Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mo-ah is not always bett-ah: Judo lessons learned from snakes

So, I have been discussing (what else) judo with Jimmy Pedro, Sr. and Ronda. As usual, there are some pretty interesting ideas all around. Jim's point is that other countries have so many advantages we do not - more training partners, more international tournaments, more coaches, more funding - that we need to be training more and harder to catch up. He says, very logically,

"If you are behind someone else, how can you think you will ever beat that person if you are working just as hard as them?"

One of Jim's ideas was doing 1,000 throws a month. He thought this would be one good way for athletes to work on their standing technique and he wanted them to write down how many throws they did each practice.

I agree 100% on the part of the idea of keeping track. This is one of those points that I am always nagging Ronda about and I think I should be on all of our athletes. KEEP A RECORD ! It is so easy to fool yourself into thinking you did 200 throws when you did 100, or 59.

Ronda, proof that there are smart blondes, is always thinking about these things. First of all, she said, you should not be doing 1,000 throws just zombie-style I walk up to you and you throw me. That's very unrealistic.

My argument was that there was no need to do that, you could do situation drills, where you attack right off the grip, on the edge of the mat, in the first ten seconds, as a counter, etc.

Ronda's counter-argument was that yes, you might do that at the beginning of the month but near the end when you were trying to hit that number you'd be back at the zombie- walking-toward-you-turn-and-throw style.

This reminded me of a running argument that Jimmy and I had for years, where I would always be for having more practices and longer practices, like having three practices a day at a camp. He would always say, in that funny east coast accent,

"Mo-ah is not always bett-ah. "

It's true, as Ronda says, that more mediocre practice is not better, but more quality practice IS better, I believe.

So, I still want to start logging the throws our players do, and the matwork drills also. However, I want to incorporate Ronda's idea and make sure that we focus on quality of training as well. That is one way to use all of your instructors [side soapbox here, I think most clubs have one "head instructor" and waste the talents of the others, which is just silly]. When the athletes are doing throws, turnovers, armbars, etc. each of our WCTC coaches can be watching a pair to insure they are doing the moves correctly.

The other really important point is that it is not about speed. Moving really fast may work for some people but it is not the best tempo for everyone. You don't need to be fast. You need to be sudden. I told Ronda,

"If you think about a snake in the forest floor, it is not whipping through the forest super-fast all of the time, but when it attacks, it is sudden. That's the idea you have to have in your mind."

She said,
"So, what, now I'm a snake slithering around the forest floor. That's how you think of me?"

You know, there's worse things to be in the forest than a snake on the ground. Like the snake's lunch.

Try to be sudden.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Trust and Respect (Guest post by Jim Pedro, Sr.)

The topic for the USJF/ USJA National Coaches Conference banquet I was given was "What I know now I wish I knew when I began coaching."

First of all, I began coaching because I wanted training partners. So, I started my own club, with a lot of juniors and I thought I would train them until they got older and I would have people to work out with. In my early years, I had a partner. He was very different than me. Anyone can tell you, I am not there to be the players' friend. Once in a very great while, I may go out with the team but generally not. Practice is over, people look around and ask Jimmy,
"Where's your dad?"
and he says,
"Oh, he went home."

My partner was completely different. He always had a pat on the back, a joke, a "Hey, how are you? Where you been?"

Me, I was the one who always kicked people in the @$$ and made them work harder. One thing I learned early on that people are different but anybody can win. It is just what it takes to make them win. Some people need to get kicked in the @$$ to train their hardest, while others don't. The key point is that you have to make them train their hardest no matter what. Then, when you get to the contest, everyone has a chance to win because all of them have done their absolute maximum effort up to this point.

The funny thing is, years later, how many of those players who came back to see me, to thank me, or just to visit at my club, and how few of them came back to see my partner. They learned to trust me. They learned to respect my judgment because they knew when I went home I was thinking about them on the way home, watching videotapes of their matches, reading books about how to be a better coach.

I am not there for my players to like me. I don't care if they like me or not. I am there to always work towards their best interests. Even if it takes a kick in the @$$. They may not like me at that moment but in the long run they realize I have their best interest at heart and they come to trust me.

