Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Difference that Makes the Difference

After 37 years in judo, I have seen so many judo players come and go that the faces and the stories all blur together after a while. Having been trained as a statistician, I detect patterns as a matter of habit and so the patterns remain long after the individual names and faces have been forgotten. One pattern I have seen is the large number of players who were considered to have great talent and potential who never made it.

Cael Sanderson, the only wrestler ever undefeated in four years in the NCAA and an Olympic gold medalist lays out a great description of one failure pattern on his website. He says, there are the parents (and coaches) who believe the key to winning is to take a young child and,

"...have them run sprints around the block dragging cinder blocks, or feed them raw meat, lock them in a closet with a badger, have their five year old do 100 push-ups after they finish their 4 hour workout..."

He goes on to say that is a fine plan if you want to have the best eight-year-old wrestler around but not the ticket to an NCAA championship or an Olympic gold medal.

He is right. Coach Sanderson is amazingly perceptive for someone so young, because I bet that I am close to twice his age, and even though I know everything he says is true, it is sometimes hard to follow that prescription. My youngest daughter is nine years old and I know how to make her win the junior nationals this year. If I took Julia out starting tomorrow and trained her like I made Ronda train at 14, she would beat every little girl in America into the mat. Who will that benefit? It will make me look like a good coach. Will it really make Julia's life better? On the contrary, I think she would be pretty unhappy. Winning for ten minutes doesn't make up for being miserable all year. So, I train her at the level that I think is appropriate for her age. In 2016, if it is what she wants, she will take the Olympic spot in any division she wants it (except 70 kg).

I used to be angry but now I am just amused.

Years ago, when someone would tell me that, yes, I may have won the nationals, U.S. Open, worlds, etc. but I did not understand modern/standing/technical/men's judo or whatever it is that they were supposed to be so great at, I would get offended. Now, I just laugh to myself, although sadly. I have seen so many of those people come and go who were going to be "the first American Olympic gold medalist".

A very few of these, like Mike Swain, Jimmy Pedro, Jr., Lynn Roethke and Margie Castro had legitimate shots at winning a gold medal, but the overwhelming majority of "the best thing coming" had no more chance of an Olympic medal than Julia's cockatiel, and, usually, a far less pleasant personality as well.

When I look at all of those who failed and the few who succeeded in winning at the world level, I see a pattern. Those who won recognized these facts:

  1. The rules apply to you. You are not blessed by God with unmatchable talent. You have to work harder than anyone else if you really want to be the best in the world. Every day. Not some days. Not except for the days you have senior prom, a hot date, SATs, final exams and on Tuesdays. A member of our U.S. team told me once that they don't work harder any more like people my age did. They work smarter. I told him that someone who worked smarter AND harder was going to kick his ass. That's pretty much what happened.

  2. You need to stalk the people who are flat-out better than you. Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, in an article on advice to young scientists said, "Never be the smartest person in the room." When I think back, this is probably the single quality I see that distinguishes those who make it from those who don't. As a competitor, I fought people like Steve Seck, Jimmy Martin, Blinky Elizalde, Tony Mojica and Miguel Tudela several times a night. They threw me over and over. Blinky armbarred me 1,000 times. Jimmy would try to make me give up and we would go 15-minute rounds until I had two black eyes and matburn about everywhere I had skin. There were a thousand people in Los Angeles I could beat but I went not to where "they could give me a hard time" but where they could beat me. When I was at the Kodokan, I met Margot Sathay, in her mid-thirties, seemingly ancient to my seventeen-year-old self. She was the only person, male or female, in my whole life who just outclassed me. She wasn't just better than me. Her matwork was unbelievable. The gap between her matwork and mine was like the difference between me and Kenny the cockatiel (pictured above perched on Julia's computer - he doesn't even have arms.) I went to the Kodokan every day, even when they didn't have regular practice , just to go as many rounds as I possibly could with Margot. What about the need to be successful, the need to have your techniques work? I hear a lot of players make that argument for not going to the hardest practice they can get to every night. You need to be able to throw people sometimes, too, to work on your defense. Guess what, if you really are the next best thing coming, you don't have to seek out people you can score ippon on ten times every round, you are already surrounded by them.

  3. Study the people who have succeeded. Someone asked me recently how I could argue that other athletes should be training at the West Coast Judo Training Center when I did not have Ronda training there. That's a fair question. My answer was, "Because she is training to win the Olympics in six months." In her week off, after three weeks in Europe, she has gone to six judo practices, including five from Friday through Sunday, and probably done 20 rounds of randori. If you are twelve or fourteen years old and you think that is what you should be doing, you didn't read the first part of this blog. You especially didn't read the first word in this paragraph. STUDY. When Ronda was 16, she had a very long argument with Jim Pedro, Sr. Those of you who have teenagers understand this means she would not shut up about it for a couple of weeks. Her big complaint was that he did not have her doing the same training that Jimmy Pedro, Jr. was doing even though she was also training to win the Olympic Trials. What Jim said she failed to understand is that she was doing the training Jimmy had done at sixteen.

  4. Put your ego on hold. Anyone who thinks that he or she can be best on the planet at anything has to have an abnormally high opinion of him/herself. At the same time, you need to want to win so badly that you are willing to do all of the above. Study other people, get thrashed at practice, even in front of other people you might otherwise wish to impress (e.g., cute people of the opposite sex, or maybe the same sex, if you lean that way), do all the things you don't want to do like getting up and running sprints uphill at 5 a.m., moving to Massachusetts where it is colder than Mars. There's the paradox - you have to give up that image of how great you think you are if you ever want to actually be the greatest judo player in the world, even for a moment.

