Sunday, March 30, 2008

You Need to Change Your Focus from "Not Losing" to Winning

I had a long talk with Jim Pedro, Sr. yesterday. Since I am working on the West Coast Judo Training Center website and drinking cognac, I am too busy to write much today, so I thought I would just repeat here one point he made that I thought is probably really important for a lot of players and their coaches.

(Too busy, not too drunk. I didn't have THAT much cognac. Dennis drank most of the bottle. He says he feels no guilt about it, either, since he was the one who went to the store to get it, he paid for it and he brought me the glass upstairs while I was sitting at my computer doing "judo crap" as he so lovingly puts it.)

Jim was talking about one of the players he used to coach, who was a very successful competitor around my age. Let's call him Bob, because that definitely was not his name. Also, because if you spell it backward, it's still Bob. He said,
"You know, Bob would win all the local tournaments, throw everyone in randori and when he was younger he just could not win the junior nationals to save his life."

I said,
"And when he was in competition would he attack all of the time but he often came in too far away and did not pull it off the way he did in competition?"

He said,
"Yes, you remember him that well?"

I said,
"Nope, not at all. He reminds me of someone I know. Go on - what did you do?"

Jim said,
"The light went on one day when he was fighting some kid in the finals, someone who was really good, and he came off the mat and said, 'I only lost by a koka.' I was a pretty young coach back then and a lot of this was new to me, not like now when I have spent thousands of hours watching matches, and I grabbed him and said, 'You're playing not to lose. It doesn't matter that you lost by a koka. You lost. You didn't throw him because you were bent over and trying not to get thrown.' Now here's the thing - my kid back then and your kid now are not attacking in the match to throw, they are attacking not to get thrown. That is smart defense and it will keep them from getting a penalty, which is what a lot of defensive players get, and it is certainly better than not attacking at all. However, it is just that , defense. He may not realize it but he is fighting not to lose. If he was fighting to win, he would be extending on his seoi nage, not just underneath with the person standing over him."

I asked,
"So, how did you fix it?"

He answered,
"Well, come on, AnnMaria, it's not like it is a one time fix. I didn't have a talk with him and he was suddenly better. Some people fight that way their whole lives. You have to tell him that it is not winning and losing to focus on when you are young, it is doing things right. Talk about extending on his throw, throwing for ippon, scoring on the opponent and that is what he needs to do. Tell him to forget winning and losing for now. If he is kind of a macho kid, saying he needs to not be afraid to lose will hurt his pride enough to make him go out and take more chances. That is what it is all about you know, a sense of pride, not wanting to let your parents down, your coaches down. Change the meaning for him, it's not about winning or losing it's about scoring on the guy. It is not once you need to tell a person this. It is over and over, before every tournament, maybe even before every match. The good news is that he has the technique, the conditioning and the heart. You just need to change his focus and he's there."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Future Olympic Greats: Why No One Appreciates You

Those adorable children on the right represent the next generation to grow up thinking I am a mean old woman.

Whether I actually am a mean old woman is a subject open to debate, but if I am, it is not for the reason that some of our "future Olympic greats" think me and my colleagues are grumpy old men (and women).

Have you heard these lines:
Talent like yours comes along once in a generation.

Your coaches don't appreciate you. They treat you like a kid. If I was your coach, I would treat you like an adult. I would respect your judo.

You train so hard and sacrifice so much, you shouldn't have to work for a living, these judo organizations should be supporting you so you could be competitive against those other countries.

It's a crime that you have to pay your own travel expenses! You should have a sponsor. Someone should go out and get funding from corporations for athletes like you!

I'll guarantee you didn't hear any of those lines from me. Why not?

Very likely, you hear that kind of stroking from people who are not at all objective. These aren't always evil people. Quite the contrary, they may include your girlfriend/ boyfriend, your good friends on your judo team - and yourself. Everyone likes to consider themselves in the best possible light. That's very normal.

On the other hand, there are people who are blowing smoke up your - uh - judo gi - because they have an ulterior motive. They want you to vote them into some judo office, change to their club and let them coach you or support them for a position coaching some national or international team.

The poet Robert Burns (yes, I have read poetry once or twice, usually against my will) wrote

"O would some power the giftie gie us
To see ourselves as others see us"

Here is my gift to you ... how I see the "Future Olympic Greats" in judo who get pointed out to me at every junior national, regional and senior national tournament. I think I speak for a lot of the "uncaring old people" out there.

Unlike your mom, the person who wants to get with you after the tournament or that guy that wants to be your next coach, I have zero motivation to be anything but objective. I have been around a very long time. Talent like yours probably comes along on a fairly regular basis. Have you set any track records? How about in the bench press? Is there any data to support your belief that you are a great athletic talent? You won the junior national championships? Three times? That's very nice. There are about 100 divisions in the junior nationals. There are five or more junior national events each year. Even if you consider that some people win two or three of them, that means that you have 300 or so junior national champions EVERY YEAR, often in divisions of less than ten people. Are you really talented beyond all others? Here is a simple quiz:

  1. How many times have you come in first in a division larger than 20? That would put you in the top 5%.

  2. How many DIFFERENT people did you beat this year? Again, if you won the junior nationals three times and beat a total of ten different people, that places you in the top 10%. Not bad, but not once-in-a-lifetime greatness, either.

  3. Have you won any international tournaments? If so, how many people did you beat? At some junior Panamerican tournaments it is possible to win two matches and be the gold medalist. Since these tournaments are self-funded, being first out of the people who could afford to fly to Brazil is a good experience, but, again, it does not mean you are a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

  4. On how many different continents have you won gold medals?

  5. Have you placed in world or Olympic competition?

You're probably a reasonably nice, intelligent, hard-working person. That doesn't make you one of the greatest talents of our age. An enormous amount of effort and sacrifice does that, on your part and from those that care about you.

How much do you really sacrifice? How many times a day do you work out? How many tournaments do you compete in each year? How many training camps do you attend? Do you own a car? Have you taken a vacation in the last two years?

Here's the deal -- I have seen a thousand people like you come and go. I am a little sad for each one that doesn't make it. However, if you can't find a way to train twice a day, you can't compete in local, regional, national and international tournaments, you can't make it to training camps - then why do you expect other people to sacrifice to give their money to you?

A mother yelled at me once,
"You have no right to talk to these kids like that! You have no idea how hard they train."

On the contrary, I know exactly how hard people train. It is evident watching them at practice and watching them compete. If you are dying out on the mat after 10 minutes of randori, it is quite obvious how hard you train. If you can't take it if someone who is flat better than you throws you over and over or turns you every way but loose and you give up in a fight, it is evident how hard you train.

I know how hard you train and how hard you need to train to win at the world level. The gap is evident.

Jim Bregman - world and Olympic bronze medalist - laughed as he said to me,
"All of these young people say they cannot win because they don't have the money to train, unlike the briefcases full of money you and I had when we were competing."

Jim's family saved up for one plane ticket to Japan. He stayed there for years and supported himself teaching English. I went to Japan as part of a Study Abroad program with my university.

One of the annoying things about my husband is that he has every Simpsons episode ever and has played them until he has memorized every word. The Simpsons are unavoidable in our house and every possible incident from the birth of our child to the death of a pet reminds him of a Simpsons episode.

It has worn off on me, for which I will never forgive him. The Simpsons episode you bring to mind, my young future Olympian was on the topic "Let someone else do it."

A few years ago, two young men accused me of being a bad person because I would not write grants to get money for them to travel. At the time, I was doing fairly good business as a grant writer. I was speechless. Now that I have recovered my speech, let me give a brief explanation of how things look to my generation.

