Monday, February 23, 2009

Slowing Down at the Finish Line

Imagine this scene ... you are watching a race, say a 10K (that is 10,000 meters for you mathematically challenged, which is a little over six miles). The runners start out fast, vying for position. It is, after all, a race. At the half-way, they are still running like bats out of hell, assuming that the bats had decided to run instead of fly. This being the nature of a race, you are not surprised. Two-thirds of the way through the race, a couple of people start jogging. Concerned, you look to see if they have pulled a muscle. Nope. They have just decided to start jogging instead. The last half-mile, most of the people are jogging. By the time they get to the finish line, one person is still running. He wins the race. The rest of the people are jogging, walking fast or a couple are even walking slowly, like a stroll in the park.

Now, you are probably asking yourself, what the hell kind of race is THAT! This would never happen. If it did, you can imagine the coaches losing it and screaming,
"Johnny, RUN, damn it! You're in a race! What the hell are you doing?"

Normally, I would not condone coaches talking to their players in that manner, but as your runner strolls toward the finish line, I think you could be forgiven for, to be frank, losing it.

What has all of this got to do with judo? Too often, I see players stroll toward the finish line. I saw an example of it at practice on Saturday. Practice started out well. We did our conditioning indoors, started with speed uchikomis, throwing drills for speed, over and unders and generally had a good morning workout. The afternoon started well with technical instruction on matwork, then several rounds of matwork. Then, as we went on for several rounds of randori, people started to slow up toward the finish line. We had people hiding in the corners trying to get a round off. A couple of the youngest ones were in tears. The older ones, being smarter at slacking, walked around the mat in that "I kick at your foot and we call it ko uchi gari" type of randori.

So, Tony and Gary "lost it" a little bit. I put that in quotes because they did not swear at anyone or do anything inappropriate and they were absolutely correct. Tony had the entire team do push-ups and then he, Gary and Eric Sanchez each said their piece. Tony said it well,

"Winning is about focus. That's true in life, in competitive sports. If you lose your focus, you make mistakes, whether it is on your job because you have a lot of distractions or in a tournament because you are nervous. Here is where you learn to focus, at the end of practice, when you are tired, when you have been going for a long time, you keep going, you don't give up, you don't lose your focus. Learn it here, now!

Gary added,
"I am here to coach. I'm not here to be your friend. You want friends, go to the playground and find one. I don't need any 11-year-old friends. I come here to help you get better and that's the only reason."

Eric said,
"The unique thing about this place is it's a TRAINING program and people are supposed to train here. You guys are here because you are supposed to be able to train harder than the average person. You have an opportunity, don't waste it."

Think about this. It's all words of wisdom, really. I didn't say anything because they said it all well.

++++++Unrelated random trivia and facts +++++++++

I do really like this team, though. Working out, someone hit me in the eye. This is how it looked two days later. At the time, it looked pretty gross. In fact, the only reason I am staying home writing this blog is I could not put my contacs in so I couldn't drive to work. The funny part is, several people came up to me at practice and asked , "Who did that to you?" in a tone implying they were going to take apart whoever did it. I was very touched by that considering that about half the people who asked me came up to Tony's navel. If I had pointed at Tony, I would not be surprised if they would have gone after him. And no, Ronda, before you post that you don't care if it was Tony or Eric and you are going to come to the training center and teach people a lesson, to whit,
"Don't poke my mother in the eye."

I don't know who did it and whoever it was, I am sure it was an accident.

Other random unrelated stuff, Growing Judo is coming out soon. Jim Pedro's article on coaching juniors under 12 is pretty good. He talks a lot about the need for drill training and had some interesting ideas on competition for kids under 12.

Related to this, we have TWO technical sessions coming up. In addition to practice next Saturday, February 28 at our regular times (10-11:30 and 1-4) we have Terry Kunihiro coming at the end to discuss the rule changes AND on March 1, from 10-1 we have Dr. Jake Flores giving a clinic on combinations and counters. THEN, on Sunday, March 8, we have Kenji Osugi and Hayward Nishioka teaching a clinic on foot techniques. We may have some other special guests as well. If you bring Hayward's book on foot techniques (published by Black Belt), I am sure he would be happy to autograph it.

