on another 15 pounds of muscle and developed the strength and coordination of an adult that everybody had better run.

Can she take being roughed up in a match?
Judo is a tough, physically demanding, sometimes painful sport. There were other junior players who were bullies and sometimes they would throw Ronda and land on her, grind her into the mat and generally beat her up. One day, as I was watching this at practice, Ronda's sister, Jenn became upset that I was so calm,
"You're a bad mother! How come you don't do anything? Those girls are hurting her!"

I told her that Ronda wouldn't die and that she would get them all back in the end. Ronda learned three things from those practices. First, that she was tough and that a little pain wouldn't kill her. Second, that no one was going to rescue her or feel sorry for her, so she better figure out how to take care of herself out on that mat. Third, she learned not to be a bully, because she saw how it made her feel.

I really want to emphasize here that I am NOT talking about me as an adult throwing around a kid. I've seen that kind of behavior and I think it is pure child abuse. I also don't condone that kind of behavior in children. However, they weren't my children and it wasn't my club. When kids act like that at my club, I pull them aside and tell them it is not acceptable.

As for those other kids, they all ended up quitting. That's another thing I have noticed. People who are bullies, people who win by cheap shots, by physically trying to hurt the other person - they never make it in the long-term. That may work in the kids' divisions and it may even work on the local level, but the higher up you go, the more likely you are to run into someone like I was as a competitor, that won't give up unless you break something on them, and maybe not even then. At that point, you had better have some judo to fall back on and you better be able to take it as well as dish it out.

She never accepted that anyone had a right to beat her.Many people don't expect to win. When they get behind by a score, they are relieved, because, to them, the uncertainty is over. They expected to lose, and they are losing. Whenever Ronda got behind in a match, or couldn't throw a person, she was pissed. One time sticks out in particular. She was 13 or 14 and Kazuo Shinohara came to our club. He must have had sixty pounds on her, plus he had been U.S. Grand Champion and a bunch of other titles. Ronda REFUSED to ever accept losing. She cried all the way home,
"Mom, I tried and tried to throw that guy, and I just couldn't do it - and he was old! I suck at judo! I'll never be any good."

Here is where I think I am different from most people. I did tell her that of course she was going to be great and no she did not suck, she never sucked at judo and never would. I did NOT tell her that she couldn't expect to beat a sixth-degree black belt who had been All-Japan champion. Quite the opposite, I told her,
"You'll get him, beanie. He's old. You're young. He's never going to be any better than he is right now and you get better every day. Just keep working on that left uchimata and o soto gari. His days are numbered."
Now that is one of those lines I repeat all of the time.
"NO ONE has a right to beat you."
It is so totally true, and yet most people don't believe it. I see players go out to fight and they are already convinced they will lose because the other player is Japanese or European or a black belt or from a certain person's club.

Can a person come from behind? Whether she was a green belt in the black belt division, or fighting two divisions up in weight and down by a yuko, Ronda always expected to win the match. If someone scored on her she was furious. When she was young, I pushed her as hard as I thought anyone that age could go, so, during a match, she had all of that behind her. It was as if she was thinking,
"Do you have ANY idea how hard I trained for this tournament? How DARE you throw me for a yuko! "

If you want to know who will win, watch how people practice.
Since Ronda was too young to drive, I was with her at almost every practice. When she was 16, shortly after she had started training at Pedro's, she was back home for the holidays and I took her to a local dojo where there were a couple of players from Japan. She trounced the young woman pretty well, and then I guess her teammate, who was 60 kg decided he had to uphold the honor of their university because he went after Ronda. Remember that line from the song,
"You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won't back down."
It was kind of like that. In the middle of it, Jimmy, Jr. called to find how Ronda was training at home. I told him,
"Well,right now her and some Japanese college guy are playing King of the Mat."
He asked,
"Are you going to step in?"
I looked out at them and said,
"Nope. She's holding her own. I'm just going to let it go and see who wins."
After over ten minutes, the instructor called matte and ordered everyone to change partners. In case you are wondering, and I know you are, I would call it a draw.

Here is another key point for coaching. This may make it sound like I just let people pound on Ronda right and left. That's not true. I never took her anywhere unless I was sure she could hold her own. There have been times when I called her off the mat and told her not to work out with someone because he was too much bigger and I didn't know him - or sometimes because I did know him. There haven't been many of those times and Gene LeBell and I still argue sometimes to this day and Ronda is 20. Gene thinks I worry too much and treat her like a baby if I don't want her to randori with a 200 pound green belt. It is my belief that you are most likely to get injured when there is a big disparity in size and not a lot of skill.

