Saturday, January 5, 2008

Well, That Explains Just About Everything

I started out stupid, but I have been getting smarter one piece at a time.

Years ago, my business partner, Dr. Erich Longie made a comment that cleared up a great deal of confusion for me. I could not understand why people would use political means to get jobs for which they were not within sight of qualified and why other people did their jobs half-ass when, with effort, they were perfectly capable of learning to be competent. I would go out of my way to try to help people do their job better and be frustrated when some of them seemed to show no interest in improving, in excelling.

He said,
"I wanted to be a college president because there were certain things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted ... to give students the chance to begin their college education in an environment where they could succeed and that gave them the skills to go on to succeed again in a four-year university program. ... not every college president was like that. Some want the image of being a college president. They want the respect when they walk into the room, the invitations to the conferences at the finest hotels ..... Whether it is being a general in the Marine Corps or a professor, an elementary school teacher, in every profession, you find two types of people. Some are driven to excel at their work because it satisfies their passion and goals, and there are others who want to be seen as a caring teacher, a strong leader. They want the trappings that go with it and whether they are any good or not doesn't really matter to them. "

It wasn't until I applied his words from years ago that I finally understood judo politics. It dawned on me that NOT everyone wants to be on a board or a committee because they want to "help people" or "give back to judo". They all say that because that is what you are supposed to say. As my friend Lanny Clark pointed out,
"We like to think all the people who are in judo are just like us, but that's just not true. Some people are in judo so they can make themselves feel more important. They want to be called sensei or turn people down for promotions because it makes them feel powerful. Maybe they do a lot of work, referee at tournaments at their own expense, run a judo club, but it is all for their own benefit. They aren't doing this for the same reason we do it and they aren't like us at all."

Now I understood professionals and volunteers, but I was still confused about life. I was president of California Judo, Inc. and frustrated by all the programs and opportunities we offered that athletes would not drive twenty miles to attend.

This time it was Chuck Jefferson (shown teaching) who explained,

I don't think you realize that there are people who don't really care if they win or not. They want to be part of a team, go to senior nationals and see how they do, but it is not important enough to them to put out that extra effort. You seem to think that anyone who goes to senior nationals goes because they want to win it. I can tell you that is just not the case. It was true for you and it's true for me but not for everyone."

Okay, here is the part where as Ogden Nash wrote, it became clear that in the race of life I was off to a slow start. I had always thought that maybe if I opened my own club, said things a different way, taught at more camps or maybe if I had been born male or was Japanese then people would pay attention to the things that I was trying to teach them about training to win. The light bulb went off when I realized that it wasn't they didn't believe me, respect me or understand me. Winning was not the reason they went to national tournaments, it was just a nice perk if it happened.

I am not the only one who has been stunned this way. One day, Jim Pedro, Sr. asked ,
"Why would people not train after they had moved away from home, taken off from school? How can you say they don't want to win the Olympics or at least make the Olympic team? How does that make any sense?"

Finally, I had figured that part out. I told him,
"Saying, 'I am training for the Olympics' makes you sound like something special. If you leave that part out of it, all those people can say is, 'I don't have a job, I am living off of my parents, dropped out of school and have no real goals. Oh, yeah, and my parents are working two jobs or took a second mortgage out on their house so I can travel around the world, get drunk and post drunken pictures of myself on MySpace and Facebook.'"

He said,
"When you say it like that, it makes them sound like real losers, huh? So I guess they need to keep saying they are training for the Olympic team."

The last piece of the puzzle was provided by Ronda and by my good friend, Dr. Jake Flores. I totally could not understand why some people who were doing well in judo would not go the extra mile to become great. These were people who COULD win. They had the God-given talent, the technique, everything. When they practiced, they went all out, they looked great. Maybe they even won the nationals. Yet, when the camps and clinics came around, they only went to about half or less. When outstanding international players were in town, they didn't stalk them, as you would expect, to get the best possible workout. If the visitor came to the person's home club, they would probably show up and go a few rounds with him or her. But they wouldn't go out of their way.

Ronda said,
"They don't want to win so much as to get the recognition. They want people to look up at them in the dojo. They want it to be announced at the end of practice their results. It's not the winning that matters."

Jake concurred,
"I call them the dojo darlings. They are the best technicians, the most successful in the dojo and everyone makes special exceptions for them if they skip practice. No one yells at them to work harder. There aren't other people slamming them into the mat. The really sad thing is, those athletes, and their parents, will skip camps, skip extra practices and avoid going anywhere they are not treated like special to protect that image, and in the end, it's nothing. I mean, compared to winning the Olympics, what is it to be the best, most respected judo player at Such and Such Dojo. But people give up the chance at the one to keep the other."

So, that explains everything. Even among winners, there are those for whom winning is a passion. As a competitor, if you had asked me why did I want to win, you could have just as easily asked me why did I want to breathe. When Ronda wins a major tournament, her feet don't touch the ground for three days, she is walking on a cloud. And then there are those who just want the image of being a winner.

Now I have explained everything. If you would like to show your immense gratitude for having all of life explained, you can send a tax-deductible check made out to the USJA to support our program at the West Coast Training Center where we are trying to produce people who really want to be winners, not just look and sound like one.

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