The second point, and AnnMaria and I always argue about this, is I don't care if they win or not. Certainly, I like for my players to win, but if they have done their very best leading up to here, and it just doesn't happen to be their day, how can they be a loser. If you have done the best you possibly can and come to your highest level and you end up winning the senior nationals but never do a thing internationally, then you're a winner because you have achieved your maximum potential.

Last of all, I want to leave you with this trust and respect are the two essentials of coaching. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world but if your players don't trust you and don't respect you, you won't be effective. On the other hand, if they DO trust you and they DO respect you, they will do anything for you and there is no limit to what you can accomplish.

[I just want to add here how impressed I am with my fellow board members on this new board. Neil Ohlenkamp convinced me that I should be more involved on the Internet more. I couldn't see getting carried away and starting a blog but I will be trying to offer my thoughts here from time to time for better communication with our USJA members.]
=========================Editorial Note

P.S. Although Jim Pedro,SR. did not say this, I just thought I would add here that he was elected vice-president of the United States Judo Association this weekend. Congratulations.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Viva Las Vegas - Judo Happenings Happening

Tomorrow night Julia, Tina and I arrive in Las Vegas. I know we have people coming from all over the country - Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, Connecticut, Wyoming, New Mexico and northern and southern California. Who knows, we might even get some people from Nevada!

George Weers asked me once what do people need a national organization for. He pointed out that he could teach at his own club just fine without any organization. One thing I think a national organization can do is try out innovative new ideas, like the Great American Workout we have had on the east coast, or like the ashi waza camp in San Diego. Or, there is the Las Vegas Judo Weekend coming up with discussions on the new rules, a clinic with an Olympic silver medalist, a tournament for women and girls, a banquet with outstanding coaches as keynote speakers and a day long conference on everything from establishing a club to teaching newaza. We booked a hotel in Las Vegas and we are doing everything in one spot.

Everything is happening at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino
The events:

Dr. Martin Bregman & Professor Hayward Nishioka will be discussing the new rules during the referee meeting at 8 a.m. Everyone is invited. {Free, even}

Lynn Roethke, Olympic & world silver medalist is doing a clinic from 9-10:30 a.m. Open to everyone. Free to competitors in the All-Women's Tournament. $15 for non-competitors. [For all of you who complained this was only for women. Here you go. Open to anyone who has a judo gi. For all of you who complain that judo events take all day, here you go, too. Come for a great 90 minutes and then go do whatever else you want to do in Las Vegas. For those of you who said not everyone is about competition, here you go three times. For those you who who say judo events are too expensive - it's only $15.]

All-Women's Tournament with juniors, seniors, masters and team competition.

USJA Board of Directors meeting - 6 pm. here is where we elect our officers, appoint committees and discuss issues. Everyone is welcome.

7:30 Pm With the serious business over for the evening we begin dinner and drinking while listening to Lynn Roethke, Jim Pedro, Sr. & Hayward Nishioka speak on "What I know now that I wish I knew when I began coaching." $45 and includes dinner.

[The cost for Sunday sessions is $30 for the day, paid in advance or $50 a the door)

9 a.m. Classroom sessions on incorporating as a non-profit and other business aspects of running a judo club (with Paul Nogaki) and marketing & media for judo clubs (Gary Goltz) followed by Hal Sharp discussing the Kodokan Certificate program.

NOON. There will be a brief break for lunch with mat sessions beginning at noon. We have had requests from competitors asking if they could just come for the mat sessions. The answer is yes. Bring your gi. Afternoon presenters include Lynn Roethke on teaching tachi waza. Bill Montgomery on ashi waza drills, Hayward Nishioka on teaching ashi waza, Gerald Lafon on counters and combinations and Jim Pedro,Sr. on teaching newaza.

You will come away smarter. Guaranteed.

So, that is the kind of program a national organization can put together.

In fact, two national organizations, as funding and support comes from both the USJA and USJF.

That's what I am doing this weekend. How about you?

Friday, January 15, 2010

(Ju) Do what you can

Note: If you live in Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico or Oklahoma, this post applies particularly to you, read on to find out.

The USJA/USJF National Coaches Conference is in Las Vegas next weekend. So is the All-Women's Tournament. As usual, there are the people who signed up the minute the registration forms came out, booked their tickets on travelocity the same day and have had their luggage packed for three weeks.

