Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Resolve to Stay the Same

"I have better friends than I deserve."

When I said this a few years ago to my wonderful friend, Dr. Jake Flores, his son, Jacob, Jr. remarked seriously,

"I don't think that's possible. I think everybody gets exactly the friends that they deserve."

I do understand Jacob's logic, and I hope it's true, that if you are an honest, loyal person, you get honest, loyal intelligent friends. On the off chance that he is correct, my New Year's resolution is to stay the same. As with most things I have done in my life, I am sure this decision and statement will gratify some and infuriate others. As usual, it will take me a while to get over it - oh wait, no, I forgot, it won't.

What I know for a fact as the year winds to a close is that I am incredibly blessed. This Christmas, as for most of the past twenty-some years, my house wasn't cleaned up but it was full of my children. I rather suspect that a clean house and several children are two incompatible forces in life. I'm okay with that.

I am back to work after a brief foray into retirement at the beginning of this year. That ended with me teaching a course at Loyola Marymount University, accepting a full-time position as senior statistical consultant at the University of Southern California and continuing as a technical consultant to Spirit Lake Consulting. This is good because I get paid. Just in case, though, I am trying to practice for retirement by occasionally going on vacation. All of us, except for Ronda, went to Palm Springs for three days just to see what it would be like not to work.

We all did very unproductive things like jumping from rock to rock to cross streams (no one fell in), riding horses in the canyons, laying by the pool in the sun and drinking white Russians and martinis. I am sure in the photo above that Julia and I are violating some resort regulation. I am equally sure that my husband takes all of these photos for evidence should it ever be needed in a custody dispute.

"Your honor, I told her that a fifty-year-old grandmother should not be jumping from rock to rock across a running stream with a ten-year-old, but she refused to listen to me."

Hah! Maturity is greatly over-rated. I have no intention of increasing my maturity rating in 2009.

After three days of this, we all concluded that the ideal duration for retirement is probably about three days. We were all ready to go back home and dive back into work. Having work you want to do is a pretty significant blessing. So is making a living wage (and a bit more) so you can buy bread (and white Russians) for your family. (And even after several white Russians the night before, does The Perfect Jennifer still look amazing or what?)

Yes, I am probably going to hell for not chastising my children more about legally drinking. That is rather hard to do considering that I am sitting here with a glass of champagne toasting the new year with my husband. If you ask my daughters, they will all tell you that I do preach to them regularly on not drinking too much and on a hundred other subjects as well. I don't intend to change that, either.

Speaking of hell and unrepentant, the new member of the family, Eva Maria, was baptized this week. Ronda was the godmother.

While among many of my friends, religion is considered somewhat lower-class, passe or just not 'what we do', I remain unapologetically Catholic. I don't intend to change on this score, either. Yes, the church leadership needs to be a lot more open-minded, pay a whole lot less attention to people's sex lives and move into the nineteenth century in its attitudes toward women. On the other hand, few institutions in the history of the world have been responsible for as much education, charity and culture as the Catholic church. That whole "feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, visit the sick", yes, I really believe in that. I don't do so well on the "forgive offenses willingly" or "bear wrongs patiently". Yes, I know the latter are also part of the works of mercy encouraged by the church, but the truth is that my gut instinct is to meet wrongs with a whack upside the head, and it is probably the California penal code rather than the the Catholic teachings that prevents me from doing so. I doubt I'll change much on that score this year, either.

Oh, and there is judo. By the most random winding of coincidences I ended the year as the first female ever to become president of the United States Judo Association (or any national judo organization in the U.S., for that matter). I have noticed that some (about 98% of them male) have been incensed by this development. Some have been pleased, others amused and the vast majority disinterested because even those who practice judo have actual lives in which who is holding what office in which judo organization is about as significant as the name of the chief clerk in the Sacramento office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have decided not to quit judo this year. In part this decision is based on inertia. After 38 years, I am used to it. More than that, though, it is based on my conclusion that judo, like my children, really is more worth than it is trouble. Thinking about why, a few very recent memories came to mind.

The voicemail from the ten-year-old boy from the training center who took himself away from his presents on Christmas morning just to call and wish me a Merry Christmas.

Looking through the photos from the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals and seeing Frankie Sanchez coaching.

I remember when Frankie was born. After winning the world championships, I would drop by and work out at the Guerreros Judo Club on occasion, because it was near my house. Frank Sanchez, Sr. ran the club. He had probably just gotten his black belt. We were both in our twenties and just trying to, as Keith Nakasone so eloquently put it, "Share what little judo I know."

Twenty-three years later, Gary Butts and I got the idea for a West Coast Judo Training Center. By then, Frankie and Eric Sanchez were pretty much running the club their dad had started. We approached them at the USJA Junior Nationals with this crazy idea that we would raise money for mats from the USJA and USJF and maybe their dad would let us use one of his buildings for free for the next year or so to get it started. In 2008, we had our first full year at the training center and we start the 2009 practices on January 3.

Speaking of the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals, there was Hayward Nishioka, who I have known for more than half my life. He helped me with chokes in my twenties, and, in my fifties, I called him up and asked him to help expand and develop the USJA coaching program. He did not say any of the reasonable things to say, such as "I am a college professor with 30 years teaching experience, an eighth-degree black belt, a former world team member, coach of the world team and international referee. I am too busy and important." He said none of that. He said,

"Sure. Let's meet for lunch on Friday."

As I have told him more than once, when I grow up, I want to be Hayward.

From judo, I gained great friends who I have admired for decades. I have known my friend, Lanny Clark, since the 1983 Panamerican Games trials. His daughter, Tara, is fond of pointing out that back then her dad fought in a lighter weight division than Ronda. I am not sure whether she is teasing Ronda or Lanny. The point is, we have a whole new generation coaching judo and, as best they can, supporting and befriending one another.

I learned the discipline and work ethic that brought me academic and professional success.

Also, it keeps me from getting fat.

So, that is why I am in judo for another year. It has taught me lessons and brought me friends. As I looked through the pictures from the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals, this one from the coaching clinic stood out, when Ronda drove 70 miles just to be there and help out. It's great that Ronda won a bronze medal in the Olympics this year, but that is not the reason that I do judo. The reason I do judo is that many of the people I love are in it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No one was impaled with a chicken, and other words of wisdom

If you are a young person who is having a difficult time in life, I wrote this for you.

Other people might not understand it, and certainly some people will say, "There she goes again, talking about the things she's done and how great she is."

I don't care. I did not write this for those people. I wrote it for you.

The end of the year is always a terrific time for me. I absolutely love Christmas, and on top of it all, I get more spare time than I usually have, that is to say, at least 12 minutes a day. While, surprisingly, work has not slowed down so much, I do have more time on the weekends and evenings as most judo clubs are taking a break. Today, Julia asked me if I would sit and watch Matilda with her, which I didn't really, because sitting down staring at a screen falls just above stepping on live snails in my bare feet on the list of things I like to do. However, the movie made me think of how much my life is different now, and how many young people in the world are still in situations that are far, far from the life they want for themselves.

In judo, one of the recommendations I make to coaches just starting out is to think about what you would say, if you could go back to yourself at 15 years old that would have helped you in your judo career. That is probably a good start for working with the 15-year-olds you are coaching now.

If I had to go back to myself at ten, or twelve, or fifteen, the most helpful thing I could probably say is,
"Trust me, it will all work out the way you want it if you keep working hard and don't give up."

Watching Matilda, Julia commented to her friend, Jacob,
"I wish I had Matilda's life. Not her parents, I love my mom and dad, but I would like to have her powers."

That was one of the things I wanted to work out, that as a parent, I would have children who completely unselfconsciously and matter-of-factly loved their parents.