"You are not my child. I have children, who I dearly love who I intend to put through college, send to summer camp or buy a new computer. I have friends. I have a job at which I make the money you think I should spend on sending you to France rather than going to the Bahamas with my family. You don't live in my state. You will probably never contribute to judo in any way that affects me personally as far as opening a club in my area, holding a clinic to teach kids or helping out in anyway. I am not sure why you think individuals around the country or corporate sponsors should give you money.Your attitude about sacrifice seems to be, -Let someone else do it. You should give up the money you made and give it to me. From your point of view, if I cared about judo in the U.S. I would give you money so you can compete internationally. Since you haven't placed at the last five international tournaments, in fact, since you haven't gone past the second round, I think I will spend the money I have set aside to help judo teaching transition to newaza at a camp in Rhode Island. It's my opinion that activities like that might increase the number of people in judo so that eventually you have to beat 50 people to win your division at the junior nationals."

I care about judo. I just don't care about you. I have seen a thousand people like you come and go. After a while, you quit getting attached to them, out of sheer self-defense.

You know who does care about you, though? Those mean coaches who are yelling at you to train harder. You should listen to them. And maybe, just maybe, you will become that one-in-a-lifetime talent. When you do, look me up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Next Time, Ask the Guinea Pig for Judo Advice

Have you ever heard anyone use the expression, "She's smart as a guinea pig" ?

No? You know why? Because guinea pigs are only slightly less dumb than a box of hair. In fact, come to think of it, they somewhat resemble a box of hair, both in general shape and, well, hairiness.

Still, there are certain people who ask my advice on judo who I think would be better off asking a guinea pig. This would be preferable because the advice would do them just as much good and the guinea pig would have much more free time and probably not much on its schedule, so it would be far less wasteful to ask it than me.

Here is an example that has happened - and I am making a rough approximation here - 12,437 times, most of them from the same four or five people.

"How can I/ my child get better at judo?"

My answer:

"Practice more matwork. From what I see your matwork is limited to one or two techniques that are not very reflexive which makes it clear to me that you don't work on them very often. How many times a week do you do your best technique on the mat? Maybe 20 at the most? How many times do you do your second-best technique? Fifteen? With that number of repetitions, you are not going to be very good at matwork. Your defense is mainly wrapping the person's leg or waist and hoping the referee calls matte. We have practice at the training center every Saturday and some Sundays."

"Well, I can't make it because my club has practice on Saturday morning."

"I completely agree that you should go to your club's practice. We also have practice on Saturday afternoon."

"After my club's practice I am too tired to come."

"We have practice some Sundays."

"But, you see, Sundays are my only day to study/ visit the family/ talk to my guinea pig."

One of my favorite people in judo I only had this conversation with once. It went like this:

"How could I get better at judo?"
"You could come to the training center on Saturdays for more practices."
"Yeah, but my club practices on Saturday."
"Of course you don't want to skip your club's practices on Saturday afternoon. It's only right to have loyalty to your club and I totally respect that. But we have practice on Saturday mornings, too."
"All right, I'm not going to lie. On Saturday mornings, I'm too hung over from Friday nights."
"Uh, the getting drunk on Fridays is probably not helping your judo too much."
"Yeah, you're probably right about that, huh? You know what though, I love judo and it has been great for me, but I really don't want to be as good as Ronda bad enough give up partying at my age."

Now there is a person smarter than a guinea pig. The way he sees it, he gets a lot of positive things out of judo. He has a job, he has friends and a nice life. His goal isn't to win the Olympics. It is to get the physical, social and mental benefits of judo and he has done that. He is also very honest with himself.

On the other hand are the fingers I want to slap the other people with ....

I have been told very self-righteously by some people that,

"You tell young people you don't think they can win the Olympics! That is terrible! This is their dream, how dare you try to take it from them."


There is a whole world of difference between dreams and delusions.

Ronda has dreams. What those people who don't come to practice have is delusions. I don't know a lot of things in this world that are unconditional. In fact, I can only think of two.

  1. The love mothers have for their children. I love my daughters no matter what. (This in no way precludes me from smacking them upside the head if they deserve it.)

  2. The commitment it takes to be number one on the planet. That means practicing the hardest you can every day of your life. No matter what.

If you want to be the best in the world there are really only two reasons for missing practice:
  • Death. Your own or an immediate family member and no, the guinea pig and the cockatiel do not count as immediate family members, nor does anything else that is going to get buried in a shoebox nor anyone you cannot tell their birthdate and middle name without looking it up.

  • Birth. Either giving birth or the birth of a child who you had a part in conceiving. (No further details are necessary, thank you, I am old and conservative.

Other than that, you need to be at practice.


Check out this great video of matwork.
I loved it. I am DEFINITELY way too old for the music, though! It kind of made me sad watching it to realize that I actually used to be that fast. My advice - people who want to win should watch it several times. This is the speed and intensity with which matwork is done at international levels.

Favorite quote from the training center this week:

"I wasn't crying. I was breathing. What? Why do all of you people always say I remind you of Ronda?" -- My daughter, Julia.

Continuation of people in judo for whom we should be grateful
, because Illegitimi Non Carborundum is some of the most useful advice passed down from the classics. (Since, as an actual Ph.D. it is my obligation to provide information which could not possibly be useful in any situation imaginable, I should point out that how one actually says "Don't let the bastards get you down," in Latin is Noli nothis permittere te terere. )

Tony Comfort
- works as an engineer at Raytheon, is the parent of a young daughter, runs the MORNING practice at the training center every Saturday. He is going to Mississippi for a clinic as part of the state games. He is coaching our players in Las Vegas, at the state championships and wherever else we can hit him up.

Lanny Clark - who I have known forever and a day - is the senior development chair for the USJA, organizing our junior team going to Toronto in July, went as Manager to the Korean Open. Actually he did way more than that. Ronda made her first U.S. team at 16. At the time, the U.S. players would go to international events with no uniforms, no coach and no manager. There was no way I was letting Ronda go to Korea alone at 16! Lanny called his lovely wife, Laura, back in San Francisco and asked if she would mind terribly if he bought a plane ticket and flew to Korea as team manager. Then, my other wonderful friend Jake Flores, Terry Kunihiro and several others each put $100 on the table and told me to call Jim Pedro, Sr. and ask him if he would go as a coach for Ronda, Jimmy Pedro, Jr. and the rest of the U.S. players since I already had the money for his plane ticket and they were not going to take it back. Lanny made the hotel arrangements, found transportation from the airport to the Eastern Korea Nowhere tournament site and along with his own luggage, took the boxes team jackets (my other wonderful friend, Frank Sanchez got them all winter jackets with USA on the back so they could look like a team and not freeze in Korea.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

People Who Are Growing Judo

Happy Easter! If you are Jewish, have a nice Passover (or whatever it is next month). If you are an atheist, have fun biting the head off of a naked mole rat (or whatever it is that atheists do).

In my effort to appreciate the wonderful people who are doing a good job growing judo, I thought I would just start by mentioning the people we often don't thank or think about, in more or less alphabetical order.

Maurice Allen - member of the USJA coaching staff, 2006 keynote at the USJA Summit, head instructor at Sport Judo in Virginia, interviewed for the special issue of Growing Judo on coaching your own kid and working with us on setting up an exchange program to take a team to Scotland.

Aaron Kunihiro
who has never once in 50 times said "no" when asked to help with a camp, teach at a clinic or anything else, up to and including driving Ronda from Boston to Rhode Island for the Ocean State International so she could coach our West Coast Training Center Team. At 18, Aaron is one of the nicest people I know and is proving the prediction I made three years ago that he was going to be the next one after Ronda to rise to the cream of the crop. (You people who ignored me about Ronda and Aaron might want to think about NOT mocking my predictions in the future.)

The entire Butts family,
from Gary Butts who coaches at the West Coast Training Center after having put in 10-12 hours for the LAPD, his three gifted daughters who NEVER miss practice and his lovely wife who drives the girls when Gary has to work overtime.

Serge Bouyssou who does everything for his judo club from having 20 kids stay at his house for a camp, to running an international tournament to, when I called him at 11 p.m. to say, "I need your club for two days to host the Great American Workout in April" responded not "What the hell?" but "Sure, no problem."

