Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What I Learned about Business at Judo Con, Part 2

Several times during his presentation, James Wall of confidently stated,

“We are the best at what we do.”

If you really, truly are the best at what you do and are confident about that, you should be able to sign up customers. Not surprisingly, Wall to Wall Martial Arts is quite successful.

You may not have heard of James Wall. He’s a credible, competent judo player, a legit fifth-degree black belt. He was never on an Olympic team. He hasn’t coached any world team members .

You may have heard of James Wall if you are interested in judo games for teaching young students , because he’s fairly well known nationally for that .

If you are somewhat impressed with yourself and asking,

“Who is James to say he’s the best? I’ve won X, Y and Z.”

Good, I hope you are happy with yourself. However what James does is provide a friendly, fun atmosphere for children to learn martial arts and be healthier and better disciplined in the process. He offers a comfortable environment for women to get some exercise and learn self-defense. He, and his fellow instructors, provide a collegial training environment where people who didn’t have to just Google the meaning of the word “collegial” can get in better shape, learn some judo and compete in regional tournaments.

That’s what Wall to Wall Martial Arts DOES. If you are in their area of Louisiana, no one does it better. Hypothetically, there may be a better school in Delaware, but seriously , if you live in Dedham Springs you are not taking your nine-year-old thousands of miles away to a judo class.

James truly is the best at what he does and he’s perfectly fine with that .
This made me think about my business. I know our software is good. Will it teach your preschooler to count or prepare your high school student for the SAT?

No, we focus on grades 3 to 8. If your child needs to learn multiplication, division, factors, how to solve those pesky time-rate-distance problems, find a mean or median, we’re awesome for that .

Rather than trying to teach every subject at every grade level, what I think we need to do is reach the parents and teachers of kids who need to learn what we are teaching.


Have an Android device? No problem.  Making Camp premium for Android has you covered.

People in startups often say they are in the “fintech space” or the “medtech space” which I have always found a kind of pretentious way of saying you are in finance or medical technology.

However, both James Wall and Lester Martell, from High Impact Martial Arts in New Jersey, were very clear on what their space was. It was the city and county where they are located and probably no more than a 30-minute drive from their location.

If you’re a teacher and you have kids in your class who speak Spanish, we have videos, games , PowerPoint presentations, everything you need, even if your Spanish is limited to “Adios” and “Dos cervezas, por favor.”

If you teach Native American students and you’d like to include some of their history and culture in the curriculum but you didn’t really learn any of that in school ( because who did?) , we have games that include those stories. You want to include cultural content without skimping on the math and language arts standards? We have that covered, too.

What I learned at Judo Con was to focus on what we are best at rather than worrying about all of the parts of the market we don’t cover. That’s not our thing , just like training Olympians isn’t James’ thing . And that’s okay.

I’ll be honest. I went to Judo Con for a personal reason . Steve and Becky (Rebecca) Scott and I have been friends for over 40 years . It isn’t coincidence that this girl is named Julia Rebecca De Mars.

So, when I heard they were organizing this event , even though I was literally on the other side of the world , I bought a ticket . I did think about it, for about a minute , but then I concluded, “Fuck it! These are two of my best friends.”

Even though I went for personal reasons, as I’ve said previously, it was definitely worthwhile from a business insight perspective. I’ll definitely be going again.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation

Not that anyone asked me, but since that has never stopped me before, I’m going to give you my opinion on judo in Chile and the World Judo Federation. Keep in mind that this is based on one tournament - the Chilean national championships, which I watched today .

First, the good impressions:

1.The competitors get major points from me for attitude. I saw lots of attacks, lots of ippons both throws and pins and only saw 2 stalling penalties out of all of the matches.

2. There were a lot more counters than you'd normally see in tournaments in the U.S. You don't see a lot of counters at U.S. tournaments and at this one in Chile I saw a few successful counters and quite a few more attempts.