Ronda always went after the toughest player in the room.
One day, when Ronda was 14 or so,Justin Flores was visiting and came to a regional practice in LA,sponsored by Nanka. Afterward, he commented on one of the players and I said,
"He's never going to make it."
Justin asked why I said that, mentioning a number of events the young man had won as a junior. I answered,
"When we were doing matwork and I called 'time!' he practically ran away from you. He was one of the best guys in the room, you try to train with the best people to get the hardest rounds, so you told him, let's go again, and he argued that you had just gone the last round, right?"
Justin nodded. I asked him how often Ronda tried to go with him whenever we came to San Diego to visit them. He said,
"Are you kidding? She's like a little tick! I can't get her off me. Every time I turn around she's in my face wanting to go again. About the only person I work out with more is my brother. Everybody else runs from me at practice."

Here is the last thing I look at:
How do they train when no one is watching? I'm a little person and more than once, I have sat up in a corner of the bleachers or on a pile of mats or stood at the edge of the door out of sight and just watched. There are those people who are going after the hardest people, doing the fastest uchikomis and climbing the ropes when they are being watched. The second they don't see anyone around they want to impress, they are slacking off. When Ronda was at Hayastan Dojo and the only one sitting in a chair was her big sister, doing her biology homework and not paying the slightest attention, she would still train until she was still soaked with sweat when she walked in the door at home 45 minutes after practice.

This is another of those things I say all the time,
"If you want to know who is going to win in the end, don't look at who won the junior national championships this year or who placed third in senior nationals. Go to the extra practices and clinics and see who is there. If you go to ten in a row and you see the same kid, that's the one to bet your money on."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This Internet Thing is Pretty Cool

You can only be late once. After that, you can only be later. So, since I am already late on getting out Growing Judo for November (seeing that it is December), I decided to slack off even further, having wasted my day working at my corporate job. It turns out that this whole Internet idea has caught on and there are some interesting articles on judo,even about people I know.

The Edinburgh News has an article on Maurice Allan, great judo player, replanted Scotsman and the only member of the USJA Coaching Committee who talks like a pirate, even when it is not Talk Like a Pirate Day. (And you thought I made that up.)

The highlight video of Nicholas Gill on the judo podcast convinced me that if I did not already think he was a very nice man, the armbar and choke on this video would have won me over. He also does a disproportionate number of counters. We don't see enough of those. I am going to sit down with my nine-year-old daughter and have her watch it. He uses some of the throws she is just learning so I am hoping it will be a motivating factor for her. Or, I will just have my kid sitting in my lap and watch judo with her. That's good enough in itself.

Ronda and I were discussing judo (what else) today and she had some pretty interesting comments and questions. She is already thinking ahead to when she will be coaching, and she asked me what was it that made me believe she was going to be so successful. Years ago, when she was only 14 or so, I was telling people she was exceptional and no one took me seriously. There are specific traits and habits that set certain people apart so that they are on a whole different level.

We also discussed one of the major errors players who are unsuccessful at the international level make and how some of the teaching she received when she was younger helped her avoid those errors. This is particularly ironic since I remember arguing with Hayward Nishioka that videotape analysis was going to be over her head, that she was only 12 years old and Hayward saying,
"Just trust me."

I have to get back to work, so next time I will talk about what I saw in Ronda that I didn't see in others and what she learned young that other people didn't.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Our rescuers have arrived and they are us!

"We have met the enemy and he is us."
I remember when that line was first published, in a Pogo comic, as the final statement in a not very interesting drawn out saga in a not very interesting Sunday morning comic strip. Still, it was so profound that by that evening, everyone from talk-show hosts to my father were quoting it.

On the flip side, I have had an epiphany lately. For years, people in judo have been waiting for someone to rescue us. If we only had a major corporate sponsor give us millions of dollars, if we could only get several hundred thousand dollars of that money the government is giving away, if we could only be the subject of a major motion picture, that would rescue our sport and we would have hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people competing in judo. With those millions of people, we would win fourteen Olympic gold medals - maybe we would win twenty, because with that influx of ten million new judo players from the U.S. there would need to be new weight divisions added and ... and...

