Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to get better at judo: Step two

Out of about a million and in random order

Focus on your weak points. I was talking to Allen Wrench tonight and he coined a new term I am going to steal, "counter-intuitive judo". According to Allen, much of what I say at the West Coast Judo Center is the opposite of what most people do, but it works.

When I was on the world team we had a number of people from different fields brought into work with us, none of whom knew anything about judo, but all of whom were helpful. One was a group of athletic trainers. We were at a mandatory camp in New York City, arranged by Rusty Kanokogi and these trainers worked with both the Yankees baseball team and the New York Ballet. They told us that the baseball players would come into the gym and immediately hit the weights. The ballet dancers, on the other hand, would come in and start stretching. The baseball players were great at lifting weights, but what they really needed to work on was their flexibility. The ballet dancers were amazingly flexible, but they needed to be stronger.

You see the exact same thing in judo. My nine-year-old daughter is much better at matwork than standing techniques. If we are doing throws, uchikomi or standing randori, about every ten minutes or less she will say,
"Not that I am complaining or anything, because I'm not like whining, but how much longer until practice is over."

However, once matwork starts, she is a happy little camper, dives right in and never asks how much time is left again. I cannot criticize her for that because I was the exact same way as a competitor. I looked at all the throws, uchikomi and standing randori as what you suffered through to get to matwork.

Once Ronda finally got a good uchimata, when she was about 13 years old, she threw everyone with it. Finally, we made uchimata a banned throw during club tournaments, to force her to do something else. So, if I was so good at matwork, why did I start Ronda off focusing on standing technique, including uchimata, which I never did in a tournament in my life? Because the same advice of focusing on what you are not good at applies to coaches as well. I knew it would be a piece of cake to teach her matwork. Frankly, I am very good at it, I love it and am very enthusiastic about teaching it. That's another important point about coaching, too. Don't try to make your students into younger versions of you. Ronda is left-handed, six inches taller than me, forty pounds heavier and, unlike me, she has ligaments and cartilage in both her knees. It would be silly for her to fight just like me. So, when she started judo, I took her to Tony Mojica's club, where Tony and Blinky focused on teaching her to throw with uchimata and tai otoshi, then took her to Venice where Trace focused on seoi nage. When she was already winning with throws, I started to teach her matwork. If I had started off with matwork, it would have been very hard to get her away from a reliance on winning just on the mat.

No one wants to focus on their weak points. You want to throw with uchimata, if that is your best throw, because you look cool doing it. You don't want to try throwing people with foot sweeps and miss because you suck at them. That is why most people's development stalls around their teenage years and their first-degree black belt, both of which usually come during the same time period. You can't try a new throw in practice and gets slammed because ... because... because what? The I-got-thrown-in-randori ogre will come and beat you with a club?

Here is one of the things I did right as a competitor and do to this day - I got my ass kicked a lot. I got slammed in randori plenty of times. I say that was right because every time I took a chance and tried something new, I learned a way that someone might beat me. Then I tried it differently the next time, and probably got slammed again. I tried from a higher grip, a lower one,left-handed - and eventually, it worked. It has always amazed me the number of people who are confused about the fact that randori is practice. You see, it occurs during an activity they call "practice" which is held at times listed next to the word PRACTICE on a sign on the door, and the sensei will call out, "Okay, now it's time for free practice - randori!" What more do you need? A little thought-balloon over someone's head like in a cartoon?

All over the world at this very moment, there are people acting like, if they get thrown or pinned at practice, their mother and first-born child will be sold into slavery and then boiled and eaten. What do you people need to catch on - an engraved clue delivered by a monkey in a Captain Obvious suit? What? The really stupid thing is when you beat these morons in an actual tournament and they come up to you and, as someone actually said to me once,
"I don't understand how you beat me in the tournament today. You have to admit that I always won at practice."

I looked at her in disbelief for a moment and then said,
"There's no such thing as winning at practice. That's like saying you got an A in recess or you flunked field trip."

She blinked and replied,
"You can't fail recess. They don't give you grades for that."

I walked away thinking, how sad, you lost to me in the tournament AND you're stupid. Sucks to be you.

You should constantly be evaluating where you are weakest in every area. Even though I love matwork, I am weaker in some positions than others. Supposedly, one of the better positions to defend from in matwork is the position we now call "The Guard" either due to Brazilian jiu jitsu influence or because that sounds so much cooler than "sitting on your butt". That is my weakest position. I became known for my matwork and if I sat like that and tried to get someone to come toward me, they would usually try to get up and run away. People practice defending against someone in the guard position. Actually, I had a lot higher percentage of attacks from all fours, even from my stomach as shown above. There is less expectation of an attack from that position, so people are less prepared to defend from there. Lately, in matwork, I have to keep forcing myself to get back into the guard position to fight. When I do standing randori, it is much easier for me to throw people backward than forward because my knees are so bad it is hard for me to bend. I make a really conscious effort to try two or three forward throws for every backward one.

Just to emphasize, I would like to end with one of those quotes from Jim Pedro, Sr., shouted at the top of his lungs. I love my daughter and I am very fond of Jim, but if he ever dies of a heart attack on the mat, it will be her fault.


As I said, practice your weak points.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How to get better at judo: Step One

in no particular order and out of about a million

Read books. Watch videos. Watch your competitors, watch your teammates and watch your players work out. Does that sound like a stupid-a@@ way to get better at a combat sport? I didn't say do those things INSTEAD of practice.
This is one of those things I should have done more of in my competitive days.

What I did do right was to watch every match I possibly could of my competitors. On tape, not everything gets captured. You don't see that the person was behind by a yuko when she rushed the other competitor, or that look she had on her face after getting roughed up by her opponent on the mat. Any chance I had the opportunity to see my competition on tape, I watched it over and over. I was looking for weaknesses, any time I saw one of my competitors get scored on, I would stop the tape, back up and see what happened right before that and take a note if the person was right or left-handed, attacked right off the grip, and so on. I really studied my competition and was very prepared when I went out to fight. At practice, I would tell my teammates,
"Okay, this person I'll probably fight in the finals does left tai otoshi all of the time with a high grip. Grip me like this and try left tai o when we are doing randori."

What I did wrong was not study other people very much
- I was smart enough to study my teammate, Miguel Tudela and learned a lot from watching him. I should have done more of this. It was our strength coach, who knew nothing about judo, who pointed it out after watching judo practice for one of the first times. Miguel fought in the men's open weight category. I fought in women's 56 kg. Both of us were physically stronger than almost anyone we would ever fight and short for our divisions, which meant people often took a high grip. We had similar fighting styles. I don't think either of us ever got a stalling penalty in our lives, and you could have hit us with a brick in the match and we would not have stopped coming. Miguel used that strength to his advantage. He did a lot of morote gari (double leg take downs) and leg picks. He also used his head a lot, literally. Miguel would block a throw with his face. He would hit someone with a pick-up literally head-on, slamming his face and chest into the person as he pulled their leg up. The way I do tani otoshi to this day was copied off Miguel twenty years ago back at Tenri Dojo. I should have studied other people fighting much more than I did and I am sure I would have learned a lot more.

Another mistake I made was not to watch more tapes of international competition, not just my competitors. Now I see a lot more set-ups because I watch matches of people doing drop seoi nage or ko soto gari and see how they got into it. I watch tapes more analytically now, not just cheering and saying what a great throw, but looking at how the person grips, how he got that grip and what happened before the throw. Did the opponent try a throw that didn't work and come out? For example, lately I have been having a harder time getting my right hand on the lapel. This is good because we have been working on grips a lot, and teaching one of the same techniques I always use of having my right foot back and punching in with my right hand. When everyone caught on to that, I would put my left foot back, cross grip my left hand to the lapel and then feed it to my right. That was the second technique we taught and now even our juniors block that. I was watching a video the other day from Fighting Films that had a lot of ippons from shoulder throws. What I noticed many of the players were doing was gripping the right lapel with their left hand, as if they were going to get a left grip. They then pulled the person toward them and got their right hand on the right lapel and switched their left hand down to the sleeve. Then they were able to pull the person closer yet and get the left lapel grip they wanted. For someone who hadn't seen this before, this would have been very helpful. I had seen it tons of times before and it was still helpful. I realized that I had gotten into a bad habit of doing the same gripping sequences over and over. Here was another I knew and had not used lately just because I had become lazy, doing whatever was working until it quit working. I'm not competing any more, so I am not as focused on staying at my peak as I was 20 years ago. As a coach, though, I cannot afford to get lazy, and neither can you as a player. If you are winning, it is easy to become lazy - until you lose! Try to see any time in practice someone is defeating anything you want, a grip, a turnover, and work on improving that.