Then, there are the people like me.

I did get my hotel room booked (on the very last day for the discounted rate). I was lucky there was an error in the conference flyer so they extended the deadline. (It said the conference, including banquet, was $90 pre-registration. It is actually $75 .) So, I am filling out the conference forms now.

I am also collecting registration forms for the Coaches Conference and the All Women's Tournament at the West Coast Training Center practices this weekend. I know I am not the only person like this because Mike Couchigan and John Weiner in Las Vegas will be doing the same thing.

On the one hand, I could complain that we are not all like the first type. On the other hand (where you have different fingers), many of those last minute people like me are volunteering for the tournament as medical staff, refereeing, pooling, keeping score, competing, teaching a clinic. When I look at the people who have confirmed (whether they sent in their registration forms or not, and you know who you are), these include Lynn Roethke, who is an Olympic silver medalist, Jim Pedro, Sr. who has coached players in the last four or five Olympics (I lost count), Martin Bregman, who has refereed in the world championships and been national champion (how many of you knew that?), Hayward Nishioka who is a world-level referee, competed in the world championships and coached the world team... the list goes on. Pretty cool. I'll write more about some of these people when I have more time, as I have to leave for work in a minute.

So, this brings me to the people like me, who are really not slackers but don't have infinite time and money. Sometimes we chastise (yes, I am one of the few people who regularly uses the word 'chastise') those people for not being more dedicated, more on top of things, more some thing. I have gotten yelled at all my life for being a 'last minute' person, although in my defense things do usually get done, just at the last minute. My view is, if you are on the boat when it leaves the dock, you are on time, no?

People like us try to do judo, support judo and do 50 other things in our lives, too. We don't appreciate being criticized for not doing enough when we are devoting our spare time and money in the pursuit of that USJA Development mission - developing good people, strong communities and great athletes, in that order.

]This is the part that applies to you California, New Mexico, etc. people.]

The events coming up next weekend reminded me of a poster someone put up in church one day. It went something like this:

  1. For all of you who don't come to church because Sunday is your only day to sleep in, Mass will begin at 2 p.m.

  2. For those of you who find God in nature, one section of the church will be devoted to trees and grass.

  3. We will have steel helmets for those who say, "The roof would cave in if I ever came to church."

  4. Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.

and so on.

I am not opposed to those ideas, actually. I have been missing church too much lately, I must admit. So, along these lines and very seriously, here is what I recommend.

1. If you live in or near Las Vegas and are limited in time or budget, come to the clinic with Lynn Roethke at 9 a.m. at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino. It only costs $15, it is open to everyone, male, female, young, old. You will be out doing your weekend errands by Saturday morning around 11 and feel good about yourself for getting some exercise, learn some judo and have a good time.

2. If you are not a morning person (can I ever relate), have bad knees or other serious injury that make it difficult for you to get on the mat, come to the Palace Station around 6 pm, Pay the $45 for the banquet and hear advice from Hayward Nishioka, Lynn Roethke & Jim Pedro, Sr. on coaching. Plus, you get dinner. Drink tickets are also available for those who cannot go to Las Vegas without drinking (hey, I'm not judgemental ! )

3. If you don't like going to dinner or have a date Saturday night (lucky you), come to the tournament and compete on Saturday (if you are female) or go to the coaching conference on Sunday.

4. If you have very limited time and only on Sunday, look at the conference program. The morning sessions are the "club business" ones in a classroom, with Gary Goltz teaching about marketing and Paul Nogaki explaining how to incorporate as a non-profit. These are followed by Hal Sharp demonstrating the Kodokan Certificate program (on the mat). The afternoon is all on the mat with Hayward Nishioka teaching ashi waza, Lynn Roethke teaching tachi wazi, Jim Pedro teaching newaza and Bill Montgomery teaching ashi waza drills. The cost for Sunday only is $30 in advance and $50 at the door.

We tried to be like the "No Excuse Church", hosting all of the events in one place, in a hotel that was not prohibitively expensive, with excellent clinicians who are experts in each area, plenty of competition for those who never get very many matches (girls and women), in a location where coaches can bring their families and non-judo family members can do things in the hotel or on the strip while the judo enthusiast is at the tournament / conference.