When I was young, we had NO extra money. Any money we spent on judo gis or tournament entry fees or new clothes for school had to come out of something else we could have used just as much or more. When I was a kid, I wanted to have enough money to go into a candy store and buy whatever I wanted. Adults told me that it wouldn't be as much fun when I became an adult. Those people were wrong. Yesterday, for the umpteenth time, I went into the candy store and bought whatever looked good. Just like always, I was every bit as happy doing it as I thought I would be when I was ten.

When I became a young adult, I spent all of my time working, training and going to school. I ended up with four degrees and a career where I am always employed and never bored. Plus, extra added bonus, they pay me money. There have been times when it seemed as if I was missing out. I worked from 8 a.m. often until 1 a.m. the next morning. I was always reading journals, writing reports, grading papers. The good news is that the day will come when the medals will all be won, the degrees finished, the dissertation written. Now, I regularly go to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Natural History Museum, the Getty Art Museum.

First you sow, then you reap. If you are a young person building a career and a family, know that there will be time eventually for the trips to the aquarium, museum, Bahama Islands and more. Try to fit in a little time now, though, just so you know what you'll want to go back to more often later in life. Rest assured, it doesn't have to be this way for the rest of your life.

My long-time business partner, Erich, taught me that anyone who travels a lot for their career needs to make time to appreciate the scenery. Whether you are traveling for competition or career, schedule an extra four hours to see the monuments at moonlight, the Mona Lisa, the summer palace of the emperor. Yes, I spent far too much time in airports for my taste, but I also have been to every building in the Smithsonian, the cathedral at Cologne (Koln), seen British gardens, Chinese junks and the monthly tournaments at the Kodokan.

We went to Knotts Berry Farm yesterday. As Gary Butts so eloquently put it,
"They let about a million too many people in here."

It was a good idea, get in free if you bring a toy for the Toys for Tots program. However, since you could bring a toy worth $10 and the usual cost for Knotts is over $50, tons of people came. By 3:25 when we finally decided to leave, you literally could not move among the crowds.

So, I called Medieval Times, and it turned out their next show was in five minutes and we were two blocks away. Julia, the three Butts sisters and I decided to have an impromptu judo-queens-meet-knights-in-shining-armor event. It was great. There were horses walking on their hind legs, a falcon flying over our heads, beer, an enormous medieval meal we ate with our hands, lots of sword-whacking, galloping horses and shouting. It was way more food than anyone the size of a regular human being could eat, and since we were distracted watching the knights, kings and occasional pooping horse (hey, what do you expect, they were REAL horses), we ended up taking some of it with us, the food, not the horse poop.

On the way home, Julia and Erin kept up a twenty-minute sword fight in the back seat of the van, then alternated between sword-fighting and pretending they were using the glowing blue swords to perform operations on other passengers, causing Amber to finally exclaim in exasperation,

"If one more person pokes me with a sword or tries to do laser surgery on me, someone is getting impaled with this chicken."

I thought to myself, hmmm, this goes on to my growing list of things I thought one would never have an occasion to say.

I get to do a lot of stuff at the drop of a hat - go to Medieval Times, Knotts Berry Farm, the Wild Animal Park, Bahamas cruises, Beijing, Athens, Las Vegas, Palm Springs. Years ago, I owned two houses. One was beautiful, up on a hill with twelve-foot ceilings, a wood-burning stove in the living room, a spiral staircase. Every time I walked in, I could not believe it belonged to me.

Now, I don't own any houses and nobody is impressed by my possessions. Often, people come to our place for the first time and you can almost see them thinking,

"Why do they live here? I thought they were doing well."

We have plenty of room for the three of us. I don't have a sports car. I have a van that I can haul all kind of judo kids around in, and it is paid off.

Maybe other people are made happy by a big new house and lots of things you buy at Pottery Barn. Many years ago, I decided that I did not care if I owned a lot of things but I wanted to DO a lot of things and SEE a lot of things.

Here is what I figured out in my thirties:
Live life by your own rules.. By that, I don't mean run over pedestrians in the crosswalk if you feel like it. I mean that you should decide on the life you want and go after it. The people who will think less of you because you did not bother spending a lot of money to impress them, are not people worth thinking much about anyway.

If you want a big house with a spiral staircase, then go after it. If you'd rather spend your days watching people in sword fights or your nights looking out over the Las Vegas strip, do that.

You probably can't have everything and whatever you choose, some people will look down on you. Ignore them.

For the first time in my life, my house is pretty clean and I even have time to decorate little houses out of gingerbread. For years, my house was completely trashed. I had three kids living at home for twenty years straight, worked two or three jobs and a good bit of judo coaching thrown in. Now the place gets cleaner by the week. Every time I have a day or so off more closets get cleaned, floors scrubbed. Now it is two steps forward and one step back, instead of the other way around, as it has been for years.

So, if you are that ten- or fifteen- or twenty-year-old who is living a "Matilda-like" existence at the moment, before she got to be adopted by Miss Honey, take heart.

Never give up. Decide what you want. Keep working. It will work out, all the gingerbread houses, jelly fishes, sword-whacking, candy stores and perfectly adorable children.

And no one needs to be impaled by a chicken.

In case you have never heard of Matilda
- check out the Roald Dahl website because you are probably missing out on a lot of other great stuff, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Judo Christmas Cheer

First of all, let me second Julia's opinion and just say, "To hell with making weight."

If you can't even eat Christmas dinner, then you are probably cutting too hard, too often and should really consider going up a weight division. People often make the mistake of assuming that they should go into the lightest possible division. On the contrary, you should go into the division in which you personally perform the best and feel the strongest, both technically and physically. Take Eric Sanchez, for example, who competed at 66kg and won quite a lot as a junior. Just a few years later, he won the USJA/USJF Winter Nationals at 90 kg. He looks a lot healthier and happier at that weight. Plus, I bet he gets to eat Christmas cookies.

This is the time of year for Christmas parties, Christmas programs and generally getting together with family and friends. As anyone can tell you, I am not the most warm and fuzzy person. In fact, there might be some truth to the rumor that I need a martini to sit through one more Christmas program with young children playing Christmas songs badly. However, having attended a vast number of such programs in my life, I have to tell all of you who complain about going, complain about the quality and complain about the work to put on such events - you are wrong.

Community is important. It is important to get together, those people who are doing judo still, those friends they met in judo who rarely show up at the dojo any more, and family members who sat through a thousand hours in a hundred gyms, usually wondering what the heck was going on.

"Did he win? What does that gesture the referee just made mean?"

When we get together at these events we see old friends, people we knew and we remember how much we liked them and how smart they are. We see young adults and remember what bright, funny children they were.

A former competitor who is a very good judo coach once said to me,

"I have no interest in that Little League judo that you do. I know we need it or we are never going to have Olympic medalists, but I'm just not interested in it."

In my view, everyone who thinks like him is missing out.

These people aren't worth spending time with because one of them, or one of their children, might one day win an Olympic medal. They're worth spending time with because it's fun to spend time with kids who are smart, athletic, hard-working, respectful and have a sense of humor. Those kids usually don't come about by accident. They usually come from parents who are smart, hard-working, caring and interesting in themselves. One day, one of them may win an Olympic medal. Definitely, a lot of them will treat sick people, teach children, design buildings, cars or computers, start new businesses and employ a lot of people. Yes, and in the evenings, instead of drinking beer in front of the television set, they come and do matwork, or learn kata, fight with the same guy they've tried to throw every week for the last 15 years. (Okay, and then they go home and drink beer.)

This is a lesson that the judo clubs like Sawtelle, Goltz, Amerikan, Southside and other really large clubs around the country have learned and it is why they are some of the largest clubs in America.

