Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

but I am going to write a bunch of words anyway.

Here are some things that were great about the Great American Workout in Rhode Island last weekend, in no particular order.

The number of girls and women in attendance, from all ages, to six-year-olds from New York City to women in their fifties from Connecticut. Women are usually a very small minority in judo, and often in a subordinate position while the men are teaching and being certified as coaches. This weekend, we had female clinicians, coaches and athletes, of all ages. As it should be.

Parnell Legros teaching.
Oh my God.... I watched Parnell with my mouth open. He would be teaching and twenty or thirty little kids would be sitting still, riveted. The man is an amazingly gifted teacher.

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Seeing great kids like Everett, Malinda, Ahmani and Ricondo helping the younger ones.

Watching Ronda teach judo and randori.
I may be biased, but the truth is, she really is good, and she deserves to be good because she trains like she knows she should. Host unlimited photos at for FREE!

My baby proves yet again that she is a class act.
Not a lot of people fit teaching five-year-olds around their training for the Olympics. Ronda did her weight workout in the morning, then taught judo all day Saturday, half the day Sunday and did randori on Sunday afternoon. Host unlimited photos at for FREE!

Seeing my granddaughter, Eva, for the first time.

Getting a chance to see Jim Pedro, Sr. teach again.
My niece made the comment the other day that if Jim were to quit judo tomorrow he would have accomplished more than almost any other coach will in a lifetime in the world and Olympic medalists, number of years taught, number of players coached - and yet he came and taught for two days. He really is one of the most knowledgeable coaches I have ever met, and yet he is willing to teach everyone from small children to coaches for next to no money, and he is good at it. I told him that this weekend made up for every time he had pissed me off (and there were A LOT of them). He did a phenomenal job.

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The number of coaches who were willing to help out our young players, from 13-year-old Katelyn Bouyssou to more-than-13-year-old Bill Montgomery and all of the coaches who came for certification. To see the number in our judo community who care enough to spend their time gaining more knowledge to teach their players was truly gratifying. Host unlimited photos at for FREE!
Host unlimited photos at for FREE!

There was a lot more great stuff but it is late and I have to work tomorrow. If you did not come, you missed it, and I TOLD YOU that you would be sorry, but did you listen to me ... no! I covered escaping from sankaku, juji gatame (the purpose of life) and pinning people so they can't get up.

I think I have exceeded my limit of images to upload for this post, so I will have to put pictures of Serge and some of the other instructors tomorrow. Serge thinks this was the first time that I saw him teach, but it wasn't. I saw him at the USJA camp in Florida, too. He was great, then, too. I never miss an opportunity to steal ideas from other coaches, and so I watch other people teach every chance I get.

We are planning on making the Great American Workout an annual event. So, if you didn't make it, try not to screw up next year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Judo, Success and the Meaning of Life: Because I love it

As one gets older, it is probably normal to ponder the meaning of life, and evaluate one’s own choices. Is it true, to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, that all is vanity, we live, we die and that’s pretty much it?
Yes I graduated from college – thirty years ago, and my mother was very proud of me, but did it really change the world all that much? I won the national championships a few times, but someone else has won them for the past twenty-four years.

All in all, life has been good, but there are signs it is more than half over.

Life really changes. I remember a time when the rhythm of my life was governed by the U.S. Senior Nationals, I started training January first with a plan to peak in April. I also remember the first year that the senior nationals were over before I even remembered they were in April. I was in graduate school studying for a Ph.D. and the time just slipped by. Earning a Ph.D. was a great experience in many ways. My doctoral advisor, Dr. Richard Eyman, a true mentor, passed away a few years ago.

Margot Sathay was a great judo player. When I lived in Japan, she offered a matwork class at the women’s division of the Kodokan. Three of us came religiously, me, Michiko Sasahara and Hiromi Fukuda. All three of us won world medals. Probably the biggest thing she did for me, though, was tell me when I was planning on dropping out of college in my senior year and staying in Japan that she would not teach me and that she would talk to Osawa and tell him not to let me work out at Waseda any more either. I went back home, graduated from college, got three more degrees and never saw Margot again. She taught me an incredible amount of matwork and she kept me in school. She really did change my life, but, to her, I was just one of a thousand people she taught over the years. She died a few years ago.