So... if you live anywhere within driving distance of Las Vegas, hop in the car and try to make it over to the Palace Station on January 23=24 . I know that areas such as Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico do not get lots of judo events, which is why we held the event here. We wanted to reach out and be more accessible to you all.

Also, just a thought for some of the rest of you. A few years ago, in my brief stint with retirement, some athletes I knew were competing in the San Jose Buddhist and I just bought a plane ticket that morning and hopped a flight to northern California just for fun. I watched the fight, had dinner at a nice restaurant and flew home. If you know me, you know that I am the most ultra-goal focused person you ever meet. It is extremely out of character for me to do anything just for the hell of it and for fun. I still remember that weekend as just randomly fun. So, if you have a credit card and have been working too much lately. Hop on to travelocity or the other site of choice for last minute random people and book a last minute deal to Las Vegas. If you just do one of the four choices above and spend the rest of your time at the pool, I promise not to tell. You probably deserve that rest anyway.

Just (ju)do what you can.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Practice Matwork as if You Want to Win a Tournament

Judo tip of the day from Jim Pedro, Sr. - practice judo the way you intend to do it in a tournament.

This may seem obvious but when you think about how most of us practice matwork, including me, we do two or three minute rounds. Sometimes five or ten minutes if we are really studly awesome. However, that doesn't really make sense. When you think about it, in a tournament, the referee will give you twenty seconds to make progress on the mat, if you're lucky, and then make you stand up.

[Hint: Your definition of making progress and the referee's is usually going to be different, because YOU are biased in your own favor. Yes, you are. Be quiet.]

Jim commented that he had noticed this tendency not to allow matwork seemed to be becoming even more pronounced lately and so he was changing the drills at his club from 30 seconds to 20 seconds. The players have 20 seconds to get each other in a pin, choke or armbar. Then, call matte and make them re-start.

This seemed such a good, obvious idea that I decided we were going to adopt it at the training center starting with practice on Saturday. You have been warned. Show up.

Incidentally, for those of you in graduate school, what Jim is demonstrating is referred to as Thorndike's Law of Transfer,

"The theory suggests that transfer of learning depends upon the presence of identical elements in the original and new learning situations; i.e., transfer is always specific, never general."

I would have asked Jim if that was what he based the change in his drills on but every time I ask him something like this, there is a long pause, during which I can hear him thinking, 'What the hell planet do you come from?' followed by,


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Judo: Home of the Angels

It's important to keep in mind why we do judo. There is the physical benefit. No one wants to end up old, obese and feeble. There is the self-defense aspect. Certainly judo is a better self-defense than say, curling or luge, unless perhaps you are attacked by people who slide large stones at you or are at the top of a mountain.

Then there is the social aspect. We were driving home from practice tonight and for some reason Ronda and I started listing the genuinely good people we knew in judo who had helped her, who had taught her one thing or another and who honestly wished the best for her, as a judo player and a person, win or lose.

Often, as judo instructors and coaches we say, sincerely, I believe, that we are doing this to give back, doing it for the kids, etc. What exactly are we giving back?

In part, we are giving back some of the kindness, generosity and attention that has been given to us.

As president of the USJA, I get more than my share of complaining emails, some about legitimate concerns and others about everything from the color of someone's gi to the tone of their voice. It would be easy to get caught up in this and discouraged.

HOWEVER, I am privileged on a daily basis to meet, observe and talk to people who have been giving enormous amounts of themselves to judo for years. Jerry Hays, for example, who took these pictures, as he does at so many judo events. He also sends out a daily Judo News, an activity he has done for years. Jerry also coached the U.S. Navy Team and coached at the Naval Training Center for many years.

When I looked at the pictures from the ashi-waza camp, I saw SO many people that I had seen over and over and over through the years, Kelly Barnes, Roland and Sarah Fernando, Ernie Matsubara, Terry Kunihiro, Paul Nogaki, Bill Caldwell.... it's a really, really long list. When I look through photos Jerry has taken, I see Ronda cropping up repeatedly, and I am proud of her for that. She is turning into a very good teacher.