Jim Bregman, who I may never forgive for coming to see me every few months when I was in Washington and talking to me for hours on end until I finally gave up and agreed to run for the USJA Board. Still, he has taught me a lot about judo, been a good friend and watched my back every minute. He also came back to the USJA in its darkest hour, after a great athletic and professional career, when it needed him and he didn't need a damn thing from any judo organization. He is a judo player, a scholar and a gentleman.

Martin Bregman who is a great referee, a good judo teacher, willing to share his knowledge with anyone at any time and another good friend. Not only has he been willing to pull me aside at tournaments and give me advice ever since I was twelve years old (yes, he is that old!) but since both of us had a spouse we loved very much die and leave behind young children, he understands a lot that most people never will (and for that, they should be grateful).

Patrick Burris
- who has never hesitated to do me a favor, from granting an age waiver for Ronda two years in a row to attend training camp at the U.S. Open, starting when she was a "nobody" green belt, to flying in from Oklahoma at the last minute to fill in for a judo clinic to being my hero when I was a teenager watching from the balcony at the Kodokan. (He did kind of look like Elvis back then.)He has always been a good friend despite those who advise him that it is politically unwise. He is living proof that there are really only two groups - those who know judo and those who don't.
============REQUIRED JUDO TIP ============================
Do matwork uchikomis every practice.
Do matwork uchikomis every practice.
Do matwork uchikomis every practice.

I said it three times because I really meant it and I am prevented from coming over to everyone's house and personally slapping you with a kendo stick for not doing it.

Seriously, most people practice their best matwork technique maybe 25 times a month and their secondary or tertiary ones 5 or 6 times a month. This is less often than they practice their favorite standing technique in a singe practice. And you wonder why your matwork isn't as good as your standing technique? THINK! And if you don't know what "tertiary" means you can look it up here. And no, it is not related to syphilis in this case. Few people get rich doing judo so you better become articulate and well-educated.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Or Pay attention if you don’t want to miss something good

Among certain crowds, it is a hobby to get together and talk about how judo is going downhill, this new generation has no work ethic, parents can’t be bothered to drive their kids to practice, etc. etc. Stop right there. As much as I hate to distract someone in mid-rant by throwing in facts, it seems that every picture we received for this month's issue of Growing Judo had a large group of judo players, from the training center practice on the front cover to the West Point team traveling to Japan to the clinic in Denver with USJA mini-camp coordinator Paul Nogaki. This month isn’t the first time I had to leave out some of the many events on which we received notification. Not wanting to send you all a 64-page magazine to download, I had to restrict what was included to only events that would draw a regional or national audience. I apologize if your event was left out.
Stop again. Think about the really great people you get to know in judo. I must admit to being as guilty as anyone as focusing on the people who seem to do all the wrong things for the wrong reasons. We have to stop that and remember the terrific people we meet in judo, like Willie Williams, one of the founders of the Connecticut Judo League, who I finally got to meet in person at the Ocean State. Like Ronda, who even though she is training for the Olympics took two days out to come coach our team from the West Coast Judo Training Center and another two days to help with the training camp afterwards, along with her teammate, Kayla Harrison (anyone who took pictures, please send for the next issue).
In this issue you will find an invitation to apply for a junior training camp in Toronto, Canada. You will have the opportunity to train for five days with 300 athletes from the U.S. and Canada. There is an announcement of a camp overlooking the ocean in Carlsbad, California, another with Doug Tono in Chicago. Doug is one of the most modest guys I know. Before he settled down and became the director of the USJF Nationals and a kata judge he was winning international gold medals including in the Dutch Open and U.S. Open. He’d never tell you that, so I just did. Serge Bouyssou is running a three-week camp in Rhode Island. The camp in North Carolina has European stand-outs Nick Lowe and Neil Adams, former world champion. The Liberty Bell is coming up – always a huge tournament. Reserve June 29-30 for judo. Jimmy Pedro, Jr., tournament director of our own USJA Junior Nationals, held June 29-30 in Boston, will also be running a camp in the week after that tournament. Mitchell Palacio and the folks in northern California are bringing back the national brown belt championships and this time they have added a novice division. It is ages 15 and up, also on June 29-30 in San Francisco. READ THIS MONTH’S ISSUE CAREFULLY. Not only will you get some great ideas about coaching, teaching and competing, not only will you learn what clubs are doing around the country, but you will also see a LOT of opportunities for you to learn, compete and generally have a good time.
Oh, speaking of people to remember – THANK YOU to Bob Treat of Southside Dojo who donated $700 to the USJA Development Fund this month! Through the generosity of our wonderful donors like Bob, we can afford our outreach program that includes: Tony Comfort, who represented the U.S. in the 2004 Paris World Cup and was in the 2004 Olympic Trials will be doing a clinic in Mississippi in June, part of the re-introduction of judo in the Mississippi State Games. Thanks so much to Keith Worshaim for making this happen. We are also providing our regional coordinators with issues of Koka Kids magazine to help with their events. Roy Hash, Grass Roots Development Chair. is doing a judo demonstration in Texas and giving the magazines to the junior players as a “thank you” for helping with the demonstration. Joan Love, New England coordinator is giving these as door prizes to junior players who attend the Great American Workout in Rhode Island. The USJA office has a limited number of editions left. If you have an idea for an outreach event, contact your regional coordinator. Don’t know who that is? Look here:

In case you are wondering, yes, this IS my editorial for the March issue of Growing Judo, which is now in the hands of the ever-wonderful Adam Stevenson of Wisconsin who proof-reads, spell-checks, edits, lays out, revises and generally keeps the magazine from looking like it was put together by mentally-challenged monkeys. Even better, if it doesn't get out by March it will now be his fault and not mine! You can't ask more than that from a person.

There really are so many people who are helping the USJA and judo in general, I think my next blog will be on all of the people, by name, in alphabetical order, who have helped out the USJA, the development program and me or my daughters as individuals. I may write one after that devoted to the people who piss me off, but I might need to drink some more cognac first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Matside Coaching: Blatant Plagiarism

The post below is copied verbatim from Jimmy Pedro, Sr.'s column in Growing Judo this month.

(Note: You might think appropriating someone else's column for your blog is a new low in laziness. Not exactly. If the March issue of Growing Judo is to get out while it is still March, I need to spend my time on that. I really liked his column this month, so I thought I would reproduce part of it here.)

Matside coaching

by James Pedro, Sr., USJA Coaching Chair

I don’t think matside coaching is calling scores that aren’t there or calling stalling on opponents just to win a match. I never say anything to a referee that I don’t believe to be true. I may not always be right, but I believe I am at the time.

Having said that, you need to be a student of the sport so what you are saying matside can help your players. Know the rules, know tactics, really study judo matches at tournaments, on DVDs. Take every opportunity to learn how and why people win contests so that when you are in the coach’s chair you can speak with authority.

The next thing to keep in mind is that you have to teach your students at every “matte” to look at you so that you can relay the information they need. The hardest thing is to program the students to do what you are telling them to do whether they agree or not with what you are saying. That comes with confidence in you. The hardest part is for them to commit 100%. The technical part is easier. Once one or two students commit to following your direction and start to win consistently, it is easier to get the rest of the students to follow.

...... read the rest of this article in the March issue of Growing Judo which, I promise, will be out while it is still March.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Japanese Judo Isn't Quite as Japanese as Generally Believed

When people complain about judo players in America that "don't follow the traditions of judo as taught in Japan", I wonder to which Japan they are referring. Last night, I watched the 70 kg matches from the 2004 Olympics. Easily, the most physical, aggressive player in the tournament was Masae Ueno, the eventual gold medalist. She ripped out of grips, dragged her opponents around and when she knocked an opponent down, she JUMPED on her. Watching these matches just reinforced for me that the biggest weakness in the workouts of most Americans is a lack of intensity.I am happy to see that many people, at least around southern California, are starting to take that to heart. Not only are more people coming to the training center, but they are also going to other clubs like Tenri, Mojica's or Hayastan to get in extra practices with more challenging players.

