Sunday, August 31, 2008

West Coast on You Tube

Saturday we had an easier practice than usual as we had some new people starting at the training center for the first time, a couple of people coming back from injury and several of our players at the Fall Classic/Ladders and Junior World Trials.

Kudos to Crystal Butts for her first place in the ladders today and good job to Yazmin on her third place. Three ippon wins and only a brown belt is not too shabby. I heard you were attacking a whole lot more than at Golden State and I was very happy. It is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. The people who make me shake my head are the ones that make the same mistakes over and over.

Given that practice was fairly light, it was an opportunity for Tony and I to pay more attention to our younger and lower ranked players. One thing we did was give a video camera to Dan (a.k.a. Eileen's dad) and to Allen Wrench (a.k.a. World's Most F***ing AWESOME masters player) and have them take random clips of 30 seconds to one minute during drill training and randori.

Here is a clip from the first warm-up drill.

A few comments ---

Harmik - your throws look good. Keep doing it like you're doing it.
Jonathan - most of yours are good but your technique needs improvement. Sometimes you lean backward on that harai goshi, which is a very bad habit. You WILL get countered. Focus on going forward every time. It's okay if you feel off balance, your partner will cushion your fall when you land on top of him. Make sure you find time to work with Tony on that harai over the next few weeks - every chance you get.
Megan - D*mn! I didn't know you had a drop seoi nage. The only thing I ever see you do in tournaments is uchimata. Nice seoi.
Erik - Throw harder! I know that you and Julia are the youngest ones in the place, but she isn't a baby. You can throw her harder than that. I know it doesn't bother her to slam you when she gets a chance.
Kamal and Sammy - Okay, I know one of you is new and the other just came off a serious injury but I have two words for you. Harder. Faster.
Rachel C. - Nice technique, but you can do it harder. Your throws are pretty but we want them to be effective, too. I know you are relatively new but just so you know, everyone here is tough, you don't have to go easy on anyone.
Eileen - One word. Harder. Be sweet when you go home.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Whatever You're Doing, Stop It: The meaning of life explained through judo

"Whatever you're doing,quit doing it, because it isn't working."
My friend, Steve Scott, a former junior development chair for U.S. Judo, quoted to me this opening sentence in an article written years ago by a top weightlifting coach. His point was that the sport was not growing in any sense, the athletes were not winning Olympic medals, the number of participants was going down - sound familiar? The logical thing, he argued, was for people to stop doing what they are doing and do something else.

I have been thinking about what we have been doing in judo and what we could do instead.

  1. Accepting that there are three national organizations, we must work with one of them, the National Governing Body is trying to exterminate the other two, the three fight all the time and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

  2. At the national level, and sometimes even at the local or regional level, accepting the necessity of working with people we believe are unethical and plain don't like.

  3. Having a group of juniors who attend every possible tournament to have points for the junior world team, at enormous cost to their parents, almost none of whom ever win anything internationally as seniors,

  4. Having coach certification programs that seldom provide much education on how to be a coach, but are required to be allowed to coach in tournaments.

I could go on but these are enough for now. In the past two days, I have had two great experiences that make me happy I teach judo, and both of those were a complete contradiction to all four points above. I attended practice at the West Coast Judo Training Center, and even with several of our players at the Fall Classic/ Junior World Trials and one out injured, we still had two dozen players on the mat. Starting at 10 a.m., Tony ran everyone hard (literally) and at the end of practice, he added 10 extra minutes of strength exercises after practice was over. Mind you, they have already done four and a half hours of training during the day at this point.

In an excellent strategy for pushing players of different ages and levels, he had the youngest players lay on the back of the older ones, who did 15 push-ups, then ALL of the players did another 30 push-ups. He did three sets of this along with squats and other drills. Since we had several new people joining us, we did not do the usual hour of randori and half an hour of matwork at the end. We only did a half hour of matwork and forty minutes of randori, then 20 minutes of working on throws.

With several new people coming in and a couple coming back for the first time after being out for injury, Tony and I agreed that we should run practice a little lighter than usual (although I know from the comments of those folks it didn't feel light to them). Here is what is great about the training center. Those people who were just dead tired and could not go another round of randori went over to the edge of the mat and did sit-ups. If someone was hurt and couldn't do throws, they did grip-fighting. A few people were bumped, bruised or strained a little, got off the mat and iced down, and then got back on again. These players are a joy to coach because every one of them puts out more effort than two average people.