My favorite DVDs and videos - for learning to gripfight - Get a Grip, by Hayward Nishioka. It has the basics and is a great start and a great reminder for coaches of what we should be teaching.

Fighting Films - Shoulder Throws, by Hal Sharp

For teaching beginners, Mike Swain's Basic Judo. It IS basic, but most of us teach basic judo most of the time. If I have a little kid having trouble with tai otoshi, I might watch this and see if Mike teaches it a little differently or what he emphasized.

Steve Scott's Coaching on the Mat is a book I highly recommend.

I like Ron Angus' book, Competitive Judo, also, and Van der Walle's book on Pick-ups.

I feel guilty to admit the number of books I have not read yet and DVDs I haven't watched. I have yet to see Jimmy Pedro's Grip Like a World Champion, nor have I read Neil Ohlenkamp's Judo Unleashed nor Gene Lebelle's books. All are on my to-do list. Maybe that will be the NEXT rainy weekend.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I Have Decided Not to Quit Judo Today

Even though I have a black eye, third-degree mat burn and ache in muscles I had forgotten I had

Yesterday, I was ready to quit judo. As my friend, Jim Bregman, once said,
"I know that there is supposed to be a normal curve for intelligence, but I can't help but feel sometimes that the population involved in judo is skewed toward the stupid end."

Someone had made the comment that my opinion could not be trusted on who would be appropriate for a particular training camp. It was then suggested to me by someone who is supposedly my friend that it was understandable why the camp director would respect other coaches more than me, as he did not know me and perhaps I should take a week off work, go to this camp at my own expense and coach for free so he could get to know me. My friend was actually surprised to find I was very offended by this suggestion. I will omit some of the choicer words, but I told him, in short:

"In other areas of my life, people treat me with respect. They call me doctor and they pay me a decent amount of money, and you know why? Because I have earned it through hard work and accomplishments. Why on earth (well, I might have used some other words) should I fly thousands of miles to impress some little (word deleted) who never did anything? Winning the world championships wasn't enough to earn his respect? Why? Because it was in the "girl's division"? Bringing up one of the best competitors this country has seen in decades, probably ever, was not enough? Why? Because she didn't succeed until she got a 'male' coach? Actually, she was number one in the U.S. before she ever spent a week away from home. I intend to spend my spare time with people I enjoy and that does not include arrogant little (other word omitted) who think what I have done in judo is not worthy of respect."

Do I think that anyone would have taken that attitude if I was male? I am absolutely certain they would not. Sometimes the sexism in judo, which is far more rampant than in most other areas of life in this country, really irritates the hell out of me (maybe I originally used some other words there) and I wonder why I even bother.

Then, I spent the evening reviewing videos of judo matches, because I had practice at the West Coast Training Center today and I wanted to be sure that we were focusing on what would be most useful for our players. As usual, I like to be overprepared and have way more planned than we can cover in one day, even with five hours of practice. I also keep a record of what we cover each week so I can be sure we are not being to repetitive, but, on the other hand, make sure we have a coherent plan. At the very beginning of this training center, one of the key weaknesses we identified in American judo is a general lack of combinations and counters, both standing and on the mat. So, that was our focus today.

My original plan was to do mostly drills in the dojo. However, there were only seven people who came for the first practice, and it was a beautiful day outside, after several days of rain in a row. So, we ran half a mile to the park, played several games of toilet ball, which ended with us all being covered with mud and then ran (or in some cases, walked) the half mile back. Raffi, who is usually ahead of everyone, was coming in last. He had been sick in bed all week, but got up and came to judo this morning. All of our young players worked hard and another dozen came in the afternoon for the newaza and randori session.

I got matburn practically down to the bone (thanks a lot Crystal!), got punched in the eye by my own nine-year-old daughter, and bent back one of my finger nails fighting Harout. Watching these players, I had a real sense of pride. It is great to see people like Victor Ortiz, Gary Butts, Frankie and Eric Sanchez on the mat both fighting and helping our younger players develop. The level of judo of everyone in the place has risen noticeably in just the few months we have been running these practices.

We are building exactly what I had hoped. The intensity in randori today was exactly what people need to move them to the next level in judo. We are building a technical base and their judo is improving. This is our first year and my goal is for our players to all win golds at the California state championships.

My second goal is for all of them to win gold at the Golden State Open in August, and at the USJA Winter Nationals in December.

We have some who will be able to attend the USJA or USJF Junior Nationals but, financially,that is not in the cards for everyone this year. Fortunately, next year the USJA Junior Nationals are in San Diego, and will these kids ever be ready!

So, thanks, guys. I have been in judo since God was a baby. I was thinking about quitting judo, but because you all inspire me so much, I have decided not to quit judo today.

(The baby in the picture, by the way, is not actually God, but my daughter, Maria, who is going to give birth to her own baby soon. She is much older now than she was in that picture.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We love marmots

I was irritated today, which made this just like nearly every other day. In particular, I was irritated because I found out that some arrogant jerk in judo had done something which I thought was out of line. Again, a pretty typical day.

As most of my days do, it ended on a good note, and here is my important advice and the relation to marmots, about which you are no doubt wondering by now.

When you find yourself getting too concerned about what is going on in the judo community, people boycotting tournaments, idiots telling you that your athletes aren't good enough to come to their camp and train with them, old fat guys promoting one another to forty-seventh degree black belt, which allows them to get on the mat in a velvet judo gi holding champagne flutes ... try one of my three sure-fire cures.

1. Get some exercise - actually go to judo and choke someone, which amazingly, is legal, or go run or ride a bike. Since it was pouring rain in Santa Monica, the last two choices were out, and the rain meant by the time I got anywhere in this traffic judo practice would be over. This sent me to my second option.

2. Surf the Internet. This is a great way to bring it into perspective. There are billions of pages that have nothing to do with judo. One of my favorites is slashdot, which bills itself as "News for nerds. Stuff that matters."

It is interesting. I cannot vouch for their claim that all of it matters. For example, they had a bit today on the history of domain names like eat.com (owned by the same food company that makes Ragu and a bunch of other stuff) and milk.com which is apparently owned by a guy who just happens to like milk and who registered it 14 years ago back when you tried to think of a name for your site and went, "Milk! Hey, I like milk. I bet no one has registered milk.com " - and guess, what, no one had. Underneath the title, it says, "We love marmots". It also says, at the bottom, under disclaimer, that if you think anything here might offend you, go away right now. Gee, I need a tattoo like that on my forehead! I followed a number of links on this site and I can safely say I learned nothing of use, but I laughed a lot. I'll bet the milk.com guy doesn't know anything about judo.

3. Go to your public library. I guess Borders or Barnes and Noble would do but I love the library. It is such an amazing concept that I can walk into a place and walk out with an armload of books, for free. The Los Angeles Main Library has this in common with museums - it is a great place for restoring your faith in humanity. You go into these places and they have great sculptures, reading rooms, beautiful buildings, thousands of books. We used some of our tax dollars for this instead of blowing up foreign countries. Rich people decided to give their money so that complete strangers could have access to great art and literature instead of spending it on another yacht for themselves or cheap women and expensive whiskey or expensive women and cheap whiskey. There are very few books in the library on judo. I probably have more in my house. There are lots of books on other cool stuff, though. One I checked out is called, It's not news, it's fark. It is hilarious and I cannot put some of the really funny lines here because I know some underage people read this blog. There is also a website www.fark.com , with such valuable news items as:

Texas' highest criminal court adopts a policy prohibiting filings covered in "corrosive or dangerous chemicals, blood, food, feces, urine or other bodily fluids."