Also, I just wanted to mention, for those of you who are in the midst of a blizzard right now, that we had our second annual winter mini-camp in San Diego last weekend, with 17 folks from the USJA/ USJF West Coast Training Center making the trip. Tony Comfort made everyone get up and run on the beach at 8 A.M. It was cold, too! It was less than 60 degrees, like 58 or something and we were all freezing. So, you see, we feel your pain.

Other than that, it was two days of great judo with Dr. Jake Flores showing up to teach on Sunday and Paul Nogaki & Dr. Ruggero Galici on Saturday. Of course, Tony, Ronda, Gary and I were there, too, but we are always there, so I think our team appreciated the guests more.

The work out on the beach was a good idea, I have to admit, but next time I think it needs to start later, say around ten, after a few cups of hot coffee.

======= REQUIRED JUDO TIP ============

I think judo is like parenting. You can't replace quantity time with quality time. Notice that these players spent five hours practicing on Saturday and three on Sunday. They also had a conditioning workout in the morning. Over the years, lots of people have told me how much smarter than me they are, that I am just tough, training hard while they are training smart (whatever that means) or training with "the best coach in America" (I never figured out how a dozen different guys can all be "the best coach in America" isn't that a logical impossibility?)

There isn't a short route, there isn't an easy way and any coach who tells you otherwise is selling you a bill of goods.

Oh, and work on your counters. And combinations. Most people are not very good at either one, so if you could improve these four areas where most people are weak, you'll do a lot better in competition:

Combinations - especially front to back or back to front. This is an opportunity missed SO often competition.

Counters - ever notice that people who counter tend to favor a grip around your back or over the arm that is on their lapel?

Gripping - you should be able to break a grip you don't want and have a few means of getting the grip you want, just like you have set-ups for the throw you want.

Transition from matwork to standing. If I say this enough, maybe you'll practice it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to do judo on your dog

The USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals were amazing. They had a coaches clinic with coaches from Alabama, Alaska and Arizona (we left out the other state that begins with A - Arkansas, but Mike Dobbs did stop by to watch the tournament). People from states not beginning with A also attended the tournament - 561 of them, to be precise. There were 20 kata teams, a full day of senior and masters competition, a clinic with 100 people on the mat including Jim Bregman, Okada, Jim Pedro, Dawn Beers, Roman Mitichiyan and yours truly. The training center crowd did awesomely awesome including four gold medals from the three Butts sisters, a silver and gold for Rachel Garcia, silver and gold from our two masters players, Allen and Gary, gold from our youngsters at the other end, Julia, Haykus and Eric. Speaking of Eric, Eric Sanchez dominated the 90 kg division. Victor Ortiz won the 60 kg division. Brent placed second, having a hard fight all the way up the losers bracket to do it. Yes, it was a great event. It had ALMOST everything. The only thing missing was judo with a dog. Therefore, because we at the USJA are a full-service organization, I have included in today's Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo a video lesson on How to Do Judo with Your Dog.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to SEE (not watch) judo

At the coaches' clinic today we discussed analysis of a judo match, what to look for and what to say to a player. Here is what NOT to say to your player:

"Are you left-handed? I didn't know that."
(I am a hypocrite because I have said to Erin and Crystal approximately 743 times each 'Since when have you been right-handed?')

'More pull'.

'Get your grip. No, get YOUR grip!'

'Be aggressive.'

'Play smart.'

You can't necessarily learn by listening to good coaches because sometimes they and their players have a code. For example,
"Kristin, think!"

Might mean to Kristin, who has been told this many, many times in advance by her coach, "You are ahead and you have 30 seconds left. Don't try any high risk attacks. "

Here is what I look for in a match.
Observing my own players

Who got a grip first? Did my player get a grip from which he or she could attack? Did the other player get a grip which kept my player from attacking? If my player only does ippon seoi nage, did the other player get two hands on my player right away hold on to the right arm for dear life?

Who attacked first? Did my player do most of the attacking? Did she/he try any combinations or counters?

Did my player score? If so, with what technique? Was the opponent moving forward, backward or to one side when thrown?

In matwork, did my player follow through in a transition from standing? Was my player able to reverse being thrown into a matwork technique, e.g., from being thrown with a ko uchi gari, armbarring the opponent with juji gatame.

On the mat, did my player attack or only defend? If he or she attacked, were all the attacks from one position, e.g., with the opponent on all fours? Can my player attack from the top and the bottom?

If my player is behind by a score, does he/ she fight differently? If so, how?

Observing the opponents
At the very, very least, I want to know if the other players are right-handed or left-handed, stronger on the mat or standing.

Absolutely, if they throw my player, I want to know with what throw, if it was off a combination (seldom) or straight in. I want to know what grip they had when they threw.

The next practice, I say to my player, let's call him Walrus, Wally for short,

It was good how you won your first match with o soto gari. He almost threw you with that ippon seoi nage right off the grip, but you managed to get two hands on him the rest of the match, hold his hand down and, when he tried to stand up straighter, go in to your o soto. Good job. Next time, have your hands up and be prepared to get a grip on both hands from the beginning so he can never try that seoi nage.

In your second match, against that left-handed player from Belleville, you had trouble getting your grip. You kept switching to left-handed grip and that is a bad strategy. You aren't left-handed and you are weaker from there. When you came in for left o soto, you got countered.

So... right now, let's work on grip-fighting against a left-handed player, getting your right grip and coming into right o soto gari.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

People Need Judo Like a Goldfish Needs an Underwater Castle

In my never-ending, unsuccessful quest to do less work, I am having other people write part of my blog for me as often as possible. Today, I thought I would do that by answering questions,

Bruno Medri of Italy asked
Courteous Dr. DeMars, when you tell that one of your dumb lucky was of having a family that cannot you allow to travel in Europe and Asia, or that obliged you to work, do varsity and found study abroad alone, it means that this give to you more feeling like to improve, to train harder and to win than your opponents because they cannot have your feeling like to win?

In part I think it gave me the incentive to train harder. Also, I think because I could not do what everyone else did, I had to come up with different ideas, which was lucky for me because what everyone else was doing was not working. If I'd had the opportunity, I probably would have done what everyone else was doing - moved somewhere with a team of people who just did judo and did not have full-time careers, traveled to Europe and Asia, fighting in tournaments long before I was ready to win them, "for the experience". Since I could not afford it, I did none of that. I went and got a full-time job as an engineer to pay the bills, ran miles before work or at lunch, got a weight trainer to teach me about lifting weights and drilled matwork and throws several nights a week. There was no way I could tell myself that I had the best training environment - I knew that was not true - so I HAD to train as hard as possible, never miss practice, never miss a workout anywhere. I was around a lot of just "regular judo players", so I never got the idea that I didn't need to come to practice at the local community center because that is where everyone went to practice.

David Schaeffer, from Santa Ynez Judo, asked,
"How can we market judo better?"

When I was in business school, I usually stayed awake in class, so I remember in Marketing 101 when they talked about the four P's - product, price, promotion and place.

By promotion they mean advertising, not ceremonies with palm fronds where you get promoted to woo-hoo shidan.

One of our biggest lacks with judo is PLACE. It was Irina Dunn, an Australian feminist (and not Gloria Steinem, as popularly believed) who coined the term,
"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."

Being happily married, I don't think that is quite accurate, as it implies that men make exactly no difference to women. I don't think that is true. I think a woman needs a man like a goldfish needs an underwater castle. That is, they are nice to have around and make life more pleasant and less boring but it is not as if you would die without one. (Incidentally, I don't hold this if you have a child. Having been a single parent and raising a child now as part of a couple, I guarantee you that the latter is easier, unless you happen to be married to a complete a$$, but that is the subject for a different blog.)