A while ago, I posted about what coaches' kids have as an advantage and I mentioned the luxury of time. These players receive time in two ways. First, they get the hours on and off the mat of extra conditioning, instruction. Second, we are not in a big rush to send them to every possible tournament. None of our kids won a triple crown this year because none of them went to all three junior nationals. We don't encourage it. We tell the parents to save their money and efforts for when their child is older. Parents burn out, too, as my fellow WCTC coach Gary Butts, says. If you have spent thousands of dollars and all of your vacation time on judo from the time your child was 10 to 14 years of age, you may be getting pretty tired of it, not to mention running out of money.

While the USJA and USJF gave money to start the training center (and we appreciate it), nothing at practice today or any day was in any way due to being involved with any national organization. Frank Sanchez donates the space, parents pay a fee that covers special events such as the weekend in San Diego in October, coaches donate their time, very kind donors have covered the cost of new crash pads and a videocamera to use for analyzing players mistakes. Allen Wrench taped 30 second samples during randori today, which Gary, Tony, Ronda and I will review. The NGB has no connection at all. It is possible to do terrific things and only work with people you really like and respect. Interesting thought.

We are selecting our teams for the All-Women's Tournament, planning the weekend in San Diego in October and trying to decide what additional tournaments we want to target over the next year. Any funding we get for these events will come from three sources; donations from people like yourselves, the local organizations and the players themselves. (And yes, Dennis is looking into that PayPal link.)

The second experience this weekend that renewed my faith in judo was the West Coast coaches conference. I was really sad I could not be in two places at one time because, if I could, I would have gone to the second day of this conference AND practice at the training center.

The organizers, Professor Hayward Nishioka, Professor Mitchell Palacio and Nanka Development chair Ryan Fukuhara put together a stellar program. Mitchell and Hayward are not professors like all those jiu-jitsu people who give themselves the title. They are in fact actual college professors with tenure at City College of San Francisco and Los Angeles City College, and also, incidentally, former world team members, national judo champions back in the days when it was a whole lot harder to win the national championships. They asked me to talk about theories of Developmental Psychology applied to judo. This kind of made sense because as judo coaches we teach people of all ages AND a Developmental Psych course is required for teacher certification for elementary or high school teachers. Thirty people attended the course. Thirty people who could have gotten certified as a coach in a two-hour workshop by USJI decided instead to spend two and a half days on a college campus because they wanted to LEARN HOW TO BE GOOD JUDO TEACHERS rather than just get a certificate. Isn't that something to raise your faith in humanity in general and judo coaches in particular?

Funding was provided by the local yudanshakai, the state governing body (California Judo, Inc.) and donations.

What have I learned this week? Well, a primary lesson came from this web page on the meaning of life. The question asked was how it happens that you might be a person sincerely trying to do your best to improve the world and are frustrated by the fact that a significant proportion of the world seems to be insane. For example, if you have a training camp with outstanding players and coaches, very close to home for many people, at a low cost and they don't come, you might (if you were me), find yourself thinking - What the hell?

According to this author, people have different world views. For example, some believe artistic and aesthetic value are important. I never really thought about it, but those people who say they want to win by a beautiful ippon or not at all are different from me like people who made all the artwork in the Getty Museum did that instead of programming computers. I don't think artists are crazy, I just don't want to be one. Material wealth, security and power are important to some people. I can't blame anyone for not wanting to be poor, worried and powerless. However, two of the world views fit me to a T. One is "honor,valor and courage". Do I think that is more important than relationships? Yes, I do.

B.F. Skinner, a famous psychologist whose theories shaped a lot of the world around us, whether the average person knows it or not, wrote a book that used to be required reading in many universities, called, "Beyond Freedom and Dignity".

Despite what my professors said, no matter how many journal editors, principals and colleagues told me that was the accepted theory, I still believe what I told one of them as a 16-year-old college freshman,
"I believe there is NOTHING beyond freedom and dignity."

Probably the phrase from history that resonates with me most is not Martin Luther King's, I have a dream, not even Sojourner Truth's, Aint I a woman, but rather, the saying, attributed to lots of different people,
"It's better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees."

Lots of people don't agree with me, I realized. They believe, like the Italian in Catch-22, that it is better to live on one's knees, after all, what's the sense of dying?