3. There were quite a few throws for ippon.

4. People were generally quite nice, both competitors and referees. I was just some random old lady off the street who didn't speak terribly good Spanish and they didn't know me from Adam. Still, everyone I asked was perfectly polite and willing to take their time to answer my questions.

What I think could be improved

I saw no grip fighting, literally, zero.  

Nobody blocks a high grip- which might be related to the counters, since if you have a high grip and come in off balance you are more likely to be countered. However, if you have a high grip and can bend your opponent that prevents him or her entering a lot of throws.

Matwork is rudimentary.

Not only didn’t I see a single choke or arm bar, I didn't even see a single attempt. I actually asked one of the black belts waiting to compete if chokes and arm bars were not allowed at this tournament. He said, no, they were allowed and maybe I would see some. I didn't.

While there were some turnovers, and more turnover attempts into pins, they were not very deliberate. If you've read Winning on the Ground (what do you mean, you haven't?) , you know I'm usually the one for hitting hard and fast when the situation presents itself, as opposed to Jimmy's 47-step moves, so for me to say the matwork needs more deliberation is really saying something.

There were no matwork combinations. I didn't see anyone try a half-nelson. No one tried to do matwork from the guard, either as offense or defense.  The only defense was to pancake out.

On the other hand, generally both players tried to attack when on the ground, instead of one just laying there and trying to wait it out until the referee stood them up, so that was good.

World Judo Federation

As for the World Judo Federation, I don't know exactly what their rules are but there certainly were far less penalties called than in the typical judo tournament. That's a good thing. They let the players compete without stopping the match a lot to tell them they couldn't grab here or don't touch the leg.

I did see one player grab the leg and nothing happened. I asked a competitor who told me that was legal.

From watching, it reminded me of Freestyle Judo. I went to the freestyle nationals a few times and there were very few penalties called and the players were a lot more aggressive, in a good way, with less vying for grips and more attacking than the typical judo tournament. I'm not being a hypocrite here when I just criticized the Chilean players for not grip fighting. I think you can overdo it.

My recommendation would be if you are into freestyle judo you might want to check out their Panamerican Judo Championships next year and give it a go. Probably USA Judo would have a cow but if you are doing freestyle judo, USA Judo obviously isn't dictating your life.

You know what would help you if you went to South America? Spanish! AzTech Games can help you brush up on that high school Spanish you forgot.

Truth: Our games were developed for teaching kids math and some are bilingual to so kids who English is their second language can play, too, but about 10% of our users are people wanting to improve their Spanish - including me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Positive Lessons from Judo Con

I learned a lot at Judo Con in Kansas City last week. It was a really positive event, with 54 people from 12 states and Chile (me) in attendance. The limit was supposed to be 50 attendees, with a focus on club leaders interested in improving technical skills, growing their martial arts programs in both size and quality (shameless plug, for example, by focusing on academics as well as athletics). However, there were a few young blue and purple belts who wanted to come and how can you say no to kids who want to do judo, so they slipped in for the technical sessions.

I learned a lot about marketing and social media from the sessions James Wall and Lester Martell did on how to recruit martial arts students. One lesson that really stuck with me was this quote from James,

"Every new white belt I get is a precious little nugget. I take care of them, polish them up like gold. Do you know how much time, effort and money it takes me to get a new student into my school? Take care of those new students! Don't take them for granted."

He's really correct, not just for judo, but for business in general. How much do we take care of our new customers versus just going back out there looking for more? I could go on quite a bit but you could listen to the Judo Chop Suey podcast for a lot of detail.

The biggest takeaway for me, though, was a personal one. Several times during the weekend and thought,

"I am surrounded by good people."

Usually, when I go to a judo event there are mostly good people there but some who are complete assholes or plain out frauds. We all know them, the people who have an eighth-degree black belt and flat don't know much judo.