Here is the thing about judo - for most people, it is exactly like an underwater castle for a goldfish. It is NOT a necessity of life and they are not going to drive an hour each way to take their child to practice. Most judo instructors and people, who as my friend Bruce Toups says, "Have contracted judo like it is a disease," do not understand this simple fact - judo is not a priority for most people.

You need to put yourself in the place of the average parent who has never heard of judo or vaguely has an idea from an episode of the Flintstones where Wilma throws Fred around. To empathize with the typical potential judo student, or parent of one, let's substitute something else, say organic knitting. There is a great deal to be said for organic knitting, I am told. It uses less materials than regular knitting and leaves fewer negative waste products in the environment. You can apply your creativity. In judo, you have to be really, really good to make the U.S. team and then they even make you pay $50 or so for your sweats. Even a barely adequate organic knitter gets warm sweaters and cozy mittens, for a cost of about three dollars in yarn.

So, go knitting! - environmentally friendly, creative, cheap and you get sweaters. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you or your offspring wants to become an organic knitter. You look it up on-line and find that organic knitting costs less than the price of your daily Starbucks coffee for a month. So far, so good. Doing more research on the Internet, you find that the nearest organic knitting class to you is a 45-minute drive away. Thinking about leaving for the office at 8 a.m., getting home at 6 p.m., driving to a class to arrive by 7, then knitting for two hours and driving home - that is a 14-hour day with no time allowed for dinner, shopping, seeing your family - so you forget about organic knitting and you take a kickboxing class that is offered at the local gym five miles from your house.

Why is kickboxing offered at the local gym? Because organic knitting requires to be a teacher that you hold a Certified Organic Knitter of the First Order (something I just made up) while to be a kickboxing instructor you need to complete a ten-week course and possess feet.

So, PLACE is a big reason we don't market judo well. We don't have it in enough places where it is convenient for people.

A second reason is product. Most people who teach judo have no formal training as teachers and many of them simply are not very good at it. I am not saying you have to have a teaching credential to teach small children, or adults for that matter. I can think of several people who are gifted teachers who do not have any training beyond having done judo themselves for years. They are the EXCEPTION.

We don't let people teach physical education, history or anything else to eight-year-olds without some training in how to teach. For high school students, we require they have DIFFERENT training in how to teach adolescents. For adult education, every state in America requires yet another type of certification. Yet, for some reason we believe people can magically be good at teaching judo at every age from preschool through senior citizens with no background in education whatsoever. Hey, even kickboxing requires a ten-week course!

It's as if we let people become business professors at a university based on no more qualifications than that they had shopped at the Apple Store for the past 15 years. The people who had spent the most money at the Apple Store would get to be Dean of the Business School.

You know what, some of those people would do a bang-up job as business professors because they have really given a lot of thought to the advertisements they see in the paper, the position of product in the store, the way staff treat the customers. Most of them, however, would not be very good at it at all. That doesn't make the Apple Stores a bad business. In fact, I think they are pretty amazingly awesome. It does make this a stupid way to pick teachers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

You Can't Follow the Crowd to the Top

I attribute my competitive success to equal parts dumb luck, hard work and a willingness to look reality square in the face, and, if necessary, spit in its eye.

If you want to win, I think you need to realize that you have to be different. One reason so many of our coaches in every sport are unsuccessful at producing players who win at a high level is that they have no idea what it takes. It's damn hard to be a good coach for international players. I don't even try to do it, mostly because I am not willing to give up the time from my work and my ten-year-old daughter.

(You can see her, Erin and Nick working out here

Even when people do give the time and effort, they still often botch the job badly. Often, it boils down to arrogance. Coaches who did not win the Olympics (which is everyone in this country) often deep down believe that they are great players and no one is better than them. This is a great attitude that you MUST have during a match. Unfortunately, some people haven't lost it twenty years after they retired. If you cannot conceive of the fact that this player you are coaching might be better than you, then you can't really give a reason why he or she could possibly win the Olympics, world championships, etc. when you didn't. The only acceptable explanation is luck - luck of the draw, having a good day. Pretty hard to train someone to be lucky.

I'll give the dumb luck reasons that I think helped me a lot.

1. I started judo in the Midwest, I came from a family with a lot of kids close in age, so we fought a lot, and my parents didn't have any extra money to send me out of the area to compete. That might sound like the opposite of lucky and it is certainly outside of the common belief that we must go to Europe, Asia, etc. multiple times to train. Since I was a pretty tough kid, I won almost all the time and I never got the beaten down attitude that many American athletes have by the time they are 18 and are getting dumped in the first thirty seconds of some tournament they only got to attend because the number one and two ranked players couldn't afford to go. I was that number one ranked player who couldn't afford it.

2. Because we didn't have much money and there was no way in HELL my parents were going to pay for me to go travel around to judo tournaments and not work, I had to get a job, go to college and, to go to judo, get accepted in a study-abroad program at Waseda University. I spent a year working out at Waseda University with the men's team and at the Kodokan in the women's division. Because I did not come from a "good, famous club" in the U.S, I had no idea men and women in Japan didn't train together. I got beat in the mat by the guys at Waseda, which was kind of like getting beat in the mat by some of the bigger stronger guys at home. Then, I went to the women's division and tore into all of the women on matwork because no one ever told me that the Japanese women were supposed to be better than me.

3. I had no idea what was proper, polite or even much clue of what rank meant. (This guy is a 4th degree black belt - okay.) I was AMAZINGLY lucky that Margot Sathay was there at the same time I was and offered to give matwork sessions for any women that showed up. Five of us showed up regularly. Two were Margot's friends. The other three all ended up winning world medals - me, Michiko Sasahara and Hiromi Fukuda. Re-read this again - FIVE people showed up at those sessions and two of them were Margot's friends. And Margot's matwork was incredible. I was 17 or 18 and she kicked my @$$. No one of any age or size had ever beat me like that. And she was OLD (like, 35, which seemed half-way to dead).

This is where the hard work and reality part slipped in. Every day, I went to practice twice, once in the afternoon at Waseda and once at the Kodokan. Sometimes I went three times if Margot had a practice before the regular practice, other days, the dojo was available nd it was just us. Some people argue we need judo available in college, that it needs to be around students' schedules, etc. I needed to go to college, I wanted to go to Japan and study judo, so the only way to do both was to get accepted in an exchange program. Then, I took the train to Waseda, went to class and judo practice, took the train to the Kodokan and then back home. Yes, it was long and hard, but no one told me I was supposed to be practicing "smarter" and have everything at my fingertips. I thought it was supposed to be hard and it was so there was no point whining about it. If there was money left over at the end of the month and I could buy a box of cookies, I was pretty satisfied with life.

4. I ended up not in a judo mecca but in San Diego. I was living at the Olympic Training Center, found out I was pregnant (I had been married for years so don't get all self-righteous about it). The OTC is no place to bring up a baby, so I moved to San Diego and took a job as an engineer. Because I could not go to five clubs for randori every night, I spent hours working on drills, just like Nick, Erin and Julia were doing above. On the weekends, I had the chance to fight the best southern California had to offer at Tenri and at Orange County Kodokan which hosted a regional training program. During the week, I worked on the boring stuff no one would do if they had a choice. I came up with new techniques and drilled them over and over - matwork counters, combinations, transition drills, armbars from the top and bottom.

Here is where the hard work and reality part came in. I realized I needed to train every day and at JUDO in addition to running and lifting. It wasn't possible for me to quit my job, so I had to work out wherever I could. Since there were a bunch of big guys at the Naval Training Center, armbars and chokes were a lot easier to pull off than throws, and besides, my knees were trashed, so I focused on matwork.