Diane Pierce (Tudela) was my hero when I was young. She won more judo matches than any American in history up to that time, won U.S. Grand Champion (the winner of all weight divisions) when she was only 125 pounds. She taught me a tomoe nage juji gatame combination that I won countless matches with and she taught me about facing life fearlessly. Diane survived a bout with cancer many years ago and is now a great-grandmother.

It was an honor to be coach for the Nanka girls team and gratifying when they won the national championships. My fellow coach that year, Steve Bell, passed away about a year ago.

There have also been mistakes and awful times. My husband died, and although he left behind wonderful children and permanent memories, he is still dead. To the people who say that it will all be okay after a while I can only reply that “a while” must be longer than thirteen years. I have made stupid decisions in everything from during matches, to kids I could have coached better if I knew more at the time, to decisions in my professional life which, in retrospect, should have been pretty obviously wrong to anyone smarter than a hamster.

Yesterday, I was writing a program using some relative rare features of a programming language, something that I had been wanting to learn better, and a task just happened to come across my desk that required those. As I was working, the thought crossed my mind,

“I love what I am doing. This is exactly what I want to be doing at this minute and they are paying me for it. This is amazing.”

Thanks to Margot for not letting me drop out of school.

Today, I was doing matwork at the training center and in the middle of it, I thought to myself,
“I love this. I love my life.”

Over seventy years ago, in the book, “How to be happy, though human” , W. Beran Wolfe

"If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day."

There is an old Spanish proverb ,
"There is no happiness; there are only moments of happiness."

In many ways, directly and indirectly, judo is responsible for what has made me happy. Maybe that is the real meaning after all.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Another of Life's Unanswered Questions: Just Who Do You Think You Are?

Just who do you think you are?
Why can't you be like everybody else?
Must you question everything?
Can't you ever just go along?

I've been asked some variation of those questions my whole life and the answers are No, I can't just go along, yes, I must question everything, because I am not everybody else, I am me. And, incidentally, no, I am not sorry now.

If you are like everyone else, you will be average. That's not terrible. McDonald's is average. You'll never confuse an egg McMuffin with oysters rockefeller, but you likely won't find rat poop in it, either. Average is safe. People of my generation remember the saying, "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." This was a short cut way of saying that if you did the expected thing you might not make a million dollars but it was, well, safe.

I have quoted this a hundred times in different contexts. Sitting in class one warm afternoon during graduate school at the University of Minnesota, I'll never forget the professor lecturing us,
"Always remember, ladies and gentlemen, while Burroughs had all of its engineers hard at work developing a better adding machine, Steve Wozniak was in his garage inventing the Apple computer."

What does all of this have to do with judo?

Over the years, many, many people have criticized first me and more recently my daughter for having a bad attitude or being unsportsmanlike.

What terrible things did we do? Did we use steroids, hire henchmen to hit our competitors with boards, hide brass knuckles in our judo gis?

None of the above. We didn't act like everyone else.

What puzzles me are the questions that no one else asks. Here is one:

There has been a lot of talk about how Ronda is on a different level than the other competitors in the U.S. People have even suggested that she should not compete in the senior nationals, or if she must, that she be nice about it and not embarrass her competitors by making it evident how much better she is. No one asks why Ronda is doing so much better when almost everyone in her division (and several who moved out of the division when she moved up) are older than her and have been in judo longer than her. No one asks why a player who, until five years ago had competed in exactly one senior tournament, where she placed seventh, is now head and shoulders above the competition. No one asks what Ronda did that the other players didn't do.

You might think that I am patting myself on the back here and expecting people to say, "She had a coach who knew so much judo." That's not it.

I have a pretty high self-esteem but there is no way I would say I know more judo than Yone Yonezuka, because I don't. Israel Hernandez coaches another of Ronda's competitors. I don't know him well, but I would guess he knows more about judo than I do. Doug Tono, who has coached a couple of Ronda's competitors, knew more judo than me when we were kids doing randori at Uptown Dojo - and he still does. Ron Angus knows more judo than I do now - I have seen him teach - although I am not sure he did back when we were both at Tenri Dojo. Ronda has fought a couple of his players in Canada. None of this is false modesty. It is all true. Israel, Ron and Yone particularly chose to focus on judo most of their lives while I spent a lot of time learning statistics, programming and how to make things work across operating systems. It's no surprise they learned the stuff they studied and I learned the stuff I studied.