Some of the same people who will argue against teaching gripping or matwork because, "I believe in a more traditional Japanese judo" don't seem to believe in the part about training every day and doing an hour of randori every practice.

The truth is that the stereotype of "Japanese judo players" doesn't fit every judo player in Japan any better than any stereotype ever describes a whole group.

Here is one accurate perception of Japan, though. There are more people doing judo and, on the average, their competitors train more hours a week than ours do. Even the people on the Waseda University team who were not the most gung ho trained at least five days a week AT JUDO.

A second positive trend I see around the country is people seeking out not just more intensive practices, but simply more hours of practice as well. It is finally starting to sink in with more and more people that you can't be an international competitor training four hours a week. Over the next few years, we may see a change in perception of who "the good clubs" are. Until recently, if you trained five or six days a week, that in itself brought your players above the crowd. Now that more competitors are going that route, even if they need to practice at two or three clubs, expect to see players from a lot more clubs placing at the national level. And that is a good thing.

Not everyone will come to the training center. Some people don't like our style of coaching and some people plain don't like us. (It is a false rumor that I asked a member of the LAPD to be on our coaching staff just in case someone decides to come in and shoot me in the back. Actually, I asked him because I believe he is a good coach, but, hey, if you have to have somebody watch your back, having someone armed with a deadly weapon is not a bad first choice.)

Wherever people get in their extra practices, whatever pushes them harder, it is a good thing. Enough of that and we may start seeing American players beat the Masae Uenos of the world. It just might happen sooner than you think.

---------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP -----------------------
I stole this one from Gerry Lafon. Don't imitate how the champions train. Imitate how they trained when they were your age or at your level. The most extreme example of this is people who begin judo and want to randori all the time because "that is what the champions do". I guarantee you that those people you are imitating spent years learning technique, doing drills AND randori to get to the level where they are now.

Have patience. I often get asked how my daughter Julia, who turned 10 today, compares to her big sister, Ronda, at the same age. I always tell them that Julia is way better, since Ronda hadn't even started judo at that age. Right now, I am trying to teach Julia to get her feet in the right place when she does a throw, when to pull up on an entry, to follow up into matwork and to not become another statistic in the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Build a solid base of techniques.
Maybe if you build a base of technique and don't drive your ten-year-old to compete every weekend of the year, you won't take home first place from every local tournament. Maybe if you drill and drill your youngster on drop seoi or a running leg pick, you will coach the national champion in the 7-8 year old division this year. However, what usually happens is that within a couple of years, the other children have learned to avoid your player's one technique and without having developed the kind of work ethic one gets from doing a difficult task without an immediate payback, your player is ill-prepared to begin building a broader repertoire. There were a half-dozen girls that beat Ronda her first couple of years in judo. All of them quit a long time ago.

Maybe Julia will become a national champion some day and maybe she won't. I don't know. What I do know is that, whatever happens, she will look back on the time she spent on the mat as a generally good part of her childhood. Eventually, she will learn a substantial amount of judo. After watching me work with my daughter last month, another coach suggested helpfully,

"You know, harai goshi really isn't that easy of a throw for little kids."

I told him,

"That's okay, she's not going to be a little kid her whole life."

Train for the long-term, because that's where you're going to spend most of your life.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Business- Life- Judo, In That Order

Some people (see photo at right of non-judo-playing daughter number two) have made the point that my blog has been a whole lot more about judo than either business or life, and that maybe I should be a bit less unidimensional.


Last week, I started a new job, working in the IT department of a large university. It is certainly very different from working for a small company, or, for that matter, from the offices I have held (and there have been too damn many) in various judo organizations.

Most interesting, though, were the differences that I expected to find and did not. I thought there would be more people who are jerks at the university than in a small company. In fact, it has been years since I had to work with anyone I did not actually enjoy being around. In a small company, you can choose not to do business with people who are unethical, abusive and who you just don't want to spend your time. When I first started in business, there was up to a 400% charge for putting up with you. That is, back when my rate was $25 an hour, if you were kind of a pain, I would quote you at $50 an hour. If you were just awful, told me my work sucked and my writing was incomprehensible, it went up to $100 an hour. My rate increased over the years, and so did my tolerance for people who were creeps. I am not sure at what point I decided there wasn't any amount worth working with people I couldn't stand but it was years ago.

It was a pleasant surprise that everyone I have met at my new job so far has been really nice. Maybe some of them are phony - I expect even terrible, rotten people could suck it up and pretend to be good guys for a week. However, as far as I can see, all of the folks I have met have been genuinely pretty easy to get along with.

The judo organizations I have worked with as a volunteer are still at the top of the list as highest proportion of people who annoy the hell out of me. I think if you have a personality that can blister paint at thirty paces, even if you are incredibly gifted, there will come a point at which it is not worse the pain in the ass of putting up with you and someone will fire your sorry ass. Maybe it is that people show more of their true colors when they are not getting paid. Maybe they keep their mouth shut more at work because they are afraid of being fired and when they are in a volunteer situation they feel free to trash their co-workers, complain, not follow through and a host of other annoyances. My friend, Jim Bregman, once commented that he could not shake the feeling that in judo organizations the normal curve is somehow skewed toward the stupid end.

My first two degrees were in business, back when my friends were demonstrating against the Vietnam War and capitalist warmongers. Despite all the rhetoric against business, I have found that people who are employed in any kind of business tend to be more professional and, on the average, smarter than those working as volunteers. This is because many of the people we love having as volunteers don't last long in our organizations. Someone comes along and hires that person to do work for money, and keeps offering them more money to do more work until we don't have our volunteer any more. We end up with two kinds of volunteers; those who are very competent but love what they are doing so much they will do it for free and those who are only slightly smarter than a slug or disabled by Obnoxious Personality Disorder and thus don't have anything else to do.

I think there are about 2,000 times as many employees at the university than at my old job. So, if there are no differences in personality or competence, are there any differences at all?

Oh, yeah!

First of all, I have never seen people have so many meetings in my life. At Spirit Lake Consulting, we had about one meeting a week. Here, they have meetings where they talk about what they did in their other meetings (I am not making this up). I suppose some of that is necessary because there are so many people and so many departments, but honestly, it is to the point where I would laugh but no one else sees it as funny.

Another big difference is the pace at which things get done and the number of levels of approval people seem to feel they need to get. For example, I pointed out to someone a number of things on a web page that were just plain wrong and he mumbled,

"Yes. That's wrong, that should be changed."

I was pretty astounded by this attitude because in a small company, that would have been done by the end of the day. Everyone here keeps repeating that you don't want to make changes because someone might not like it, it might have interfered with their project we don't know about. I cannot imagine any possible scenario under which it is preferable to have incorrect information on your website as opposed to correct information. Even if someone is opposed to some change you made, is that any reason to do nothing? I mean, what are they going to do, haul you out and whip you as an example to the other employees? Maybe they do. I have only been here six days. For all I know, at the end of the week they may have their every-other-Friday-public-flogging and then I'll wish I'd kept my mouth shut.

That is the other thing I have noticed that is really different, by the way. People are a lot more careful about what they say here. So far, every large institution where I have ever worked has been like this. This is a bit difficult for me because I am kind of like Horton, I mean what I say and I say what I meant.

There are certainly positive sides. The pace is a lot slower. I leave at 4:30 or 5:00. I don't have any work to take home, papers to grade, reports to write at night, email to answer. It's weird. A good kind of weird.

Do I like it? Is one kind of business better than another? Is working better than retirement? The jury is still out.

One thing I have decided. In "The Prophet", by Kahlil Gibran, there is a very good story about a prophet walking away from a city. On the road, he meets a traveler coming toward the city who asks him what kind of place it is. The prophet asks what kind of city he came from and the traveler replied,
"It was ugly and dirty. The people were mean and miserable. It was a horrible place."