There are others who were not at the camp that day but are the same type - Deb Fergus, Bob Treat, Martin Bregman, Roy Hash, Jim Pedro, Hayward Nishioka, Jim Nieto, Ernie Smith and others flying in from Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts and all over California to help with the All-Women's Tournament and coaches conference in Las Vegas. There are the Las Vegas folks themselves like Mike Couchigan and John Weiner volunteering to put down mats, take registration. What all of these folks have in common is that they have been helping for twenty, thirty or FORTY YEARS. I remember Martin, Jim, Hayward and Ernie from when I was competing 30 years ago. They were refereeing and coaching then and they are doing it now.

We have others, like Kelly, like Kala, who have come up in the last ten or twenty years and are joining the ranks of the tireless workers, the enthusiastic supporters.

These people are why I do judo. They are good role models and their goodness is contagious.

That isn't to say I don't get irritated from time to time. The check for the referees' and clinicians' rooms had not reached the Palace Station Hotel (I don't know why, it was mailed), so I had to give them my personal credit card to guarantee them all. I am getting up at 6 a.m. to drop Ronda at the airport and go to work. I have to get to work early because I fly to Denver after work so that, along with our corporate counsel and chief operating officer, I can meet with a mediator the next morning regarding all the issues with USA Judo. I'll edit Growing Judo on the plane on the way there and back.

Just as I was getting ready to go to bed, at midnight, I read a couple of emails from people chastising me for not spending enough time on the USJA. One person even said that if I did not pay so much attention to my daughter I would have more time for the USJA!

Why I keep supporting judo, teaching judo, promoting judo,is I think of all of the angels involved. Those who work tirelessly behind the scenes for decades. YOU are why I am here, and I hope that, in some small way, I am why you are here, too.

My grandmother told me years ago,

"Some sow, others reap. If you have to make a choice, sow!"

One of my smart-@$$ cousins added,

"It's kind of the difference between being a farmer and being a locust. Nanny's saying if you have a choice, don't choose locust."

Friday, January 1, 2010

Six Things I Learned at Ashi-Waza Camp

1. The single biggest factor in improving judo in America is increasing the number of people who practice.

This week, Ronda was getting over the flu, Aaron was recovering from an injury. We had a few young black belts to randori with one another but if we had 50 young black belts we would have not noticed the fact that a few of them were under the weather. On the other hand, we probably had 25-30 kids who were in middle school and high school. All of those kids got to work out with others who were their size, some of whom were better and some were worse. They also all met new friends. The more people you have, the better the work out and the less likely you are to burn out or get bored.

2. We have really good teachers in America at all levels, and we don't take advantage of them nearly enough.

One great thing about this camp was the number of instructors who taught, all of whom had very different styles. I was talking with a couple of the other instructors at the camp about those people who are always putting themselves forward - "How about ME? How about having ME teach? How about ME?"

Unfortunately, those same people often teach over and over because they are so pushy. Some of those folks aren't bad but what they don't realize is that they are NOT the possessor of all judo knowledge and by constantly putting themselves forward players lose the ability to learn from others who are also good. Below is a picture of Terry Kunihiro teaching ko uchi makikomi to two young children. When Aaron Kunihiro was asked who was his favorite sensei he ever had, he responded, "My dad."

When Jim Pedro, Sr., one of his current coaches, heard this he said,
"That's what he should say. That is the person who got him in judo and got him to the point he could be on the world team."

3. You can learn a lot by watching other people teach.

Ana Hankins and I were watching Jake Sugiyama (I hope I got his name right) teach the youngest group and commenting on how effective he was with teaching a difficult technique to small children. He began by having everyone stand up and go through what he was doing by themselves. First, sweep like this. Okay, now, get your hands like this and get your elbows up, pull like this. With 15-20 kids under age 11 it is difficult to keep their attention. He did it by having them physically do each movement with him as he explained it.

4. We don't take enough advantage of our young black belts as instructors.

During the camp, Jake Flores, Jr., Ross MacBaisey, Aaron Kunihiro, Ronda Rousey & Victor Ortiz all taught a session or two. Overall, they had much more focused attention from the younger players than did the older instructors. In part, I think, this is because it is easier for a 13-year-old to visualize himself in Aaron's place than as someone who is over 50. We know from social psychology that people identify more with role models who are similar to them.