I think that last part is the very hardest to do, and it is the real reason that most people never make it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Overheard on the Mat

I could write about the great practice at the training center today, the terrific job Ronda did teaching or how dedicated and hard-working our athletes are. Instead, I thought I would just quote some of the funniest lines I heard lately.

"Great sneak attack," said Crystal Butts, after Sarah Crosby waited until the person out in the middle stood up, tied her belt and sat back down with both knees and both hands up before attacking.

"Hey, you just grabbed my fat!" Kala Crosby.
"Sorry, I thought it was your belt." Amber Butts.

"Are all old people mean or is it just you?" Denise Garcia after doing randori with me.

"You love slaughter lines? There is something seriously wrong with you, kid," said Ronda to Haykaz Oganyan, who nonetheless sent people out for slaughter lines.

TIP: Check out this really cool seoi nage video on youtube. Thanks to Robbie Robinson for sending me the link.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What the Hell Did I Do All Day and Other Good News

and if it offends you that I used the word "hell" in the title, don't send me email, just don't read this blog. It's not assigned reading for your class at a public high school, for crying out loud!

I cannot believe my last blog was days ago. My niece predicted that once I was retired that every blog entry would be ten pages long and I would be starting a third blog. Not quite. I am almost feeling sympathy with women who don't work and complain about how they don't have time to do anything. I said, "Almost".

My strongest oaths to the contrary, some of this judo administrative stuff has started sucking up my time. I ended up making the USJA page for Koka Kids magazine (how did this get to be my job?) I needed to write a couple of short articles, select subjects and find high-resolution photos, because you cannot send the same quality in for a magazine as you use on a website. It will come out looking very unprofessional - kind of like submitting a copy of your driver's license photo for a feature in Sports Illustrated. For the USJA Junior Nationals article, I settled on Bobby Lee, since he was USJA athlete of the year recently and also won the USJA Nationals a few times. Good thing Ronda is home, since she had his email to request an action photo. In true judo player fashion, he called his mom. Thanks to Pam Lee, and to a photo CD from the irreplaceable Jerry Hays, with shots of Ronda and Julianne Vandermeer from Canada, I made the Koka Kids deadline.

When I looked at my calendar, the only thing on there was "Julia's gymnastics class at 4 p.m." However, I also drove Samantha to school, picked Julia up at school, took Ronda to Fed Ex to mail 19 pages of paperwork for the Olympics (I am not exaggerating) which involved calling 20 people (yes, 20!) to try to get the team leader's address and getting TWENTY people's voice mail (!!) while Ronda went through 19 emails and finally (thank God for iPhones) found the address. We went to the Culver City Farmer's Market to buy food and get crepes from Thierry who is not only a really good French judo player at Sawtelle Dojo but also the owner of Crepes Dusigne in West LA. As you can see by the photo, Julia and Ronda are Thierry's biggest fans. He also has a killer harai goshi. After umpteen more errands, a horrible thought dawned on me:
"What women who don't work do all day is ALL of the crap that no one wants to do!"

When we were both working, my husband and I split all of the boring tasks - driving kids here, there and everywhere, grocery shopping, laundry. Now, since he is working all day and I am home spending our money, I feel obligated to do it all. Which led to my second revelation:

This kind of blows.

When I was thinking I would retire and have time to reflect on my life, this is not exactly what I had in mind. It hasn't all been bad, though. When I think back on the last few days, what I did was:

  1. Read two books

  2. Got money from Dennis. Went to the Marina with Ronda and Samantha, drank margaritas, ate great Mexican food while overlooking the ocean.

  3. Got more money from Dennis to take Julia and her two friends to tea at Tudor House for an actual real-live tea party.

  4. Got more money from Dennis to go out for margaritas and Mexican food for the second time that day with Ronda, Sam, Blinky (her first judo coach and my old teammate) and his girlfriend at La Cabana. Despite being voted best margaritas in LA two out of the last three years, being just a mile from my house and having driven by there and said "We should check that place out," several hundred times, I had never been there. Their margaritas were okay. They didn't cause me to have an orgasm, which is kind of what I would expect from "the best margaritas in LA", given the thousands of Mexican restaurants here. Still, I had no complaints. I suspect by your third or fourth margarita of the day they could be putting cat litter in it and most people would not notice. I am not going to mention the number of margaritas Ronda drank, only noting that she is now of legal drinking age, at 70 kg so she does not have to make weight and had a very long hard European tour which had ended about 24 hours previously with a gold medal. I had only one margarita at La Cabana and I was very glad of this as, when we came out there were two police cars and a tow truck taking away someone's car. I walked to my car in a VERY straight line.

  5. Watched all of the finals from the Hungarian World Cup with Ronda because I could not bear to watch them live just in case she didn't win - to the great amusement of Ronda and Samantha. I think it is for the same reason I always covered my eyes when Maria was pole-vaulting - if she got hurt, I didn't want to see it.

  6. Sent copy to Koka Kids magazine

  7. Edited Growing Judo magazine and sent it to our co-editor, graphic designer and general wunderkind, Adam Stevenson

  8. Drank a couple of glasses of wine Dennis brought me while I wrote this blog.

I am thinking .... retirement is good ... time with my family is wonderful... but maybe I could take just a little bit less of it.

------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ----------------------
For crying out loud, when you are throwing someone forward (seoi nage, harai goshi, uchi mata, etc.) if you are right-handed, do NOT have your left foot forward. If you are left-handed, do NOT have your right foot forward. I see this mistake ALL the time. There are even comments from three coaches in the February issue of Growing Judo.

One way to break this habit is to constantly remind your students, or yourself, to move that foot back. Another way,how Ross Nakamura (shown below) does it is to pull the other person on to you.