Then there was the part about if you have had several knee operations, have a baby, live 100 miles from the nearest major club, can't afford to travel around the world and have to work full-time, you cannot be competitive. I just decided to ignore that nonsense. I wasn't the most popular kid around - my family didn't have lots of money, I didn't come from the 'right' club, so not too many people bothered to take me aside and give me advice. When they did, they were people like Hayward and their advice was along the lines of "When you get in that choke and it doesn't work, switch to a pin by sliding back and laying on your stomach."

When I look back, here is the funny thing - everything you were supposed to do - travel abroad young, get too as many tournaments as you can as a young competitor, train with well-known, high-ranking senseis, live near a "name" club where you train regularly - I did none of those things that the majority of people trying to be successful international players did because I was not lucky enough to have the opportunity. That "bad luck" was a major advantage for me.

Too many American players try to replicate successful European and Asian players. That can be taken too far. You need to think about what you are doing, why and how you expect to benefit.

In the movie, Cool Runnings, the captain of the Jamaican bobsled team whacks all his teammates on their helmets. When one demands to know what he is doing, he answers:

"That's what the Swiss team does and they win."

To which his teammate replies,

"Yeah, and they make those little knives, too, but I don't see you doing that."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The World of "Let Someone Else Do It"

We had dinner with Anna and Steve Seck last night. For those of you who don't remember, Steve was a member of the 1980 Olympic team which did not get to compete in the Olympics because they were in Russia that year and the U.S. boycotted. He was also one of my old teammates at Tenri, several time national champion, etc.

After a few glasses of good red wine, we got to discussing the fact that in "our day", Tenri had five or six national champions training there from all over, and now if someone from southern California places in the senior nationals we make a big deal of it. Steve said,

"We used to laugh at those east coast guys and now they have passed us up. All you need to do is look at the results and there's no denying it."

I asked him why he thought that happened and he said,
"Everybody is all about me and my club. You've done a good thing starting up that West Coast Training Center but how many people won't support it. That's our problem in judo on a large scale in this country. Everyone wants to be the big shot walking around his dojo lording it over other people and walking around 'HIS' mat. No one wants to develop something bigger than themselves. I am not saying I am any better. I teach at the community college in my own classes and that is about it. One way I do think I am different from some of those other former Olympians and so-called 'top coaches' is I do have the utmost respect for the guys like Gary Butts and Tony Comfort, like Ron, the other instructor down at LACC. They're all teaching judo to kids, opening up their clubs to let other people train, helping you with that training center. I have a lot of respect to for the coaches who develop kids and then encourage them to go train with someone else to help that kid get better, like you did with Ronda. I remember us talking about that when she was sixteen and I encouraged you to let her go somewhere she would have more people to train with and learn from. We could have that here again if people were willing to look outside their own little clubs. It's at every level, from the guy with the little club, to the coaches at the national level who don't have the sense to go down and recruit from those feeder clubs. They should be establishing relationships with them like wrestling programs do. Do you think the college wrestling coaches denigrate those high school programs? No way! They say, oh you went to such and such high school. That coach is really good. Then they go to that coach and talk about you and ask the coach to talk to you about going to their college program. "

[Are you impressed with how, yet again, I essentially got someone else to write most of my blog for me?]

I mentioned this to someone else, that I thought most of those people who thought they were the "big names" in judo waited for other people to develop players, run camps, raise money and only showed up if everything is done for them and they were paid to appear. On the other hand, I had been criss-crossing the country for years visiting one small club after another, trying to help out whenever and wherever I could, from southwest Missouri to Indiana to Kalamazoo, Michigan to West Warwick, Rhode Island. When people are doing judo, I try to help in whatever small way I can to provide one more person on the mat to help an individual player or send a check to pay for someone's hotel room. He said,

"Well, it doesn't seem to be working. I don't notice judo getting any bigger."

For about an hour, I was upset at that response, and then I realized that he was just another person who was willing to let someone else do it and he looked at me as a sucker for teaching for free, and, when I do get paid, donating the money to the USJA Development Fund.

Ronda had a very sensible comment on all of this, she said,

"Mom, if you are doing this for recognition, appreciation or money, you better quit. If you are doing it because you are starting and supporting programs that help people in judo, then you should keep doing it, because you have done a lot of things that helped a lot of people whether they remember it or not."

I am a great fan of Mahatma Gandhi, kind of unusual for someone who spent years in a combat sport, but Gandhi managed to change the world by changing how people think. That is amazing. According to his granddaughter, Indira Gandhi,

"My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there."

I try to be in that group. Some days, though, I get tired of working to grow judo and feel like I am trying to push water uphill. So, today I am going to be in the third group, the group that takes their ten-year-old daughters to the aquarium and watches sea lions instead of a judo tournament.

BTW There was a good practice at the training center yesterday. I will post some of the video clips later this week.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eight players, nine medals and counting - not a bad weekend

First of all, congratulations to the fine clubs that developed these players. Los Angeles City College, Goltz Judo, Hayastan, San Shi, Sawtelle, Tenri, Guerreros, At-large Judo and Encino.

We had at least ten players at tournaments. I have not heard yet how Allen did (masters division, San Diego), or Nick (9-10, in Las Vegas) or if Haykus, Kendall, Megan, Harout or Erik competed this weekend or where. Here are the results I know so far...

Continental Crown

Crystal Butts - two gold medals, junior and senior 57 kg
Gary Butts - silver, masters
Harmik Aghakhani - silver medal 66 kg
Yazmin Boca-Bott - bronze medal 52 kg
Brent Yasukochi = bronze medal, 60 kg juniors
Gavin Purdy - bronze medal, 81 kg

All-Women's Tournament

Julia De Mars - two gold medals, girls 9-10, girls 11-14
Rachel Garcia moved up from the novice division to the open and did not place, but she did compete in three matches and scored in every one of them.

The best part was that Gary Butts and Ronda Rousey went to the two tournaments as coaches so I could get caught up on work and I will actually have time to go to practice next week. Hurray!

We are super-proud of the progress these players have been making.

There is practice, back in our old digs and at the same time on Saturday

10 - 11:30 conditioning
1 -4 technical and randori (we MAY have a special guest and it is not who you think. I am awaiting confirmation)

Saturday, 123 South 1st Street, La Puente, CA

SHOW UP. Those of you who worry that you are not advanced enough, too old, or whatever, ask your instructor what he or she thinks. If your instructor recommends it, come. We met many people at San Fernando, Pasadena, Hayastan, Goltz and LACC the past few weeks. Now that you know what our practice is like, feel free to drop in.

I am heading out now to Las Vegas (I am going to a software conference. I just finished another one).

If you went to a tournament today, or if you just know who else went and how they did, please post the info here. You all know how nosy I am.

---- REQUIRED JUDO TIP -------------
Not every day is the same if you are a competitive player. If you are doing judo for fun and recreation, just keep it up and ignore the next part.

Training for a major competition, you need to peak. You also need to develop technique, tactics, analysis. So, if your goal is to win the senior nationals in April right now you should be getting in good shape. Every day, you should be running or lifting. At judo practice, which you should be attending as many times as humanly possible, you need to be working on the techniques that are going to help you win. If there is a player who beat you last year, in randori, you need to be having people in your club simulate that player, e.g., get a high left grip on the lapel and attack with tai otoshi. This is your chance to work on blocking and countering. Analyze your judo. What is your weakest point?

As a coach, this is what you should be having your players do now. We weren't even out of the airport when randori was saying,
"There were a couple of problems I saw with Julia and Rachel at the tournament that I really want them to work on at the next practice .... "

Train harder AND smarter. It's a lethal combination.

Question for you -
Who are the five people in your division you need to beat? Are they right- or left-handed? Are they stronger standing or on the mat? What is their weakest position on the mat? What is their strongest position on the mat? What is your plan to beat each of those people?

Hint: Hoping for the best is not a plan and neither is "just do my judo".

