Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fun & Games from the West Coast Training Center

Pay attention to the first group to the left. I took this picture today because it illustrates a common problem for many dojos. That is, you have a group of people training but one person is the odd man (or woman) out. Here is one solution. Today we had enough people who were 48 kg and up but we had three smaller people. Two were about the same size but Erin was right in the middle. Too big for the smaller people and too small for the bigger people. In this particular drill, players are pulling their partner across the mat by pulling up their belt hand over hand. It develops hand strength in both players as well as developing the same muscles as rope climbing. This exercise is often preferable because:

A. Most dojos don't have a rope to climb.
B. Many people don't have the physical strength to climb a rope, they need to work up to it.

Since we didn't have a match for Erin, she is going two on one. She is pulling Bradley while Angel sits on him. When they get to the end of the dojo, they switch and Bradley and Angel pull together in a tug-of-war type way. Angel, who is the youngest and smallest, does the least work, Erin, who is oldest and most advanced, does the work of her two partners and Bradley, who is in-between does in-between in terms of work load. At the same time, everyone else has a partner and is doing the same drill.


Too easily distracted to ever do a puzzle with more than two pieces? Well, here is a judo puzzle just for you, then. Ronda throwing Allen Wrench with harai goshi

Print out this page, cut out the pictures and match them up. See, the USJA really does provide judo activities for everyone.

You're welcome.

P.S. Practice is 11-2 tomorrow (Sunday, November 29) 537 Vine St, West Covina, CA
Show up. You know you want to.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

YOU are a recreational player and we love you. Deal with it.

At the USJA Town Hall meeting in Connecticut a very insightful woman commented,

"I am 41 years old and started judo late. I am a brown belt. I will never be an elite competitor and I feel as if most people in judo place no value on me because of that. Being small, middle-aged and female makes that doubly so."

Is it true that we don't value recreational players? Speaking for myself, I would say that I do, very much so. One reason is that I know that people like this woman are much more likely to stay in judo, become a black belt and eventually teach the next generation than the 13-year-old who won the junior nationals this year. Think about the difference in persistence, maturity and just knowing your own mind that you have at 13 versus at 41.

As I told her, the people like me, who competed internationally and then stayed on to teach are RARE. I can think of hundreds of people I knew as competitors who have not been on a judo mat in years. Many of those who do still teach, such as Randy Rhodes in Missouri, I think Lee Naumann is still in judo - these were guys from my club but not household names or Olympic medalists. They were, if we were honest about it, recreational players.

Our recreational players are likely the real base of the pyramid and we better start treating them right. Our USJA board member, George Weers, once asked,

"What does the USJA offer that the average club coach really NEEDS?"

I would answer that we could offer programs to help develop their skills and those of their players. I was just on the phone with John Moe inviting him to bring players to a technique competition we will be hosting at the West Coast Judo Training Center. This program is funded by the USJA and USJF to be a development program. We often try out new ideas and host clinics with people from Sensei Okada to Chuck Jefferson to Richard Elizalde to Ronda Rousey. We have a new clinic coming up with sambo world medalist Roman Mitichiyan. All of these are just to teach more judo.

Back to the technique competition - this is for people to show what judo they KNOW, not how tough they are. Being tough and knowing judo can both happen in the same person, but they don't always. What if you start judo at 40 years old and have to go to work on Monday? Maybe you would like to be recognized for your technique and we certainly want you to have good technique because odds are you will be teaching the next generation. Maybe you are just 13 years old and would like to show off. I'll give more on the specifics in my next post.

Bill Montgomery, one of our incoming board members, said in his inimitably tactful manner,

"I have news for you people, ALL of our judo players in America with the exception of one or two, like AnnMaria's daughter, are recreational players. I hear people say, 'My son, Joe is an elite athlete.' No, he isn't. Your son Joe is ten years old! He still needs to be reminded not to wipe his nose on his sleeve. He is beating other ten-year-old orange belts- oh, excuse me, green belts - that is NOT an elite athlete. Almost ALL of our judo players are recreational. They don't work out seven days a week, 52 weeks out of the year. That's okay. I can accept that as long as they are good people. And, if they're not good people, we don't want them around anyway."

I agree with Bill completely. I see a lot of silliness with people asking me, "Where should I take my 11-year-old to compete?"

I will say the same thing I always do ... You should take your child where he or she will have the most fun. I plan to hit the AAU Nationals this summer because Julia can visit her cousins and grandmothers in Missouri and I want to stay with her in a cabin and take her to swim in an honest-to-God river, which she has never done. Tournaments in between are primarily chosen based on whether we can stay at a hotel with a pool, because she needs to be a very capable swimmer by this summer. I can fish her out of a swift current, but I would rather not. Our other deciding factor is whether there is accompanying fun stuff - we are definitely hitting the All-Women's Tournament in Las Vegas in January (despite the name, competition starts at age five). My little girl has won the USJA junior nationals once and placed in them several times. She is a recreational judo player. You know why? BECAUSE SHE IS #@!ing ELEVEN YEARS OLD !

I am probably going to judo hell for this but when I was in Boston this week I did not take my daughter to Pedro's Judo Club, even though they teach very good judo there. I took her to the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. Although she made and 'A' in science, I was not too pleased with her standardized test scores and I thought she might benefit more from seeing a scaled-down model of the solar system and learning about marine life. We also spent a lot of time in the pool and babysitting my granddaughter, Eva.

Do you see those two people in the picture ? Only one of them is an elite athlete but they both do judo and I love them both. This ad has been brought to you by reality.

