Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to Win and Why

Why to win

It was a nice weekend, beginning with my little one winning the Golden State Open. Today, I was throwing away trophies and came across the trophy from when Ronda won the Golden State Open in 1998, exactly ten years earlier. Somewhere else in the pandemonium in the hallway was a 2002 Golden State Open first place trophy and another from 2005. Years ago, Ronda threw away all of her second and third place trophies, but now even with just the first place awards, they have started to spill out of the closets again. Then, Julia is starting to come into her own and winning on top of that. For a while, I kept all of the international ones and all of her special awards, like Athlete of the Year from various organizations. Finally, those have started to go, too.
"Mom, did I win this one or did Ronda?"
"If we can't remember who won it, it can't be very special. Throw that in the box that goes into the dumpster."

I remember a time when I would feel so bad for my little kid (whichever one it was) that went home without a medal or a trophy. Jennifer, who told me as early as eight years old,
"I hate all sports and you will never make me like them,"

almost never came home with a medal. It wasn't that she had no athletic talent. I am sure if she'd had the interest, she could have been on the Olympic team with Ronda.

So, was I a terrible parent to make Jenn play soccer, basketball, judo and join the swim team? I kept looking for a sport she would like and never found one.

Am I a terrible parent that I routinely fill the dumpster with my other kids' medals and trophies, telling them, "This is not a warehouse."

What my kids learned from competition:

  1. You don't always get what you want.

  2. You can do things you thought were too difficult for you.

  3. You will improve in anything that you work at.

  4. Winning feels good.

  5. Losing sucks. (Well, it does.)

  6. If you lose, you can train harder and try again.

  7. You were born into the wrong family if you are looking for someone to accept excuses for not getting what you want out of life.

  8. If you really don't enjoy doing something, you can quit and find something else you like better. (Ronda quit swimming. Somehow, that did not ruin her Olympic chances. Jenn eventually quit all sports, moved out at 19, graduated from college at 21 and is living in San Francisco. Despite her irrational choice of location, she is reportedly not gay and has an alleged boyfriend to prove it. If she brings him to Thanksgiving dinner, we will acknowledge that he exists.)

  9. You'll be a whole lot better off physically if you exercise. (Jenn may not compete in any sports but she does walk a lot and get a lot of exercise. Just look at her - is she beautiful or what?)

  10. Win or lose, tomorrow, your family will still love you, it will be another beautiful sunny day in paradise and it will still be someone's turn to change the guinea pig cages.

How to win

Over the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to watch the Olympics and then the Golden State Open, a tournament that ranges from five-year-olds to senior E-level divisions. It provided a good contrast for what distinguishes those who win at the international level from the average judo player.

Winning starts with technique.
Yes, technique is not everything but it is one of those necessary-but-not-sufficient conditions. I have yelled at Julia about a thousand times to get her left foot back more when doing harai goshi and I will yell at her a thousand more times, I am sure. I remember when Ronda was the same age telling her over and over, "Your shoulders always go forward. When you do o soto gari or uchimata, your shoulders always go forward."
Hint: With little kids, and maybe even adults, I have always found it much preferable to emphasize what they SHOULD be doing, e.g., put your left foot back, put your shoulders forward, instead of "Don't have your left foot in front" or "Don't lean backward."

Not surprisingly, even at the senior level, the technique at the Golden State wasn't as good as the Olympics, and the further you went from the senior black belt divisions, the worse the technique. Some of the younger kids had only one or two throws they tried and those not very well.

At the training center, I use the analogy from gymnastics a lot about "sticking" a landing, where the gymnast lands smack on both feet and stops, instead of stumbling and taking two steps after the landing, or landing and almost falling over, etc. In judo, we need to "stick" our techniques.

There isn't an easy way to get good technique. You need to practice it over and over, not just throws on the crash pad but throws on the mat, throws while you are moving in every direction.

People who win aren't snobbish about how.
I had good technique. It was matwork technique which made a lot of people look down their noses at me. Yet, when I would do that roll-over choke that Gary Butts calls the Rousey Roll, I whipped over, landed in a pin and choke at the same time, and then switched to an over hook for a tighter pin, and I did it in a matter of seconds. As long as the referee's hand went in my direction at the end of the match, I was cool with the fact that I didn't throw for more than a koka. Masae Ueno, who won the 70 kg gold medal, threw Hernandez of Cuba with a leg pick. The Mongolian player who beat Kenji Suzuki the first round and eventually won the gold medal threw everyone with a double-leg take down - morote gari. Hernandez, who won the 70 kg silver medal, threw most of her opponents with a double-leg or ippon seoi nage. At the Golden State, I saw players throw someone for a yuko or waza ari and then get up instead of follow through for the pin or armbar. Several of those players lost by getting thrown or pinned later in the match.

We need to train more and train harder.
Crystal Butts is one of my favorite judo players for the same reason she is NOT a lot of other people's. She has an attitude. Whenever I tell her to go an extra round, or do more throws than other people she gives me "that look". She fails to realize that, having experienced three teenage daughters, one teenage niece and a ten-year-old, I am immune to any and all looks from teenage girls. The thing I like about Crystal is she will always do more. She won't do it graciously, but she will do it. I can't remember a single practice she ever missed. However, when we were doing newaza one day, it struck me - Crystal does not have a feel for matwork. I thought about this a lot and my conclusion was that her problem was that she was 14 years old. She just needs more hours on the mat. On a good day (which one never has after 50), my matwork fit the description of Anakin in the first episode of Star Wars,

"... His reflexes are so fast - like he knows things before they happen."