So, you know that feces-and-blood-covered brief you just urinated on? Forgot about sending it in to the Texas court, buddy!

My husband said that it reminded him of me. I asked just how he figured a connection there, not having smeared blood, feces, urine or radioactive nuclear wastes on any court documents lately,

"You know, how you are always prefacing things you say to the kids with, I never thought I would have to say this but.... like, I never thought I would have to say this but, do NOT break plastic swords over your sister's ass."

I am sorry to relate that yes, I actually DID have to say that. I am sure Ogden Nash could have written some really good poems about our household.

My point, which by now you have given up hope that I might actually have one, is this... Don't let your blood pressure rise over anything that happens in judo. It is just one of a billion things that exist in the world, and if it bothers you then just turn you attention temporarily to other things. Marmots, for example.

------------------ REQUIRED JUDO TIP ---------------------------------
If you are in an area where you are training for competition but there is a limit of serious judo players, here are a few drills that may help.

Three-person uchikomi - have one partner in front and the other holding that person. Fit in as fast and hard as you can trying to throw both of them. For forward throws, it is probably best if the person in back has hold of the partner's belt and back of the collar. For backward throws, they may want to be a few inches behind with arms lightly around the partner's waste and just hold the person up when "thrown".

Crash pad drills - draft two to five people and ask them nicely if they would mind taking falls on the crash pad. Throw for two minutes and see how many you can do. Offer to take your turn in line, of course. Often your partners will want to do less than two minutes, or not worry about speed and just do it at their own pace. Be polite and grateful. They don't need to let you smash them 30 times in two minutes, so if they do, and they can only get off five throws in two minutes, how nice of them to be willing to take falls for you.

Get an inner tube, put it around a post at home or a stairway railing and fit in on o soto gari or uchi mata dozens of times each day. We had one of those in our hallway for years. No idea where it finally disappeared to. This doesn't substitute for practice, but every little bit helps.

Newaza uchikomis - whenever you get a willing person, go through every mat technique you know. Then do it again. If you can go throw every mat technique you know five or six times that is a pretty worthwhile exercise. Of course, if you only have three or four techniques, you'll be done pretty quickly, but then, that tells you something else you need to work on, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There isn't a book for this you know!

On parenting an elite athlete ...

I found a journal under my bed in one of my bi-annual attempts at cleaning. A few years ago, a couple of parents of children a bit younger than mine encouraged me to write a book. I got as far as two pages and then it fell behind the bed and things settled over it, kind of like what happened with those saber-toothed tigers that they now have on display at the La Brea tar pits. Here is what I had written years ago...

There is a great big hole in the picture of parents in sports. Between the Little League dad and the figure-skating mom living vicariously through their children are the thousands of parents I have met. These are the moms and dads who take their child to 5 a.m. swim practice or who sit in grid lock L.A. traffic for two hours to get their children to practice at 7 p.m. They have to work all day, they are tired and sitting in that car on the 405 or on that bleacher at 6 a.m. is hardly the one thing in the world they most want to be doing by a very, very long shot.

Here is how it happens to most parents that you become the mom or dad of an elite athlete ...

You are not the fanatic parent portrayed in the media. You have your own life and you are happy with it, or at least as happy as most people are, anyway. You have a job, you have friends, a husband or wife, maybe, and, of course, a child. You are pretty much like the rest of America.

Except ... somewhere along the line, something happens and your story changes. You take your child to the local class and she does well. You take her to the local meets and she wins. Everyone is having a nice time. Your house starts to fill up with trophies, your child starts to get invited to 'traveling teams' or out-of-state tournaments. You start to notice that your child is different. She does things other kids her age don't do. You probably notice it before anyone else does, because who knows your child better than you. Other people will chalk it up to you just being another "Little League parent", but you know. You see this sport becoming your child's life. Here is one of the first heartaches. You see your child lose, maybe for the first time, or the first time in a long time. I have never seen a world-class athlete who took losing well. You see your child walk out of the gym, sit down in the car next to you and burst into tears. You have the picture of your child standing on the podium trying bravely to smile, when her eyes are red from crying under the bleachers ever since the finals ended. Don't kid yourself that it is any easier if you have a son. At that moment, when you see your child's heart breaking, you resolve to do whatever you need to see that your child never, ever has to feel that way again. And so, here you are at the pool before dawn or on the freeway moving at 5 miles an hour.

Most people would think that having been a world champion would prepare you for being the parent of an elite athlete. Most people have no idea what the hell they are talking about.

Nothing prepares a parent to raise an elite athlete in any sport. There have been so many times when everyone else seemed to think they knew more about what my daughter needed than I did. There were a lot of days when five or six different people would call me up to tell me what I was doing wrong. Did I ask their opinions? No! And I just wanted to scream at them,
"There isn't a book for this, you know! I'm doing the best I can!"

One advantage I do have of being a former world champion is that I have been in this sport a very long time, long enough to realize that almost all parents will face the same challenges.

How do you tell if your child really is as gifted as you think? How can you know if you are letting a God-given talent slide or pushing a child to unreasonable limits. This is easier to see in timed events like swimming or track. If your child has broken his or her age group record every year since age six, you have a pretty good hint. What about Ronda? She came into a sport at age 11 and did not compete in her first junior nationals until 12. At 14 she qualified for her first junior international team, at 15 for her first junior worlds, at 16 for her first senior U.S. team.

There are probably 100 divisions in the junior nationals, by age group and weight, and three national events and one junior U.S. Open each year. Out of those 400 possible gold medalists, what set Ronda apart?

There are a couple of factors. One is the conditions under which she was winning. Many of the kids who win junior nationals at twelve have been in judo six or seven years. With all of that training, they should be coming out ahead. Ronda had been competing for one year and was beating kids who had six times as much experience. Some children mature early, physically and mentally. They are essentially adults competing in the junior divisions. Ronda was not like that. She matured late in every way. At 12, she was such a skinny little beanpole we called her Beanie. In fact, I still call her Bean. As the youngest child, and having lost her father at a young age, she was pretty much babied. When she first came to live with him, Jim Pedro, Sr. said to me one day,
"When my daughter, Tanya was 16, she was going on 21. Your daughter is 16 going on 13,"

then he added,
"but, God that kid hates to lose!"

If your child has not had every advantage in terms of private lessons, extra practices, starting years earlier than the competition, in fact quite the opposite...

If your child is not physically and emotionally more advanced than the other children, in fact, quite the opposite...

.... and your child is still winning, that is one sign.

The biggest sign I see, though, is that child who HATES to lose and doesn't think anyone on earth has the right to beat her. Years ago, I fought a 15-year-old girl in the senior nationals. I was supposed to win. I had been beating everyone. In fact, I never lost a match at 48 kg. This kid came out and tried to beat me. She didn't have a prayer. I was ungodly strong for that division, I just held her still, knocked her down and pinned her. That wasn't the point. The point was that she was the only person that day who really came after me trying to win. That kid, Darlene Anaya, from New Mexico, got a bronze medal in the 1984 World Championships at 48 kg (I grew. She didn't.)

Congratulations.... I guess.... your child is amazing. Now what?
How do you get her the training she needs? How do you make sure she gets to enough practices, gets the cross-training in, gets the coaching she needs?

Are you thinking to yourself, "No problem. I would do whatever it takes for my child."

Then you, my friend, are probably one of those people who have perfect theories about raising children and no actual children. What if you have other kids? Ronda has three sisters. When Ronda won her first junior nationals, her youngest sister was a year old. How do you choose between paying for one child's college tuition or sending another to training camp in Europe or putting a third in preschool? Thank God I was helped by some very, generous wonderful people who helped with Ronda's expenses.

