Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whatever You're Doing, Stop It: The meaning of life explained through judo


"Whatever you're doing,quit doing it, because it isn't working."
My friend, Steve Scott, a former junior development chair for U.S. Judo, quoted to me this opening sentence in an article written years ago by a top weightlifting coach. His point was that the sport was not growing in any sense, the athletes were not winning Olympic medals, the number of participants was going down - sound familiar? The logical thing, he argued, was for people to stop doing what they are doing and do something else.

I have been thinking about what we have been doing in judo and what we could do instead.


  1. Accepting that there are three national organizations, we must work with one of them, the National Governing Body is trying to exterminate the other two, the three fight all the time and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

  2. At the national level, and sometimes even at the local or regional level, accepting the necessity of working with people we believe are unethical and plain don't like.

  3. Having a group of juniors who attend every possible tournament to have points for the junior world team, at enormous cost to their parents, almost none of whom ever win anything internationally as seniors,

  4. Having coach certification programs that seldom provide much education on how to be a coach, but are required to be allowed to coach in tournaments.



I could go on but these are enough for now. In the past two days, I have had two great experiences that make me happy I teach judo, and both of those were a complete contradiction to all four points above. I attended practice at the West Coast Judo Training Center, and even with several of our players at the Fall Classic/ Junior World Trials and one out injured, we still had two dozen players on the mat. Starting at 10 a.m., Tony ran everyone hard (literally) and at the end of practice, he added 10 extra minutes of strength exercises after practice was over. Mind you, they have already done four and a half hours of training during the day at this point.

In an excellent strategy for pushing players of different ages and levels, he had the youngest players lay on the back of the older ones, who did 15 push-ups, then ALL of the players did another 30 push-ups. He did three sets of this along with squats and other drills. Since we had several new people joining us, we did not do the usual hour of randori and half an hour of matwork at the end. We only did a half hour of matwork and forty minutes of randori, then 20 minutes of working on throws.

With several new people coming in and a couple coming back for the first time after being out for injury, Tony and I agreed that we should run practice a little lighter than usual (although I know from the comments of those folks it didn't feel light to them). Here is what is great about the training center. Those people who were just dead tired and could not go another round of randori went over to the edge of the mat and did sit-ups. If someone was hurt and couldn't do throws, they did grip-fighting. A few people were bumped, bruised or strained a little, got off the mat and iced down, and then got back on again. These players are a joy to coach because every one of them puts out more effort than two average people.

A while ago, I posted about what coaches' kids have as an advantage and I mentioned the luxury of time. These players receive time in two ways. First, they get the hours on and off the mat of extra conditioning, instruction. Second, we are not in a big rush to send them to every possible tournament. None of our kids won a triple crown this year because none of them went to all three junior nationals. We don't encourage it. We tell the parents to save their money and efforts for when their child is older. Parents burn out, too, as my fellow WCTC coach Gary Butts, says. If you have spent thousands of dollars and all of your vacation time on judo from the time your child was 10 to 14 years of age, you may be getting pretty tired of it, not to mention running out of money.

While the USJA and USJF gave money to start the training center (and we appreciate it), nothing at practice today or any day was in any way due to being involved with any national organization. Frank Sanchez donates the space, parents pay a fee that covers special events such as the weekend in San Diego in October, coaches donate their time, very kind donors have covered the cost of new crash pads and a videocamera to use for analyzing players mistakes. Allen Wrench taped 30 second samples during randori today, which Gary, Tony, Ronda and I will review. The NGB has no connection at all. It is possible to do terrific things and only work with people you really like and respect. Interesting thought.

We are selecting our teams for the All-Women's Tournament, planning the weekend in San Diego in October and trying to decide what additional tournaments we want to target over the next year. Any funding we get for these events will come from three sources; donations from people like yourselves, the local organizations and the players themselves. (And yes, Dennis is looking into that PayPal link.)


The second experience this weekend that renewed my faith in judo was the West Coast coaches conference. I was really sad I could not be in two places at one time because, if I could, I would have gone to the second day of this conference AND practice at the training center.

The organizers, Professor Hayward Nishioka, Professor Mitchell Palacio and Nanka Development chair Ryan Fukuhara put together a stellar program. Mitchell and Hayward are not professors like all those jiu-jitsu people who give themselves the title. They are in fact actual college professors with tenure at City College of San Francisco and Los Angeles City College, and also, incidentally, former world team members, national judo champions back in the days when it was a whole lot harder to win the national championships. They asked me to talk about theories of Developmental Psychology applied to judo. This kind of made sense because as judo coaches we teach people of all ages AND a Developmental Psych course is required for teacher certification for elementary or high school teachers. Thirty people attended the course. Thirty people who could have gotten certified as a coach in a two-hour workshop by USJI decided instead to spend two and a half days on a college campus because they wanted to LEARN HOW TO BE GOOD JUDO TEACHERS rather than just get a certificate. Isn't that something to raise your faith in humanity in general and judo coaches in particular?