Reminder: Don't slow down at the finish line!

A while back, Ronda posted on her blog about how coaches think athletes are deaf. Now, you all know why.

Monday, February 16, 2009

If I Have to Explain It, Maybe You Can't Understand?

I was reading a post from a karate instructor on "How to be a world champion". I started to respond but it got so long that I thought I would just do it as my next post here instead.

Having been a world champion, and now the mother of a world silver medalist, I can see truth in every single one of his points. Talent is "necessary but not sufficient". I'd say, though, at least 3% of the population has that physical ability to win at the world level.

The "it" that is so rare is that drive that MAKES you win. I like that line from the movie, "the eye of the tiger".

You put a tiger and a cow in the same cage, and even though the cow might weigh more, the tiger knows one of them is going to be dinner and it's not him.

Perhaps this is impossible to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it, kind of like explaining "red" to someone who is color-blind.

Mark Hunter commented that some people think if you were never a champion or don't coach champions you don't know anything and your judo sucks. That's not what I think, and I don't know many people who have won a lot of medals who think that way. There are some, of course, any subgroup in the world has its share of jerks.

The best I heard it put into words was one day at the training center when someone asked me if I thought a particular player would ever beat Ronda. I said,

"No. Because she fights to win to make other people happy, her mom, her coach, while Ronda fights to win because - "

and as I searched for the right word, one of the parents interjected,

"- because it's her right!"

I once heard an expert on Autism comment that,
"People like to believe that inside every child with Autism is a 'normal' child who is trying to get out. I believe that there is NOTHING in there. Not literally nothing, of course, but that in children with Autism there is something missing that IS there in other children."

I don't know if he is right about Autism but I do believe that in people who have become world-class athletes - and I mean people who actually win world championships, not people who go out in the first 30 seconds of the first round - there is something in there that is not in other people.

There is a hunger to win that's almost physical. There is a very irrational belief that it is their right to win.

This is something different than conceit. Conceited people think they can win without training, or without making the sacrifices other people do. I've met a lot of people like that, way more than I have met world champions.

Rob Redmond mentions two things in his blog

* Push - The ability to make yourself do something you don't want to do
* Deny - The ability to not do something that you want to

Real champions have both those in spades. These are the people who are there after practices, doing drills with anyone they can get to stick around, the people who NEVER miss practice. They skip proms, dates, job interviews - yes, I did once have to choose between a scholarship interview and the senior nationals. I went to the senior nationals and won. (Hey, I got a DIFFERENT scholarship! Don't ever think I am encouraging anyone to drop out of school.)

One thing he did not mention - for real champions, judo isn't an excuse to avoid facing life. I have seen a lot of people who dropped out of school, didn't get jobs, didn't go into the real world because they were 'pursuing an Olympic dream', yet they came to practice three or four times a week.

That pushing and denial is hard, but, I think it is perhaps not as hard as for other people because they really, really deep down believe they can win. A lot of those "Olympic dreamers", I watch train and compete and I know that they don't believe they can win.

My friend Bruce Toups used to say, "It's all about the want-to."

That's some of it, but it's more than that. Linda Richardson, a terrific competitor from Wisconsin who won the British Open had it embroidered on her black belt,
"Belief is strength."

That's some of it, but it's more than that, too. It's wanting it, believing you can have it - but what is "it", anyway? Is it a medal?

I saw some of it when Ronda was fighting Annette Boehm, got thrown with tomoe nage and twisted out a few inches from the mat to land on her feet and come back at her. I tried to explain it to Ronda's father when I came back from the world championships and he looked at the bruises on my arms, my knee swollen up and asked,

"Why do you do this?"

I tried to explain it to him, that, when everything worked, when you have trained so much, done that drill so many times that when she turns left that way, you automatically hit right, that everything falls into place just like magic, you are one step ahead in time because you know what happens next, when you just feel like you could fly, you could do anything.

He said,

"I don't get it. Is it better than sex?"