One really good point Ross made was that you should be correcting yourself each time you do the throw to make it better, so that if you catch yourself the first time having one foot in front, you should try to make sure your feet are even the next time. I liked the way he had the players do uchikomis back and forth across the mat and focused on self-correcting each time. This is an especially smart idea for those people who are not able to get to practice a lot or live in an area without a lot of judo players, it is something you can work on by yourself, for hours on end if you are so inclined.

I wish all the younger kids had been there at the tournament the next day to see Ross fight. He threw someone on his way to winning the division with the prettiest seoi nage I had seen in years. I guess this stuff works and he WASN'T just making it up!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Retirement is strange

and the time still flies by

I have to admit that I wasn't really sure how this retirement thing was going to work out. Maybe everyone else was right, and by the end of my first week of retirement I would be getting bored and not know what to do with myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the end of each day I am still wishing I had another ten hours. The big difference, though, is my stress level. In the past, there were reports or analyses or tests that needed to get done before tomorrow or we would miss a grant deadline, not get paid by the client or student grades would be late. Now, it is just that there are so many things I am interested in doing or learning. You might think this would be the obvious outcome. After all, as my husband said, I had 34 years of working to have built up a to-do list of things I meant to do "later" and it is going to take me a while to go through all of them.

Everything seems obvious after it happens.

In fact, a few years ago, I was at dinner with some long-time friends from judo and we were joined by the mother of an athlete wh had just started competing nationally. Not knowing any of us, she said to me conversationally,
"And what do you do for fun besides judo and work?"

There was an awkward pause, as I could not think of an answer. Someone made a joke out of it and the conversation moved on to other things. A few moments later, a friend to my right whispered worriedly,
"What DO you do, besides work and judo?"

The answer, for years, was "Not much."

I have resisted very hard the urge to replace all my non-working hours with judo tasks. There are a lot of reasons for that, but the most important one, I think, is the need for time that is unplanned and unstructured. You see, for most of the past 34 years, I have been going to school full-time AND working full-time AND training at judo, or working full-time AND competing on the U.S. team or working full-time at one job AND part-time at another and raising three children by myself.

What have I learned this week? Mostly that there is a whole universe out there I barely know. Every day this week I read the papers about the news in Iraq, the writers' strike, the discussions about charter schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District, students killed at a college in Illinois, at a high school in Oxnard, the election, the Los Angeles Police Department and preferred parking on the streets near Santa Monica Beach. All of these are huge issues to lots of people that I never would have even known existed before. Stepping back out of my life and taking a look at the larger world is important, I think, to gain perspective. While winning a tournament may mean a lot to an athlete, getting awarded a contract may be a huge deal - it really is just a tiny part of a huge world.

Speaking of things I never knew existed, I have not once, but twice this week been at a sewing/ arts and crafts store. Who knew there were so many kinds of buttons? No, I have not all of a sudden had an aspiration to become the next Martha Stewart. My niece, Samantha, is taking a sewing class, so we went on a scavenger hunt to find the 197 items on her supplies list. Standing in the aisle wondering aloud where we would find bias tape, a helpful woman pointed and said, "It is over there next to the zippers."

That would have been helpful if I had any idea what the hell bias tape looks like. You'd think by the name that it would be some kind of measuring device to see how prejudiced a person is, which is something I could have used on a number of occasions in my life, measuring potential dates, for example.

We did locate the bias tape, finally, due to the fact that zippers were one of the few things in that store I could identify by name, I CAN read, and the bias tape was labeled. To my great disappointment, it turns out that it is used for seams or something. As are, twill tape, hem tape and hem lace. None of these tapes are sticky, by the way, which I thought was part of the definition of tape,but this also turns out to be one of those false assumptions I had about the world.

What really struck me, though, was here is a huge store full of people who are all very interested in quilting, scrap-booking, sewing, cake making, soap making, furniture-making, knitting, crocheting and a hundred other activities that I am no more likely to do in this lifetime than to butcher a cow so that I can make a meatloaf. It took a great deal of self-control not to accost random people in the store and say,
"Seriously, this is what you do with your free time? You do paint-by-number stained glass? And you LIKE this?"

Yet, I have to admit what I am going to do for fun tomorrow is go down to the West Coast Judo Training Center and try to choke fourteen-year-old kids, so who am I to talk?

So... what have I been doing?
  • Reading a lot of books on everything from mathematics to science fiction.

  • FINALLY getting around to watching some judo DVDs and videos. I watched Jimmy Pedro's Grip Like a World Champion and Hayward Nishioka's Get a Grip. Both would fly over the head of most beginners, but I highly recommend both for coaches and intermediate to advanced players.

  • Checking out every blog on PC World's 100 Top Blogs, just because. My favorite one so far WAS 43 things, but then they suspended my account for "commercial use" because I included a link to my former company in response to a thread on starting your own business because they said it was spam. I was offering to answer questions to people interested in starting a business (for free). So now I think they are just a bunch of jerks. If they unsuspend my account and say they are sorry, though, I might change my mind, but I doubt it. Actually, having had a lot of trouble with controlling spam on our own site, I am sure it is done by a program and I am a little sympathetic, but only a little.

  • Walking to the beach every day.

  • Biking from Santa Monica to Malibu.

  • Writing programs and trying to learn more about statistical software.

  • Writing a few articles for scientific journals.

  • Writing a new on-line course in Developmental Psychology.

  • Editing Growing Judo magazine.

  • Coaching at the West Coast Training Center.

So far, I am not having any trouble at all filling my time in retirement. Maybe I'll have a different opinion after a few weeks. One thing is for sure, before I take up scrap-booking I am going to go back to work!