Buried somewhere under all of the things that need to be cleaned up and put away in our house are a gold and silver medal from the world championships, two Panamerican Games gold medals, a junior world championships gold medal. Only two people have ever asked me,
"Two people in your house have won world gold medals. How did you do that?"

One of those people who called and asked had an Olympic bronze medal and a world bronze medal himself. When I laughed, he demanded,
"No, seriously, how did you do that. I want to know."

I wish I had some brilliant master plan I could share where we all get bit by a radioactive spider and turn into SpiderRondaWoman. The truth is a lot more mundane.

Ronda made the hard decisions
. She went to where the best training was for her and not where the most friends were, best weather or best education.

Ronda faced reality. She could not handle both college and training all out at the same time so she chose judo and got a job at Home Depot. Some people can train and compete simultaneously but Ronda knew it would not work for her.

Ronda did not make compromises. I have been to so many practices where it has been tacitly agreed that we will not train too hard, not really push each other. She trained her heart out even when it meant people didn't like her, called her mean or unfeminine or a lot worse things. She trained until she cried. She trained until other people cried.

People who go along with the crowd tend to be average and well-liked.

Other people don't go along, they cry, they fight, they are criticized, all for the chance to be something extraordinary.

We are all defined by our choices. Think about yours.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thank You Ali, Carlos & Hayastan!

Today was a day of unanswered questions:
  • Why were there two swords in my living room when I got home? Were people having a sword fight, and if so, who and why? In what manner is Sean, the-fencer-turned-Sam's-boyfriend, implicated?

  • Is there a limit to the resilience of small children?

  • Is there more than one possible answer to, "How about I do a front hand-spring in the living room to see if my back and knee are all better?"

  • How did I get so lucky?

As my daughter, The Perfect Jennifer, reminds me on every possible occasion, I am an old woman. Either because of my elderly status or because of my new job, night at the emergency room and other distractions, I forget things.

This is another way of saying that I really screwed up this week and Kenji Osugi, Michael Fujimoto and most especially, Carlos Mendez, Ali Moghadas and the folks from Hayastan covered my ass for which I am extremely grateful.

I asked Carlos, who is an outstanding judo player, if he would mind running practice for the training center, maybe Saturday and Sunday, during the weekend of the senior nationals. I mentioned this to Kenji Osugi, the president of our local black belt association (Nanka Yudanshakai) and he said that we should also get Ali Moghadas, another relatively young black belt and terrific technician. Great ideas, right?

Here is where things started to go wrong. I thought Kenji had confirmed the dates with them and Kenji thought Ryan (Nanka development chair) had and Ryan was out of town. Thank God and Michael Fujimoto, who happened to be at practice on Saturday and mention that Ali apparently knew nothing about the practice. (Let me clarify that last sentence by saying that I am not stating that both God and Michael were at practice. Michael was for sure, though.)

Oh, did I mention that James Igne sent me a text that Sarko had not received any confirmation. So... we have announced this practice, given out flyers, but forgotten to tell our clinicians or the host dojo. Does this sound like unmitigated disaster to you? I sent a text message back to James at practice on Friday, who confirmed with Sarko that we could use the dojo. Saturday, I called both Ali and Carlos, abjectly apologized, begged forgiveness and threw myself on their good graces in asking them to show up and do a clinic with 18 hours notice. They were incredibly gracious about it.

Then, I emailed everyone I knew to remind them and called everyone who I thought might be planning to come, just to remind them again. When Ronda called in the morning, I asked her to do the same. The conversation went like this,
"I forgot just about everything about this clinic. I need your help. Call everyone you know and remind them."
"Sure, no problem. When is it?"
"At 1 pm."
"Yes, today."
"As in today, today?"
"Yes. At 1 pm."
"If you ask me seven more times, it will still be today, unless you keep asking for the next 14 hours, then it will be yesterday. Yes. Today."

And at 1 pm... drum roll please ...

Sarko was there to open the dojo. Ali and Carlos were there to teach. Players and coaches from Hayastan, Pasadena Judo, LACC, Discover, Valley Judo Institute and Sawtelle were on the mat and everything went beautifully. Carlos showed his very traditional Japanese seoi nage. Sarko showed his less traditional Russian seoi nage. Ali demonstrated two variations of tomoe nage. Gary Butts and I attempted the techniques and were mocked by various people's children.