At this event, every single person was either someone I had known for many years and knew was a hard-working, intelligent, honest person doing the very best he or she could to make the world a better place in their own way.

This is your reward for being a good, honest person - you get to be around people like yourself.

If you're all about pretending to be a ninth-degree black belt, you aren't going to get on the mat and actually roll around doing arm bars with us. No one on the mat was there to impress people. We were having fun. I grabbed Caitlyn, Madelyn, Sandi and Julie at various times and said, "Hey, let me try this move on you."

It's not often that I've been in a group of this size and thought to myself, "I can see being friends with every single person in here. These are the people that help their neighbor with a flat tire, take the time to talk to a kid who is having a bad day. They are also people who, regardless of age, keep learning."

I felt very privileged to be there.

This is my day job. I make games that teach math, history and English. Get it for under two bucks!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I’m that kind of person : Another business lesson from judo

Many years ago I met a teenage girl who said she wanted to go to the Olympics . I had visited her club a few times, practiced with her and gave her a few tips about competing and training.

One day, when I took off my judo gi after practice she said,

“Ew! Look at your arms! You look like a man!”

I was surprised by her reaction, and told her that it was normal to put on a lot of muscle mass if you were weightlifting and doing judo. I explained that being stronger than my opponents had often been the deciding factor in matches and since it was something over which I had control, unlike, for example, the availability of training partners, that I highly recommended strength training .

She made a face and said,
“No thanks! I’m not that kind of person ! If I have to look like you to be a world champion, I don’t want it!”

I was kind of amused that she didn’t realize how insulting that was. Since I wasn’t really concerned about the opinions of random teenage girls about my looks, I took a shower, got dressed and drove home without giving her another thought . As you might expect, this girl never went on to win anything of note .

What, you might ask, does this have to do with business?

To find the answer and the rest of the story, click here

Get your kids a head start on middle school with Aztech: The Story Begins

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How Judo Taught Me to Avoid Startup Burnout

One thing I gained from judo was the importance of persistence. There are no doubt a lot of people who have better technique than me. They had better instructors who came from famous clubs, maybe even the Kodokan. I started at the Alton YMCA.

There are probably lots of people who have more natural athletic talent than me. I was never particularly fast. I'm also very near-sighted, so I couldn't see the scoreboard or time clock for most of the years I was competing, until I finally got contacts. I injured my knee really badly when I was a teenager and couldn't do any technique that required putting all my weight on my right leg.

Despite many disadvantages, I won anyway, over and over.

What I did learn was to be persevere.

(This might be why Forgotten Trail is my favorite game, because we dropped a lesson on perseverance in there.)

Get Forgotten Trail

How did learning perseverance help me run a startup?

Face facts, winning a world championships is one hard slog. In my day, you had to win the state championships to qualify for nationals. After that, you had to be good enough to make it into at least the top five to get points toward the national team. There were several tournaments each year that earned points toward the world or Panamerican team. When the trials came around, the top 8 people were invited to compete.

So, there were a lot of times each year I had to be ready to win. After the World Trials, of course, there were still tournaments in Europe and then the world championships. There isn't a lot of time to just relax and decompress because each time after I'd win the next tournament was going to be at an even higher level of competition.

Running a startup is kind of like that. First, you need to make a prototype, which maybe you can do by yourself or with your one or two co-founders. Then, you need to get some customers. To scale, you probably need to bring in employees and the amount of money you require increases. You need to go out and get your first investors.

Our company is over five years old now. We've survived where many startups have run out of money, failed to gain customers, couldn't build the desired features. At each step, it gets harder. Now we have more products that need updates, to put on more devices. We have customers who have questions. More employees means we need more sales, more investor funds.

So, that is one place that judo helped. I have learned that success isn't just a matter of working hard but working hard over a very long period of time.

Many competitors I knew worked just as hard as me, or even harder, at a single practice or a single training camp, but the next time or the next month or year, they weren't there.