One year, some idiot who thought he was a great coach approached me and started telling me in a very pompous manner all of the things he was going to provide for Ronda that she needed. Then, he asked me, very condescendingly,

"What do you think you need from our organization to help you?"

I think he was very surprised by my reply, expecting I would say she needed a great coach like him. I said,

"You really want to help my daughter? What she needs is a car pool! She needs to go to practice seven days a week and I usually work six days a week to make money to cover her trips and everything her sisters need, too. She needs a car pool to get to practice."

No one ever helped get together a car pool. I did buy my oldest daughter a car for her 16th birthday on the condition she took her sister to practice twice a week. Ronda dubbed her "the chauffeur from hell". Maria often came straight from cheerleader practice to pick Ronda up, then drove to Hollywood and sat at Hayastan Dojo doing her biology homework while her sister practiced for two hours. It was a bit incongruous, Maria in her St. Monica's cheerleader outfit doing her AP homework while Ronda went head to head with several guys who grew up to be fighters in the UFC. They couldn't have been more gentlemen to my daughters, though and it all worked out.

Then there are those other decisions you are going to face later on.

What do you do when your child outgrows his or her first team or coach, or the second one after that?

What do you do when your child needs to move away from home? How do you decide where is the best place to go?

Ronda left home at 16 to train for the Olympics and there has never been a day go by that I haven't second-guessed that decision.

And that is the point at which the journal fell behind the bed....

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beijing - the cat, not the Olympics

or, How I almost got divorced, the cat almost died and then life returned to normal

Disclaimer: For those of you who read this blog for information on judo, there is not much of it in this post except for tangentially and, of course, the required judo tip at the end.

When you marry a man later in life, in my case, when he was 42 years old, and especially if you are his first wife, you need to realize that he is what he is and not go into the deal expecting to change him. My husband is a brilliant guy. He has his share of faults, primary among them being that most of life passes him by without notice. Think of Bill Gates with no ambition and you pretty much have Dennis. Even without ambition, he is brilliant, and he is no doubt much easier to get along with than Mr. Microsoft, plus we have cooler computers. Generally, life is calm in the DeMars household. Besides that, I believe that home should be calm. There is enough stress in the outside world that you need a place where, as Robert Frost said, when you go there, they have to take you in. All of this preface is to make you understand that it takes a lot for me to yell at my husband.

Well, Saturday we had six hours on the mat at the West Coast Judo Training Center. First, we had conditioning practice, then two hours of the Nanka Shorai Games, then another 2 1/2 hours of technical and randori practices. Then, since the trip to the training center in Tijuana was canceled and the kids were understandably disappointed, I took Julia and her friend from the training center, Denise, to race gokarts and play arcade games. By the time we got back to the house, I had been gone for twelve hours, stood out in the cold to get on the gokarts, and was cold,stiff and tired.

I walk into the kitchen and there is blood on the kitchen floor, blood on the kitchen chairs and blood on the cat's mouth. I go upstairs and the bathroom in the hallway has blood on the sink. In my bedroom, where my husband is sitting at his computer, there is blood on the sheets.

I yell,
"Dennis! The cat is bleeding all over the house and you sat here for twelve hours and left it for me to take care of when I got home! What the hell is wrong with you?"

He said (and I swear I am not making this up),
"I noticed the blood on the sheets but I figured the vet was closed on Saturday."

There are several things wrong with this picture:
1. We have had the same vet for 11 years and the vet IS, in fact, open on Saturdays and located less than two miles from our house, about 300 feet, incidentally, from the elementary school that Julia now attends and that Ronda and Jenn both attended. So, Dennis has driven by that vet several hundred times.
2. He didn't notice blood all over the house even though he had been home for the past twelve hours, when I noticed it in the first two minutes I walked in the door.
3. If an animal had bled on your sheets, wouldn't you CHANGE THEM????!!

I had some comments on this, which I will spare you, and the result was that Dennis looked on the Internet, found an animal hospital open on Sunday and promised to take the cat the next day.

On Sunday, Julia fought in the Nanka Novice tournament (where she fought her heart out and won her division), so we got up really early and left. SEVEN HOURS LATER, after Dennis has called three times (Where is the cat carrier? Downstairs in the garage. I can't find it. Look in the closet under the stairs. I went to PetCo and bought a cat carrier but the cat won't go in it. Maybe I should wait until you guys get home. Beijing likes Julia better than she likes me.)

So.. we get home and Dennis has yet to defeat the cat and put her in the pet carrier. This is one of the things one learns from judo - sometimes you set your mind to something and make it happen. I don't give a damn if the cat likes me or not. She is sick, she has to go in the pet carrier and go to the vet. She is hiding underneath the guinea pig cage. Julia and I lift up the guinea pig cage, I throw a sweatshirt over the cat, lift her up and stick her in the pet carrier.

By now, I have not had enough sleep for days, because work is very, very busy, on top of judo. Dennis has spent zero time with Julia all weekend and the cat looks like it is going to die for sure. I call my daughter Jenn and complain and she asks me if I am going to tell Ronda or wait until she comes back from Europe, because we all know that Ronda is very stressed out training hard, missing home and trying her best to gear up for the Olympics. I don't think Ronda will forgive me very soon if I don't tell her that her cat died. About every minute she is home she has that cat on her lap. It was the ONLY thing she wanted for her 14th birthday and she named it "Beijing" after the Olympics that she said she was going to win.

The day is not improving. Dennis comes home and says that the cat needed a blood transfusion, a test for a blood disease caused by parasites, a test for feline AIDS, a test for feline leukemia, about a dozen other things - and the total bill was almost $1,200. He handed over his debit card to the vet and paid it. (This is the point where I am starting to have second thoughts about divorcing him, because I don't think I would have done it. He said, he thought about not paying it but he knew how fond the girls were of that cat.)

So... I call Ronda and tell her what is happening and she starts bawling. It does not help that her father had a blood disease, had a lot of transfusions and died when she was little. Then she starts babbling about coming home and offers to send us payments or half the money or something if we would just pay for it, but I tell her Dennis already paid for it and animals, and people, too, will get sick whether she is here or not.

Dennis, in his second step away from divorce court, takes me and Julia to The Fish Company, our favorite restaurant, where we have oysters, crab, Mojitos, and Shirley Temples until we don't even care that Julia's tooth came out in the free taffy they give away at the restaurant. I cannot believe I have seen so much blood today and none of it was at the judo tournament.

The rest of the story.... work is better, I met my deadline today so I should be getting up from my desk the same day I sat down at it for the next week or so. As for the cat, unbelievably, she recovered and I brought her home from the vet today. She is eating again for the second time since I brought her home four hours ago, and she was on the bookshelf in the girls' room, so she at least had enough energy to jump up there. They are not sure what was wrong with the cat but the tests for those things that kill you came back negative, so they gave us three kinds of medicine to give her for the other three things it might be and we are supposed to bring her back on Wednesday. She doesn't look like she is going to win the cat Olympics today,but since, yesterday the vet said that her blood level was so low it was not normally compatible with life, the fact that she is eating, jumping up on bookshelves and walking around the house is pretty amazing.

------------------REQUIRED JUDO TIP -------------------------------
Conditioning makes it possible for you to do more judo. This 'obvious after someone else said it' fact was brought up by Jason Uno of Valley Judo Institute in the Nanka Development meeting on Saturday. I asked why he thought Ronda had improved over the last several years when many others hadn't and he said,
"You know, when you are in condition, you don't have to worry about a lot of things. You don't have to worry about conserving your energy to last a five minute match or stalling on the mat to catch your breath, so you can just focus on your judo, and there are more things you can do."

This is contrary to what many of us have heard about, "Technique will beat strength."
I was watching a match from the Ontario Open (now called the Hatashita International) and I can hear the comment on the videotape from someone watching as Ronda throws for ippon with o soto gari, "That was just pure strength."
It's true, too, and I saw it again, in the same tournament. The other player came into o soto and Ronda countered with an o soto of her own and just slammed the woman. It was pure power. What Jason pointed out was, "And why not? That strength allows her to do those moves. When you both come in on o soto and one person is a lot stronger than the other, the stronger person wins." Of course, that assumes you have a decent o soto in the first place.