Fade to reality ....

Corporations sponsor activities which are already done by millions of people, to get themselves more publicity. Federal grants go to programs that can demonstrate need, capacity, a good evaluation plan, qualified personnel. When you get the money, you have to spend it on salaries, facilities. Take it from someone who does this for a living- you would be truly amazed how fast you can burn through a million dollars. If you have a half-dozen employees for three years, you have pretty much spent it all.

Motion picture? When is the last time you watched a movie on, say Double-Dutch jumprope competitions or a cheer-leading squad and said to yourself, "Wow! I can't wait to join that."

Judo is growing in this country in both quality and quantity. It is growing because we have people like Greg Fujimoto organizing host families from Nanka Yudanshakai for a Japanese high school team to visit and Gary Goltz from the USJA offering his club so that 90 judo players can attend a clinic on Saturday morning (shown above). You have the USJA Development fund, thanks to wonderfully generous donors, sponsoring Pedro Dias from Portugal to give clinics for Nanka and USJA kids at Tenri Dojo in East L.A. on that same afternoon. You have Frank Sanchez that evening opening his home and throwing an all-out party for all of the Guerreros Judo Club judo players and their families. The morning after, kids from age five through twenty-five showed up for three hours of extra training at the USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center.

We have coaches who are working everywhere to learn more and teach more. The recent National Coaches Clinic with Jim Pedro, Sr. Hayward Nishioka, Jim Bregman and moi was attended by 65 coaches. Of these, five were recognized for their outstanding teaching and technical ability and certified to teach coach education workshops. (Congratulations to Mike Noriega, Gerry Lafon, Dan Alef, Neil Ohlenkamp and Paul Nogaki.) The fact that we have volunteers from throughout the country attending these events at their own expense speaks volumes about what we are all doing to grow judo. If we had a million dollars, it would not cover the valuable professional time these individuals donate. On December 22, I will be in Springfield, MO doing another coach certification workshop and I am sure I will meet just as many terrific people in the Midwest.

I have been called some very creative names, as well as some more common ones casting aspersions on my mother, had people say truly unkind things about my children, been accused of everything from assault to extramarital affairs... and that's not mentioning the money and hours I have poured into this sport, the arthritis from old injuries and training through pain. Those people who say, "No pain, no gain," are correct but they seem to under-emphasize the fact that the pain part is well, uh, painful. Yes, there are times I thought it really wasn't worth it. After all, we are really talking about involving more children, adults and families into a relatively minor sport. As usual, Ronda fought her heart out in Japan and I am very proud of her. The Kano Cup is the toughest tournament in the world and she earned a silver medal despite injury, despite everything. On the other hand, she won a tournament almost no has heard of in a sport almost nobody knows what is. Why even bother? A good answer to that question can be found in Lord of the Rings

Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

What we are fighting for in the USJA and all our associated activities with Nanka, with supporting clubs like Southside Dojo and Guerreros, with supporting organizations like USJF, is to have a sport be more accessible to more people at a higher quality. What we are fighting against is everyone who has darker motives, who wants to be a coach for access to children for sexual abuse at the most extreme end. We are also fighting against those who want to teach to make other people feel smaller so they themselves can feel more important, against those who want to be involved in organizations so they can be promoted to judo ranks that are wildly out of proportion to their knowledge, giving a false portrait to the world of what judo is and what the people who excel at it are really like.

A retired judo player said proudly,
"You may have never heard of me, but I was once one of the best in the world at something worth being the best at."

That our children twenty years from now may say those same words, is one of the many things worth fighting for. I think that every day as I look down (or, in some cases up, those teenagers are getting big!) at the faces of the people learning judo around the country.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Waiting for the phone call

It is 9 a.m. in Tokyo,so my next-to-youngest child should start competing about now. I don't know how mothers who don't work can deal with the stress. At least I have work to take my mind off it a bit. I am writing an article on Autism right now which drives home the fact that whether Ronda wins or loses I won the lottery big time having four healthy kids. Still, I worry.

Anxiety is a result of uncertainty regarding a possible negative outcome. There are people who know they are not going to win this tournament unless a team of crazed Ninjas drops from the roof of the Tokyo Dome and kills everyone else in their division. These people aren't nervous because they know they are going to lose. Sometimes, you are so far above the competition that you know you are going to win, and so you aren't anxious then, either.