Judo also taught me successful strategies to keep moving forward.

Sometimes, I was just tired of fighting the same people over and over. I worked full time as an engineer in San Diego so I didn't often have the option of traveling all over for training. Manny Gamburyan described it well when he was talking about doing judo with Karo Parisyan,

"I've fought him so many times, it's like fighting myself."

My usual day was to come in, do 25 or 50 throws on the crash pad, a few rounds of matwork, randori (sparring), and finish off with newaza uchikomi (matwork drills). There would be days when I just was not feeling it. Maybe it had been a long week at work. Maybe I was sore or mentally tired.

Instead of not going to practice, I would mix it up. I might just come in and do 500 throws that day. Maybe I'd do all matwork.

That's what I'm doing at this very minute. It's been a pretty exhausting month, flying to conferences, talking to people about our educational software.

Hey! Don't tune out just because I said educational software. It is completely awesome and some of it is even completely bilingual. You can learn math, history and even a second language all at the same time. Don't be such a wimp. Check it out!

Get Aztech: The Story Begins

 So, I'm writing a blog post and while I'm at it telling you to get our games.

Judo also taught me to be honest about how effective my work was

I knew someone who lost at a major tournament and, crying, turned to me and said she could not have trained any harder.  She was working out 6-8 hours a day. She worked at a health club and said she taught aerobics classes, ran on the treadmill 45 minutes every day, did at least a half-hour a day of weightlifting, taught spin cycling classes.

I tried pointing out that none of that was judo and she responded, "But I work SO HARD!"

I realize that writing a post like this probably won't get more than a few if you to check out our games, any more than just doing throws on the crash pad is an effective way to train for competition. Still, it is something and it helps.

I also realize that some things, like those endless tech meetups I'm invited to where people pitch their idea for electric underwear or something equally useless are a complete waste of my time, because I'm past that point, just like the woman doing the cycling classes was past the point of those being useful for her. That's a post for another day, though and now that I am less burned out, I'm going to go back to answering those emails.

Did I mention that Maria and I wrote a parenting book? You can get it here for only $1.99

Buy it here

Monday, September 17, 2018

Supporting Judo by Making It Okay to Quit, Part 2

When I was in my teens and twenties, I realized there would be a day when I couldn’t compete any more and I expected that none of the rest of my life could possibly be as good as my competitive years. Other people competed to a much later age than I did but my knee was hanging together by a thread. I finally had a total knee replacement when I was 51 and my doctor said I could not put it off any longer.

So, I was done with competition after several knee surgeries, with many more in my future, after three national championships, three US Open gold medals, one world championships and some other stuff (as Lanny Clark would affectionately say, “you’re the bitch who would consider winning the Panamerican Games as some other stuff you did”).

Contrary to my expectations, life without judo was fine most of the time. I married a man I loved, had two more kids, got a Ph.D., had a good career, a few good careers, actually, but that’s another post. I taught judo here and there - class at the college where I was a professor, a class at the local YMCA, a clinic at one of my friends’ clubs.

When we moved back to Los Angeles after my husband died, I married another good husband, had another baby, started a business, taught at a few different clubs, some of them for several years each. I held several offices in state and national organizations. I spent A LOT of time on the mat and on the road with Ronda helping her develop into a great judo player.

Unlike some of my friends to whom judo is like a religion - some even jokingly refer to going to judo tournaments on the weekend as “attending church” - I’ve kind of dropped in and out of judo my whole life.

Currently, I’m splitting my time between the US where I run a company that makes educational games (you should check one out) and Chile where I’ve just opened a company that makes educational games.
 Cajon del Maipo, Chile

I know plenty of people for who Judo is their exercise, their social life, their family time and their community volunteer efforts all in one. I’m not one of them. 

I could write a lot of posts - and I have - about all of the benefits I have gotten from judo and trying to give other kids those benefits is why I’ve taught fro so many years in so many different cities and states throughout my life.