I learned some new ways of teaching, had a chance to work on techniques instead of being the one teaching them, and got to observe our up and coming players in randori with some good partners. As I stood there watching, I marveled at how lucky I am to have so many people willing to help me out and at the slightest notice.

On top of it all, when I tried to pay Ali and Carlos for their time, both of them refused the money. There are always three people who deserve every dollar we get in the development fund, so this gives me a chance to fund another activity, an activity which I will flake on considerably less. Anyone willing to help with flyers, not forgetting to email people and general administration, please email me

The only thing that could have been better is if my daughter Julia could have come and learned some of what was taught. After having hurt her back earlier in the week, she still went to the training center on Saturday and went through all of both practices. I had told her to take the randori off, the last hour, but she said, "I think I will just go one round." In the first minute, someone landed against the side of her knee and she was crying on the mat. Last night, she needed crutches to get around. Since we have had 10 knee surgeries between me and two of my daughters, there was no shortage of crutches. By morning, she wanted to go to Malibu with her friend. Just like in Lourdes, she left on crutches and returned walking.

Sometimes I worry that Julia takes after my husband more than me when it comes to physical pursuits. Dennis believes that the point of civilization was to free us from physical labor, so by sitting on the couch watching Futurama he is demonstrating what a highly evolved being he is. Being a little kid, and the youngest, Julia can certainly milk a situation for all it is worth.

"Cough. I think I am too sick to go to practice. Maybe I better just stay home. Dad said it is okay with him if you say it is okay."
"I say get your judo gi on and get your ass in the car."

Today we had decided that she should skip gymnastics tomorrow because she had hurt both her back and her knee within a period of 72 hours.

Julia twisted this way and that, felt her back, then her knee.
"My back still hurts a little and so does my knee, but I think I could go to practice tomorrow. How about I do a front handspring in the living room and see if anything hurts more?"

"And how about you don't."

I still don't know why there were swords in the living room.

Don't Wish It Were Easier: Wish You Were Better - A nice girl's guide to winning

Caution: People who think they are perfect may be offended by this post

The photo above is of Ronda after her most recent knee surgery, which occurred right after the Panamerican Championships. She fought (and won) the bronze medal match with a torn cartilage, then flew straight home for surgery. Her little sister is cuddled up with her trying to make her feel better.

Today, on the Judo Forum, there were some people who posted about how Ronda was unsportsmanlike because she got up from pinning her opponent and fought some more before pinning her again, then switched pins.

Note, Ronda did not break any rules, injure her opponent, call her opponent names or make obscene gestures toward the referees. In the opinion of some, what Ronda did wrong was not win nicely enough.

It was stated that Ronda is so much better than the competition that she some how owed it to them and the spectators to "play nice", to win the match by a clean ippon, preferably a throw, I presume where she held her opponent up nicely as she landed.

Who was Ronda fighting? You might think it was her ten-year-old sister by the concern shown for her opponent. No, in fact, the young woman, who is older than Ronda, is a black belt in judo, collegiate national champion and had just beaten the number two player in the U.S. earlier in the day.

Because Ronda is so much better, some argued she should not even have competed in the nationals because it was unsportsmanlike. If she decided to compete, she should be nice about it and not use this opportunity for her own benefit trying to get extra time on the mat, "because it is the U.S. Senior National Championships."

My opinion is this --- Ronda is training to win the Olympics. I know some people are rooting for her to lose and are happy whenever she does lose a match (everyone loses sometimes). She does not act the way they think she should and they much prefer other players who dress differently, talk differently and compete differently.

The greatest woman athlete ever, in my opinion, was Babe Didriksen. At the Olympic Trials, she said,

"I came out here to beat everyone in sight and that’s just what I’m going to do."

She won the first place team award all by herself - and this was in track and field. Back then, the Babe wasn't too popular with some either, and I am sure the same people criticizing Ronda today would say the Babe was greedy and unsportsmanlike wanting to go to the Olympics in all those sports.

How did Ronda get to be good enough that people think she should take it easy at the national championships? Did she start judo at age five, go to all of the best camps, train all over Europe, live in Japan?