Get in the top physical condition you can BUT (and this is very important) don't do your conditioning instead of judo. Do it IN ADDITION to judo. I personally don't think there is a magic conditioning program. Get up in the morning and run sprints, do bench presses, curls, leg curls, squats, clean and jerk. Run distance to cut weight so you are not fighting a heavier division than you should. AND go to judo practice 10 or 15 hours a week. Doing that alone will pull you ahead of 90% of the competition and probably put you on the U.S. team. Keep a record. Otherwise, it is too easy to fool yourself into thinking you did conditioning every day when you just did it twice a week and thought about doing it the other days and watched the Today Show instead.

Friday, January 18, 2008

I truly hate being wrong

- but sometimes it happens

Today was one of those days. Since our trip to Mexico with the team from the USJA/ USJF Training Center was canceled at the last minute, I found some time after work to watch videotapes of judo, something I have been meaning to do for months. I have a whole shelf full of videos, gathering dust. I couldn't find the one I wanted so I pulled the first one off the shelf and watched it. It happened to be from the high school and collegiate nationals from when Ronda was a freshman in high school. Ironically, there were none of Ronda's matches on the tape. Someone had taped the kids from Nanka who competed in the high school and collegiate nationals. Who would tape a skinny little freshman from Venice Dojo? Ronda did win that year, by all ippons, but by the time her matches came up, the person had come to the end of the tape.

The interesting part is that, at that tournament, Hayward Nishioka commented that the judo was really not very good at all, and I was offended. My daughter was in that tournament. She was good, right?

About two years later, I was at the U.S. Open and Jim Pedro, Sr. commented that the judo was so bad it was boring. Again, I was offended. My daughter was in that tournament. Yes, she only got a silver medal, but she was only sixteen so that wasn't too terrible. I told him as much and he said,
"Your daughter could be a good judo player, but she isn't a good judo player yet."

I almost smacked him, but I was brought up to be polite to old people, even rude old people, so I didn't. I did tell him that I didn't appreciate his attitude and he looked genuinely surprised and replied,
"But it's the truth!"

Today, watching a video of the high school and collegiate nationals, the very same tournament, I realized Hayward and Jim were absolutely right. Even the national champions in this country really aren't very good. The difference in perspective came about because, in the last seven years, I have traveled more and seen a lot more judo internationally. For years, I taught little kids because I had a little kid so that was my main interest. As my little kid got big, I started watching videos of the people she would compete against in the Worlds and Olympics. I acquired a different standard for comparison, and I started analyzing more. In a sense, I became more educated about judo.

Looking for something else, I came across a DVD by accident. I was about a dozen matches Ronda fought in 2005, when she was 18. She was better than she was at 16, but she is considerably better now.

Everything I saw on these tapes convinced me that what we are doing at the USJA/JF Training Center is on the right track.
Conditioning - even many of our junior, high school and collegiate national champions are not in very good condition. Many of these kids who start judo at five or six years old are the sensei's kid. They get a lot of individual attention, they learn one or two techniques really well and throw a lot of kids for ippon right away in local tournaments, sometimes even in the junior nationals. If they have to fight all out for a whole match, they are dead by the end of it. This is one of the key changes we tried to make with the training center, to offer a level of intensity that is not possible in most dojos, because you only have one or a few people who seriously want to train. I don't blame them. I'm almost 50. I don't want to have to go ten minutes with some teenager in top shape. Unfortunately, most of those teenagers can't go ten minutes all out either. Ronda was in better shape than most when she was 16. She was even stronger at 18. She is much stronger now.

Gripping - most of the matches I watched, at most one of the players, and often, neither, had any idea of gripping. If one of them had a general idea, it was to get a grip that had the other player at a disadvantage, such as pinning down the right hand of a right-handed player and controlling her left shoulder. Then, the other player had no real method for breaking that grip. The smarter ones realized they were at a disadvantage, tried some kind of ineffective attack and ended up on the mat, if they were lucky, and got countered if they were not lucky. Then, when they started again, the player had no idea how to block the grip that was a disadvantage. In fact, more often than not, they didn't seem to understand that the other person's grip was the problem. They would come off the mat, shaking their heads and just say, "My throws didn't work."

I looked at Ronda's gripping and even at 18 it was noticeably different. It was purposeful. She had a specific grip she was trying to get, she got that and she attacked. If she wasn't comfortable with her grip, she did what she needed to find that comfort zone. Her gripping is better now. There are ways she could improve.

Speaking of matwork -- most people didn't have a clue. They used matwork to look good, eat up the clock and if they happened to fall on top of the person when they threw him or her, well, good. Matwork is one of those things I can say I know a little bit about and some of it was so bad it was laughable. If you really paid attention, even when a person got an armbar it wasn't usually that the person getting it was so good as that the person who should have escaped was completely lost in the fog. Hadn't any of these people heard of practicing escapes from armbars?

Here is something to really make you think --- most of those players in the first video are still competing, and almost none of them fight any differently than they did seven years ago. That means, of course, none of them are any better. If you said something to them, or to their coach, they might respond,

"Well, he must be doing something right. He did win the high school nationals."

At that point, I would be tempted to tell them that their players really were not very good, but I'd be afraid that, if they hadn't been brought up to be polite to old people, even very rude ones, they just might smack me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Judo Quiz: AnnMaria Version

This is an actual quiz someone found on a website and posted on the judoinfo site. I couldn't resist responding to it, and since I am super-busy with work, I just edited my post from judo info a bit and pasted it here.

JUDO QUIZ Test your judo knowledge!

How long have you practiced judo?
Since God was a baby.

How successful are you in competition? As a young person -- more successful than you. Now --- more successful than my guinea pig, Edward. (Yes, I do have a guinea pig named Edward, what of it? His actual name is Edward G. Robinson and he belonged to my daughter, Jenn, who lives in San Francisco. Why he now lives in my house I am still not sure.)


1. Americans normally do very well in other Olympic combat sports such as wrestling and boxing. Why do Americans normally place near the bottom of world rankings in judo?
Your answer: Since most international medals in the last decade have come from our two kids, I believe the correct answer is because Jimmy Pedro Sr. and I quit having children. (ooh, not like together or anything - yuck.) I am way too old and tired. If someone was rich and good-looking, they might be able to talk Jimmy into it, though.

2. There are many different throwing skills. What determines which ones you should use?
Your answer: The ones that people fall down when you do them, duh!!!

3. Can you name 5 safety rules for judo?

Your answer:

  • Don't fight Ronda.

  • No biting.

  • No poking in the eye unless the referee and side judges are the Three Stooges.

  • Don't eat an entire cheesecake right before you compete.

  • If someone is about to break your arm, tap.

4. How do you properly decide how good a judo instructor is?

Your answer: (In no particular order) I try what the instructor tells me and the other person loses, or at least, the entire audience does not fall on the floor rolling with laughter.

5. Do you think any judo coach today could be a better coach than Jigoro Kano?
Your answer:
Of course. I mean, with all due respect, he's dead. Were you not aware of that? Dead people are generally not very effective as coaches. Although I can think of some coaches where their students would be better off coached by a dead person, or by my guinea pig, Edward.

6. To get better at judo, is it best to practice with someone more skilled than yourself, about the same skill level, or less skilled?
Your answer: To improve, it is better to practice with someone more skilled than yourself. To impress potential dates, it is better to practice with someone less skilled and do very fancy moves. I actually did this (honest) married him and he named our daughter after himself.

7. What is the very first skill taught in your judo club? Why?
Your answer: In commercial clubs, it is signing the check. I believe the answer to why is obvious.

8. Is it important to do uchi-komis?

Your answer: Important to whom? To me, yes. To Edward, no.