Friday, November 7, 2008

A successful life is a very wasteful enterprise

"Research, like war, is a very wasteful enterprise. You waste a lot of money having soldiers in places that you don't need them, but if you don't have them in the one place where the enemy decides to attack, you lose the war. Research is like that. We never really know who is going to come up with a scientific breakthrough, so the best we can do is give money to those who have a lot of ability and hope that they come up with something."

Years ago, I asked someone from a federal agency about how they ended up funding some projects that, in hindsight, turned out to be pretty useless and that was his off-the-record answer. The answer did not satisfy me then, but now I am older and, occasionally, wiser.

If we could predict the future with perfect accuracy, there would be very little waste, in time, in soldiers, in money spent on research that goes nowhere. Personally, clairvoyance has never been my strongest suit. Lately, Ronda and I have been arguing about the importance of a college education. I suspect that, like her sister, Jenn, she often argues just to provoke me and doesn't really disagree that much at all. Her ostensible argument is that she doesn't know what exactly she wants to do for the rest of her life and so how can she know whether a course in middle eastern history or world literature or marine biology will help. Besides, some of those courses are completely useless.

My point, and I do have one, is that you can't predict what will be useful, so you may as well learn everything you can. For all we know, one day Ronda may be the ambassador to Iraq, and then she'll really wish she had taken that middle east history course. She might end up in the coast guard assigned to a site where an outbreak of some heinous flesh-eating water-dwelling virus occurs and that course in marine biology will save thousands of lives.

When I as an undergraduate, I, and all of my friends, complained about taking the required computer science course. Like, seriously. The only people who had computers were some weirdos who made them with parts they ordered through the mail from the special weirdo version of Radio Shack for weirdos. We were never going to use a computer and yet I had to take not one, but TWO classes in programming. Two other courses I took just because I was interested and with no pretense that I could ever see any possible use in my future career were mathematical statistics and systems analysis. Ironically, all of those courses provided information that I have used for probably 20 of the 30 years of my working life.

Of course, as with everything, I can see how this relates to judo. When I look back over the decade that I have spent raising money, organizing clinics, teaching, managing budgets so we could buy just one more plane ticket for one more player, it has been so often like trying to push water up-hill and at the end, most of those players are not actively involved in judo today. So, was it a waste of time? Yes. Do I think people should not be doing these things - donating money, organizing clinics, taking players to tournaments? No. I think we should do more of it.

There are two reasons. One, being successful in life is a very wasteful enterprise. I took courses like Medieval Economic History, Regional Economics and Japanese Literature. I learned from everything I did. In being part of these judo committees, I benefited by being able to see how other people think. One comment Chuck Jefferson made really opened my eyes. He said,

"I don't know if you realize this, but not everyone who is going to the national championships is training to be a national champion. I am, but not everybody is."

Again, in hindsight, that seems pretty obvious. Sometimes, though, people change. I always think of world and Olympic silver medalist, Lynn Roethke, who was really not very good at all when she was a teenager, but trained, focused and became a dramatically successful athlete. You cannot select in advance who is going to be a highly successful athlete. This weekend, we have players from the West Coast Judo Training Center competing in Michigan, Washington, San Diego and Las Vegas. By developing breadth and depth in judo we are going to increase the number of champions. You cannot predict who it will be in advance, so you have to "waste" your money and spread it around. To do that, you have to get some money in the first place and then you have to organize tournaments, camps and clinics where you can bring those players.

At the college I used to teach there was a saying:
"Always be nice to your A students because they will come back and be your professors. And always be nice to your B and C students because they will endow your buildings."

This is the second reason that none of the activities we all do, from teaching kata to fundraising to flying across the country to do a coaching clinic are ever wasted. That kid who is not very involved any longer who we sent to the Ocean State International or the USJA Winter Nationals or the Continental Crown may very well come back and teach a judo class for 50 kids at the YMCA, send us a check out of the blue to fund a Midwest Judo Training Center, start a camp that becomes an annual event for the next twenty years. Or, maybe he or she will just become a good banker, teacher, business owner or florist who cheers for judo during the next Olympics.

It's hard for me to see how anything we do that's good is ever wasted. I actually think that doing good work, whether it is in science or judo or government is never wasted. It's like when you put yeast into bread. It may seem like nothing happened at first, but eventually it rises. We just need to be careful that, while we're waiting, we don't listen to the people who say,

"That stuff never works. You should quit bothering with it."

---------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP --------------------

This seems like another obvious one but I see lots of people who don't get it and they can't all be stupid so, clearly, it is not so obvious after all.

It is often harder for people to escape when you are NOT holding very tightly. I frequently practice matwork without using my hands. This isn't to show off but rather for good practice. What holds the opponent down is my body weight. I try whenever possible to have all of my weight on my opponent's face. If that is not possible, I'll usually settle with pinning one shoulder to the mat. Imagine if your head is stuck to the mat, or there is a nail driven through one of your shoulders. Obviously, you won't be getting up any time soon.

If I am not holding the person tightly, when she moves, it is easier for me to shift my weight and move also. If I am locked on to the other person, if she rolls over, I'll roll over and end up under her. If I am not holding so tightly, when she turns to roll me to the right, I can shift my weight to the side or back and pull or push her right into position again.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Random thoughts, judo and otherwise

I have been really busy the past two weeks teaching statistics classes, grading exams, attending a software conference and the usual cleaning the house, paying bills, going to work, etc. etc.

Yesterday I called Jim Pedro to rub in that a Democrat had won the election. I had meant to get him a Republicans for Voldemort bumper sticker but never got around to it. I told him I was feeling that judo sucked up so much of my life. I'd like more time to go to the museum, hiking in the mountains, lay around and read books. I said,
"It's not that I don't like judo. Every time I ever went to practice, whether as a competitor or a teacher, I enjoyed being there. It's just that I think of all of the other things I am missing out on doing. I could be going to plays, art museums, libraries, the Farmers Market. Don't you ever feel like you missed out?"

He said, positively,
"Nope. And you didn't either. You wouldn't enjoy those things as much as you do judo. Besides, too much of anything is, well, too much. You should take a week off, go to the mountains. I guarantee you,though, that if you went up to the mountains with your family every weekend you would get sick of it after a while. "

I asked Ronda the same question, whether she ever felt like she missed out and she said,

"No, because for all of the things I didn't get to do, there were other things I did get to do because of judo and I think that more than made up for it, like going to Spain, or Beijing or Brazil. "

Everyone takes off tomorrow. A bunch of people leave for Seattle on one flight and a bunch more leave for Michigan on another. More of our guys are going to San Diego or Las Vegas for a tournament. GOOD LUCK, EVERYBODY ! Gary is going to Seattle to coach. Ronda is going to Michigan to coach and compete.

I am going to Las Vegas to learn about data mining and predictive analytics.

Oh, we are back at the West Coast Judo Training Center NEXT Saturday. 123 South 1st St., La Puente, CA

Were you not paying attention to all the tournaments this weekend? No, there is no practice this weekend. You should be at a tournament.

There is no practice next SUNDAY. We were going to have practice until we realized the Mojica tournament was that Sunday.

---------- Brain-dead obvious judo tip -----------------

Be in shape! Cross train every day. By that I mean run OR lift weights every day. You'd think it would be obvious but the number of judo players I see who claim to want to succeed in international competition and do not have the cardiovascular ability to go a five minute match - and forget about overtime - makes it clear to me that this obvious point has been overlooked.

Skateboarding, surfing, aerobics - none of those count as cross-training, although they may be fun for some people and useful for cutting weight. Cross-training for judo needs to be intense. Please don't EVEN try to tell me how intense your aerobics class is. Nothing you can do wearing sparkly spandex is cross-training.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Captain Obvious visits the West Coast Judo Training Center

But first ... a word from our sponsor ...
======= Drum Roll which I did not put it out of consideration for readers who have low bandwidth =====

For all of you who have asked, here is the information on practices for this weekend and the rest of November....