Actually, she started judo just five years before she made her first U.S. women's team and made a lot of sacrifices. She didn't quit after the first knee surgery. Or the second. Or the third. She went through physical therapy, lifted weights, learned new techniques, watched videos of her matches and her opponents. At age 16, she moved to Massachusetts and lived with Jim Pedro, Sr. who, although he is a really good person and great coach, as a friend of mine said, in the warm and fuzzy department, he got a half a dose of warm and a double dose of fuzzy.

Why is it that Ronda is criticized so often. An interesting interview with Mariah Burton Nelson, the author of Embracing Victory, discusses how women are held to different standards than men when it comes to competition in sports. While it is okay for men to play to win as long as they don't break the rules, women are supposed to play nicely, not be too openly competitive, not "show off" by being obviously better than the competition.

I would like to state publicly that I am very proud of my daughter. Some players attempt to find the easiest weight division so they can qualify for the Olympic trials, fly around the country and the world to pick up points hoping for an easy draw at an easy tournament that puts them in the number one spot. They pick the place to train where they have the most friends, the best job opportunities or where they can be reassured that they really are terrific and anyone who beats them "has bad judo" or is just a big meanie.

Ronda has realized that there is no shortcut, no easy route to the top. She practices twice a day, sometimes three times a day. She is better in judo than most people because she has shown a devotion and discipline when it comes to her sport that most people do not.

Well-meaning people have advised me not to let people know that I have a Ph.D. or won a world championships, not to mention it in conversation, because it will make them angry, because they will think I am showing off.

Now people have accused my daughter of "showing off" by winning the U.S. Senior National finals and clearly dominating her opponent.

My advice to all of you: If it bothers you so much when someone has a greater accomplishment than you, you should do more instead of asking other people to pretend they have done less.

As for me, when I meet someone who has accomplished a lot more than me athletically, academically or professionally, one of only three thoughts crosses my mind.

  1. Wow! That is really cool. I hope they can teach me something about how to do that.

  2. Gee, I have no interest in that field, but I bet they are happy with themselves for being the two-time world badminton champion and winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for their Chinese poetry, .....or most often.....,

  3. I wonder if there is any coffee left downstairs.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Renewed Respect for All Parents

Nothing focuses your attention like rushing your child to the emergency room.

When I heard Julia yelling from her room, my first thought was that she was a spoiled brat. We bought her a new iMac for her tenth birthday, I had just shown her how to use PowerPoint, how to plug in a flash drive, how to insert pictures from the drive to use as a slide background and how to change fonts and colors of text. I hadn't gotten home from work until 8 p.m., only to find out that she hadn't done a thing on her science project and she had been calling me into her room every ten minutes ever since with one question or another. So, I came into her room in a bad mood ....

... to find her lying on the floor crying. She said that her back hurt and when she tried to stand up, she couldn't and she fell down. Now, Julia is far from an Olympic athlete, but she has been in judo enough that she doesn't cry just because she has a little bump. I picked her up and put her in her bed where she lay crying for the next ten minutes.

I may not be, as my grandmother put it, "the kind of doctor that can do you any good," but I still realize that when a ten-year-old is in so much pain that she is sobbing even when she is laying in bed not moving, something is very wrong.

Well, after the next four hours first in the Urgent Care Center and next in the Emergency Room, after being seen by two doctors and two nurses and had two urine tests, they finally sent her home with a prescription and instructions to see yet a third doctor, her pediatrician, in the morning. She seems to be recovering well. She went from not being able to move, to being able to bend about three inches forward to now being able to touch her toes again.

Sitting there at midnight, waiting for the tests to come back, I thought about those parents who have children with serious illnesses, who are in hospital waiting areas as often as I am in the ones in the airport. I thought about a poem I read once about children who won't go to bed and other children whose parents are tucking them into hospital beds. I cannot even imagine my life not knowing each day whether my child would be okay or not, or even worse, living each day knowing that my child would not be okay. It makes the things I get upset about - whether a person skips practice, people who say they want to win the Olympic trials but don't even get up to run in the morning - all seem pretty stupid and trivial. So what if Random Joe from Idaho says he wants to win the Olympics and only works out every third day. So what if he comes to our practices at the training center and says the same thing. Every third day, he is one extra person on the mat for our players to train with.