(Hint to you young people: NEVER answer questions like that from your spouse. Feign deafness, fake your own death if you have to. The only reasonable thing to do under such circumstances is to change the subject. Like this.)

After the world championships, I came home, earned more degrees, had more children. Many people can't believe that it never bothered me that for years Mike Swain got credit for being the first world champion from America. People don't believe that Ronda borrowed my medal for good luck, lost it and I don't really care.

Here's what I tried to explain to Ron so many years ago.

I didn't want recognition of being best in the world. I didn't want a gold medal.

What I really, really wanted more than anything in the whole world was to be that good.

At the peak of my career, I got that.

I tried to explain this to my daughter, Jenn, this week and she said,
"Mom, I don't get it and I don't care. Physical achievement has never been as impressive to me as intellectual achievement. I don't feel like I am missing anything."

Well, I'm not too dumb, either, and I am very happy that I can conceptualize how one could mathematically rotate factors in seven-dimensional space, that I understand psychometric theory pretty well and am a fairly whiz-bang programmer.

But, I'm not talking about that right now, and, I guess if you think like Jenn then, for the moment, I am not talking to you.

If you want it and you have what it takes, if all of those slogans you see, "It's not life and death, it's much more important than that," "There are lessons to be learned from competition but fear is not one of them" - if those aren't slogans but how you feel. If the first thought in the morning when you open your eyes is how much you want to win, and it's the thought you fall into dreams of at night, if you feel like you HAVE to do it - then do it and take my word for it that it is worth it all and more.

Think about this ... The one thing I wanted more than I could ever want anything on this earth -- I got it. You know, everything for the rest of my life was gravy, because I didn't die at twenty-six.

I got what I wanted most in the whole world and THEN, got to marry the man of my dreams, have children, get a Ph.D., start a business, coach judo, teach college and a hundred other good things ALL ON TOP OF THAT. As my coach, Jimmy Martin used to say,

"You are one lucky b---- !"

If you have whatever "it" is, you are looking at the long, hard road ahead and wondering, "Is this all worth doing, in the end?"

The answer is this: Yes.

P.S.: For someone who probably explains this all better than me, you could read the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi .

Saturday, February 14, 2009

What happened to mutual benefit?

In Spanish, my grandmother called them "dichos", sayings you use to teach the young. Sayings like, "True friends are what make you rich," or "A man's word is his most prized possession."

In judo, we have two "dichos" that are supposed to guide us, often these are repeated at the bow in at the beginning and end of practices. The first of these is :

"Mutual benefit and welfare."

Whatever happened to that? I have heard a lot of people lately, parents, coaches, adult students, saying,

"I need to focus on my club. I need to give everything to my people, my students. I don't have time to help the USJA, help at local tournaments. I need to devote myself to my players."

Reacting to one such response, USJA Treasurer, Lowell Slavin, from Indiana, said,
"That is one of the most selfish individuals that I ever met."

I thought about Lowell's comment a lot because I truly respect Lowell, just as much as the person he was criticizing. How is it possible to call someone selfish who is working to make other people better?

Speaking to Jeff Miller, from Acadia Judo down in Louisiana, he made a comment that clarified it for me, something along the lines of,

"It can't all be about YOUR club. If all of the other clubs' players quit judo, who are your players going to have to randori with at camps, compete against at tournaments and work out with at clinics? If you don't develop other coaches in your area, where will those other clubs be that put on events that you can attend?"

I understand that we all have limits to what we contribute. Recently, Ronda asked me to help her word an email and I happened to see the list of dozens of emails she had received. Every one of them was asking her for something, to come to a practice, run a clinic, write a letter, teach at a camp. I felt bad for her, because even if she did nothing but respond to these people all day long, there was no way she could have satisfied all of the demands on her. Sure, everyone has limits. You are working, maybe raising a family or going to school, and doing judo. That is a pretty full life.