And the prophet tells him,
"It is the same here."

A little further along the road, he meets another man, going toward the same city. The second man asks the same question, and the prophet asks him, too, what the city was like that he just left. This man answers,

"Oh, it was a beautiful city. I wish you could see it. The people are so nice and friendly. It was a wonderful place."

And the prophet tells him,

"It is the same here."

So, that is my conclusion. Whatever the size of the institution, how you experience it is probably going to depend a lot on you because, wherever you go, there you are.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Matwork Bottom Line: You Do Too Few Techniques & You Are Too Slow

In statistics, we learn that, if you don't know anything else about a person, your best prediction is that he or she is average because, by definition, most people ARE average.

The average person's matwork can be described by three sentences.

  1. You do too few techniques.

  2. You are too slow.

  3. You have taken the phrase "unnecessary roughness" far too much too heart.

Let me reiterate here that I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all model of coaching. What I am referring to here is people who aspire to be successful competitive judo players at the national or international level.
Let's start with number three. Judo is a combat sport where people are allowed to hurt each other, within a fairly broad range of legal limits. Every time I make a statement like this I am deluged with hate mail from people who tell me that I am ruining judo, that I am the reason judo is not more popular in this country, because people are marshmallows and afraid of being hurt, etc. etc.

Let us now pause while I congratulate myself on being powerful enough to single-handedly ruin a 125-year-old world-wide sport, being personally responsible for causing judo to be less popular than other more dainty sports, such as football, say, or wrestling, boxing or MMA. Judo at the highest levels, if that is where you are aiming, is a rough sport and the sooner you accept that fact, the better your chances will be. The world is what it is and you can't make it into some alternative reality just by sniping at people. Otherwise, I could have avoided living through forty-below winters in North Dakota just by saying nasty things about the weatherman. I tried that, by the way, it doesn't work.

The fact is that judo is the only Olympic sport in which a person is allowed to choke you unconscious or dislocate your elbow on purpose. To expect someone to feel bad for you is like expecting the spectators to say,

"Oh, look at that poor boxer. He is getting hit. How terrible!"

If you feel that way, and some people do, then boxing is not your sport. Sell your punching bag and buy a clue. Similarly, if the things I say next offend you, competing at a national level is not your role in judo. You can have a great time in your local club, teach children or adults in a recreational program. Don't quit judo. Just know that the discussion below does not apply to you. BUT DON'T FOOL YOURSELF! If you really do want to succeed at high-level competition, get that saying, "No pain, no gain," tattooed backward on your forehead. (So you can read it when you look in the mirror!)

When you do matwork, try to make your opponent as uncomfortable as possible. The entire time you are doing matwork, if your opponent is on the bottom, she should be feeling ALL of your weight on her, preferably in such a way it makes it difficult to breathe.

When you want a grip in matwork, MAKE the opponent give it to you. If she is on all fours and you want that lapel, grab her collar and YANK her up, SHOVE your hand in where you want it. FORCE a reaction. If the person is rolled up in a ball, you could try working a hand in. You could try getting a sankaku (triangle choke for you ju-jitsu or MMA types). This probably won't work and the referee will, rightly, call matte.

In such situations, my preference is one of two things. I might grab the opponent's opposite shoulder and near leg and shove her towards her face. Or, I might push her head down, reach between her legs and grab her belt or the skirt of her gi and try to literally pull her head over heels - HARD.

Neither of those two work, usually. What both do is force a reaction where the person puts out an arm to stop being pinned or stop having her face shoved into the mat. Then I jump on that arm and armbar it. I will underhook it or overhook it, turn toward their head for an armbar, throw myself back for an armbar, turn toward their hips for an armbar or crank their head in a half-nelson for a pin.

This gets to my next point. Most people don't know what they're doing. I overheard someone at a clinic where we were both teaching comment under his breath to someone else,

"That turnover she does will never work."

He was wrong, on two counts. The purpose wasn't really to turn people over. It was to get them to THINK they were going to be turned over, so that they would be kind enough to put out an arm instead of staying curled up into a tight little armadillo shape. I had considered the alternative of whispering to my opponent,
"Hey, would you mind putting your arm out there so I could armbar it?"

But I discarded that strategy in favor of my failed turnover attempt. Sometimes, the turnover actually worked, not because it was such a difficult turnover to prevent, but because the person on the bottom realized sticking an arm out to stop it would leave her open for an armbar. However, if she did not take the simple move of sticking an arm out, she got rolled and I did pin a number of people that way. I have noticed that once a person gets a reputation for armbarring people, he or she ends up pinning a lot of people. Sounds strange, but when your opponent is focused on protecting her arms, she often leaves herself open to pins.

You do too few techniques. I harp on this a lot. I talked about my pet peeve at the training center on Saturday and I saw it (with other kids) at the tournament on Sunday. That is, people whose immediate reaction in matwork is to go to their backs and try to scissor the other person's leg. I see a couple of players that this seems to be their ONLY matwork move. The fact that your only move on the mat is a defensive one, hoping the referee will call "matte" is a bad sign already. Here is a list of suggestions, in no particular order.

  • Have a PLAN from every possible position on the mat. For example, if I am on my back, my first move will be to try to push your opposite leg out and do juji gatame. If you are too close for that to work, my next option will be to go over your arm, grab the far lapel, trapping your arm, and try to use a scissors with my leg to turn you.

  • Understand that having a plan and having a technique are two different things. Sankaku is a technique. One I don't personally like much, by the way. Underhooking an arm as a first resort whenever a person is on her stomach is a plan.

  • Of that dozen or more moves that you supposedly have, do matwork uchikomis for your five favorite ones at least 100 times A DAY. People often find themselves in a situation where, at least two or three days each week, they don't have very tough players with whom to train. On those days they are at smaller, more recreational club where a 45-year-old CPA named Joe comes over after work and is not at all interested in being made into mincemeat by you. If you ask nicely and are not a jerk, Joe will probably let you run through 100 each of that armbar from the top, turnover from the back, choke from the front,armbar from the bottom and turnover from all fours. Speaking of not being a jerk, when you are overseas representing the U.S. and trading pins with teams from other countries, be sure to get a couple to give to Joe from accounting when you get back. And tell him thank you for all those days he let you do 500 matwork uchikomis on him.

  • On days when you have more time, do matwork uchikomis for seven or eight different moves.

  • Time yourself every week or two. See how many uchikomis you can do in a minute for each move. See how long it takes you to go through 100 each of your five moves. Write this number down and see if you are improving from week to week.

It's late and I have to get up and go to work in the morning - after years of telecommuting, that still seems strange - so, more discussion of how to improve your matwork will have to wait. While you're waiting, do 100 matwork uchikomis. FAST!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Judo Blogs for Parents and other random thoughts

We interrupt this discussion on elite athletes to bring you this information on children.

I feel the need to pause in talking about training plans for developing elite athletes to discuss the needs of children. This is because, inevitably, when I start describing what I believe an athlete needs to move to the next level someone will show up with their five- or six- or eight-year-old and want me to whip him or her into shape.

Guess what? I don't believe in whipping a child into anything. Tomorrow we have the Nanka judo games for children 13 and younger. They will do as many throws as they can in one minute, be scored on technique for their best ten throws, compete in other all around judo skills and play games ranging from freeze tag to toilet ball. What? You've never played toilet ball? You'd better show up at the training center at 11. (In case you don't know, the address is 123 S. 1st St., La Puente, CA. I know that sounds like an address we made up, like the 555-1234 phone numbers you see in TV shows, but that in fact really is the address.)

If you'd like more information on judo for children, I'd recommend the Judo4parents site. It answers questions from, "How are most judo clubs organized?" to "What's all this bowing about?"

The world according to Laurie has quite a bit on judo
, including several posts on children.

