Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I Haven't Been at Judo

One of the people in judo I admire most hasn't been involved in judo much for about forty years - Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell. He was a member of the 1964 Olympic team, then went on to found a successful business, was in the House of Representatives and then became the only Native American in the U.S. Senate.

I'll be teaching judo this Friday at Gompers and then I head out to North Dakota for two weeks. I've been to two tournaments in the last year. I won't be back at the West Coast Judo Training Center until February 1st, when we are having a clinic on transition, with me, Richard Elizalde and Gary Butts. Hopefully, I won't get snowed in and spend the weekend in Belcourt instead.

There are three reasons I haven't been around much. One is implied in the previous paragraph - I'm working on developing and testing games that teach mathematics. That takes a lot of my time when I'm at home, and it takes a lot of time away from home demonstrating the games, installing them in school computer labs, meeting with students and teachers to get their feedback. Growing a company is not a part-time gig.

Second, I think far too many people continue teaching judo for too long. The tribes I have worked with have a lot of traditional wisdom. One idea I particularly admire is how historically, tribal leaders did not persist until they were 60, 70 or 80 years old. They stepped down, let the younger people run the hunting, fighting and other business of the tribe while the elders provided advice. I think our judo clubs and organizations (hell, most of our organizations - universities, Congress) would be better off if more people did this. I'm 55 years old. I'm not nearly as fast or strong as I was 30 years ago. What I can do and demonstrate is limited. It's time for younger people to step up and teach.

Fortunately for me, I'm a better programmer than I was in my twenties, so more of my effort goes there. Yes, I teach that, too.

The third reason is that I'm not convinced that, in the U.S., competing at the highest level is that positive. It costs a lot of money that most of the students I coach don't have. If we are going to do fundraising, I want it to be for something that is a positive experience for them - not an ego trip for coaches and referees. The benefit of judo should be to meet people from different walks of life, see the country, get exercise, test your skills. Too many tournaments are not focused on that - they're on making sure your belt is tied right, you bow properly and you never violate any of a set of rules that seems to be changed every Thursday.

I took my students to the freestyle judo nationals in Kansas City last year and I hope to do so again next year. We went to a tournament at Hayastan and a practice there in part because I suspected (correctly) that most of my students had never met an Armenian despite living near one of the largest Armenian communities in the country. I also knew that at both of those venues the sole focus would be on the competitors having a good experience and everyone would treat our team well.

I wish I had time to take my students to a tournament every weekend and teach three or four times a week, but I don't. My highest priorities are my family and business, in that order. The students' priorities need to be on school. I talk a lot to them about studying, applying to charter schools or scholarships to private high schools. That is going to benefit them a lot more than attending a lot of tournaments. My goal is to develop people with a sound mind in a sound body.

When I was in Kansas City, Norm Miller gave me a book written by Margot Sathay. She was an Englishwoman who taught matwork at the Kodokan. When I was going to drop out of college at the end of my junior year of college, stay in Japan and train, Margot told me that she wouldn't teach me if I did. She told me that some things in life are more important than judo. I learned a LOT from Margot, and not just about matwork.


14 comments:

Enosis said...

Great advice and well written!

plam said...

I wonder about how long I should continue teaching and doing research at a university, now that I have the option to stay indefinitely. What are your thoughts? It seems like one day, I might want to do something else.

Speaking of ego tripping referees. Last time I refereed I told a kid who was called as white that he needed to have a white gi to fight. (He did, eventually.) This is the accepted custom in Quebec. If you have only one gi, it should be a white gi, not a blue gi. Having two blue gis fight increases the chance for error, as does switching places. One could perceive it as ego tripping, but to me, you just gotta enforce the rules so that you can get good refereeing.

Anonymous said...

These posts of yours are kind of dismaying to see. I guess I don't understand because my Martial Arts background is different. To me, the Martial Arts are a sacred way of life that have strong spiritual ties as well. The tribes people may have stepped down and let the youth take over, but old warrior monks and masters who lived through times of war certainly did not. They were actively involved in teaching and while they did not fight, they could likely defeat their students. In those days, the master was the master for a reason. He could likely defeat even the best of his students. A good example of this Morihei Ueshiba, also known as "Osensei".

Dr. AnnMaria said...