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

Watch judo videos/ DVDs. I used to make fun of people who did this, but I was wrong. Well, I am never COMPLETELY wrong. If you stay home and watch videos instead of practice that is just stupid, not to mention lazy. Watch videos when you come home from practice and are too tired to move, or watch them on those days you don't have practice, during holidays when your club is closed.

I should have done more of this when I was competing.

Most of the training tapes on the market are NOT going to rival Lord of the Rings in plot line or production quality. That's not the point. My statistics professors didn't look like George Clooney, they didn't tell good jokes and there weren't a whole lot of action sequences. What they did have was knowledge and I learned from them. I know that there are tapes out there that sell for hundreds of dollars. I have not bought any of those so I cannot comment. I did have two DVDs from Mike Swain and five videos. They were all pretty good. I sold them all, though. He sent me a box and told me to keep half the money from everything we sold for USJA Development. So, he gets extra kudos from me for having a good heart, too.

In my opinion, neither the Grip Like a World Champion nor the Get a Grip video are for beginners but I think every coach should have these in their library.

A lot of my friends really like Steve Bell's DVD Extreme Judo. When I saw it, I thought it was only okay, but so many people I respect have complimented it, I think I will pull it off the shelf and have another look, now that I have time!

Finally, you should definitely have 101 ippons and films of the world and Olympic championships pretty much from the time you start judo. At first, you will watch them and say, "Wow! Look at that!" And just get some idea of how techniques should look.As you gain more experience, you will recognize the set-ups and be able to analyze each match more. If you watch the same tape a year or two later, you may surprise yourself with how much you have learned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Unrelated Thoughts on Judo

Wayne Gretzky supposedly explained his success in hockey by saying,
"Other guys skate to where the puck is. Me, I skate to where the puck is going to be."

The same is true in judo.
In the photo above, from the USJA Winter Nationals (courtesy of Jerry Hays), Sarah Black won the match and Stephanie Moyerman lost. Question: Which one of them should change?

Answer: Both of them.

After the last two tournaments in Europe, seeing how the matches went, I emailed Ronda what I thought she ought to be doing differently. Both times, when I talked to her she commented,
"Yeah, Jim and Israel told me the same thing."

It isn't too surprising that people who are knowledgeable about judo would look at the same matches and come to the same conclusions. What makes me more comfortable when one of those two is coaching Ronda at a tournament is that I know, most of the time, they see the same things I see. What is surprising is that most people don't see the glaringly obvious necessity of "skating to where the puck is going to be".

Over and over, I hear players (and their coaches) comment that they don't need to change because they are winning all of the tournaments in southern California or Iowa or the junior nationals or whatever it happens to be. Two years later, they are not winning so much and they are trying to do more uchikomis, get stronger, so they can do the same techniques harder and faster. The result is that they win even less.

When you are winning, you should be looking at what other people would be doing to try to beat you. Then you prepare for that. When you are losing, you should be trying to figure out what the other person did and try to counter it or stop it. Sound obvious? See the picture below (another one from the USJA Winter Nationals, thanks to Jerry Hays). I don't know these two gentlemen, and maybe they are the exception to the rule. However, if he is like most people, the one who loses in matwork here will go back to the dojo and work on his throws, reasoning, "If I could have thrown him, he wouldn't have got me on the mat," rather than trying to work on his defense in matwork, or better yet, his offense. If you assumed that most people who lose go back and work on defending against whatever move their opponent did, you would be logical - and wrong.

And now for something completely different ...not letting it take over your life

Whether judo, business or whatever your personal interest is, it is easy to let it take over your life. This is especially true if you are pretty good at it. If I could clone myself, I could be at two or three judo activities almost every day of my life. A lesson I have finally learned is to make a conscious decision how much time I am willing to donate to an activity, whether it be judo or business. I refuse to spend more than 20 hours a week on judo, on average. I am at the West Coast Judo Training Center from 10-4 every Saturday and from 10-1 some Sundays. It is about a 90-minute round-trip to get there. I try to watch the players at most tournaments, and that can be another six hours or more. I edit Growing Judo magazine. I answer email from coaches, parents and players around the country, have conference calls with Development Committee members and with individuals planning events.

At one time, I felt guilty if people told me that I should be attending their practice , camp or clinic. They would be angry or disappointed with me that I did not show up. Now, I don't feel bad at all. I realize that I donate the equivalent of 50% of a full-time job to judo. If I choose to do this with the people I enjoy, during the hours that are convenient for me and without involving driving across Los Angeles county in rush hour traffic for three hours - those are perfectly good choices.

The same is true of work. If the success of a company depends on me working 80 hours a week for years on end, then that means someone is assuming I should just donate the equivalent of my salary to other people. Well, I already do that, actually. It's called income taxes. Being a team player is one thing. Being a sucker is something else all together. Decide how any hours you can work and still have the type of life you choose to have.
Many years ago, my late husband was complaining about some people who worked for him who he did not think put out enough extra effort. Our little daughter, Jennifer, piped up,
"What are you going to do, Dad? Sell they kids?"

He answered,
"No sweetheart, I am the boss but I am not allowed to sell people's kids."

She considered this for a moment, and said, with all the practicality of a three-year-old,
"I bet if you could sell they kids if they didn't work, they would work a lot harder."

If you are called upon to work 60 hours every week then, again, you are donating the equivalent of a half-time salary to your employer. Is that what you want to do? If not, don't do it. After all, I have it on good authority that they are not allowed to sell your kids.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

(Judo) Lessons Learned in San Jose Today

When you are retired, I realized today, you wake up in the morning and the only thing you have to do is whatever strikes you as a good way to spend the day. Today, I decided a good way to spend the day would be to fly up to San Jose to watch the Sensei Memorial Tournament.