If you are interested in games for children (and for adults who don't take themselves too seriously), check out the games page on the USJA Resources site, a service of the USJA Development Committee. You can see movies of these games in practice, thanks to the inimitable James Wall.

While not focused particularly on children, Patrick Parker's blog on judo and aikido is interesting read for those who would like a kinder, gentler and less competitive take on judo than my own.

Speaking of my views, I am trying to figure out where I was going with these notes I found cleaning up my desk the other day. I have reproduced them here faithfully.

  • Counter-intuitive judo - e.g., watch a 100+ kg guy to help with a 56 kg women's division

  • People of limited intelligence cannot see past their own intelligence. (A quote from Karl Geis, judo and aikido instructor par excellence.)

  • Other people want to be seventh-degree black belts. I want to be Judo Empress of the Universe and All the Outer Undiscovered Planets.

  • 15+ throws, one gripping strategy and four mat techniques

  • Kill them and sell their organs.

I am not sure where I was going with this that I ended up on the last point ...

Speaking of which, those of you who have been spreading the rumor that, during my competitive days, that I often killed my opponents and ate their bleeding hearts in front of the referees, cut it out. It is not true. There were rules against that sort of thing, even back in those days. I believe they gave you a shido.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Are You Tough Enough?

Yesterday, I said that I was going to talk today about developing an individual athlete's matwork. Well, there has been a change of plans.

It is a cliché to say that winning at the elite level is 90% mental. If that is the case, how do we make athletes mentally tough?

The answer is that we push them out of their comfort zone. I have been told often that I am too rough and tough when I work out with young athletes. This is insane. I am 115 pounds and almost fifty years old. My first grandchild is due any day now. Are you SERIOUSLY complaining that a 115-pound grandmother is too tough for you to fight? And you want to go to the OLYMPICS? In what sport? Is petting bunnies an Olympic event now?

Yes, I was a world champion, but come on. Do you really think that someone's grandmother could go into a wrestling or football practice and make the athletes whine by working out with them, I don't care what she was back in the day. If that is the case, then your team needs a lot of work.

I want to point out that there are a whole lot of people I work out with who are not whiners and give as good as they get. Here is another point - I don't know how much longer I can do this. I am a little person. After I work out for several hours, the next day, I feel like I have been run over by a truck. Unlike a lot of people who seem to want to be running everything forever, Ronda can't move back home and pitch in soon enough to suit me. The reason I push these kids is because having to fight back, having their faced pushed into the mat when they lie on their stomach and hide in matwork will make them turn and fight. Now, when it happens in a real match, they won't expect the referee to save them from unnecessary roughness.

They will expect to save themselves!

This is what I want for the athletes I coach, both on the mat and in life.

This is the first step. We need to DRAMATICALLY increase the level of physical toughness we expect from our athletes. My youngest daughter came up to me at practice to complain one day that she had a small cut and something was bleeding. Before she finished, she turned away and walked back to her group for randori saying,
"Forget it. I know what you are going to say. You're going to say, 'Suck it up. You have lots of blood.' "

A good coach, as well as any honest athlete, knows the difference between the bumps and bruises that are a part of training and actual injury. You don't train through injury unless maybe it is your last shot at the Olympics or world championships. On the other hand, if someone stepped on your foot, accidentally bumped heads or ground your face into the mat, you don't whine, cry or sit out a round.

Good lessons for judo, good lessons for life

Here are some realizations that come with mental toughness.

1. No one is going to save you.
We don't allow bullying at the training center, but we do allow people to get thrown hard, to have someone put all of their weight on them in matwork, to twist them into uncomfortable positions. If it hurts to be in that position, get out of there.

2. Accidents happen. Sometimes people bump heads, they try a foot sweep and accidentally kick you in the ankle. It doesn't make them evil people. The more rounds you go with hard people, the more likely one of them will come in hard and miss, accidentally smacking you in the eye or knocking you to a knee. You won't die. Unless it happens from the same person a lot, I probably won't even yell at him or her. Accidents happen, it's nobody's fault. Just move on.

3. Sometimes people are better than you
. People will throw you, pin you, armbar you. It is not always a cheap shot, bad judo, they out-muscled you. Sometimes they are just better. Walking off the mat and trash-talking them gets you no sympathy. If they really are cheating, it has a way of catching up with you. They won't be around long.

4. No one has the right to beat anyone.
"Better" is not a permanent condition. Athletes who want to get on top know this. Athletes who want to stay on top know this. Going to other clubs, to camps and to places like the West Coast Judo Training Center is good because in most dojos people have a comfortable hierarchy. It has been established who can beat who, we all kind of agree to get along. When you come to some place new, it's not like that and you have to earn your place all over again, sometimes every day. Hey, just like a tournament! You don't get to start every match with a koka just because you were last year's national champion.

How do you build mental toughness? Lots of rounds of randori with hard people who push athletes a little further than they think they can go. As I mentioned yesterday, development is gradual. I may go 85% with an athlete this week, 90% next month and 95% the month after that. When I am going 100% and still can't push that athlete then maybe he or she needs to go in a group of heavier players like with Tony Comfort or Eric Sanchez.

The best people to push developing players are often those who have just retired from competition. They are fast enough, in good enough condition and skilled enough to make young players work hard just to keep on their feet or off their backs. At the same time, those who have just retired are not competing with up and coming players, and, I have found, they usually honestly want to pass on their knowledge and help the next generation.

I think I may just set up a recruiting station outside the Olympic Trials in Las Vegas, with a sign saying,

"Did you decide to retire from competition after this tournament? Sign up here to help us build a generation of champions."

We underestimate this MTV generation a lot, I think. They have a lot to offer and we need to put them to work developing the younger players coming up behind them into a generation of champions.

How do you get tough enough? People who care about you help you get that way. You never, never, never give up.

P.S. A note on crying: I've never been one for crying. Ronda, on the other hand, cries if it is Thursday and her uchimata doesn't work. Some people think crying is terrible and against the spirit of judo. Ronda says to think of it like a face leak. If you're one of those people who cries easily and can't help it, I wouldn't worry about it. When I was at Venice Dojo, I had a five-minute crying rule. Anyone could go off the mat and cry at any time for any reason - but no more than five minutes out of every practice. If you practice 85 minutes and cry for five - so what.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Can You Help Me Get Better? Yes.

Individual Development Plans for Athletes

An extraordinarily high percentage of people who were world and Olympic medalists from this country have been coached by their parents. These included Liliko Ogasawara (world silver medalist), Jimmy Pedro, Jr. (world gold medalist and two-time Olympic bronze medalist), Darlene Anaya (world bronze medalist)and Ronda Rousey (world silver medalist). This is probably one-fourth of all individuals to win medals at that level, and certainly not one-fourth of all judo players have their own mother or father as a coach.

What type of advantages do these athletes receive? If we wanted to extend these advantages to other athletes, what would we do?

1. Give the athlete instruction and challenges at the appropriate level. As a parent, you see your child daily in all sorts of contexts. You know if your child is physically and emotionally mature enough to be challenged more. Interestingly, of the three I know - Ronda, Darlene and Jimmy - none were fighting in the senior divisions at a very young age. However, when they did enter senior competition, they were ready to win and did well from the beginning.

2. Continually, but gradually, push athletes to a higher level of physical and mental strength. At each age, every six months or a year, at least, the bar should keep rising. The athlete who wins the junior nationals in the 13-14 division one year should win the junior nationals in the 13-14 and the 15-16 year old divisions the next. GRADUAL is a key word here. I have seen far too many kids who were good juniors be sent to Paris or Hungary to fight at 16 years old, or younger, "for the experience" and get put through a meat-grinder.

3. Top physical conditioning. There is no excuse for not being in peak physical condition. Young athletes (under 13) would be doing daily push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and other exercises at their level. Older athletes would be running and lifting weights every day, with times and weights recorded every day and increased gradually over the course of the year.

