My daughter Julia has the kind of life that would have seemed to me, when I was ten years old, as something out of a fairy tale.
All of her life, she has attended the same private school, for the first ten years, she had the same nanny, she has lived in the same neighborhood in Santa Monica with her days filled with catered birthday parties with magicians, puppet shows and plays. Today was just another day for her when she went to the county fair with her best friend, got all-you-can-ride wristbands and rode the skyway, ran through the fun house and went up and down giant slides for 7 1/2 hours.
Why do I make her do judo? Here are several reasons:
In Julia's life, judo is probably the only time she doesn't get what she wants just by wanting it. No one can buy her a trophy at a tournament. She has to work for it. Learning to work for something is a lesson that will put her ahead of a lot of people for her whole life. I have given my daughter a lot of material things that she routinely loses interest in and that I box up and give to charity. We are drowning in THINGS in our house. What I want to give her through judo is a work ethic that will help her as a teenager, as an adult - which I am pretty sure that Hannah Montana video will not do.
Jim Pedro, Sr. explained it to me this way once when Julia was eight years old and I was worried about her competing in a tournament where I knew she would lose. That sounds terrible to say, but because she is big, I knew she would fight ten-year-olds, and that is a huge age gap. He said,
"Your children are going to fail at some point in life. Wouldn't you rather have it be now while you are there to help them deal with it instead of failing for the first time at 18 and falling apart?"
I have seen that with teenagers and young adults. Once they get to college on their own and fail an exam for the first time, some of them drop out of school and go home.
Through a lot of hard work and more than my share of luck, I have been able to raise my child in a safe, secure home in a neighborhood where nothing ever happens. (If you live in a big city, you realize that this is a good thing.) As a professor, I have worked with students who were afraid to go to cities to present at conferences, or who were afraid of certain types of people.
As my favorite t-shirt said,
"There are lessons to be learned from competition, but fear is not one of them."
(I haven't seen that t-shirt in years. I wonder which of my kids swiped it? )
Yes, my daughter would prefer to sit on the couch and watch "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" rather than compete in a tournament. I make her do it because:
- She learns that hard work is correlated to getting what you want
- She learns to deal with failure.
- I learn to deal with her failure. That is a lesson a lot of yuppie parents find hard to accept.
- She learns to overcome her fears.
I make her work out in judo at least four or five hours a week because:
- Judo is not a bull---- sport like a lot of the other activities I see kids do. I see kids who supposedly do karate, tae kwon do, cardio kick boxing, softball or other activities supposedly "hours a week" and they look like pudgy little kids. Julia used to be a pudgy little kid until a year ago when I began to take her to judo regularly. The obesity epidemic in America worries me. I see kids with high blood pressure, diabetes and all the other risks associated with being overweight. This may be the first generation in America that has a lower life expectancy than the parents. We are pampering our childre to death, literally.
- Getting the habit of exercise, real exercise, not some phony, well-paid personal trainer telling you that you are working hard when you are not, is another benefit that will help your child for life. I am 50. I have had four children, I have one grandchild and this is how I look. I have never had liposuction or plastic surgery, all the parts I have are the original ones I was born with and I don't own any make-up. With all of the self-esteem and body image issues girls have, even more so girls in affluent families, it is very good for them to look in the mirror, say to themselves, "I look fine" and go on with life.
- In judo, both competition and practices, your children will meet a really diverse group of people if they stay in for any length of time. At 10, Julia knows children who speak Armenian, "a language I didn't even know existed," she said, after her first visit to Hayastan. From kindergarten through fifth grade, there has never been an African-American girl in Julia's class at school, but she has known Erin Butts since she was four years old. One of her deciding factors in going to a tournament or camp is if Erin is going to be there. They eat lunch together at the training center every Saturday. Through judo, she has met kids from every race, social class, religion and ethnic group. This has made her a better person.
Winning the world championships is an amazing thing. There is nothing in the world better than standing on the podium, watching the American flag go up and hearing the Star-Spangled Banner play.
When you get so good at judo that you know what your opponent is going to do before she does it, when everything just works - it is a feeling that is hard to describe if you haven't experienced. Being best in the world at something worth being the best at - that is a great memory.
As an instructor, you cannot promise those experiences for every student. What you can promise is that all of those who make a commitment will gain in strength, courage, tolerance and perseverance. And that will last your child a whole lot longer than an American Girl doll or a Nintendo DS.
=== REQUIRED JUDO TIP =============
1. Be a moving target. If you always throw people with harai goshi, work on o soto gari.
2. Related to the above, try to make your judo an integrated product. If your best throw is harai goshi, you want to work on o soto or some other throw that is a natural result when people block that throw.
3. Your matwork transition should include BOTH transition from standing to matwork and transition from your first mat technique to your second. If was was really good at seoi nage, my first mat technique would probably be kesa gatame, because it follows naturally from seoi, but my second would be ude garame or yoko shiho, because both of those follow pretty naturally from kesa gatame.