I was very glad I went, for a whole host of reasons. The West Coast Judo Training Center has been going not quite six months. That is enough to make a difference but not enough to bring everyone up to the point where they are all winning. About six or seven years ago, I remember a new club called Ki-itsu-sai started up in Florida. The first year, they brought a bunch of kids to the Junior U.S. Open and most of them did not win, but they fought hard and they all worked together. The second year, a lot of them won and by the fourth or fifth year, they were a dominant club in the U.S. This seemed like that start for West Coast. I saw a lot of people there, like Tony Comfort and Eric Sanchez, in the photo above, who are regulars at the training center, wearing their west coast jackets. Both of those two, as well as almost everyone else, had their home coach there, in their cases that would be Steve Seck and Frankie Sanchez. What makes the training center so special to me is that it is supported by people who really, truly care about the athletes they coach. They are more concerned that those players get enough time on the mat, enough different people to train with, than that they as the coach get 100% of the credit if the person wins.

Next lesson learned - be objective. I often hear coaches saying, "You didn't win but you fought well." On what do you base that? In Eric Sanchez's case, he beat some good people, including Jose Benscome, who had never beaten before, and although he lost in the final to Andrew Hung, the score was much closer than it had been the last time they fought - Eric lost by a penalty.

In other players' case (not from the training center), they did not win and they lost in the same ways that I had seen them lose many times before. So, I can objectively state that Eric is getting better and those other people are not.

Speaking of being objective, I have to be honest enough to admit I was tempted to put off going until next year. I am sure the people we have at the training center will be seriously kicking ass a year from now. It is always more fun to see everyone win and be part of that. However, this is the hardest lesson for me as a coach - you have to learn to accept losing - temporarily. Ronda lost a couple of matches in Paris today. Tony Comfort lost one match today. Anthony Igne, who won all of his matches in the 11-12-year-old division, still came in second because of the point method they use at this tournament.

I did not coach many people at the tournament because the coaches from their home dojos were there. What I did manage to do was watch everyone and make notes so that at practice for the next few weeks we can work on what they need to do differently to win next time. If you don't come back from a tournament with a more specific plan for your next few months of practices than "We need to work harder" then you probably weren't paying attention. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of people at every tournament whose main problem is that they don't work hard enough, skip practice and slack off when they do come. There are also people who are working out hard but at the wrong things. They are working on perfecting their throws when they keep getting beat on the mat so they need some defense, or they can't get their throws off to begin with because they cannot get a grip.

One positive change I saw at this tournament was that gripping has improved, in general. At one time, if you had some gripping strategies, you could beat most people because "gripping sequence" was a foreign concept to most U.S. players. That has changed for the better. The overall level of conditioning has improved as well, although not to where it should be for elite athletes and some of you people - well, all I can say is, you don't even need a gym membership - go out, run a mile each day and some sprints, do 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups and even that would be an improvement.

Biggest negative - it would be a tie between not attacking enough and poor matwork. Too many people are waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack and end up not attacking at all. Remember what I said about variety in an earlier post? If you only have one grip from which you attack and you cannot get it, you are screwed. Few people have a large enough repertoire - which goes back to the frustrating phenomenon I always see of people not doing judo any differently at 22 than they did as a 15-year-old purple belt. What techniques do you do now that you did not do five years ago?

90% of the matwork I saw was defense. Few people attacked from the bottom. I did not see a single matwork counter or combination all day. Few people tried something as simple as a half-nelson, even those people who are high school or college wrestlers who you think would know what a half-nelson is. It was evident that most judo players do not do enough matwork for it to feel comfortable, much less automatic.

And that is what I learned about judo in San Jose today.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Choices: Stupid and otherwise

You can see from the accompanying video, my feelings about retirement. Exercising great discipline, I did not do any productive work on Wednesday, no tying up of loose ends, no boxing up my files. I went to the beach, and with the assistance of a visiting niece, improvised the First Day of Retirement Dance.

After two and a half days of retirement I have read two books, three magazines and two newspapers, spent an hour on iChat with my daughter in Paris and read chapters from The Phantom Tollbooth to my little daughter who was sick in bed.

I read a lot of blogs on blogging (most of them deathly boring so I won't bother to link to any), several blogs on technology that were really good and an interesting post by Lance Wicks from the UK where he was actually talking about a blog I wrote a month ago. His main point was that it was fine if you want to coach the Olympic team but it is not fine if you don't want to be bothered with developing players.

Between retirement, Lance's blog and my new-found spare time, I began thinking about choices people make. In judo, and in business, one makes the choice about what level he or she wants to attain.

Take coaching, for example. Around the world, and in many places in the U.S., many judo coaching programs are structured based on the assumption that everyone wants to be the Olympic coach. This is a stupid assumption. It's like assuming that every elementary school teacher wants to be a college professor and instead of providing courses on how to teach multiplication encouraging all elementary teachers to take courses in Calculus.

I was listening to the judo podcast and Jimmy Pedro, Jr. made the comment that older generations of athletes had not "given back to the sport" when they were young. His opinions are no less wrong for being commonly held. Hayward Nishioka (world team member) has taught for over forty years. Lynn Roethke (Olympic silver medalist) has run a club in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin for years. Robin (Chapman) Chow, a former Panamerican and Pacific Rims Gold medalist teaches at Tenri Hawaii. Christine Pennick, world bronze medalist, teaches in Bakersfield. Olympian Steve Seck teaches at Trade Tech. What we all have in common is we teach in community programs, very much like the programs many of us came from. As for me, I have taught for nineteen of the twenty-three years since I retired from competition. There were two years in a row when I was pregnant (I had two children, I didn't have a two-year pregnancy. I'm not an elephant!) Then, there were three years when my husband was very ill and in intensive care and two of my girls were still in preschool.