It is a myth that these 80-year-old men could defeat some 20-year-old in a fair fight. I've lived in Japan and trained at the Kodokan and generally the younger black belts let the older ones throw them out of respect. As far as the tribes, the people who stepped down provided COUNSEL but they did not run things. Sort of like the idea that for everything there is a season in a man (woman's) life and your season to be running things comes and goes and then you are in the next stage. I think that is perfectly fine and it is a farce to pretend that at 75 years old anyone but the most extreme case can go on a 6-day horseback ride, camp sleeping on the ground. I did not say it can't be done, but it is not the norm and personally, I think it's okay to accept being older.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

As far as teaching and doing research, I think you should stay as long as you can financially afford to do so, you are doing it well and you enjoy it.

As for the gis, what do you do when a child only has one gi because someone gave it to him and it is blue or black? Then that kid can't compete because he can't afford to buy a new gi.

Arshad Amin said...

First time I took for some old lady but now considering you JUDO stuff you seem like a very athletic flexible humanbeing ;p good day, and happy belated new year, don't wonder i am your new fan ;p

Anonymous said...

For all the bashing of your daughter that the Pedro camp did for how classless she is (One of the teenagers tweeted out "Ronda is absolute trash" which was then favorited by the Olympic Champion) in the ring it will be interesting to see how they spin Travis Stevens upcoming suspension by the International Judo Federation for going absolutely mental on a female referee after she disqualified him for stalling. He was screaming and swearing at her on the mat before throwing stuff into a public mural in a middle eastern country, then refusing to apologize and telling the representatives that asked him to to "F Off" #Karma

plam said...

I suggested that the kid borrow someone else's gi (which he did, and we worked him back into the roundrobin). Same as when someone's gi gets ripped in a match. I acknowledge that there's a problem with the next tournament in this scheme, but it gets us through the day. Fortunately I don't think you can even buy black gis in Quebec, so we don't have that problem.

(I also feel like tournaments cost so much money in places that are not Quebec. Somehow in Quebec they cost $35 at most, while in Ontario it's easily $60 for a regional tournament. I don't get it.)

80-year-old men can't defeat 20-year-olds, but certainly 50-year-olds can throw me pretty easily when they outweigh me by two or more weight classes, and it's not like I don't know what I'm doing. I was just reminded of that yesterday.

Certainly the day that I feel like I'm not doing a great job at teaching and research I hope that I know to go and do something else.

Anonymous said...

"It is a myth that these 80-year-old men could defeat some 20-year-old in a fair fight." That's because it's never a fair fight when you're up against them alone. I've had my butt kicked a good number of times when I was really trying hard and I could've taken anyone in UFC today back then with ease. What you're saying may be true for Judo, but keep in mind that Judo was formed after the Meiji Restoration and is not a Koryu style of Martial Arts. A lot of what people call "myths" in Martial Arts are not necessarily so. The bar is much higher than we've been lead to believe. However, that's also what lead to their need to be secretive as governments found their power to be a threat if it were to be used against them.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

I'm up here in North Dakota doing testing on our computer games my company makes. Hadn't heard a thing about Travis.

Anonymous said...

I am really down on Judo right now. Everything seems like a absolute money grab. The likely hood that a budding judoka from the inner city or even from middle class America could qualify for the Olympics is slim. Yes, I know there is assistance from NYAC and the USOC among others but you saw how Kayla Harrison had to plead for money to be released to her from USA Judo earlier this year and, HOLY SHIT, she was the first American to win a Gold fucking medal! With the IJF requiring athletes to purchase holographic stamped Gis and belts from select vendors at a premium price to points tournaments spread throughout the globe, and having to ride coach while USA Judo officials fly first class.

A lot of sacrifice with very limited reward

Matthew Rowley said...

Hello my name is Matthew. I have epilepsy which is a seizure disorder. Further more I am disqualified from fighting myself due to liability. But it is my dream to become a ufc trainer and promoter even if its to help with judo ju.jitsu I want to be apart of the ufc it is my dream and has been ever since I've been old enough to comprehend what mma is. What is your advice to me?

Anonymous said...

contact on the web seems to constantly have a middle man or woman... for example I couldn't find your email to email and instead have to "prove you're not a robot" - I mean it's ok for now but highlights my troubles with comms... trying to connect to another Judoka. Anyway... if possible email me > nowisthetime a] riseup.net replacing the a] with @ to prove your not a robot.... :o

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Ha ha, I know how annoying that prove you're not a robot thing is, and I do apologize but before I implemented it I would get a hundred spam comments a day and it was annoying to everyone,especially me.