4. Individual analysis and correction of throwing techniques.
Each player would be monitored in practice several times each week and errors in technique corrected nearly every time they occurred so that players were not practicing bad habits. Experts would be called in to work with individual players on their best techniques. These experts would really be experts, too, invited to work with the player because of their specialized knowledge and not as pay back for a favor because they voted for someone in the last election, slept with someone else or didn't rat on someone who was sleeping with someone else in the last election.

Then there is matwork .... I have a whole lot to say about that, not surprisingly, but since I now have what some of my friends refer to as "an actual job", as opposed to that whole telecommuting vice-president gig I had before, I need to actually get up in the morning. So... my thoughts on matwork will have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Money Intelligently Applied

It has often been said that the problem with judo in America is definitely NOT a lack of money. If the same people were given $10 million they would have the same lack of results.

If that is true, and I personally happen to believe it is, and what we lack is something money can't buy, what exactly IS it? On a more positive note, what would make a difference?

Three things.

  1. Will

  2. Knowledge

  3. Implementation

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans.

-- Peter Drucker

In judo, I have met many people with wishes. They wish that an American could win an Olympic gold medal. They wish that they could coach a winning team at an international tournament. There is an enormous gap between wishes and plans and the bridge between that gap is commitment.

Our athletes, coaches, parents and administrators need the will to make life better. They need the commitment to change and the faith that they can.

The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.

-- Vince Lombardi

Finding the unwavering will to be excellent is not easy and most people never accomplish it.

Let's assume for a moment that you really, truly have the will to create an excellent program. What would you do?

  • You would establish judo programs all around the country, in all types of areas, urban, rural, suburban, affluent, low-income. You would do this by implementing an effective coach/instructor certification program that would allow the reasonably intelligent teenager or adult to teach a basic course after three or four months of well-designed training.

  • You would create an informational program aimed at getting your certified instructors in community centers, YMCAs and other facilities around the country. The easiest way to do this in many cases would be to train their existing staff.

  • You would develop a coach program for black belts that would allow them to work with the beginning instructors as mentors and also to take a group of yellow belts and move them up to the brown or black belt level.

  • These programs would include QUALITY audio, video, print and web-based information that instructors could afford.

  • You would write for grant-funded programs to provide uniforms, entry fees and travel expenses for low-income programs and for children at risk. Judo has a great deal to offer these children.

  • For youth who show promise, defined as exceptional performance and motivation, you would provide individualized development plans. These would include an assessment of the person's strengths and weaknesses and matching them with the coaches who could best meet their needs. Coaching would be a team approach. Those who are experts in matwork would work with youth who need further development in that area. If an athlete needed help with harai goshi or seoi nage or fighting left-handed players, the coach who could best help would be asked to step in. And guess what, that is not always the same person!

These are just a few steps to start. We can do this. Guess what? We are doing it. Hayward Nishioka has developed an assistant instructor program. Jim Pedro, Sr. has developed a coach education program. We have a USJA/USJF West Coast Judo Training Center. Gary Goltz and I have solicited grants from non-profits, corporations and donations from individuals.

Do you have the will to work to make things better? Email me at . We'll put you to work. Don't have any time? Send your donation to USJA Development Fund, 21 North Union Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO USA 80909. We'll put your money to work - intelligently.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Reports of the death of the job market seem to have been greatly exaggerated

In my prelude to retirement, I actually applied for four jobs. In each case, it was something I was really interested in doing, enough that I would even consider going back to work. Well, I got invited to interview for five jobs. Yes, the math is a little off there. One of the jobs was advertised by an employment service and apparently, when they found out I did not take the first job, they sent my resume on to someone else.

I started work at one university today as a statistical consultant, and, at the same time, received an email inviting me to teach a statistics course at another university. The people could not have been nicer. The campus is beautiful and they have all the geek, tech-y stuff I love. So, for the next few weeks I get to install new software, check out documentation for new features and just generally play around, if that was my definition of playing around, which it is. It doesn't get much better than that.

There were a few things that made me go, "Hmmmm." However, having moved very often when we were children, my mother had standard advice when we came to a new place,
"It's amazing how much you can learn with an open mind and a closed mouth. Too bad most people approach new places just the opposite."

Sometimes, mother really does know best.

It is pretty strange for me, though. Unlike most people, I have been able to telecommute for the past several years. My mornings involve pulling on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and walking three steps to my desk. Getting (more) dressed up, driving to an office are things I haven't done in years. On the plus side, it doesn't involve being in an airport and changing time zones two or three times every month. When you are filling out a form and under "time zone" you honestly don't know which to put, your life is a little hectic for sure.

This week, I have a webcast on culturally appropriate outreach, so I need to prepare for that. I am also working on an evaluation of a National Science Foundation Project and writing an article on effective computer-based training. Yeah, and there is some judo stuff in there. Growing Judo is due by next Saturday to Adam Stevenson, our proof-reader/editor/graphic designer. I want to get Julia to judo more often and I have a development plan that is SO overdue it is not funny.

Often, I hear friends say they wish they could just do judo for a living, but I have never felt that way for a minute. Someone once told me,

"Jugglers don't get paid very well and sometimes the balls hit them in the head."

Maybe, but I have seen a lot more people who looked bored when they were knitting than I have seen bored jugglers. So, I don't think I will learn to knit just yet.
==========REQUIRED JUDO TIP =========================================

When really good coaches make blanket statements,
"Don't do one-handed judo. It is inferior."

They don't really mean it.

All absolute statements are wrong. Even this one.

When you are first learning judo, and even when you are a mid-level player (I consider a first-degree black belt - a shodan - a mid-level player) your coach may say such things to you as, "You should only focus on one side. Don't switch to a left grip if you are a right-handed player."

Does this mean you should NEVER fight left-handed? No. What it means, usually, is that your coach sees a weakness, such as you allow the other player to force you to change your grip. Similarly, if an opponent wants to fight you one-handed (which I always liked to do), then you better believe that person feels that he or she is at an advantage playing one-handed judo.

START OFF learning the basics. Do two-handed judo (by which I mean you have two hands on the opponent's gi.) Get a few good throws on your dominant side. Learn a turnover from your back, the opponent's back, your hands and knees.

Drill the basics. When you have a solid base, THEN you can go off and be the exception, fighting one-handed, switching from right to left . No one starts out as the exception, although sometimes they end there.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Regional Training Center: I Know Why We Are Doing This Now!

Whenever a person becomes a champion, all sorts of interesting stories surface about their early years, with one common thread, none of them are true.

For example, Ronda was NOT one of the "elite" local players when she was younger. Yesterday, a visitor to the training center commented that he had heard about her when she was 16, but this was five years after she started competing and right before she made her first U.S. team. Until that time, the only people who could pick her out of a crowd were our family friends and the people in her division she was beating.

When Ronda started judo, she was a skinny little kid who was far behind all of the other 11 and 12-year-olds who had been in judo five or six years already. She would lose in the tournaments and people would say comfortingly,
"Don't feel bad, that girl has been the national champion five times. You just started."

The picture above is Ronda at 13, holding her eight-year-old cousin, who was almost the same size. When future Olympic hopefuls were mentioned in our local development meetings, Ronda's name was never one of those brought up. Not only was she not placing in the senior nationals at age 13, I didn't even ask for an age waiver for her to compete in them.