Funding was provided by the local yudanshakai, the state governing body (California Judo, Inc.) and donations.

What have I learned this week? Well, a primary lesson came from this web page on the meaning of life. The question asked was how it happens that you might be a person sincerely trying to do your best to improve the world and are frustrated by the fact that a significant proportion of the world seems to be insane. For example, if you have a training camp with outstanding players and coaches, very close to home for many people, at a low cost and they don't come, you might (if you were me), find yourself thinking - What the hell?

According to this author, people have different world views. For example, some believe artistic and aesthetic value are important. I never really thought about it, but those people who say they want to win by a beautiful ippon or not at all are different from me like people who made all the artwork in the Getty Museum did that instead of programming computers. I don't think artists are crazy, I just don't want to be one. Material wealth, security and power are important to some people. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to be poor, worried and powerless. However, two of the world views fit me to a T. One is "honor,valor and courage". Do I think that is more important than relationships? Yes, I do.

B.F. Skinner, a famous psychologist whose theories shaped a lot of the world around us, whether the average person knows it or not, wrote a book that used to be required reading in many universities, called, "Beyond Freedom and Dignity".

Despite what my professors said, no matter how many journal editors, principals and colleagues told me that was the accepted theory, I still believe what I told one of them as a 16-year-old college freshman,
"I believe there is NOTHING beyond freedom and dignity."

Probably the phrase from history that resonates with me most is not Martin Luther King's, I have a dream, not even Sojourner Truth's, Aint I a woman, but rather, the saying, attributed to lots of different people,
"It's better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees."

Lots of people don't agree with me, I realized. They believe, like the Italian in Catch-22, that it is better to live on one's knees, after all, what's the sense of dying?

My other world view would fit what the same web page calls the scientific view. If you see a relation between two things, a cause and effect, that would determine your behavior, no? Apparently not. As I started out saying, we have many people who for years have been doing the same thing over and over. It hasn't been working but they keep doing it. They keep electing people to boards who have failed miserably at worst and been mediocre at worse. They follow failed policies because "they don't have any choice".

I had a discussion with my friend, Tina about this today. She mentioned someone she knew who wanted to train in one place but USA Judo told him he "had to train in Colorado". I asked her:

"He had to? Do they have him tied down to a bed in Colorado Springs somewhere? Let me know, I'll call 911. Are there armed guards standing outside his door who will shoot him if he goes somewhere else to train? Does he have a job? Yes? Does he pay his own bills? Well, then, I bet he can move wherever he wants and get a NEW job because the one he has currently is not the only job in America and if he wants to move to Los Angeles or San Jose or Boston, guess what, I bet they have places he can rent there,too."


As my niece, Samantha says,
"Enough with the logic. What is it with you and the logic?"

What is the real meaning of life? To paraphrase Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the world is big, really big. You can't save the world, but you can help one person at a time who has the same world view as you. Like those people at the West Coast Training Center today, and those other people at the coaches conference this weekend.

The world doesn't want to be saved, not by me, not by anybody.

If there are enough people in the USJA who want it to be better, who have the same world view as people like me and Jim Pedro, then maybe I will be working with people four years from now within one of the national organizations. If not, maybe I will be spending my weekends at the West Coast Training Center, hanging out with good people like Jack Wada (Congrats on being the new head instructor at Gardena!), Jake Flores and Hayward Nishioka. Either way, it is my choice. There is a choice, and each of us gets to make it.

Maybe that's the meaning of life? It certainly beats having other people dictate your choices for you. That's MY world view. Freedom. Dignity.

2 comments:

Stephen said...

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results.

Evan's Dad said...

"For example, if you have a training camp with outstanding players and coaches, very close to home for many people, at a low cost and they don't come, you might (if you were me), find yourself thinking - What the hell?"

Funny you should mention that, AnnMaria. We are very fortunate that we found Danny Ruiz's Capitao traning center. I was very worried when we first moved here. It took months of weeding through McDojo's, and even then we had to convince Danny to take Evan on, as until Evan he did not train children. But he had what I wanted for my son. His certainly wasn't the only game in town, but rather the only game in town that seemed to be based on the principals I was looking for. I am still shocked that no other parents are banging on his door after visiting the other "Dojos". Now I find myself having to get a little inventive to find QUALITY seminars, camps, and eventually tournaments for Evan (should he want that) as there is just nothing in our area for him right now. This is why I consider flying him to California for a weekend money well spent if it gets him instruction with the likes of JPedro Sr&Jr, you, Rhonda, and the other great coaches I am learning about. I wonder if your students know how lucky they are? Evan is getting one on one time three nights a week, and extremely inexpensively on top of that. I certainly NEVER forget how fortunate we are.