Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shag Okada: A man worth remembering

In the book, How to stop worrying and start living, Dale Carnegie wrote,

“I realize now that people are not thinking about you and me or caring what is said about us. They are thinking about themselves—.... They would be a thousand times more concerned about a slight headache of their own than they would about the news of your death or mine.” 

That is usually true. I have been too busy to write anything on this blog. I was in Tunisia and when I got back I had some terrific consulting opportunities come up, so I didn't write anything at all.  When I got some time, I planned to write something about the training camp. And I had people to meet with at work and practice at the West Coast Judo Training Center and a dentist appointment ...

and then I received an email that Shag Okada died.

So I stopped worrying about all of the rest of that stuff to write about him. I knew Shag for nearly thirty years and in all of that time he was never once anything but helpful and kind to me. He didn't have any reason to be. In fact, thirty years ago, a lot of people would say he had reasons not to be. I was female in a sport that was supposed to be for males. I was non-Japanese in a sport that was supposed to be Japanese. There was a lot of racism and sexism. Shag should have been on that side. He was older, Japanese, male, and integral part of Nanka Judo Yudanshakai (the largest and probably oldest judo black belt organization in the country). I didn't even go to a meeting for years after I got my black belt. Things get back to me, though. One thing that got back to me nearly thirty years ago when there was a discussion of funding players to the U.S. Open and National championships. My name came up and several people were against giving me a dime. I wasn't from the "right" club, "But she's a girl!" some people objected (I was in my twenties, had a masters degree and working as an engineer at the time). It was just as well I wasn't at the meeting. Shag, who even back then was a force to be reckoned with, stood up and said,

"But she's winning."

It was simple, to him. And I did get the same funding as everyone else. He was for equal opportunity before it was popular.

Various judo publications would ask high-ranking black belts to predict the outcome of the next tournament. (This was before we had the Judo Forum for things like that! ) I beat every American I fought for two years straight and yet, in every publication, the only person who picked me as the one to win the Panamerican Trials, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Open, World Trials or Olympic Festival was Shag Okada. When I pointed that out to him, and thanked him after one of those tournaments he looked surprised and said,

"But I had to pick you. I've seen you train."

The reason he had seen me train is that he let me, Dawn Beers, Jimmy Martin and two dozen other judo players use his dojo, Orange County Kodokan, every single weekend for years on end. Just to help us get better. Twenty-five years later, we started the West Coast Judo Training Center based on the concept he supported back in the 1980s.

When I had a baby, I wanted to get life insurance, which was something I knew nothing about. I asked Shag, since that was his business. I trusted him and whatever he told me I would have bought. He said,

"You're young and healthy. You don't need that much life insurance. Buy this one. It's not very expensive and it's plenty for you."

That kind of shot my negative image of insurance salesmen for life.

Shag was very knowledgable about judo. He donated an enormous amount of his time to judo from the local through national level all of his life. He was even an international coach, leading the Panamerican Team. He supported me when I was president of California Judo, Inc. All of that is nice and appreciated.

More than anything, though, what I remember about Shag over thirty years is that he was generous, honest, kind and fair. If, as I really do think, the measure of your success in life is how many people will be truly sorry when you are gone, then Shag Okada was a successful person indeed.


Stephen said...

Nicely said.

Tim Callen said...

Very well articulated Dr. De Mars. Your words paid tribute to a very special man who touched many of us.

bill caldwell said...

You forgot to mention ... he was a great singer ... always good for The Star Spangled Banner when the tournament director (ahem) forgot to line up anyone.

bill caldwell said...

You forgot to mention ... he was a great singer ... always good for The Star Spangled Banner when the tournament director (ahem) forgot to line up anyone.

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