When I was younger people gave all sorts of Zen reasons for this, none of which I bought into. It's like that good and evil drill in the last Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo - if you have done that drill 10,000 times when someone does an inside turn to escape from kuzure kesa gatame, you automatically hook the arm, make a wide step with your leg and switch into kami shiho gatame. When you swim, you learn to move in water. In gymnastics, you learn to move in the air. In matwork, it's the same, learning to move in another environment, when you are not on your feet, and you have another person moving at the same time. It is moving in air most of the time, even if you are only a few inches off the ground and on top of the other person. My point, and I do have one, is that you get that feel by hours and hours on the mat.

Train harder because it brings commitment.
When I was in Beijing, I asked Jim Pedro, Sr. why he thought the Cubans won and he said,
"They train harder than us."

I persisted that it can't be that simple. Somewhat irritated, he answered,
"You always ask me that about people and I tell you they train harder and you don't want to accept it. That's what it is. Every one of them is a hard match because they train harder. They are in condition to take advantage of every opportunity. They spend more hours on the mat and they train harder."

(I think he may also have added something about shutting up and quitting bothering him so he could watch judo.)

He is right. (Don't tell him I said that. He already thinks he is right all the time and does not need any encouragement.) If you spend more hours on the mat, you will have more time to work on technique, you will be in better condition, you will have more time to work on tactics. If you fight HARD and get beat into the mat, when you get out there, you are going to be determined that no one is going to beat you. At the Golden State, I asked Tyrone Taketa what he thought the difference was between the Olympics and the competitors there and I was interested to see that he said exactly what I was thinking. I can't remember the exact words but it was along the lines of they were committed and expected to win.

When Ronda went against the Hungarian to get into the bronze medal match and went in to her o soto gari , she intended to make it work. She wasn't thinking, "I hope this works," or "This probably won't work". I am pretty certain that her real thought was "I'm throwing you." Period. I have seen pictures of it - it was a knee drop o soto - where both her knees were in the air and Annette's feet were both off the ground. That's commitment. Part of that commitment comes from having given up over four years of her life, training in Massachusetts, Japan, Spain, running at 6 a.m. a thousand times, having Jim yell at her until she cried to train harder, lift more, fight harder. You need to commit in practice to commit in the tournament. You need the will to win not just on August 23rd at the Fairgrounds but on Monday morning when you get up and run, and every other Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday an Sunday for years on end.

HINT: Be careful who you ask that commitment of. That is going to be part of the subject of my talk on Friday night at the coaches' conference - when to push harder, how to GRADUALLY develop an athlete appropriate to his or her age.


Stephen said...

You can take old trophies and give them to places that recycle them.

That can be kind of fun.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't imagine ever throwing out any of my judo trophies, medals or ribbons, and I have a lot. Nor could I imagine throwing away my daughter's horse show ribbons and trophies.

Each award holds a special memory for us, sort of like a diary, or a page in our lives. I can still look back at a third place judo medal I won some thirty years ago in a little YMCA and smile, remembering where I was and how I won it. That medal brings me just as much happiness as any of my big collegiate titles I won in another sport.

My daughter feels the same way about each of her ribbons and trophies. I think she loves her 6th place ribbon that she won at a small schooling show years ago (there were only seven in her class) as she does the silver championship cup she won at a recent rated horse show.

To throw these out would seem to me like disrespecting our former competitors and throwing away a part of ourselves.

Ice said...

I like your top 10. You summarized all the stuff that my parents have tried to teach me so eloquently.

Your 10 pieces of advice ring so true today and is very inspirational.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I keep certain things, but obviously if you don't know who won it, it can't hold many special memories. One of the things I kept was the very first trophy Ronda ever won and Julia's gold medal for kata competition.

You'd get along well with my husband - he never throws anything away.

You keep the memories. The things, you can throw away.

Evan's (not-overbearing) Dad said...

Dear Woo-hoo shidan,

Last night at Evan's BJJ class while talking with Sensei Danny (very much a stickler about technique), I mentioned that I may take Evan to a Judo camp over the holidays or next summer. Sensei Danny's response cought me a bit off guard. He said that there is some exceptional Judo out there, especially if it has ties to Jimmy Pedro, and that Jimmy's groundwork is legendary and would only benefit Evan. Small world, huh? I thought you'd get a kick out of that....

Dr. AnnMaria said...

The USJA Winter Nationals includes a coaches clinic with Jim Pedro, Sr., Ronda and her old mom. There is also an athlete clinic, traditionally "free to anyone who owns a gi". Clinicians this year include Jimmy Pedro, Jr. & Ronda.

Last year Hayward Nishioka, Jim Pedro, Sr., me, Jin Izumi, Tony Okada, Pedro Dias, Aaron Kunihiro and several others were also roped into service.

Evan's (Wii-challenged) Dad said...

Cool! Let's see...(pulling out seldom used planner)...that's "take Evan to Winter nationals and bring gi....sign Evan up for SZJ Camp once I find out the double-super-secret date and location (bring Pokemon card collection and inquire if bike helmet is optional)". Check. Oh....and clean out garage/change kitchen light fixture to keep mommy happy. All set....

Dr. AnnMaria said...

December 6-7, 2008 USJA Winter Nationals in La Verne, CA (near Los Angeles - closest airport is Ontario - Ontario, California not Ontario, Canada )