I used to get upset with Joe's parents, too, all those people who have a million reasons not to drive their child to practice. Now that I am working in an office every day instead of telecommuting, I really don't feel like leaving again once I get home. I look at the parents of kids like Anthony, Myles & David, Aaron and Kaylyn and others whose parents take them to practice at their own club, at other clubs and at the training center on the weekends and I just marvel, "How the heck do you do that?"

I think back about how much I used to train and how disciplined I used to be to work out every day, three times a day, without fail, while working full time as engineer. Now, I come home and think about going to Sawtelle Dojo to work out. It is close to my house, a good workout, good people. Instead, I end up drinking a martini, reading the newspaper and posting on the judo forum.

Just like I have turned into a slacker former athlete, I have turned into a slacker parent. When Ronda was younger, somehow, I got her to practice seven days a week. Some days I would take her to two practices, one at Venice and then drive straight to Hollywood for practice at Hayastan. Now, there are so many days that I think about taking Julia to practice at Sawtelle or South Bay or Gardena or Santa Monica Y, I think about how incredibly fortunate I am to live somewhere with good judo clubs all around me. Then, I get home and find she hasn't done her homework, or Dennis hands me glass of Chardonnay and I pick up the paper and that's how the evening goes.

I would feel guilt, except for three things.

  1. She is a really smart kid, and I do spend time helping her academically. When she fell out of her chair, she was sitting at a computer doing a PowerPoint presentation on her science project on producing electricity. Not bad for a kid who turned ten last month.

  2. I try to stay focused on what is important for her age. We have been to Circus Circus, Caesar's Palace, Waikiki Beach, Grand Bahama Island, two USJA Junior Nationals, two USJA Winter Nationals, a bunch of trips to Disneyland, the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and every kids'move from Elmo in Grouchland to Horton Hears a Who. I have taught her o soto gari, her multiplication tables and half the vocabulary words in the Chronicles of Narnia and Ozma of Oz. If she grows up fat and stupid, it won't be my fault.

  3. As Gary Butts says, parents burn out on judo as well as children. At some point, you get tired of spending your money and vacation days in Toledo, Ohio, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin or Brownsville, Texas. As much as those places might seem great to the people born there, most of us in other parts of the country like to spend our leisure time in places with theme parks, museums and drinks with little umbrellas in them.

I spent five years carting Ronda all over the face of the earth. If need be, I will do it all over again for Julia. But for now, I am resting up. As for all of you parents who are in that mode now, where every day on the calendar has the same thing written on it - JUDO PRACTICE - I salute you. I've been there, and, soon, I may be there again. And, if Julia doesn't decide to pursue the Olympics, well, there's always my granddaughter.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Importance of Practice Tournaments

Practice tournaments and what you learn, about judo and about life

  1. Defeat is not final.My friend, Lanny Clark, has a great saying,
    "Life goes to the slowest winner."

    His point is that it is not the person who is the junior national champion in the eight-year-old division who we remember, or the smartest person in chemistry our junior year in high school. It is the person who wins the Olympics or a Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In smaller, practice tournaments you may lose a match your first round, come back through the loser's pool and beat that person to win the tournament. You may lose by ippon in thirteen seconds the next round and barely lose by a decision after five minutes in the second match. Learning to get beat and come back fighting is a good thing.

  2. You have to take chances to rise above the competition.The smaller tournaments are where you try your new techniques.Focus on scoring as much as you can. Adrian Rivera, who is in his forties, still does this in tournaments, I noticed. He was saying after one match, where he threw his opponent for a waza ari and then pinned him,
    "That was a mistake. I should have let him up from the pin and tried to throw him for ippon."

    The point of doing this is NOT to humiliate the opponent by showing "See I can score on you at will". It is to give both of you a chance to practice more. Also, you are taking a chance because you could have won the match at that point and you are letting the other person have another shot at you.

  3. Face down your fears. If we do it right, courage is one of the most important lessons we gain from judo. Thousands of years ago, Aristotle said,
    "Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others."

    No matter how ethical you are, how intelligent you are,if you are afraid to do what you know is right or logical then all of your integrity and intelligence is just a waste of time. I wonder how many times altogether one of my four daughters has complained about being scared or not wanting to fight or not wanting to be entered in two or three divisions and been told to suck it up and be a woman. In the end, they learned to face down their fears.