9. Is off-balancing your opponent important and necessary when doing a throw?
Your answer: Physically off-balancing is recommended, but one could also try mentally off-balancing, such as springing questions upon the opponent immediately after bowing, as in "Where were you on the night of June 31, 2008 and is it true that the woman you were with was not your wife?"

10. Is it important to develop a "favorite throw"?
Your answer: Yes. My favorite throw is the one where the referee shouts ippon at the end. My second favorite throw is the one in Star Trek where Spock waves his hand and the 300 lb guy goes flying in a circle and then lands on his back knocked out.

11. Is it important to learn nage-no-kata?

Your answer: Nage no kata is very useful for punishing smart-mouth teenagers. Coincidentally (and this is really true) BOTH my daughter and I learned nage no kata as punishment for talking back to our mothers.

12. Is there such a thing as a perfect throw?
Your answer: Not when I do it, as anyone who has ever seen me at tachiwaza can attest.

13. When entering into a throw, what determines what methods of entry you use?
Your answer:Whether or not I have a crowbar and the laws against breaking and entering in that state.

14. Why do you throw to the left or right?

Your answer: It depends on the direction the wind is blowing, I am trying to take advantage of the air currents to increase elevation.

15. Is there such a thing as an "ideal build" for judo?

Your answer: Yes. It is exactly 5 feet one inch tall and 56 kg.

16. Do you see anything wrong in bowing to a picture of Jigoro Kano, the dead founder of judo?
Your answer: No, but if it bowed back to me, I would get extremely nervous.

17. Do you normally bow to people you respect, such as your parents or your boss, or their pictures?
Your answer: I bow to some people I respect. I called my grandmother ma'am out of respect. Lots of times, I ran from her, especially when she was chasing me with an umbrella (I didn't make this up, either.)

18. According to the International Judo Federation (IJF), what are the official languages of judo?
Your answer: Ow! and Yay!

19. When falling on the back and using the arm to help break the fall, which principle governs the striking of the arm on the mat?
Your answer: Gravity.

20. Should the arm strike the mat before the back hits the mat, as the back hits the mat, or just a little bit after the back hits the mat?

Your answer:Depends on who has your arm. If it is some people, you are lucky to get your arm back at all to hit anything. Just count your blessings and hush.

21. When you are at a tournament, are you required to bow at the edge of the contest area (often the edge of the red "danger area") before walking up to the line where you bow to your opponent?
Your answer: No, but I recommend it. If you are really good, it gives your opponent longer to have second thoughts and run away.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Important Lessons in Life

It was exactly a year ago, sitting in the Devils Lake Airport at 5:30 a.m, with a wind chill around 37 below outside that I decided,
"That's it. I am done traveling."

I waited a few hours, called my partner and told him that in 2008, I was going to be doing something else. My new company, The Julia Group, is doing unbelievably well for having started exactly two weeks ago today. We offered our first on-line course yesterday, Autism for Early Childhood.

In addition to the not insignificant benefit of not being in North Dakota in January and not being awake at 5:30 a.m. anywhere, my new position has a cooler-sounding title - President - and more time to spend with my daughter, Julia. Even though I am working more hours than ever, I am home more often and getting to discuss all of the mysteries of life with a fourth-grader.

Tonight, Julia had just watched a movie directed by Tim Burton called "The Big Fish". She has odd tastes for a nine-year-old. I blame her big sister, Jenn, who was discussing, 'symbolism', 'obvious metaphors, and 'cinematography' in the sixth grade. I used a lot of words my mother disapproved of in sixth-grade, too, but those were different words and my mom disapproved of them because the nuns would call her and say, "Do you know what your daughter called Sister Mary Joseph today?"

But I digress....

Anyway, walking back from Ben & Jerry's after eating more chocolate ice cream than human beings ever need, Julia asked me if I ever had any adventures, like in The Big Fish. I said,
"You mean like winning the world championships, or living in Japan for a year or living in Pakistan?"

And she said,
"No, blah blah blah. I mean did you ever have anything exciting happen?"

So, I told her about how her father and I had met on the Internet, back before MySpace or Google or any of those things even existed. He was the only person in Physics at the University of California who had a web page. I was on the faculty of a school in North Dakota and we got to emailing each other partly because email seemed a pretty cool new idea and no one either of us knew had it. It was supposed to be for people at universities to collaborate and we both were at universities. So, you could email random people and say, "Hey, I saw you have an email address and I am trying to find out..."

I was going to be in Washington, D.C. on business, and I asked him if he wanted to meet me for dinner. He bought a plane ticket and flew from Santa Monica to Washington to meet me in person. I asked her if she thought that sounded like an adventure. She said,
"Nope. It sounds to me like Daddy was desperate. Why would he do that? Why would you fly all the way across the country to meet someone?"

I told her that is a very important lesson in life - sometimes you have to take a chance. If you want to make your life much better, to have a change that is really great happen in your life - then sometimes you need to take a really big chance. She thought about this a minute and said,
"What if you had been really ugly and had a bad personality?"
I told her that was the chance he was taking. She thought about this for a moment and said,

"It still sounds to me like he was desperate."

So I chased her all the rest of the way home.

My point here about lessons, and this was just one of them on our walk, is that we need TIME to spend with our children to have these conversations, about the need to take chances, how you find a square root or why math is important. Both Al Franken and Margaret Mead, polar opposites on the comedy spectrum, said what benefits our children most isn't quality time. It's gobs of quantity time. Don't feel guilt if you have to work. I had to work - a lot - when my older girls were young. I may have had less time then but I was 20 years younger and had more patience. They turned out to be good people and I am proud of all of them. Still, I am feel very lucky to have the time to spend with Julia.

Speaking of time, and judo, when I did a special issue of Growing Judo a few months ago on the topic of Coaching Your Own Kid, I was surprised that every single person mentioned the time they spent with their child as being one of the great benefits. It's true. I think of all of the time I spent with Ronda, and now Julia, driving to practice, driving to tournaments, hanging out in hotel rooms watching movies. When Maria was in high school and in her "I know everything" phase, about the only time we spent together talking was the 45 minute drive to UCLA and back for her pole vault practice. Someone commented that they didn't know I cared about pole vaulting that much. I told them,

"I don't give a rat's ass about pole vaulting, but I care about Maria that much."

I figure I better spend all the time I can with them before they move to New York, San Francisco and Boston, get jobs, get married, have babies and the only contact we have is by reading each other's blogs.

--------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ---------------------------------
I can't believe I did not post this one before, because I say it all the time, but I looked and could not find it.

Gripping - far more than half the time, I estimate over 80%, the person with the inside grip wins. That is, if you have my lapel and sleeve in a right grip, for example, and my right hand is on the outside of your shoulder, you have a whole lot more opportunities to throw me than I do to throw you. You can stop me from coming in for uchimata, seoi nage and just about any other forward throw by blocking my right shoulder. You, on the other hand, can do all of those throws. If we both have a sleeve and lapel grip, we are even.

Get your grip! What exactly does that MEAN? If you are like most players, getting an advantage in gripping means getting an inside grip while not letting the other person have the same grip.

The lapel and sleeve are not the only way to get an inside grip. I am very short for my division, so that worked best for me. Ronda is about average size for 70kg. She sometimes gets a higher grip and crunches down on the person with her forearm on the inside and their sleeve. This is also an inside grip. What makes it an inside grip is that her arm is inside both of the other person's arms.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Dr. Demars has died but may be back later

When I was teaching college, there was always a long line of students always knocking at my door, asking if they could do an independent study, ask me a question about their research paper, apply for a job as research assistant, get a letter of recommendation and a thousand other things. I really loved teaching and I liked my students, but sometimes they just would not take no for an answer and I had a deadline for an article, grant or final grades that had to be met. At such times, I would hang a sign on my door:


Students would knock anyway, but fewer of them. A few times, when one would walk in despite the sign and the closed door, I would loll over in my chair and feign death. That slowed them down a bit and occasionally they would back out the door from the crazy woman. More often they would just pause momentarily and ask, "Are you busy?"