Still, if it is all about YOU, YOUR CLUB, YOUR PLAYERS, YOUR TEAM, then I think you are a little bit arrogant and a little bit selfish. That magazine, Growing Judo, that comes out every month, people like Adam Stevenson of Wisconsin, Jim Pedro of Massachusetts, Willie Williams and Bill Montgomery of Connecticut and James Wall from Louisiana - they all write articles to make that happen. American Judo magazine exists because of the efforts of Connie Halporn and Ronald Charles. The USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals happen because Gary Goltz and his enormous team of volunteers make it happen.

All of those tournaments you attend - someone keeps score, keeps time, puts down the mats, referees, schedules the building, gets a sanction - and much more, to make it happen. Jack Wada once did a break down of how many people it takes to run the average local tournament in California including pool sheets, registration, weigh-ins, etc. and came up with 73 volunteers - for a local tournament. Every camp, every clinic, the USJA website done by volunteer John Moe of Discover Judo - someone makes all of that happen - someone ELSE.

Do you really, really think you are doing everyone else a favor by showing up with your team? Well, as my kids say,
"Check yourself."

Guess what? Every event, every camp, every clinic, every organization is held up by people who VOLUNTEER. If you are the instructor of a huge club, the coach of an Olympic athlete, there is a big ego trip for you. Your name is at the top of the list on the USJA website, you get to be shown sitting in the coach's chair during the Olympic trials. However, SOMEONE got to the tournament at 6:30 a.m. to put down the mats, even though they have a club, a team, and a family, too. Someone stayed up past midnight to update the website, or like George Weers, to send out the USJA Headlines to thousands of people so they knew about the events.

It is nice that Gary Goltz has the biggest club in the USJA, but I am more impressed by the fact that he is the USJA Chief Operating Office at a salary of NOTHING, a job the other organizations pay many tens of thousands per year to have done. And, then he goes to local tournaments and referees matches between five-year-olds.

As the senior statistical consultant at one of the best universities in the world, I am very fortunate to work with lots of brilliant people in a great many fields on a daily basis. It's nice that Jim Pedro, Sr. coached people to the Olympics,but I see that level of competence in one area or another ten times a week - what impresses me more is that for three years he wrote a monthly coaching column for Growing Judo and he has taught clinics all around the country.

Those people who are all about MY club, MY players, MY team, MY kids ....

In the Bible, Christ says that those who openly give to charity, who sacrifice for the church and moan about it have already had their reward on earth, so there is no need to reward them in heaven. I may be mixing my metaphors a bit here, but I think if it is all about you and your team, there is not so much mutual benefit going on.

Pictured above - Ronda teaching at a camp in San Diego. One of the kids was her little sister, the other 34 people on the mat were not from her club, and after practice she drove 90 miles to be at work at 6 p.m. Olympic medals are nice. Being a good person is better. If my grandmother was still alive she would have a dicho for that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I really wish I had brought the videocamera to practice yesterday so I could show you how our players are training. It probably should not have come as a surprise that Tony, Gary and I all showed up on Saturday with the plan of working on speed drills. After all, we had been watching the same people in tournaments and practice.

Part of the reason I write this blog is to give other people the opportunity I have been blessed to have, that is, to learn from an enormous bounty of really good judo coaches. Today, just a random day standing around at a tournament sponsored by Ogden Judo Club at the Masonic Lodge in Bellflower, Olympian Tony Okada showed up with his club and we were discussing training methods while watching our players.

When Ronda was 12 years old, I could call former world and Olympic coaches like Hayward Nishioka, Jim Hrbek and Tony Mojica, walk up to coaches of Olympic and world level players like Dr. Jake Flores and Gerry Lafon at local tournaments and say,
"Hey, watch my little pumpkin out there. What do you think she ought to be doing?"

The first drills we did I picked up at the coaches clinic I attended a couple of weeks ago at San Gabriel Dojo, with Gerry Lafon and Mike Noriega. We did drills for footwork. We didn't have an agility ladder, so we laid belts along the mat and the players had to step both feet to one side, then the other all the way down, as fast as they could.

Next, I put two belts down, made a circle of each, one next to the other, and had them step in and out as fast as they possibly could, back and forth. The reason for using the belts is if they cross their feet or get off rhythm you end up with the belts being a mess instead of a circle. Then, they did the same drill facing a partner trying to keep up.