Hello Everyone,

Here is the schedule for this coming weekend. On Saturday, November 1st, we will be training from 9:30am to 2:00pm at the following location:

Goltz Judo Club
1700 Danbury Road
Claremont, CA 91711

On Sunday, November 2nd, we will be doing conditioning at 10:00am at the following location:

Sand Dune Park
33rd & Bell
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266.

For November 8th and 9th some of us will be in Seattle competing while others will be competing in Michigan. There will be no practice on this weekend. We will resume our training on November 15 at our regular Location (i.e. 123 S. First St. La Puente, CA).
Practices November 15, 16, 22, 23 are as always, 10-11:30 and 1-4 on Saturdays and 10-1 on Sundays.

Please remember $10 a day for practice, except for this weekend when apparently $10 covers training for both days because Yazmin said so. I hope to see you all on both Saturday and Sunday.

Yazmin Bott
WCTC Manager
------------------- NOTES FROM CAPTAIN OBVIOUS-----
The training at Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach is on a beach with a giant sand dune (hence the name). The photos I saw looked really cool so you should get down there.
Adults are not children - Whenever I fight teenagers, especially younger teenagers, I am somewhat amused by the things they do, especially in matwork. They will do things like try to crank on your jaw so it hurts and you move your head, allowing them to choke you, grind their knuckles in your back and so on. I am sure some coach taught them to do that and it worked on other kids who were 13 years old. When they get to the senior level, the people who are still competing are not going to flinch when those little tricks are tried. I will give Ronda credit since I stole this line from her:
"Anything that counts on the other person being uncomfortable to work is not going to be successful at the international level. People are just tougher than that. I fought three matches in Germany with my elbow dislocated and won two of them. Do you think I am going to give up because you rub your knuckles along my jaw?"

Now matter how good your excuse is for missing practice, it doesn't stop the person who is training from pulling ahead of you. Even if your mom had cancer (which would be terribly sad), when you come back from missing six months of practice, those people who have been training every day will have improved and you won't.

So, you are welcome to tell me why you missed practice if it is something good (hey, you won the state science fair, amazing!) or bad (you had to have your dog put to sleep, that totally sucks). Regardless of the reason or what I think of it, people who practice more will get better than you.
Carrot Juice Tastes like Carrots: After practice at Sawtelle, we almost always stop at 7-11. Last week, Julia noticed the carrot juice and asked who would drink something that gross. I saw it for sale at lunch today and I thought it couldn't taste like juice from carrots, because who would drink that. So, I bought a bottle. It was gross and disgusting. It tasted exactly like carrot juice. At least you can't accuse them of false advertising. I took two sips and poured it down the sink. When I told Julia about it on the way home from practice tonight, she said,
"Next time, you should listen to me. Don't trust your judgment. Trust my judgment."

I am in the right job and judo coach isn't it. Today, someone called my office and the conversation went like this:
"I need a reference on nested logit models that gives the exact commands in Stata and the library doesn't have one and I can't find it on-line."
"I just happen to have a book on my desk with a chapter on nested logit models."
"I thought you would."

Later, I was writing a web page where I said,
"... for more detailed explanations, one would need to read a book specifically on categorical data analysis. My two favorite books on categorical data analysis are ..."

It occurred to me as I was walking back from class:

  1. Who just happens to have a book lying on their desk with a chapter on nested logit models, in Stata, no less, and

  2. Who the heck has even one "favorite" book on categorical data analysis, much less two!

Also, in the next two weeks I am going to not one, but two, conferences on statistical software, taking a class on tagsets, another class on statistical graphics and I am very excited about it and looking forward to all of it.

Sometimes I get annoyed when people act as if I don't know very much judo, but very seldom and not for very long. Coaching the Olympic team has never been my goal in life. Like a number of coaches in America, I think I have a fair bit to offer, but unlike a lot of coaches, after a day's practice, I am perfectly happy to go back the next day and explain to graduate students why stepwise logistic regression isn't necessarily the best idea. Some might argue that is lack of focus, others might say it is a good balance. Me, I would just call it Thursday.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A time to live, A time to die, A time to eat burritos

I was reading Ronda's blog about taking a break from competition, and I was going to post a comment. Yes, she was actually lying on her bed in the room down the hall but getting up and talking to her would entail moving from this spot on the bed, lifting my laptop off my lap and walking over 15 feet. So, I got an even better idea, I hadn't posted anything to my blog for a while...

Especially given the changes in IJF rules, some people have questioned Ronda's decision to take a year off from competition. In her blog, Ronda was saying that she was so happy being home in the sunshine, eating real Mexican food that she had to ask herself why she would want to ever move back to freezing Boston.

I think she is doing exactly the right thing.

Long before that song from Iron Maiden, it was actually the book of Ecclesiates in the Bible which said,

"There is an appointed time for everything and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die... A time to love, and a time to heal, a time of war and a time of peace."

An interesting post on this subject, also on Blogger, made a very good point that we need transitions in our lives. He gives several examples, including how he would never have met his wife if he hadn't been dumped by a girlfriend.

Changes in life affect us in two ways. When we have changes for the better, we appreciate what we have so much more because there is a comparison. For example, there was a time when I had to work three jobs to pay the mortgage, keep the kids in private schools that I thought were really important for their education, pay off my husband's medical and funeral bills and so on. Often, I would work until I was just too exhausted to work any more, set the alarm clock for early in the morning and drag myself out of bed to write another grant or lecture or evaluation report before driving the children to school and teaching my morning classes. Now, every time I go to bed when I am tired, I realize how fortunate I am to have that luxury.

Whenever I do anything that is not an absolute necessity, from going to Universal Studios with the family today to paying for the other stupid cat's outrageous vet bill to searching on-line for a mountain cabin for a family vacation, I realize how lucky I am. There was a time when I could not have afforded anything but the absolute necessities and I appreciate all of the luxuries and extras of my life now, large and small.

In the same way, having those days when she was running in the snow in Boston, waking up at 5 a.m. far from home - all of those experiences make Ronda appreciate every sunny day in paradise a lot more. She doesn't take sitting by the beach eating good Mexican food for granted.

Having been there, I have no doubt Ronda will go back to competition. When she does, it will be a stronger, better Ronda than before the Olympics. Taking time off gives your body the opportunity to heal. All of those stresses and strains put on your joints and muscles can heal 100%. Push the human body to the edge of the envelope too many times and it tears - I am living proof of that fact, as are most other athletes who succeeded internationally.

The time an athlete has to rest, relax and pursue other interests provides the same advantage psychologically as it does physically. There is plenty of research on the negative impact of a long period of high stress.

Now, don't all of you who work out three times a week take off next week and say that I recommended it! However, it is a long, hard, road to the top of the world, as I have said approximately 43,287 times. Let's say you really have been pouring your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into competition for three or four or five years. I'd be willing to be that 95% of you who think you have been could have worked harder, a statistic I made up based on watching judo players for 38 years. Assuming you are one of the other 5%, I don't believe it is possible to train at that level for 10 years straight without crashing and burning at some point. By definition, you cannot peak every day. Most people will see a drop in performance right after a peak. If you have truly poured everything into hitting a high point in a competition, then, logically, you have nothing left.

Your two options are to continue to compete and give other people a chance to take a shot at you during your low point, or to step away and recharge your batteries.

As anyone in the family can tell you, Ronda is the slowest moving ambulatory human being on earth. Whenever we are out anywhere, we are always yelling at her to hurry up. Her sisters would marvel over the fact that she could work out for four hours a day but couldn't keep up with a five-year-old walking through Sea World.