Even holding all of those volunteer positions taught me a lot. I think I’m a much better manager thanks to the practice I got running things as a volunteer. ( I got to screw up some for free and now I make fewer mistakes with our investors' money.)

If you are one of those people that judo is your whole life and you’re happy with that, then I’m happy for you.

For some people, they have an abusive coach, unfair treatment by officials, a club full of cliques or other negative experiences and quit judo.

Most people quit judo to do something else, and that’s okay

Cerro de los condores, Chile

For me, though , and I think most people, it’s a matter of opportunity cost. In the last few years I’ve gone hiking in the Atacama desert, climbed a mountain and had condors fly within a few feet of me, gone horseback riding in Belize with a Maya guide as flocks of parrots flew overhead. You get the idea.
Sully's Hill, North Dakota

Doing research in Belize, on a pyramid for Meet the Maya

Then, there is also the writing software and making one educational game after another , publishing scientific articles. Of course, that’s not just me. I know some people who were really good judo players and are now really good physicians or scientists.

I make games that teach math, in Spanish and English
I bring all of this up because I often hear people brag about having been doing judo for 30 or 40 years straight as if that somehow makes them better than other people. Not really the best idea if you want to get those former judo players who are the scientists or the business owners to give money to judo and bring their kids to learn judo if they get the attitude you think they are “quitters” and just not as good or tough as you.

One thing I’ve found in business is you’ll have more success if you honestly respect your customers, and potential customers.

I wonder if we treated quitting judo more like no longer playing for your college basketball team and less like no longer being a member of a church if we’d see more former judo players referring their friends and family.

I wonder , do many judo clubs have reunions? I’ve heard of one or two but it seems to be really rare.

To be honest , I probably wouldn’t go because I’d be in Santiago or Albuquerque or Grand Forks or somewhere when it happened but I still think it’s a good idea.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It’s Okay for Kids to Quit Judo

Paradoxically, one of the reasons we may have fewer people doing judo is that we make them feel like such losers and traitors when they quit. A second reason, that perhaps has not been discussed enough, is our devaluation of recreational players, but that’s a post for another day.

I was listening to the first cut of the More Than Ordinary podcast where my daughter, Julia, was giving advice to her niece on middle school. She said something like,

“You should do sports. I did judo when I was little and then I quit but it really helped me in soccer because I had some athletic skills.”

Some of what she said ended up on the cutting room floor, but that's not the point.

Julia is in Texas right now for a soccer game with her university team.

Julia practiced judo for 7 years, from age 4 to 11. During that time, her sister Ronda was on two Olympic teams and won several national and international championships. Everyone but my husband and I thought we should force Julia to stay in judo. I made her continue practicing and competing for a year after she said she wanted to quit and play soccer because a) I think you don’t simply quit something because you are having a bad week or so and b) I was hoping she’d change her mind.

She didn’t change her mind and for the past 7 years, through middle school, high school and college, she has played soccer.

At the same age, many of her friends were forced to continue judo because,

 “In the ( insert family name here) family, we don’t quit things. My kids are staying in judo until they get their black belts.”

Some of those kids will go on and put their own kids in judo classes but others NEVER will. Instead of looking back on their judo experience as a net positive, like Julia does, they tell me about all of the things they didn’t get to do because of judo, from hanging out with their friends to trying other sports.

Now, some of those things, it might be just as well they didn’t get to do - I’ve seen some of those friends. On the other hand, they were forced to do a sport that is physically hard and even harder if you are not that good at it. Yes, there are lessons to be learned from judo but not too many that can’t also be learned from running track or being in the band.

As for me, I’m not doing much judo these days, I’m going hiking a lot and opening a new office of 7 Generation Games in Santiago, Chile.  So, you’ll just have to wait for my next post to hear why I think it is okay if adults quit judo.

While you're waiting, check out Making Camp Premium. You can get it for just $1.99.