We did several more similar drills, then went to timed throws with as many combinations as they could do in 30 seconds. Then, we timed how long it took them to do 10 throws. We did ten-second matwork drills, where one person starts on their back, the other one on top but not touching and they have 10 seconds to win. We did 10-second escape drills where one person starts with an arm at about 100 degrees for an armbar (now don't you wish you had paid attention in geometry?), for the younger ones, they started in a pin. Then, they had 10 seconds to escape.

Next, Tony had brought his music and gave everyone an explanation about why he thought what we were going to do was a good idea. He explained that many people use music when jogging or running on the treadmill to increase their tempo and also focus less on how long until they were done and more on just doing it. He hooked up his ipod to the speakers and played hip-hop music while everyone did moving uchikomis and throws as fast as they could for the length of one song, then switched. Poor Yazmin, my partner, got the longest song in the history of music on her turn to throw. She did not die and got in something like twenty-seven lengths of the mat and twenty-seven throws.

Then, we did 30-second rounds of grip-fighting, two-minute rounds of randori. Every two minutes, we would switch partners, but everyone stayed out for six minutes, then had a round off, as we alternate lightweights and heavyweights. Or, as Tony calls it, midgets and normal people. Erin Butts takes offense at this characterization. Being only 70 pounds and 11 years old, one could say that she resembles that remark.

Even though our emphasis at practice this weekend was "Faster!", I have a slow view of development. I am human and sometimes it bothers me when our players don't win, in part because we have put a lot of time and money into this training center, because I am USJA president, a former world champion - I'm supposed to know stuff, right? I know that there are people who wish for me to fail. Some wish for the West Coast Training Center to fail and some wish for the USJA to fail. However, it bothers me very little and for a very short time.

For one thing, we have people wishing for our new president and our economy to fail, and I and what I am doing is so much less important than that, so why should it bother me.

Secondly, I know that for the first five years she did judo, very few people noticed my daughter, Ronda, at all. The guys at the tournament this weekend reminded me about all the Saturdays and Sundays when she was Julia's size that I brought her down to Ogden's Dojo and went rounds of matwork randori with her, made her do throws over and over.

So, I watched the tournament, I saw some great techniques. I learned some things. Hopefully, our players learned some things. I wasn't that happy with how my daughter, Julia did. She placed third, which doesn't really matter, but she didn't fight as well as she can, which DOES matter. I told her that I was disappointed in her and she should do better, she should attack more, try different attacks, more combinations and different grips, that she is too predictable and not aggressive enough and needs to change. The most important thing I told her, that I hope sticks with her forever, was this:

"It doesn't matter if they are bigger and older than you. No one ever has the right to beat you. Ever. You need to want to win more than you are afraid of losing."

That's an important lesson I want her to learn, because I'm not just her judo coach, I'm her mom.

After our serious discussion, we sat on the stage and ate Skittles she had bought from some kid outside raising money for his school.

"Petunia, how come when I told you to do morote gari you didn't do it?"
"Because I thought you meant to do tani otoshi instead but I couldn't get it."
"Why in the HELL would I tell you to do morote gari if I meant to do tani otoshi?"
"I don't know. Just because you're weird sometimes, I guess."
"Oh yeah, well, so are you. Give me some more skittles."

P.S. The referee in the picture above tying the five-year-olds belt is Gary Goltz, USJA Chief Operating Officer.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Outliers: If you were paying attention, you might learn something

I had such an epiphany this morning, I was debating whether I should post it here because following this plan would give our players such an advantage. Then, I remembered two things.

  1. No one pays any attention to me. I have actual evidence of this fact. For example, I told my daughter, Jenn, to change the guinea pig cages, but are the cages being changed? No. At this moment, Jenn is lying in bed watching TV, surfing the Internet and smoking a cigarette, all at the same time. No cleaning of guinea pig cages is occurring. I didn't want Ronda to start judo when she was little because I thought the expectations would be too high, but Hayward Nishioka told me, "No one remembers who you are. Let the kid do it."