DO I LOOK BUSY? ! These days, I am closing out the contracts on my old company and starting up a new company. I am hoping, as I said before, to be able to take a month off. In the meantime, I am very happy that the training center practices are only on the weekends as it allows me to work until 1 or 2 a.m. during the week without interruptions. I am also very happy that the training center practices are on the weekends because if it was not for having made a commitment to judo, I would truly have died at my desk by now. I am very excited about my new company and could be spending all of my time on it, except the existing contracts are taking half my life to finish out. Already spending 150% of my time on work, I am very lucky that I have judo to pull me away so that I have some balance in my life.

Of course, I may die at the training center. Last week, we were doing drills and were one person short, so Tony Comfort says, "Why don't you jump in? You're small and they need an extra person with the lightweights."

After a half-hour of running and trying to get my knees to bend (after six operations and missing all of my cartilage, are you kidding?) I finally pointed out to him that I will be fifty years old this year and a grandmother. This is another tip. Remember how old you are and that you have to be at work on Monday.

It's good to have work to take me away from judo, too.

--------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ------------------------
Despite the fact that Tony tried to kill me, his practice illustrated one of the many benefits of moving drills. I never realized how much my knees had degenerated until last weekend. I really am not capable of doing any throws where you have to bend and lift. What does that have to do with you? Well, if you do enough moving drills - forward, backward, right, left, to corners, etc. you will detect if you have a weakness. This will not be so obvious in randori because we all tend to do our stronger throws and position the other person where we are strongest. If your practices regularly involve forcing you to get into different positions, those weaknesses will be highlighted and you can't ignore them any more. In addition to including drills moving in different directions, include attacking or defending from different grips, e.g., when your opponent has a high grip, double-sleeve grip and so on. Just like with direction, you will find you are weaker on some grips than others. Look for your weak points. You know your opponent will. The game is for you to find them first and fix them, so when at the next tournament, she circles to your left think you are weak moving that direction, you footsweep her.

The exact same advice goes for matwork. Do drills from the bottom, top, guard, flat on your stomach, in a turtle, after being thrown for a koka and every other possible situation.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Well, That Explains Just About Everything

I started out stupid, but I have been getting smarter one piece at a time.

Years ago, my business partner, Dr. Erich Longie made a comment that cleared up a great deal of confusion for me. I could not understand why people would use political means to get jobs for which they were not within sight of qualified and why other people did their jobs half-ass when, with effort, they were perfectly capable of learning to be competent. I would go out of my way to try to help people do their job better and be frustrated when some of them seemed to show no interest in improving, in excelling.

He said,
"I wanted to be a college president because there were certain things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted ... to give students the chance to begin their college education in an environment where they could succeed and that gave them the skills to go on to succeed again in a four-year university program. ... not every college president was like that. Some want the image of being a college president. They want the respect when they walk into the room, the invitations to the conferences at the finest hotels ..... Whether it is being a general in the Marine Corps or a professor, an elementary school teacher, in every profession, you find two types of people. Some are driven to excel at their work because it satisfies their passion and goals, and there are others who want to be seen as a caring teacher, a strong leader. They want the trappings that go with it and whether they are any good or not doesn't really matter to them. "

It wasn't until I applied his words from years ago that I finally understood judo politics. It dawned on me that NOT everyone wants to be on a board or a committee because they want to "help people" or "give back to judo". They all say that because that is what you are supposed to say. As my friend Lanny Clark pointed out,
"We like to think all the people who are in judo are just like us, but that's just not true. Some people are in judo so they can make themselves feel more important. They want to be called sensei or turn people down for promotions because it makes them feel powerful. Maybe they do a lot of work, referee at tournaments at their own expense, run a judo club, but it is all for their own benefit. They aren't doing this for the same reason we do it and they aren't like us at all."

Now I understood professionals and volunteers, but I was still confused about life. I was president of California Judo, Inc. and frustrated by all the programs and opportunities we offered that athletes would not drive twenty miles to attend.

This time it was Chuck Jefferson (shown teaching) who explained,

I don't think you realize that there are people who don't really care if they win or not. They want to be part of a team, go to senior nationals and see how they do, but it is not important enough to them to put out that extra effort. You seem to think that anyone who goes to senior nationals goes because they want to win it. I can tell you that is just not the case. It was true for you and it's true for me but not for everyone."

Okay, here is the part where as Ogden Nash wrote, it became clear that in the race of life I was off to a slow start. I had always thought that maybe if I opened my own club, said things a different way, taught at more camps or maybe if I had been born male or was Japanese then people would pay attention to the things that I was trying to teach them about training to win. The light bulb went off when I realized that it wasn't they didn't believe me, respect me or understand me. Winning was not the reason they went to national tournaments, it was just a nice perk if it happened.

I am not the only one who has been stunned this way. One day, Jim Pedro, Sr. asked ,
"Why would people not train after they had moved away from home, taken off from school? How can you say they don't want to win the Olympics or at least make the Olympic team? How does that make any sense?"

Finally, I had figured that part out. I told him,
"Saying, 'I am training for the Olympics' makes you sound like something special. If you leave that part out of it, all those people can say is, 'I don't have a job, I am living off of my parents, dropped out of school and have no real goals. Oh, yeah, and my parents are working two jobs or took a second mortgage out on their house so I can travel around the world, get drunk and post drunken pictures of myself on MySpace and Facebook.'"

He said,
"When you say it like that, it makes them sound like real losers, huh? So I guess they need to keep saying they are training for the Olympic team."

The last piece of the puzzle was provided by Ronda and by my good friend, Dr. Jake Flores. I totally could not understand why some people who were doing well in judo would not go the extra mile to become great. These were people who COULD win. They had the God-given talent, the technique, everything. When they practiced, they went all out, they looked great. Maybe they even won the nationals. Yet, when the camps and clinics came around, they only went to about half or less. When outstanding international players were in town, they didn't stalk them, as you would expect, to get the best possible workout. If the visitor came to the person's home club, they would probably show up and go a few rounds with him or her. But they wouldn't go out of their way.

Ronda said,
"They don't want to win so much as to get the recognition. They want people to look up at them in the dojo. They want it to be announced at the end of practice their results. It's not the winning that matters."

Jake concurred,
"I call them the dojo darlings. They are the best technicians, the most successful in the dojo and everyone makes special exceptions for them if they skip practice. No one yells at them to work harder. There aren't other people slamming them into the mat. The really sad thing is, those athletes, and their parents, will skip camps, skip extra practices and avoid going anywhere they are not treated like special to protect that image, and in the end, it's nothing. I mean, compared to winning the Olympics, what is it to be the best, most respected judo player at Such and Such Dojo. But people give up the chance at the one to keep the other."

So, that explains everything. Even among winners, there are those for whom winning is a passion. As a competitor, if you had asked me why did I want to win, you could have just as easily asked me why did I want to breathe. When Ronda wins a major tournament, her feet don't touch the ground for three days, she is walking on a cloud. And then there are those who just want the image of being a winner.

Now I have explained everything. If you would like to show your immense gratitude for having all of life explained, you can send a tax-deductible check made out to the USJA to support our program at the West Coast Training Center where we are trying to produce people who really want to be winners, not just look and sound like one.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Why Judo is Better than Karate

Since my niece did not clean her room (see photo of non-cleaning karate niece at right on phone instead of cleaning her room) I have decided to make good on my threat of listing all of the reasons why judo is better than karate.

1. Judo is not done to music, thus making it something done by tough people and athletes (some of whom are the same people). Judo has kata and I have had the privilege to meet some very well-respected people in kata. Yet, not once have I seen Greg Fernandez, Brian Marks or even Eiko Shepard (who is a lady) break out into nage no kata to the tune of "Walk Like a Lady." I actually have seen this in karate.
2. Seriously, related to number one, how intimidating are you to someone who attacks you if your best response is
"Back off, buddy or I will kick around to the tune of All the Colors of the Wind!?"
3. Nothing in judo is done with fans. We have tournaments. They involve throwing, chokes, pins and armbars. We have katas. Some of them include knives and guns. No fans. I don't care if you say they are supposed to be metal-tipped or what. They are fans. Imagine if you are in that movie Sky High and the teen super-heroes meet.
"What's your name?"
"I am Throwing-Choking-Armbar Woman. Who are you?"
"I'm Fan Girl."
"Ri--i- ight. Look, maybe you can fan us when we get back from defeating the super villains. Catch you later."