We all make a choice at what level we want to coach. The same is true in business. All right, I will admit that some people are dumber than a box of hair and are never going to make it past assistant mail room clerk. For many others, though, it is a choice of what you are willing to sacrifice in terms of leisure time, time with your family, income you pass up while you go to graduate school so that you can make more money later. Are you willing to give up doing work that really fascinates you to do work that is not quite so interesting but pays more money?

I learned all about deferred gratification from judo. I had to get out of bed to run and lift weights when I really wanted to sleep in. I had to go running in MINNESOTA in the winter where it was 20 degrees below zero. When I moved to Los Angeles and all I had to do was wind sprints up hill, but without the snow and ice, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. After all the matburn, aching muscles, bruises and thousands of repetitions of techniques, when I won the world championships, I chose to stop.

That's another valuable lesson I learned from judo. As my teammate Steve Seck said,
"Even if you win the Olympics, people will say, 'Yeah, but could he win it again?' You have to not worry about what people think, decide for yourself what your goals are and when you get to where you have satisfied yourself, then you retire."

There is a tendency, especially if you are a competitive person, to keep going and going and not want anyone to have more money, a higher position, because somehow it means they are better. I learned from judo how to stop competing when I was happy with what I had accomplished.

A friend of mine asked me,
"How can you be satisfied? After all, the cream rises to the top, you know. How can you let __________ be ahead of you?"

I told her,
"The cream may rise to the top, but so does the scum in a pond. "

It's almost unAmerican to say this, but the key to success for me is not necessarily having the biggest house or the newest car or the fanciest title. It's not being the Olympic coach. Most days I am not sure exactly what it is but I think it has something to do with watching Anthony and Julia and Haykas get better at gripping. It's watching Sammy and Erik get a better harai goshi. It is having good friends like Gary Butts and Tony Mojica and Blinky and Jake Flores who are always there to give me good advice about judo and are willing to let my children train at their club at any time. It's having raised children who still call me every day even now that they are paying their own bills.

Right now, for me, success is having TIME. It is being able to sleep until noon and then have nothing in the day ahead of me but drinking coffee, reading the LA Times, walking to the beach and playing baseball with Julia. That's my choice.

---------------REQUIRED JUDO TIP -------------------------------
Stupid judo choices people make - involving matwork.

1. You are ahead by a yuko or more, with thirty seconds left on the clock. Your opponent is down on her stomach. You are on her back. ..... And you jump up and run back to the tape line waiting for the referee to call matte and stand her back up. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU ????! There are no stalling penalties on the mat. You are ahead. It may be that this person is twice as good as you and has some moves from lying on her stomach so you leapt off of her like a scared little bunny. More often, said to say, the true reason is that your brain is temporarily not functioning. Next time, try a half-nelson. Hook your legs in and try a choke. Put your knee in her armpit and try to hook the arm for an armbar. You may get a score. You will definitely eat up time on the clock. Don't leap up and give her a free chance at throwing you and winning the match.

2. You are trying to armbar someone. They are hanging on to that arm for dear life. You keep pulling to get the arm loose and the referee calls matte. HELLO? If someone is laying on his back, get on top and pin him -- duh! I pinned way more people than I armbarred because people would be so focused on their arms they would forget that I could just sit on them and pin them.

3. You are really good at matwork. The match starts, you go to the ground, the other person wants to get up - and you let her - over and over. If you are better than your opponent on the mat, stay there! When I competed, at least 80% of the time in nearly all of my matches was on the mat. The second someone went into drop seoi nage, a sacrifice or I knocked her down on one knee, I was on her like white on rice. Many of my friends have told me, "I want to win the right way. I still think throwing is the real judo." My friends have nice theories about judo. I have real gold medals. Judo has enough rules. You don't need to make up extra ones of your own.

4. I only saw this happen once, but it is worth mentioning. Years ago, they had a Grand Champion, when the winners of every weight division fought off. Diane Pierce had won the 120 pound division. She was fighting the heavyweight champion and they were down on the mat, with the heavyweight on all fours. Diane whispered, "Hey, look up!" The woman did and Diane choked her out. I asked her later why the heck she had looked up and she said that she thought if Diane said it the referee must have said something or there must be some other reason. She was a little ticked off and thought it was a dirty trick. Last piece of advice for the day - don't look up!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Life after retirement, with St. Jude

My last attempt at retirement, I must admit, was pretty short-lived, so I am trying it again and maybe this time I will get it right - or maybe not. I went to the Bahamas three times, even checked out house prices, but I found after swimming in the ocean every morning, sitting out on the balcony looking at the blue-green water and saying, "How beautiful!" to myself, I was bored to death by 10 a.m.

I almost had the biggest screw-up of my career on my last day working. I woke up and the first thing I said to Dennis was,
"Oh my God, what's the date?"

He said it was February 6th and I thought I was going to be sick. As my last task at Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. I had a proposal for $350,000 that was due by noon, February 6 and I had thought for the last two weeks that was Thursday. When I woke up at 9:30 a.m., which would be past noon Eastern time, I suddenly realized that TODAY was February 6th and on the last day of my working life I had missed a deadline for the first time ever. Even though I was 100% sure that was the deadline, I got up and checked the application package one more time - and, there is a God, and a St. Jude, too, because not only did I mess up on the date, but the LAST grant I submitted had a deadline of noon Eastern time. This one, it turns out, had a deadline of 5 p.m. I jumped out of bed, my wonderful husband brought me one cup of coffee after another and I worked non-stop making everything into pdf files, entering budgets and filed the last bit on-line at 12:48 - beating the deadline by an hour and twelve minutes. I double-checked at 1:20 to see if I had left out anything that was required - if your grant doesn't have some required form or signature it can be rejected outright - and the website gave me a friendly message about the package being validated as without errors. So, I finally took a shower at the END of my last day of work.