  2. All of the advice in the whole world won't get you very far unless you get out there and bust your @$$. Most people are looking for the magic bullet, or, in this case, the magic dojo, where the greatness of their coach or multitude of training partners will cause them to win. They will read this and plan on doing it - tomorrow.

Why do the Cubans and Japanese players win? By and large, they are "sudden". They burst into an attack. I sat next to really brilliant coaches at the Olympics and heard them give explanations for players winning that ranged from luck to steroids to they have a million judo players in their country. Those players who barreled into morote gari, ippon seoi and tai otoshi attacked with abandon. They trained to hit an opening.

I overheard comments that it was just conditioning. That's just nonsense. I have known people who trained six hours a day - really trained, not just pretended - were in unbelievable condition - but lost more than they won.

Don't get me wrong, most of the people reading this who actually get my point really won't be helped by it because you have to be in good condition to win and they aren't willing to work that hard. Physical conditioning is a necessary but not sufficient condition for winning.

Then, there were the European players who won. They were very methodical. In fact, if you think of the difference between the stereotypical German and Latin American personalities, you can see parallels in the judo. The European style, which most Americans these days are trying to mimic, involves lots of gripfighting, newaza moves with setups. They get more penalties because they are setting up an opening to attack.

Sometimes the Europeans win, because they get the first grip, frustrate the opponent,as they intend to do, and move into their attack. Sometimes the Cubans and Japanese win because they do more attacking, and if their gripfighting and tactics are not as well developed, they make up for it in the greater frequency of attacks.

You would think the coaches would learn from one another, but I don't see it. Instead, I hear complaints that the other players are doing terrible judo.

Here is my epiphany - in my work, most of what people want me to do is help them predict something - stock prices, death due to a specific disease, months of survival after diagnosis, the next breakthrough invention. To some extent, it is possible, particularly if you have the right variables, but there are those outliers that you just CANNOT predict. As the geologist said in the movie, Volcano -

"There's no history of anything until it happens - and then there is."

Watching an old, old video of myself competing reminded me of this. Much of what I did then would be accepted as a matter of course now - but, at the time, it was unheard of. Women in judo were supposed to be lady-like, focus on technique, do footsweeps, not too much rolling around on the mats. I lifted weights every day. I did the so-called Cuban roll before the Cubans did, having learned it from a world class wrestler at my university, back before women's wrestling was ever considered as an Olympic sport. As one of my competitors told me, years later,
"I was preparing to fight a butterfly and I got a bull. You grabbed me, clamped my arms against my sides and I couldn't move."

The point is to be unexpected. Players know each other and if they don't, within the first sixty seconds or less, it is obvious. This person fights a European style. This is the typical Cuban. Be whichever is your dominant style. Ninety seconds in, hit a ko uchi makikomi one-handed off the grip. The third time you hit the mat, forget the keylock sankaku and try to crank her over with a half-nelson.

Be an outlier. Have both styles equally well and switch between them in the middle of the match. Not even necessarily when you are behind, just at random. It is impossible to predict random variation.

Those outliers are enormous variances from the mean, the companies that made a billion dollars when the average small business fails in less than five years. The lesson here is that if you want to be enormously successful, you need to differ from the average, not just a little, but a lot.

You could be by far the fastest person in the world with uchi mata. Or, you could do a style of judo that nobody does. You could be the smartest judo player in the world. The first person to do that will be an outlier and unpredicted. She (or he), will win one hell of a lot until a lot of other people start copying that style and it becomes predictable.

Do you think you have "the secret" now? Did you miss the first part about how you have to train your @$$ off? Because, you see, it is not enough to be the smartest. You have to be the smartest out of all of the people who are fearless, have a threshold level of god-given athletic talent and are willing to train like hell. Jenn is smart, fearless and has natural athletic ability, but she spent all of her adolescence reading books and making scintillating comments on Xanga, which is why Ronda went to two Olympics and she did not. Of course, that is also the reason Jenn is going to graduate school - the book reading, that is, I am not sure the Xanga had any impact.