My other world view would fit what the same web page calls the scientific view. If you see a relation between two things, a cause and effect, that would determine your behavior, no? Apparently not. As I started out saying, we have many people who for years have been doing the same thing over and over. It hasn't been working but they keep doing it. They keep electing people to boards who have failed miserably at worst and been mediocre at worse. They follow failed policies because "they don't have any choice".

I had a discussion with my friend, Tina about this today. She mentioned someone she knew who wanted to train in one place but USA Judo told him he "had to train in Colorado". I asked her:

"He had to? Do they have him tied down to a bed in Colorado Springs somewhere? Let me know, I'll call 911. Are there armed guards standing outside his door who will shoot him if he goes somewhere else to train? Does he have a job? Yes? Does he pay his own bills? Well, then, I bet he can move wherever he wants and get a NEW job because the one he has currently is not the only job in America and if he wants to move to Los Angeles or San Jose or Boston, guess what, I bet they have places he can rent there,too."

As my niece, Samantha says,
"Enough with the logic. What is it with you and the logic?"

What is the real meaning of life? To paraphrase Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the world is big, really big. You can't save the world, but you can help one person at a time who has the same world view as you. Like those people at the West Coast Training Center today, and those other people at the coaches conference this weekend.

The world doesn't want to be saved, not by me, not by anybody.

If there are enough people in the USJA who want it to be better, who have the same world view as people like me and Jim Pedro, then maybe I will be working with people four years from now within one of the national organizations. If not, maybe I will be spending my weekends at the West Coast Training Center, hanging out with good people like Jack Wada (Congrats on being the new head instructor at Gardena!), Jake Flores and Hayward Nishioka. Either way, it is my choice. There is a choice, and each of us gets to make it.

Maybe that's the meaning of life? It certainly beats having other people dictate your choices for you. That's MY world view. Freedom. Dignity.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Julia's Blog Contribution: How Gymnastics Helps Your Judo

Julia wanted to do this episode of Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo by herself because she says I am boring.

========== Judo Tip ====================
When teaching (or learning) judo, try to put the pieces together that fit. If a student is doing harai goshi well, which is a forward throw where her leg is on the outside of her opponent's legs (as opposed to uchimata, which is on the inside), a logical next step would be o soto gari - these two go together naturally. When the person pulls backward to block the harai goshi, you would react by following her backward, hooking your leg on the outside.

Too often, I see people teaching who don't seem to have a plan. They teach harai goshi for a week and then teach a foot sweep or o uchi gari. Think about your judo. What do you do well? What follows naturally from that?

Think this is obvious? Apparently not at all. For example, if a person does tani otoshi, he lands on his side, at the side of the other person. For a side four corner hold down (yoko shiho gatame), all you really need to do is flatten out on your stomach. To make the hold tighter, move your top arm under the person's head and hold tightly, so he can't bridge. Do people do this? Generally, no. They throw with tani otoshi, then LET GO, adjust their position and pin with kesa gatame, of course giving the person ample time to escape. Every time I see this, which is at least once every tournament short of international competition, I say to myself, "What the hell?????"

The reason people do such an illogical thing is they aren't used to thinking of judo, from gripping to kuzushi to throws to pins to armbars - as one connected whole rather than a bunch of separate techniques.

Shameless begging plug - send money to the USJA DEVELOPMENT FUND
Here is a list of what I want to give money to:

  1. Reimburse some WONDERFUL coaches who paid for ten kids' camp fees this summer.
    They wanted the kids to go and our fund was low, so they paid for it and asked if they could get reimbursed when we had funds.

  2. Send $60 to the person who ran the last Fight Like a Girl camp so they break even (they were $63 in the hole).

  3. Send a USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center team to the All-Women's Tournament in Michigan in November

  4. Pay for six young (under 25) USJA members to get coach certification - no I don't have anyone in particular picked out but unless we encourage young people to grow this sport it is going to die out.

  5. Send a USJA/USJF West Coast Training Center team to the Continental Crown in November

  6. Offset the hotel costs and entry fees for some of the foreign competitors coming to the USJA Winter Nationals

  7. Underwrite the expenses of the Great American Workout in Rhode Island, so we can keep the cost low enough to have 100 people again next year

  8. Bring Israel Hernandez to the west coast to give a series of clinics.

We are short on funds because we have funded events in Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas and California (please let me know if I forgot anyone).


