We try to split up the work, so Jim is reading Steve Scott and John Saylor's book "Conditioning for Combat Sports" and I am supposed to read another book on strength training that was recommended to us. I guess whichever of us will get done first will read Talent is Overrated, because it seems to bear on an issue we have taken up lately.
Before Jim's time was all taken up getting ready for his youngest son's wedding, we were talking about what I had written about how most of our judo players are good at judo but not good athletes. He disagreed with me that you need to be a good athlete to be a successful international player.
I was a bit surprised but less so when Jim said,
"I was never an athlete. I had to work twice as hard as anyone else to get into shape."or something like that.
Personally, I was the opposite. The first time I ever walked into a gym, I saw their record for women's bench press, said, "I can beat that" , lay down and broke the gym record on the first bench press I ever did in my life. I was naturally ungodly strong for a woman my size, and that was just a blessing I did nothing to deserve. I can't believe that didn't help me in judo. I certainly wasn't Olympic level fast, but I was fast enough to make the varsity track team in college and win some races.
On the other hand, I tore my ligaments and cartilage in my right knee when I was 17 years old and had so many operations, as my lovely daughter Ronda says, I look like I've been attacked by a midget with a chain saw. There were a whole group of throws I physically could NOT do, but I compensated and won anyway.
Speaking of my little pumpkin, Ronda, she was always a good athlete. She won several events at the Hershey track meet, which was the first athletic event I ever took her to, in the heart of North Dakota. She did quite well on the swim team before she ever started judo.
Jim defines "athlete" as someone who has natural athletic ability while I define it as someone who is in excellent physical condition to perform the athletic requirements of a sport. As I told him, I look at it like when I'm hiring someone for my company. If they are like my husband, just naturally brilliant, taught himself Calculus in the eighth grade and picked up a book and learned C++, that's great. If they went to college for four years and took eleven courses to learn Calculus and become a good programmer, that's fine, too. I really don't care how they got there as long as they can do the job.
So, does it matter if you are a "natural athlete" or if you just got to that level because you trained your ass off? I don't know. I think perhaps it does. Once I laid down and did that first bench press, I trained and moved up from there. I happened to be in the gym because my coach had decided we should get a strength trainer for our team. Two years later I was doing a hell of a lot more than I did the first time.
As Lex (I think it was Lex), commented on an earlier blog, 'other things being equal', the stronger person will win, but that is a hell of a qualifying phrase. So, 'other things being equal', the person with natural athletic talent MAY win more.
When I recall Jim as a competitor (I was but a child at the time - no, seriously, I was), it's hard for me to believe he was not a natural athlete, but I'll just accept it, because he said so. Is that why Ronda and I ended up winning more international medals than he did?
I have no idea. I can say it certainly helped both Ronda and me to have some physical talent. On the other hand, like Jim, we both worked our asses off. I THINK (I don't know), that Ronda and I both had a little different perspective on winning during the match. Both of us would rip your heart out and eat it dripping blood in front of the referee to win a match if that is what it took and the only reason we didn't is there's a rule against it. The difference is Ronda would be nice to you off the mat and go out to a party with you, where I would just hope you died. I don't have that off switch she has.
Reading the comments on Talent is Overrated on Amazon was quite interesting. Many of them raised the same questions I have. If it is just work, what about those people who work just as hard but didn't win? What about support from family and friends?
I think one advantage I had over Jim is that I had one child while I was competing, where I think he had three. Once I had my third child (Ronda), I was done competing. Some things are just more important than winning - well, the only thing I'm sure is more important is your kids. Of course, Ronda had no children (and she better keep it that way until she gets married!)
Another advantage I had was the late Frank Fullerton, may he rest in peace, and the wonderful Bruce Toups, the airplane fairies, who paid for almost all of my travel, so that I could go and compete without worrying that I was taking money away that could be spent on my daughter, Maria.
Yet another advantage I had, and Ronda had, was coaching. One very telling comment Jim made one day was when he said he had to coach himself and I remarked that I thought a coach was really necessary to making it at the elite level and he answered,
"Well, I wasn't that successful, was I?"I doubt it is coincidence that he was so dedicated to helping people like Ronda, his own son, Jimmy, Jr. and all the kids he's worked with over the years.
I was doubly blessed in having a lot of good coaches around - Hayward Nishioka, Jimmy Martin, Steve Seck, Richard (Blinky) Elizalde and more. I took every benefit I could from all of them. Ronda had me from day one when she stepped on the mat, and then all of my old teammates and mentors, like Hayward, Blinky, Steve, Tony Mojica and more - and then she went to Jim for even more coaching. And she had her own "airplane fairies" (you know who you are, and thank you).
So --- in all of the mix - how much does God-given talent matter? How much does that innate motivation matter, where you just REFUSE to lose? (As my good friend, Dr. Jake Flores used to say, "I can't put in what God left out.")
I don't know. It may be, as we often say in statistics, "a necessary but not sufficient condition". Or it may not even be necessary. Another thing we say in statistics a lot is c.p. or 'ceteris paribus', which is Latin for "all other things being equal" (see what you learn in 10 years of graduate school?). If everything else is equal, natural talent can put you over the edge and make that gold medal yours.
But, as Lex said, how often is everything else really equal?