Please, please, please, if you are a player, or a coach, or a parent, trade in all the medals for a share of stock in reality. Love your children, value everybody on your mat, because those people you are lavishing all of your time on because they are this year's silver medalist in the senior nationals or a three-time junior national champion at age ten - they aren't much more likely to win world medals than that 40-year-old.

Coincidentally, I ran across this article in Black Belt Magazine from 1975 about women's judo. My name isn't mentioned anywhere. My coach's name certainly isn't mentioned. I was 16 years old and did not even compete in the senior nationals. I was a freshman in college at the time and it never even crossed my mind to go because I could not afford to travel across country.

So, is my point that those recreational players are worth attention because some of them might turn out to be a world champion, like I did?

No. My point is that I wouldn't have BEEN a sixteen-year-old college freshman if it wasn't for the good influence of my recreational judo coaches.

Everyone who steps on that mat is important. That's reality.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Judo Outliers

I really liked Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, which focuses on people who are outstanding performers in fields from music to sports to programming. Gladwell's main conclusion was that people who are outstanding don't spend more hours practicing than people who are simply good, the spend MANY, MANY more hours practicing. He estimated it took around 10,000 hours to get to the point of outstanding performance.

Today, I was evaluating the West Coast Judo Training Center, since I am the kind of person who is constantly ruminating on every aspect of life. It occurred to me that since we had started it a couple of years ago we have had our ups and downs, but the overall trend is for more people to come to practices. Some days, when part of our group is gone to a tournament, we have fewer people than usual. Gary, Victor, Sam and I discussed canceling practice on some of those days and we came to the conclusion that no, we would have practice every single Saturday, as well as Sundays when there is no tournament scheduled. (So, we will be there every Saturday this month AND both Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving so you can work off all that food you overate).

I feel pretty good about the training center, for two reasons.

First, I can see individual progress made by players who come regularly.
This is even easier for Ronda to notice because she is not home that often. She mentioned Sammy, who she is using as an uke in this photo,

"I have never seen a kid improve so much so fast, conditioning, technique, he is light years ahead of where he was when the training center started. Yeah, Frankie and Eric are good coaches and Guerreros is a good club, but you don't see all their people improving that fast, so I think it must be the added workouts at the training center."

I think that is true for all of the players who train with us. They get good instruction at their home club PLUS they get 250 extra hours a year. A person who works out ONLY at the training center will hit 10,000 hours in 40 years. Not too good. However, let's say that person ALREADY works out ten hours a week (two hours a day during the week). They'll be outstanding in 20 years. Add in the training center time and they hit the 10,000 hour mark in 13.3 years. Does that extra 6.7 years matter? Well, let's see. Ronda started judo at 11, so 13.3 years will put her at that 10,000 hour mark at age 24.3, about 16 months before the 2012 Olympics. Twenty years would have her peaking at age 31, after the 2016 Olympics. I think it will matter to her.

Second, I take a long-range view. Just as all of the other good programs I see around the country - Pedro's, Mojica's - and around the world (think the Cuban women's program, the French program) - did not spring up within a year or two, I expect development of the training center to be a long-term process as well. I am very proud and pleased we have hit our second year. Statistics for small businesses give the failure rate as somewhere between 20-50% in the first year. Okay, well, we aren't really a business primarily but we do need to take in enough money to pay the rent. Being still standing after two years and still having people coming to practice is a good thing for a new concept. We have more people coming regularly to help teach and train and I have every confidence great things will come. It just takes practice.

--------------- Judo Tip -----------------------------------------

ANALYZE your performance. For example, I was listening to how a player did in a recent tournament. She had thrown the opponent for three yukos, then was thrown for a waza ari in the last few seconds and lost the match. My question was this:

"Don't you practice transition? If so, how did you end up with three yukos? Why didn't one of those yukos end up with a pin, an armbar or a choke?"

I don't know, but I do know if I was her I would go back and look at those videos. Did she always throw the player near the edge, so that the referee called matte and she didn't have a chance to follow up to matwork? If so, she needs to work on attacking inside.

Did her opponent immediately turn on her stomach or in some other defensive position? If so, she needs to work on attacking a player in that position.

Or, horrors, did the player just hesitate in her transition to matwork? I don't know the answer to any of those question. I do know that those are the questions she, and her coach, need to be asking and answering for themselves.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Foot sweeps - what did Victor do?

At practice today, Victor Ortiz taught foot sweeps. I never saw a group of people pick it up so quickly. Of course they were mostly experienced players but none of them do footsweeps very much. I cannot for the life of me tell you what he did differently. They did them moving forward, backward - the standard drills.

It is driving me crazy. I asked my youngest daughter and she just shrugged and said he was fun. The only thing I can think of at all is that he emphasized doing it hard and that if you do it right they fall and if you do it wrong it hurts, both you and them. Also, since it was a smaller class today, he was able to correct every little mistake with each group. Of course, this is at the training center, so we had quite a bit of time and they worked on foot sweeps for an hour.

Still, having seen many many times when people were taught footsweeps and spent the entire practice looking as if they had multiple physical and mental disabilities as they kicked away at their partners with no discernible effect, today was noticeably different.

I don't know why everyone was doing so much better today but my plan is that we will go over this many more times.

Speaking of ashi waza, it is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. Two of the sessions at the National Coaches Conference in Las Vegas in January will be on ashi waza. Bill Montgomery will be doing ashi waza drills and Hayward Nishioka will be doing a session on teaching ashi waza. I asked Hayward to bring copies of his book, Ashi Waza, to autograph. I am pretty sure this is the first book Hayward ever wrote.

Norm Miller (the AAU Judo chair) makes fun of me for all the Japanese terms I use but the name of the book IS "Ashi waza". So There.