I can't count the number of trophies from the YMCA championships or Nanka Fall tournament or 47 others they have each year that have gone into the dumpster. I don't really feel bad about that, because what I brought my children to those tournaments to gain was not the purple and gold trophy, and the lessons they learned have stuck with them, and me, long after everyone has forgotten exactly who won the 13-14 lightweight divisions at the Silver State championships.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Great Days in Sin City

With just about six months under our belt, the USJA/ USJF West Coast Training Center picked up the second place team trophy in Las Vegas.

The little girl in pink is actually not a member of the training center. She is Sarah Crosby's little sister. We stuck her in to replace Anthony Igne who took off early - teach him to ditch out without watching his teammates! I am just kidding. Anthony did great - won two gold medals, and, like a true champion, came back against a first round loss to beat the same player twice and win the 13-14 division. After that, his own 11-12 year old division was easy. Crystal Butts performed awesomely, which I believe is an adjective I just made up, winning three divisions, including the lightweight women's black belt division. Not too shabby for 14 years old. Older sister Amber Butts was a lazy slacker by comparison, ONLY winning one gold medal for the heavyweight women's black belt division. Sarah brought in a first, second and third for her three divisions, topping her mom's silver medal in the women's masters.

Second place was not too bad. We only had eight players enter this weekend. It is a four-hour drive from LA, longer from San Diego, and several of our athletes had been in Wisconsin for a tournament the weekend before. We beat the third place team, which had 15 competitors, by one point, thanks to coach Tony Comfort jumping into the men's heavyweight black belt division and pulling out a silver medal - not bad for a retired guy. First place team was High Desert, which I believe entered 187 players. (Okay, well, I exaggerated a little - but more than 8!)

There were also several players who chose to represent their home club instead of the training center - and that was fine, too. The whole concept of a regional training center is new, and, as Gary Butts always says, we will learn and adapt as we go. I believe that is a saying from the Marines - Adapt and overcome. Whether the individual players and coaches decide to represent the training center or their own club at an event is their decision. What we provide is an opportunity for people to get additional training and instruction. One of the lessons I have learned in my years in both judo and business is that you can accomplish an amazing amount if you don't worry too much about who gets the credit.

Very importantly, I think everyone had a good time. Since I was strictly informed that everything that happened in Vegas was supposed to stay in Vegas I will not rat out any members of our team.

On a semi-related note, Ronda called and was a bit on the down side, even though she was very proud of our team. Ronda is a lot like Tigger, in Winnie the Pooh (her sister, Jenn, is more the Eeyore type), so for Ronda to be down is uncharacteristic. For the past year or so, judo for Ronda has been "train for this, then go home and have a good time for a week or two, train for that and then go lay on the beach at home." It dawned on her that from now until the Olympics it is pretty much an unending series of days where she trains balls to the wall. (I don't know where we got that expression we always use, because if you think about it literally, Ronda does not actually have any balls).

In an effort to help Ronda's Olympic career, Julia and I engaged in a systematic program of research this weekend. Below is a picture of Julia during our research at the Coca-Cola store which involved assessing the Float Variety Platter.

We reasoned that even Jim Pedro had to give Ronda at least a day off in Las Vegas since she fights on Friday and the trials end on Saturday. Just because we are such a good family, Julia and I sampled Las Vegas activities to create the perfect two or three days for Ronda during the trials. If you would like to assist, in the interest of supporting Olympic gold for America, of course, feel free to conduct your own research and publish the results here as suggestions. I am sorry, but I cannot promise that the IRS will allow tax deductions for your trip. Here are the conclusions from the extensive study Julia and I performed.

Thursday - we are going to arrive before 8 p.m. based on the hypothesis that Jim Pedro, Sr. will kill us all if we get Ronda in late at night before she fights. We decided to stay at Caesar's Palace because we figured it would be a bit more class than some of the other hotels and so she could get a good night's sleep without a lot of rowdy drunken people in the hallway. Friday morning, after weigh-ins, Cafe Lago has a terrific brunch which would be good since Ronda always likes breakfast. We thought brunch on the patio overlooking the pool would be a nice place for her to focus on the upcoming day. Julia wondered if the statues of naked people "with their parts, you know!" would distract Ronda but I assured her that it would be okay because Ronda is a professional athlete and could overlook those things.