Today, I noticed that we were all having to rush to keep up with Ronda. Her walking speed had quadrupled. When I commented on it, she said,
"I think before, I was always still charging my batteries, resting up from the last workout. Now, I'm fully charged."

Eventually, Universal Studios, Disneyland, Santa Monica Beach and Pancho's Tacos will get boring. Everything is like that. Right now, she is really happy with every workout at the West Coast Judo Training Center and really enjoying working with the athletes, but after a while, they'll be ready for something new. Now matter how great anyone is, they don't know everything. For now, she is happy running the workouts and I am happy having her to do it. It gives me time to get caught up on work, have conference calls with the other USJA officers on how to improve our organization, and still have time left over to go on the Mummy Ride and Jurassic Park (I DO recommend that, by the way).

When I was little, I would complain whenever it rained, because I always wanted it to be hot and sunny. When I was about ten, my grandmother sat me down and explained patiently,
"If you had your way, you know what would happen? Where it is sunny every day, you have desert. The rain softens the ground so that plants can put down roots and grow. When it is sunny, they grow upward, put out leaves and get sun. All of one, your plants drown. All of another, they wither and die. In every life, rain must fall. Remember that."

Then she gave me the Book of Proverbs to read and sent me upstairs, where I read it by the window looking out at the rain. That is actually one of the more memorable afternoons from when I was a small child. Incidentally, the Book of Proverbs comes right before Ecclesiastes. Bet you didn't think I knew that, did you.

There is ...

"a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
... A time to seek and a time to lose..."

Changes are good. God and my grandmother said so.

P.S. For those who are training oh so hard - Practice at Goltz Judo on Saturday, 9:30 a.m. - 2 pm, 1700 Danbury, Claremont, CA. followed by conditioning in the park.
Sunday practice at Santa Monica Beach. Tony has some great conditioning planned.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blogs are for old people

Blogs are for old people. Email is for old people, too. So my children tell me. This would bother me except for the fact that I realize I actually AM an old person.

If there are any secrets to happiness, I am sure that one of them must be to quote the Delphi Oracle, "Know thyself."

Old people like to pontificate. Although I like twitter, it is difficult to wax philosophical in 140 characters or less. The communication many young people have does concern me, and I count young as anyone under 30. (The fact that I remember when the slogan was "Don't trust anyone over 30" is further proof of the fact that I am old.)

My latest philosophical revelation came tonight looking around at practice. I realized that Sawtelle is a recreational judo club. When this occurred to me, I felt perfectly satisfied because my daughter, Julia, is a member of Sawtelle and she is ten years old, which is a perfectly appropriate age for recreation. Because Kenji realizes that his job is to help kids in elementary school be in better physical health, develop skills such as public speaking when they explain a technique and problem-solving when they figure out why it doesn't work, he has a large and growing junior program. He knows what he is doing.

I have stolen a page from his book working with the players at the West Coast Judo Training Center. This year, I wanted them to win some regional tournaments, the state championships, junior nationals, ladders and national brown belt championships. Those were all stepping stones for them on the way up. They won a ton of gold medals, from the California state championships to junior nationals to the Ocean State International to the Golden State Open - just everywhere we aimed for to win this year, they won.

My goal for this year was not to recruit a lot of players from other places and pretend to be an Olympic training center on the west coast. We have plenty of people trying to do that already, all over the country, and they are pretty much all failing at it. You don't have an Olympic program with ten-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds who have only been in judo four years. What we do have at the West Coast Training Center is time. We have time to teach technique. We have time for extra rounds of randori, individual instruction, visiting other dojos. I said before that the benefit the coaches' kids have is all of that extra time. Well, now Gary, Ronda, Tony and I, along with a lot of help by people like Sarko Balian, Bill Caldwell, Blinky Elizalde and others are trying to give this advantage to other players.

Everyone wants to coach Ronda or "the next Ronda". Me, I want to develop 20 more Rondas. (I would normally say that I also want Ronda to do the dishes, but since she split the cost of a cleaning lady with me today, the dishes are done and I am happy.)

The best bet I know for producing 20 more Rondas is providing the same program I did for the first one, which actually includes a lot of judo practices at different places, meeting new kids, trying new techniques and getting pushed to go on to a higher level only when she was ready to win at it.

I also want Julia to have a good time at judo, which is why even though I notice that when she is doing randori with Hunter or Saki or Francis she is talking as much as she attacks, I ignore it. I know the difference between an Olympic athlete and a ten-year-old. If we had fewer coaches pretending they were coaching the Olympic team when what they are really coaching are ten-year-olds, developing teenagers and older adults who just want to socialize with exercise judo would grow in both quantity and quality.

Whether you are an old person with a blog, a judo coach with a recreational club or a ten-year-old, be yourself. You're probably good at that.

----------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP --------------
You need to do your matwork faster. I know that and I don't even know you. If you have ever had someone hit the mat, cover up and be saved by the referee saying "Matte!" your matwork is obviously too slow.

Here is a simple drill. Do ten repetitions of your favorite mat move. Do it right-sided. On the first one, try to do it as technically perfect as possible. The second one, try to do just as perfect but a little faster. Keep this up trying to make each repetition faster than the last one. Repeat on the left side. Now do it again with a second mat technique.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Starting Fires

Jerry Hays sent me a link to a cool site that has Billy Joel's song, "We didn't start the fire" with photos of nearly everything mentioned, from Doris Day to the Suez Canal to Bob Dylan to the Ayatollah Khomeini. It is a good reminder of the balance I always seek - and seldom find - in my life.

If you look at the pictures, they pretty much flash through political events, major news stories (not always the same thing - think the O.J. Simpson trial versus the war in Afghanistan), literary giants, such as Hemingway, popular films and who won the World Series. All of these snapshots represent a huge event to millions of people, and were defining events of their era.

I realize that, by comparison, whether one particular little orange belt learned to do a sacrifice technique correctly is not a life-changing event. On the other hand, most people's lives are determined by thousands of non-life-changing events piled on top of one another. Whether you did your homework for a thousand different nights is a huge factor in making it into Harvard. Whether you came to practice a thousand different days determines who goes to the Olympics and who stays home. Whether an adult thought you were important enough to spend five minutes teaching you 10,000 times over your childhood determines who wins the Nobel Prize and who is the Prison Inmate of the Month. So, I try to balance not taking what I do too seriously and not taking it too lightly. As I have said before, coaching in general, and probably judo in particular, a good coach needs to be smart enough to do it well and dumb enough to believe it's important.

Speaking of judo ... it was another great judo weekend in sunny southern California. First, we had practice at San Shi from 10-11:30, then from 1-4. After that, Tony Comfort took a group to the beach where they played football until it was dark. After dinner, everyone went back to the hotel for swimming, ping pong and meeting up with friends. Let me take this opportunity to point out that Tony got lost every single place we went.

After sleeping like a collection of rocks, we headed up to Temecula. The positive part of Sunday practice was that it was a really scenic drive. The downside was it was much farther than we had believe and so we all ended up there about half an hour late, with the exception of Tony who got lost yet again and was so late he gave up and went home!

Their dojo is really cool. The side of it opens up, so on a warm day like today, it is almost like working out outside. Julia got some really good pictures of Paul Nogaki teaching uchimata. I thought the lighting effect was pretty cool.

If you are ever in Temecula, you should definitely stop in and see their judo club. They were unbelievably nice. Not only did they invite us to their dojo, and did Paul teach his signature uchi mata, but they barbecued hamburgers for us afterward. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch.

So, let's add it all up - 7 1/2 hours of judo practice, football, swimming, barbecue, dinner and the Sheraton Resort. Getting back to work on Monday is going to be very relaxing.