"Can I get promoted to black belt?"
He asked, joking (he BETTER be joking, with the day I had!)
Julia was yelling at him,
"You're not even a white belt! You've never done randori! You don't hardly ever even come WATCH me fight! How do you think you should be a black belt?"
"Hey, I know your mom. I sleep with a world champion."
Julia made one of those faces that eleven-year-olds use to let you know you are veering into disgusting territory. My husband said to me, seriously,
"Why do you do this !@#$, anyway?"
I have been asking myself that question a lot lately, I wrote a "professional" editorial for Growing Judo on the direction the USJA is going. Seriously, I had a major operation, I have been working at home for a month because I can't walk and have been on pain medication and in between and after hours doing things like editing the magazine that is still not done.
I was talking to Karl Geis today and here is a brief summary of what I told him:
"Ask anyone who knew me when I was young and they will tell you I was not a very promising child. Make a list of things you don't want your twelve-year-old child to do and I did all of them with fighting at the top of the list. I was GOOD at fighting from the day I started judo because I already had lots of practice. My mom was a very small person, raising five children, working full time and when the school called there wasn't much she could do. If it wasn't for judo, I would be in jail now, no question about it. One day, I came to practice and the coach said,
'Miss AnnMaria, front and center.'
I came up thinking he was going to tell me how well I did in the last tournament. Instead he said,
'I heard from one of your teachers at school that you got in a fight last week.'
I said, with an attitude, as usual,
'If it happens again, don't ever come back here.'
In judo, I fought other kids and I got medals and pats on the back for it. People I had never met, like Frank Fullerton and Bruce Toups, sent plane tickets in the mail because they saw some potential in me. I fought in Paris, London, Vienna, Caracas, Hongkong. At 16, I was in college, at 18 I was an exchange student at Waseda University in Tokyo, where I went to study judo. At 19, I was a college graduate. From there, the path was clear, graduate school, a profession, a world championship, more graduate school, family.
If it wasn't for that first coach, I guarantee you I would be in a women's prison somewhere. "
How do you pay someone back for saving your life? For setting you on a different path? My first judo instructor wasn't an Olympian, he wasn't a very high rank, he didn't have a red and white belt. He learned judo in the Air Force, I think, when he was stationed in Japan. He taught for a few years at the local YMCA while he was going to college on the G.I. Bill, then he got married and moved away. I asked him once why he taught judo and he didn't give me any high-minded lecture. He said something like it seemed like a good thing to do. Three of his students are teaching judo still, Randy Rhodes in Missouri, Tim Schultheis in Illinois and me. There may be more.
So, that is why I do this !@#$ . It's not for all of those people who think they are so important. It's for the people who make up the majority of the USJA, those coaches just like Bill Shelton at the Alton YMCA, who are so important in kids' lives and those kids who could be on the mat or who could be holding up a liquor store and could choose to do the former because those coaches made that choice possible. They are who make judo grow.
I donate money to support judo because I can now, thanks to the educational opportunities I gained as a result of judo. I don't do it so I can get recognized as a sponsor. I do it because Frank and Bruce did it for me, giving me opportunities to help me win because they saw how hard I trained. I do it because this is what I can do. It's not as if I can give Frank his money back (he died a little over a year ago). Bruce is still around, cracking jokes and teaching sasae but I don't think he's going to miss a payment on the Mercedes if he doesn't get a check from me.
When I looked at the results from the election, I was humbled. The first thought that went through my mind was,
"Damn! I hope I don't let these people down."
I mean that with all my heart and the people I thought of were my first coach, the kids at the Alton YMCA, Frank, Bruce, the cute little boys at Hayastan (they have to get more girls in that place), the teenagers at the West Coast Training Center.
I guess that is why I have this blog, because in my editorial in Growing Judo, I need to be presidential and give my vision for the USJA, which can be summed up in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "“The great thing in life is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” Although, of course, being me, I took a page and half more to say it. Still, this is what has been going through my head every day since the election results were announced.
"Damn! I hope I don't let these people down."