Now that my heart rate is back to normal, I am pondering how much judo has contributed to my success in life, whether any of the lessons I learned on the mat transferred into business. If so, the most important one was probably to never, never, never give up. More than one person has asked me if I feel that judo, being originally Japanese, conflicts with being Catholic. I don't know why people would think that, and my answer is, "No". My grandmother used to lecture me a lot about Catholicism and one point she always hammered home was to always have faith and never give up.

My daughters always tease me about praying to St. Jude. I have worn a St. Jude medal every day for years. None of them think they are a lost cause and they don't know why, as they have said more than once, I could not have picked "a more macho saint".

For those non-Catholics who don't know, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. This is why so many hospitals, particularly those specializing in terminal illness, are named after St. Jude.

What my children don't know, because, like all children and adolescents everywhere, they tended to pass notes in religion class and check out the cute boy in front of them rather than pay attention, is WHY St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate causes. About all that survives to this day from Jude is a letter that begins, with him saying he meant to write about salvation but instead, "...I felt the need of writing at once to encourage you to fight on..." Okay, how could you possibly not like a saint who exhorts you to "fight on"? My sacrilegious daughter, Jennifer, once commented,
"And I thought it was just because the name sounded like judo."

In 1984, I retired from competition in judo - but I still do it. I have been teaching pretty much continuously ever since. The difference is that now when I want to go to work out, I do and when I don't, then I don't.

Does anyone actually believe I am done working? What I believe is that my family and friends are taking bets among themselves how many days will pass before I take another job or accept a contract for some consulting work. I am working on The Julia Group right now, my new company.

The difference is this, ever since I left home at age 15, almost 35 years ago, I have had to work. Now, for the first time in my life, I don't need to work. Yes, I'll probably go back to work, sooner rather than later. In fact, I have already had two interviews. The difference is that I am only interviewing for jobs that I would really like to do.

I have heard people say that retirement is depressing, they dread waking up in the mornings with nothing to do. Not me. For the first time in 35 years, there is not a single thing I have to do when I wake up. It's the freest feeling I have ever had in my whole life. I can't wait for tomorrow to come!

----------------REQUIRED JUDO TIP ------------------
Check out the USJA Resources Site. If you are a competitor or coach, you can find some tips in the coaching section. If you are starting a new club, or want to grow your current club bigger, check the club management section.

And thank you to Chuck Wall for putting these resources together. This is version 1.0 and we will be starting a Version 2.0 soon.

This seems like an obvious tip, but you would be surprised how often people don't do it...

Don't do one-size-fits-all judo. What I mean by that is those clubs where everyone tries to be just like the head instructor. They look more like cults than judo. Everyone must do judo just like I did because after all, I am perfect - NOT!

Do judo that fits the situations you find yourself in most often. For example, I was really short for my division. People would often get a high grip on me. So, I did drop seoi nage, from right and left, tani otoshi, and a duck-under o uchi gari. After a while, no one wanted to go to the mat with me, so I would curl up like an armadillo (people call it the turtle position, but it looks more like an armadillo to me), to bait people into matwork, and I developed a number of attacks from that position.

Ronda is much taller than me and when she does a tani otoshi it is from a different set up because it is not very often someone gets a high grip and tries to crunch her down. My little Julia really wants to be like her big sister and so she tries uchimata all the time, even when the other person is foot taller than her. While I don't want to discourage her too much, I have been trying to get her to do more seoi nage, harai goshi and seoi otoshi.

Don't try to be someone else, I don't care how great of a judo player that someone else was. While I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, and as a parent and coach, I think one of the things I did right was not to try to make my children over into younger versions of me, but rather to help them become the best possible versions of themselves.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Things Change

It's a fact of life, but a lot of us don't want to deal with it.

My whole life is changing right now. In the past year, I have left my judo club, started up the West Coast Judo Training Center, left my company and started a new company. The housekeeper we have had for ten years is leaving - a ten-year-old really doesn't need a nanny. My second daughter graduated from college. My first daughter is married and having a baby. With all of that, my expenses shrank so that I certainly don't need to work at the pace I have for the last 35 years.

Life changes for everyone; sometimes life ends altogether. Larry Mattson, who was the best man when I married Ron, died of a heart attack about a month ago. Joyce Hirota, whose daughter used to compete against Ronda, died of a heart attack this week. Masha Scheglov, who also used to be in Ronda's division, lost her mother two years ago. Steve Bell died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. Then other people die less unexpectedly, but it still sucks - John Ogden, who had been a judo fixture for 55 years, died last year.

Life changes. Why should judo be any different? We are doing a lot of things differently in California and around the country. This makes some people furious. How dare we say that we need a training center in southern California or that we should have a Great American Workout in New York and now they're talking about a USJA/USJF training center in northern California. Where will it ever end? Judo board positions are being held by upstarts like me and Ed Shiosaki and other youngsters (in the judo political world, folks under age fifty, like us, are young punks). Ronda is coaching at the training center - how can we invite a 20-year-old to be a coach?! Frankie and Eric Sanchez are in their twenties and running Guerreros Judo Club. What is this world coming to? What would Jigoro Kano think about blue gis, women not wearing white stripes on their belts and people who do not do kata exactly as it was done in 1937?