What does this have to do with the training center? When I look at the advantages Ronda did have it was that she had me, a former world champion, training her every day. (If your response is, "You think you are so great. You are so conceited!" - go back and read the previous post on ducks. Having a world champion help you every day is a good thing. ) She also had as resources a whole group of my friends. There were terrific people like Hayward Nishioka who helped her with tactics, gripping and videotape analysis, who was always giving me DVDs and videos so I could be a better coach for her. Blinky Elizalde and Willy Pena taught her uchimata. Later, Wayne Yoshimura, gold medalist in the Police and Firemans Olympics and Brian Marks, world medalist in kata, helped her with it more. Tony Mojica taught her how to train for competition. Trace Nishiyama taught her drop seoi nage. There is a very long list. At the beginning, all of them helped her for a simple reason - I knew them and I asked them. One example really stands out. We were at a camp before the Junior U.S. Open. Ronda was a 12-year-old green belt and I saw Irwin Cohen standing by the side of the mat. I pulled her toward him and said,
"My daughter could really use some work on her grips and that's what you are really known for. Would you mind working with her on them, please?"

As I stood by the side watching, someone came up to me and said,
"I thought you didn't like Irwin. Why did you ask him to help your daughter?"

That's got to be one of the dumbest questions I was ever asked. I replied,
"She needs to work on her grips. He's one of the best people in the country for that. What the hell difference does it make whether I like him or not?!"

The fact is, I don't have a thing against Irwin personally, I like him as much as I like anyone else, but that is completely beside the point. The first time I asked for an age waiver (for those of you who don't know - this is a form asking the national governing body to waive the minimum age requirement for a specific athlete), Ronda was 14 years old and it was for her to attend the U.S. Open training camp with Pat Burris, Neil Adams and Maurice Allen. I knew each of them could help her in specific areas. If it had been someone else, Pat may have said,
"This is a fourteen-year-old purple belt who has never competed in seniors and been in judo only three years. I am sorry, this is far too much above her level."

Instead, he trusted my judgment and let her come. Much of the camp, he and Maurice Allen worked with her themselves because our "elite" national players couldn't be bothered.

What does this have to do with the training center?

If special advantages could be provided for Ronda, why not for other kids? Why could we not create a training center where athletes who really wanted to get better could come and learn, where on a weekend a kid could learn seoi nage from Joey Nawa or uchimata from Blinky Elizalde or a half-nelson from Gary Butts or juji gatame from me or tai otoshi from Carlos Mendez or sumi gaeshi from Ronda Rousey.... Why not?

I know why I am doing this. It is to give kids who want to get better another opportunity IN ADDITION to the ones they already have. It is not to take them away from their clubs and coaches but to add to what their clubs and coaches are already doing. I believe in this. See that sign when you come into the training center? It says on it,

There are people who said it could never happen. There are people who said that the USJA and USJF could never work together. But enough of us believed in it that it DID happen. There are still people every week that run down what we do. They say our facilities don't look as nice as some others (I priced the space Frank is letting us use for free - the same amount in that area rents for $1,600 a month). They say our athletes are not all brown and black belts so they are a waste of time.

Those people used to bother me. Interestingly, they never bothered Tony, Ronda or Gary, proving that my fellow coaches are all smarter than me. They don't bother me any more. I know this program will survive, be strong and grow. Because belief IS strength and we believe in this. Children shouldn't have to have a mother who was a world champion or a father who was a world team coach to have a shot at achieving their best. They shouldn't have to meet someone's definition of "good enough" to train or train with. They are good enough because they have the heart to come in and train extra days. They are good enough because they weren't willing to accept someone else's definition of them as not worth the time and effort, not one of those who are going to make it. I believe in those kids and I believe in what we are doing.

My friend, Lanny Clark, now chair of senior development for USJA, who has known me long enough to have seen both Ronda and I compete once commented,
"You know what you and your little girl have in common? When you attack, both of you have wicked intentions. You are just determined the other person is going to lose and even if you haven't the best technique or the best angle of attack you overpower them by sheer determination."

This time, we both have good intentions. We intend to keep pulling and pushing until we have the best coaches available to work with ALL of our kids and can offer opportunities to ALL athletes and coaches who want to make judo better.

If you are saying to yourself that good intentions are not enough, then you really don't know me very well.

Believe it!

As for those of you who would like to see the training center fail, who would like to see the USJA fail or other bad intentions (and before you say, "Oh no, that's not it", take a good look. Why are you tearing things down instead of helping?)

I am reminded of the lines from Harry Potter:
Harry Potter: That even though we've got a fight ahead of us, we've got one thing that Voldemort doesn't have.
Ron Weasley: Yeah?
Harry Potter: Something worth fighting for.

And you? What are you fighting for?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Are you kind of a duck?

"I felt like a wolf being bitten to death by ducks."

The comment was made by a friend of mine, a former great competitor, about his experiences with administration of judo programs. This sentiment has been echoed around the country, and I have sometimes felt the same way myself.

The situation repeats over and over. Someone organizes what he (or she) hopes to be a great judo experience. They find instructors with outstanding credentials; hard-working, motivated players attend; generous, kind-hearted people donate mats, money and facilities to make the event possible. Then the ducks start.

"There was no web page for the event."
"The start time/ date/ location wasn't listed on the flyers."
"It started half an hour late (or more)."
"The email was not sent out until three days in advance."
"People came in the back door/ late/ early and did not get charged."

There are three responses to the ducks.

  1. Feel very depressed because all of these are valid points. Events should start on time, everyone should pay the same amount, flyers should have start times, dates and locations.

  2. Get angry at the lack of appreciation for the great judo opportunities, funding provided and best efforts put out by the judo players on the mat.

  3. Get angry and then get depressed.

I tend to fall into the "none of the above" category because a few of the ducks are among my friends. In life in general, it is best to sincerely try to understand the other person's point of view. When I listened to a couple of "ducks",they did not think they were being unreasonably harsh.

"After all, how hard is it to get a flyer together, get a sanction and put something up on a website?"

This made me laugh, and I replied,
"Well, it is not very hard, for you. However, do you ever stop to think that those same judo coaches who you are criticizing don't understand why you cannot watch a video and immediately see that the reason blue lost is that he let white get an inside grip while he took an outside grip and that made blue vulnerable to a leg pick? Wasn't that obvious? We all think the things that are easy for us are easy for everyone."

If you are a duck , are you a good duck? Are you the kind of person who criticizes administrative failures (of which there are indeed many) because it seems so easy to you? If so, please email me at The USJA could desperately use the services of people like you. If you would rather work for the USJF , your local yudanshakai or the state governing body, believe me, they ALL need people who can organize a clinic, create flyers, get a sanction, handle pre-registration and the thousand other tasks of putting on an event. To most people, it is NOT easy.

If you are the kind of person who criticizes others because you get some pleasure out of putting down the efforts of others, because it makes you feel better about your own lack of accomplishments, then I feel sorry for you. At least all those wolves are out there trying their best to hunt down opportunities to make judo better, while you are just pecking at them. You are a very bad duck!

What if you are a wolf? (Sorry I don't have any pictures of wolves. This was the closest I could come and if your immediate comment is a sarcastic, "Well, that isn't very close," then you obviously fall in the bad duck category and should not be reading this paragraph anyway because it does not apply to you.)

Here is what has worked for me and kept me from quitting 1,000 times. Hang out with other wolves. Get support from people who are positive, encouraging and have the same goals you do. When people criticize the West Coast Judo Training Center, my fellow coaches, Tony Comfort, Gary Butts and Ronda Rousey, are always the first to come to the support of our players and our program.

"We believe in these young people and their potential. It doesn't matter what other people think. I see how hard they train."

"If someone doesn't want to be trained by me, I don't want to train them. I'll pour everything I have into the players we have right here."

Today, Carlos Mendez, who represented both the U.S. and Puerto Rico in international competition, just happened to drop by the training center. He was a great inspiration to all of the players and a great help to everyone from teaching sankaku to players having trouble to helping with harai goshi to jumping in during randori. I had not seen him compete in years and it finally dawned on me it was the same person, who had just moved to L.A. He didn't come in and say, "I won this and this and this."I had to ask him, "Have I gone crazy or are you the same Carlos Mendez who..?"

Stick with the wolves. If you can find some nice ducks to help you out, be nice to them and count your blessings.

As for the rest - ignore them. They're just big ducks and you're still a wolf.