Guess who is NOT going to be voted coolest in the teen super-hero class.

4. Every third person in karate I meet claims to be a world champion or the Korean national champion. They must have world championships in karate every day and twice on Sunday. As for Korea, I can only assume their national championships is by date of birth, so there is a division for people whose birth date was July 11, 1986 and so on. People in judo lie too, but they lie smarter. They all say they were seventh in the world championships (because the first five names get published). If they are really creative they say they were in the Olympics representing the country of their ancestors which is always some island nation you never heard of like Paprika or Cayenne.

5. Only in karate do you receive a trophy which is larger than the combined mass of the people you defeated. That is just plain wrong.

6. No one in judo is called Grand Master Katydid of the Owa Canal or other weird titles. This is a dojo, not the set of Lord of the Rings for crying out loud.

7. Judo throws do not have names that sound like today's special at a Chinese restaurant. In judo, one of the most common techniques is called a shoulder throw because you - I know you would not guess this - throw the person over the shoulder. The side hold is done by holding someone down from the side. Karate moves have names like "The crane of a thousand sidewinders" and "The constipated dragon." What's that all about?

8. Judo has a technique called the naked strangle, which could actually be used for strangling naked people. One might wonder, if one were me, why you would have let them get naked with you in the first place if you feel like strangling them. I can only speculate that they did something after the naked part occurred that precipitated the strangle urge. Still, I can comprehend the theoretical need for strangling naked people so judo gets extra points for both foresight and logical naming convention.

---------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP OF THE DAY --------------
Don't take karate. Take judo instead. Also, don't forget that practice is at 10- 11:30 a.m. and 1-4 at the USJA/ USJF West Coast Judo Training Center

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions - A Day (make that two days) Late

The new year is a time for reflection on life, both one's own and life in general.

Life is good - but busy - which is why I am getting to my New Year's resolutions on January 2nd (uh - make that the 3rd now).

I usually try to take things one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once.

I feel like that these past two weeks. It was lovely to see my family at Christmas, encouraging to meet all the dedicated coaches and parents in Springfield, Mo and Granite City, IL. Last New Year's Eve I was in Las Vegas watching fireworks at midnight. This year, I was on the Santa Monica Pier. Both times, I had worked until past 11 p.m. on one report or another that needed to get done. Last year it was for a project on training staff how to care for people with disabilities and chronic illness. This year it was an on-line course for ethics training for tribal leaders. Still, I did managed to unchain myself from my desk long enough to get out and see something besides my computer as the new year rolled in.

My New Year's Resolutions
  1. Focus on the USJA/ USJF West Coast Training Center. This is not only a joint project between USJA and USJF but we have also recently been working with California Judo, Inc. Above is a picture from a camp we had last weekend. It was great. I can't wait to do it again. The players we have coming are the kind of people who make everyone glad they are involved in judo, whether it is as athletes, coaches, parents or donors. This is worth my time.
  2. Start my new business. Actually, I already did. Within one hour of the new year, I had registered The Julia Group with Dun and Bradstreet. I am now in the Central Contract Registry, registered on e-grants and mid-way through the ORCA process. (This is a database for government contractors and, despite the name, has no relationship whatsoever to whales.)
  3. Quit stressing. I have been worried about how successful my new business will be - I am going to offer on-line courses for people who aren't well-served by traditional offerings - high school dropouts, people entering college with skills below college level and just generally people with an attitude not appreciated in education. As you might imagine, I can empathize well with the latter. I already have three paying clients and I have started a successful business on nothing but a handshake and built up a million dollars in contracts once before, which explains why no one is worrying but me. As Ronda commented, "You're married to a rocket scientist. I don't think anybody in this family is going to be eating out of a dumpster any time soon."
  4. Schedule time to enjoy life. I know that scheduled spontaneity sounds like an oxymoron, but knowing myself, that is the only way I am going to go to museums, the beach or Ben & Jerry's. Thank God for my kids. If it wasn't for Julia dragging me out to play baseball and buy ice cream from the ice cream truck, I'd probably never leave my desk. I really intend to do this, just like sales people have a quota of the number of calls they made, I am going to monitor the hours I just screw off and do nothing - read a book, watch TV or ... well that's the problem, I have done it so little there is not much in the "or" category.
  5. Disentangle myself from the commitments I don't enjoy. While this sounds selfish, there are enough options to work for pay, for the community, that I do enjoy that it makes sense to select those I enjoy that most and which benefit the most people. I get so tired of that idiotic refrain from people chanting at former (and current) athletes as a justification for why a person MUST do something for them, "You need to give back to your sport." While that is true, there are many choices in ways to give back. I think the camp this weekend, the clinic in Springfield, the training center, Growing Judo e-magazine, are all ways I give back. Someone else may have a different way of giving back, like hosting a judo website or organizing a tournament. That doesn't make them scum and me a saint, or vice versa.
  6. Learn to reflect. Over the holidays, I was lucky to visit Laura, my friend for the past thirty-four years and we got to discussing our lives in general. I have never been one of those people to keep a journal, a diary or reflect on anything really private because - well, the reason is private and I am not going to put it on the Internet. I know it all goes back to working 12 hours a day and doing judo on the weekends. It all fits together for a reason I am not going to tell anyone.
  7. Learn more about judo. Come hell or high water, I am going to watch more judo DVDs, read more books and attend more clinics - clinics by other people, not me.
----------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ---------------------------------------
Have a plan, for crying out loud! On the long list of things that drive me crazy are people who want to win the Olympics or give up school, work, their love life or anything else for judo and then their plan is

"I think I'll look up a judo club in the Yellow Pages."

Okay, well maybe that is a slight exaggeration but the truth is that ...the path to least resistance is NOT the road to success. ..Have that tattooed on your butt if you need to but figure it out!

Here are some questions for those of you who want to improve your judo in 2008.
  1. Have a GOAL. A specific goal. NOT , "I want to improve my technique," but something you can measure, like I want to win the USJA Winter Nationals or throw someone with harai goshi. I would suggest not having a goal that relates to points, because those aren't that correlated with being good unless you have twenty times as many as your next closest competitors. You can place in a point tournament if only one other person shows up and he/ she isn't very good.
  2. Break your goal into short term and long term. If your goal is to win the USJA Nationals in December, 2008 your short term goal might be to win a local tournament by March. Your next goal might be to win the state championships.
  3. Focus on a goal that is not too far off. If you are 14, winning the Olympics is a decade in the future. It's too easy to fool yourself that you are making progress when you are not.
  4. Relate your training plan to your goal. If your goal is to win a local tournament it is - what is that word I am searching for - yes, stupid - to move to Japan to get better. All kinds of people win local tournaments training right here in L.A. If you are failing at your goal, admit the fact honestly. Don't say, "I have better judo than him but he keeps beating me." If you SAID your goal was to beat him, not to get better technique than him, then you are failing at it and need to face facts.
  5. If your goal is to win the Olympic Trials and you are training at the club around the corner because it is a five-minute walk from your house and you can only train three times a week because you have to work 40 hours at Taco Bell to make your car payments and tuition - you are -what is that word - yes, stupid - to think that is the right choice. I bought my first car after my first two college degrees and winning the senior nationals and U.S. Open.
I would say more but my niece asserts that I cannot possibly have more to say about judo that I have not said thirteen times already and she wants me to take her to karate (I have promised not to diss karate and she has promised to clean her room so no more will be said on the topic today). However, if there are still El Pollo Loco wrappers in her room tomorrow, look back here for a major litany of all of the ways in which I think judo is better than karate.