Last week at the USJA Winter Nationals, I wasn't too nervous. While Ronda had never fought Patricia before, I had seen them both compete and I was pretty certain Ronda would win. I must admit, though, that Patricia gave us a scare at the very beginning of the match when she almost countered Ronda. That is one of the attractions of judo, I think. Anything can happen, no matter how good you are, you can make a mistake, and a person who isn't afraid of you can take advantage of that mistake. Still, the tournament was double elimination and I was pretty certain Ronda wouldn't make two in the same day.

Today, at the Kano Cup, there is no one who knows he or she is going to win. In every event, this is how it is at the top of the world. The five best people are so close that any one of them can take it on any given day. When you look at Olympic records in swimming or track, the differences are often in seconds or tenths of seconds.

When she wins, she calls home right away, often from the side of the mat, borrowing someone's cell phone. When she loses, we don't hear from her for a week.

I worry enough that whenever she goes to another country I have the time in that country on my iPhone, so I know when it is past time she should have won and called. I try not to start worrying until then.

Why do I worry? Because no matter how big and strong she gets, she is still my baby. This is something important to her. She pours her heart into it and it hurts her to lose. So, Julia came home from school, we lit a candle together and said prayers.

Now I am going to go back to writing my article on Autism and waiting for the phone to ring.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

USJA Winter Nationals: Judo by the Numbers

  • Six countries represented.

  • Over 500 competitors.

  • 65 coaches and coaches-in-training attending 16 hours of on-the-mat, classroom and practicum education

  • Four mat areas of clinic taught by clinicians aged 16 to 73, from three countries.

After four days of clinics and competition, a week of visitors from around the globe where that leaves me personally is with 20+ papers to grade, 181 unanswered email messages and a voice mailbox that is full.

It was all worth it, though. The photo above, of Crystal Butts showing how left harai goshi should be done, was one of many, many amazing displays of judo during the tournament. This blog is part of my behind-schedule-life at the moment. Over the next few days, I will post more about the tournament and maybe even in an organized fashion- as we learned from Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - anything is possible.

One of the highlights of the tournament for me was watching the Japan versus U.S. Team match. I know that some were expecting it to be an all-out wipeout of the U.S. in the first thirty seconds of every round. After all, this was the #5 high school team in Japan versus some guys from L.A. Aaron Kunihiro tied the first match. The third match, Ross Nakamura threw his opponent for a yuko and was ahead until getting thrown in the last four seconds. The next match, Gary Zakarian threw his opponent for ippon. In the last match of the team competition, Kai Ishisaka also threw his opponent for ippon. The Taisei High School team was very good and they did end up winning the team competition. However, the really important point to me is that in similar matches I have seen, all of the American players went out expecting to lose to the Japanese. In this case, they did not. Some of them went out with every intention of winning.

A second highlight of the tournament was seeing the young women and girls line up to fight Kayla Harrison and Ronda. In other tournaments, players would cut weight for hours to keepfrom fighting someone who is a top competitor. I have always noticed this difference about USJA clubs and tournaments, and it is a GOOD difference. More than others, they emphasize not being afraid to try over results. Rather than hearing people say,
Oh,no, I have to fight Ronda

There were several players I overheard say,
I get to fight Kayla and Ronda

Kayla and Ronda each took a line-up of four players in a row. The youngest was Sarah Crosby, a 13-year-old who fights 63 kg. She didn't win, but she didn't give up, either. As I told Sarah's coach, the first step is not being afraid to go out and take on players like Ronda. After you have done it a few times and realize you didn't die, you start to think you can beat them. Thinking you can beat them is the second step. Crystal certainly thought she could beat Kayla Harrison. She almost did, too. Four minutes into the match, Kayla went for sumi gaeshi and Crystal went for ko soto gari. The match was called for Crystal but then they changed the ippon for Kayla. The point, though, as Kayla said afterward with real respect,
"That girl is so young and she isn't afraid of anything."
Speaking of Ronda (even though we weren't) she had some beautiful throws in the tournament. I'll see if I can find some pictures and post them.

Ronda is in Japan right now at the Kano Cup. So, if you are Catholic, say prayers and light a candle for her. If you are atheist, bite the head off a chicken and mutter or whatever it is that atheists do instead of pray.