Also, we need to admit that those my age, and older, are often talking about techniques theoretically. Yes, I can do an o soto gari or ko uchi makikomi but not anywhere near as well as I did thirty years ago. I once overheard a player comment:

"I don't want to hear how Moshi-moshi Sensei who was a twelfth-degree black belt did uchi mata back in the day. I want to see YOUR uchi mata. Show me how to do it."

Many of us older folks tell how to do a technique because our bodies have worn out with age and we flat can't do the techniques the way they should be done. Accept it folks, talking is not the same as doing. When Sensei Richard (Blinky) Elizalde taught uchimata at the camp he had Ronda, who was one of his former students, demonstrate, telling the young players that here was someone he had taught when she was their age and now she was going to show each part as he explained it. A very creative use of a visual aid !

5. Great things can happen when we all work together.

This camp was co-sponsored by California Judo, Inc., USJA, USJF (through a grant to PSJA Yudanshakai). There were over 90 players in attendance, 88 the first day and a few more who came only for the second day.

People really instrumental in pulling this off included Bill Caldwell, Development Director for Southern California for CJI who organized the camp and paid over $1,500 for hotel rooms for athletes, coaches and chaperones, Walter Dean of Pacific Southwest Judo Association, Robert Fukuda from the USJF (who assisted PSJA to get a grant that paid $500 toward this camp and will pay $500 toward another in 2010), Paul Nogaki, the Mini-camp coordinator for USJA who helped Bill organize the event. Of course, great thanks are also due to all of the instructors who assisted in the camp and who sent their students.

6. Don't take anything personally.

This was a great event. It follows a pattern we established with many USJA events. Instead of funding an individual athlete, we would have him or her teach at a clinic and pay a clinician fee. The athlete gets some funding, those who attend get a free or reduced price clinic and it is an activity the USJA can point to as club support - what a national organization can do.

This time around, you'd think this was a great event, as did those who attended, but there were a GREAT many complaints from a FEW people, never to me personally, but to others about how money was being spent, why did MY player not get paid to give a clinic? (Answer, we asked the two world team members in southern California as their travel costs were zero.) Why did you not give the money to MY club, why did you have it in California, is it because it is where you live (no, actually it is where Bill Caldwell lives and he and California Judo Inc of which he is director committed over $1,500 to this event, so the USJA donation would have been matched 3 to 1.)

The USJA donation was going to be to pay for Ronda Rousey. She does clinics for the USJA at half her regular rate. She normally receives $500 a day, but because I am her mom and president of the USJA and we pay EVERYONE the same rate for a full day, she does it for us at half price. (Jim Pedro, Sr. says the fact that we pay everyone the same rate proves that I am a Communist. Pooh!) I say was going to be because some people (none of whom actually came to the camp, by the way), complained so much and accused me of so many things that I thought it was simpler to just pay Ronda the $500 myself. (Did I mention that Ronda has won gold medals in four world cups, a silver medal in the world championships and a bronze medal in the Olympics?)

Ronda said she felt bad about taking the money but I told her to go ahead because the reason I had an extra $500 is that I had originally planned to pay part of the travel expenses for those exact same people who were demanding to know "Why does AnnMaria get to decide who gets their expenses reimbursed?"

Well, because the truth is that often it was not the USJA paying it, it was actually me. I just did not want to say so and embarrass anyone if they found out they were taking "charity" from me, so I would pick up the checks and say it was paid by the USJA.

I told Ronda I was sure it was nothing personal to me or her. Some people are just like that. We walked down to the doughnut store, got a couple of chocolate doughnuts and by the time we were back we were both over it. (However, Ronda ate BOTH of the chocolate doughnuts when I wasn't looking and I didn't get one. I am not quite over that yet.)

So, now the truth is out. A nicer person than me might not have said anything, but I am not a nicer person, I am me.

I think we did a great event this week and 90 people attended a two-day camp including meals, hotel and clinician for a cost of about $22 a person. On top of that, two of our world team members were assisted with money that can off-set the cost of their travel expenses. Good job everyone.

And now you know the rest of the story.