After the Olympic trials (we are assuming Ronda will win and not have to throw herself into some fountain and drown in a fit of depression because she lost), we are going to go for margaritas at some destination to be determined (suggestions welcome!). Then, we are off to Laser Tag battles at Circus Circus with all of the people from the West Coast Training Center and Nanka we can draft to participate.

Saturday morning we are going to float in the pool at Caesar's Palace, watch part of the trials, slip over to the Coca Cola store for floats, buy things we don't need in the Forum shops and go for dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant. (We haven't been there but it looked cool.) Since all of Ronda's friends will have finished competing by Saturday night, I assumed that she would be off to do things of which mothers would vastly disapprove and are probably better not informed, so Julia and I are thinking of heading home on Saturday night, or maybe staying over at a different hotel. She is inclined toward the Bellagio because they have flowers on the ceiling.

As you can see, our plans can use some improvement. Please feel free to perform your own research and send us your results. After all, it is for a good cause.

========== IMPORTANT MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT +++++++++++++++++
Eva Maria Ortiz was born April 5, 2008. I am now officially a grandmother, so show some respect, damn it! I have seen one picture so far in which she looks adorable, just like her mom. Also, if you hear any rumors that my daughter in Boston had a baby, don't freak out about our Olympic possibilities. Ronda is not the mother. She is the designated younger-sister-baby-sitter.

Yes, I have FOUR daughters. Ronda is the third one. So, all of you people who are saying, "Wow, AnnMaria is taking it really well that her daughter had a baby" can just relax now.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Better than You Could Imagine

During my competition days, when I was really cutting weight, I couldn't imagine anything better than when I would be retired and able to eat whatever I wanted.

A few years later, my husband was in intensive care at St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck. Every day, I would pick the girls up from school and day care and drive two hours south to the hospital. We would go spend all day there on the weekends. Because I was working full-time, taking care of three little kids, driving 180 miles round-trip nearly every day, I was exhausted. Being quiet in the hospital was no easy task for the kids, either. Most days, I would take them across the street to the North Dakota State Museum. There was an area where they could run around, dress up in clothes from different historical periods, build with giant legos. I would just sit in a rocking chair they had there for parents. Across from it was a big roll-top desk from an old railway station. I thought that would be a great thing to have, but with my husband in the hospital and bills piling up every day I couldn't imagine I was ever going to be able to afford something like that.

A few years after that, the college where I worked supplied faculty members with laptop computers. They were the cheapest models possible, but I felt lucky to get that because only the professors with most seniority were able to get one. It would have been nice to have had one of the new Apple laptops but they were really expensive. My husband had passed away and I had three kids who needed clothes, books, tuition for private schools. I couldn't imagine I was ever going to be able to have anything like that.

A few years later, I remarried and we had a new baby. We were shopping for something in a computer store and I was looking at these big screen monitors. I thought they were incredibly cool but I couldn't imagine I was ever going to be able to afford anything like that, not with a new baby and a daughter headed to NYU and another daughter to put through college after that.

Sometimes, I know, my friends wonder why we never moved to Malibu or bought a big house or a sports car. However, as I sit here at my desk (yes, I bought that desk), with my Apple Powerbook and big-screen monitor (we actually bought two of those), I think that my life turned out better than I imagined. And I can still eat all of the jelly beans and candy apples that I want!

I wanted to write this today because I have a couple of friends who are going through a hard time right now, and I just wanted to remind them that, no matter how bad things get during some moments, it is possible for life to turn out better than you could have imagined.

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

This is in answer to the person who asked how to stop morote gari (a double-leg take down).

That is a common problem with young kids. The solution we call "the pancake". When Ronda was about 12 there was a boy who ALWAYS threw her with that and she would get so frustrated. For a few practices I spent hours having her throw her legs back and throw all of her weight down on my shoulders. If you are ready for it, you land on your forearms. If you aren't, your face goes into the mat and you get flattened like a pancake. By the end of the week I had bruises down my forearms but she did not get thrown with it again for years.

So, pancake into the mat, underhook to kuzure kesa gatame and when they turn in to escape switch to kami shiho gatame. So.. sometimes the counter to a standing technique can be a matwork technique.