Years ago, I was teaching a course on the Spirit Lake reservation and some debate occurred about what medicine men really could do and couldn't do back in the days before the white men came. Some of it sounded a bit like these people waxing on about the history of judo and how Kano's original students could breathe under water, fly and do a perfect nage no kata all at the same time. The students appealed to one woman in the class who spoke Dakota and was widely regarded as an authority on Spirit Lake culture. She normally was very quiet but when the other students kept pressing her for an answer, she finally stood up and said,
"I don't know if all of those things they said happened in the old days really happened or not. What I do know is that those days are dead and gone and if we don't change to accommodate the world today, we are going to be dead and gone with them!"

We have a history in this country of resisting any changes to judo, whether it be new members on a board, new concepts, new clubs. We always hear people saying that they want judo to grow but when one of their students leaves and opens a new club, they are FURIOUS. Apparently, they want it to grow somewhere else other than where they are. I don't know how many times I have heard someone go on about how karate or tae kwon do or Brazilian jiu jitsu is everywhere, with a club on every corner, when we all know judo is so much better. Then, when their student opens a club on the next corner, they take it as a personal insult. How dare you open a judo club? Are you saying you are as good an instructor as I am? Are you saying I am not a good enough instructor so you need to open a judo club and teach people?

Maybe they just want a change. Maybe they had an idea you didn't have. Is that so horrible? Maybe they had an idea KANO didn't have. An older man once asked me, very pompously and self-righteously what would Jigoro Kano think about a woman being vice-president of the USJA. I told him I didn't care what Kano would have thought. The man turned an unusually bright shade of red and it appeared as if he was going to drop dead of a heart attack on the spot. That would have been an interesting change, but it didn't happen.

Kano was just a person. He wasn't God. As Billy Joel said, the good old days weren't always good and tomorrow aint as bad as it seems.

Tomorrow - here are some ways we can change for the better, I think. Encourage your younger black belts to teach. Take a vacation and leave them in charge. If one of your students wants to open a new club, be supportive. Take it as a reflection on the great job you did developing future leaders. Here's another thought - boot them out. When my kids graduated from high school, they had two choices; get a job or go to college. Hanging around the house wasn't one of them. We expect our children to grow up and leave but we get irritated if someone from our club goes out and starts their own program at 45.

Do we eat our young? In judo it seems to me that not only do we seldom encourage our teenagers and young adults to take over, but we actively discourage them, undermine them and denigrate them. No wonder they don't want to stick around.

My daughter, Jenn, is thinking about having her boyfriend move in with her. I was very tempted to fly up to San Francisco for the weekend and insist that she bring "the boyfriend" by so I could meet him. I almost did. The more I thought about it, though, I realized that Jenn is a college graduate, she has a job, pays her own bills. You know that old saying parents always use,
"As long as you're living under my roof and I'm paying the bills, you'll go by my rules."

Well, it dawned on me that Jenn is not living under my roof and I am not paying the bills and she really doesn't have to live by my rules. I still don't think it is a good idea for people who aren't married to live together but it isn't my decision to make.

At some point, we have to trust young people to take things into their own hands. If we want judo to grow, we need to let our young judo players and coaches grow. Yes,I am sure they'll screw up sometimes. Maybe they'll cohabit with a tae kwon do or Brazilian ju jitsu or, God forbid, a mixed martial arts school. They'll make mistakes but they'll learn from them.

And things WILL change. Deal with it.

------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP -----------------------------
Variety is not only the spice of life, it is the key to winning. Here are several ways to think about variety in your judo.

Tempo - can you attack when you are both moving quickly across the mat? Do you need a medium "kata" level of speed to attack? Is your judo static? Do you attack mostly when you are both stopped?

I bet you think I am going to say that you need to be able to attack at all different tempos. Well, that would be nice. I was never that good. Even when I was young, I was not particularly fast. My solution was to realize that and work around it. I was strong enough that I could just clamp down on the other person and hold her still, or at least slow her down to my comfortable pace. Andi Bongert is over 200 pounds. She is an honest heavyweight, not a fat 70 kg player. After watching her compete the first time, I asked her,
"What the hell are you doing? If you have 70 pounds on your opponent, don't run after her. She's faster than you. Go to the middle of the mat and stand there. She has to come to you. When she does, nail her with that uchimata."

Here is an important aside for coaches - I look at someone and think, "How would I beat that person?" Of course, I would tell any of my players to get her moving, speed up the tempo. So that is exactly what I tell her to expect and not allow to happen.

When in the match do you attack? Right off the grip? As you grip? (Those are two different things, you know.) Do you counter when the other person attacks? Do you catch people on the way out after a failed attack? Do you always attack right at the end of a match when the other person is letting up, coming in with a flurry of attacks? Unbelievably, I have seen people who always take two steps and then attack on the third. Even more unbelievably, they will beat the same person more than once. I want to go up to their opponents and yell,
"What is wrong with you? Are you and your coach each sharing half a brain? Attack on the first step, or the second step, and that person will never beat you ever again!"

But I do not say anything because I am humble and lovable, just like Underdog.

What grip do you attack from? Double lapel, sleeve and lapel, double sleeve, from an arm drag, or a hand off? What do you do if you cannot get your preferred grip?

What are your favorite techniques? What set-ups do you have for your favorite techniques? Jim Bregman and I once went back and forth for over an hour on whether all of judo ends in uchimata or juji gatame. He showed uchi mata from seoi nage, tai otoshi, o uchi gari and just about everything else. I still believe I won, though, because he did not have a tate shiho gatame to uchimate combination. I, on the other hand, showed juji gatame from seoi otoshi, morote seoi nage, tomoe nage, tate shiho gatame and while balanced on my head. (I am not making this up.)

So... what other types of variety can you think of? Why? Because every variation is an opportunity for you to attack and you should be able to employ lots of different directions, tempos and combinations so your opponent never knows for sure what to expect. You should also learn to defend all sorts of variations because, believe me, you don't want to be trying to wing it in the middle of a match.