You can mail donations:
USJA 21 North Union Blvd., Colorado Springs, CO USA 80909
Call the USJA 877- 411- 3409 and give a credit card number.

Also, you can, if you want to donate funds for a specific purpose, e.g., to support judo in Kansas (and why not? what's wrong with Kansas?).Please email me, if you have any questions.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Observations on China: The same, the good, the bad and the simply different

China was different than I had expected, a paradoxical statement since I really was not sure what to expect. From some accounts, I had expected to see depressed, oppressed people living in squalor. I saw some of what appeared to be that, but no more than in Los Angeles. We have skid row, crack addicts and gangbangers, so although it is always a beautiful sunny day in paradise, it isn't heaven in the City of Angels, either.

Of course, there have been lots of reports in the press about how the city was "cleaned up" for the Olympics. If that meant new parks, new construction, new gardens, then that is not a bad thing. There were certainly signs that all is not as shiny and nice as portrayed. I am a nosy person, as anyone can tell you, and although I don't speak a word of Chinese, I have visited a lot of countries and I always make it a habit to walk around the neighborhoods and off the beaten path. When I looked behind the huge canvas BEIJING 2008 banners stretched everywhere, I invariably saw vacant lots that we would call eyesores back home. So, yeah, Beijing was a lot like L.A. or any other city with millions of people.

The traffic was about as bad as Los Angeles on an average day, that is to say, better than Tokyo, New York City or San Francisco and worse than just about every other place on earth. Several people told me that cars were only allowed on the road on certain days. If this was half the cars, I can't imagine what traffic is like under "normal" circumstances.

Some reports said the Chinese were the friendliest people they had ever met. Others said it was mostly phony and the government had instructed them in everything from hygiene to proper smiling. To me, they seemed like people everywhere, if you were nice to them, they were nice to you. I didn't try being a jerk to people as an experiment to see what would happen.

Everything in China is a lot more labor intensive. For example, every morning there would be hordes of people out sweeping the streets with long brooms. In Santa Monica, all of those folks would be replaced with one guy in a big machine. I wonder what would happen if we quit giving people welfare and paid them the same amount to clean the streets. Santa Monica Beach could sure use some cleaning.

There sure are a lot of people in China, which explains the labor intensiveness. For example, if you needed someone to drive a visitor around and the visitor only spoke English, you would look for an English-speaking driver, right? In China, you are just as likely (maybe more so), to hire two people, one a driver and one who speaks English. Everything in China seemed to be like that. There were exceptions, of course. We met one very fascinating gentleman who owned a hotel, a restaurant and was a judo coach. In most cases, though, a job one person would do in the U.S would have five or seven people doing it in China.

The good
Lines were much shorter than I expected, particularly given that the Olympics were going on. When I was ready to go to the airport at 4:30 for my 8:00 a.m. flight, our Chinese hosts thought I was crazy. This is another thing I like about the people in Beijing - they don't get up early. When I came down to the lobby, the only person awake was Jim Pedro, who had just come back from jogging, and he IS crazy.

It was about an hour drive to the airport from the hotel, and I figured if it was two hours to get on an international flight in L.A., I should be there three hours early in Beijing, since it is a bigger city, during the Olympics, etc. The very polite driver and equally polite interpreter came downstairs an hour after me, shaking their heads. When the interpreter told me leaving at 6 a.m. would be plenty of time to get to the airport, I thought she misunderstood when my flight left. Even leaving an hour later than I wanted, I was through security and waiting at the gate an hour and a half before my flight took off. With two or three times as many people doing screening, baggage handling, checking passports and taking tickets. Again, I wondered what would happen at home if the people receiving disability payments were instead given some training and a job checking passports or directing people to the correct line.

The bad
None of this is to suggest that I intend to move to China any time soon. There are about a hundred ways in which the U.S. is more comfortable, beginning with the plumbing. I feel no urge to be politically correct here. Let me be frank. Those squat toilets are NASTY. They smell and there was urine on the floor everywhere that I went. (And it was there when I went in so don't go blaming me.) And who came up with having the toilet paper OUTSIDE the toilet? Is this supposed to teach you some life lesson about advance planning?

Chinese dudes, some advice - if you are so convinced that you must squat down to pee, however unfriendly it might be to people with bad knees, go to Japan and study what they do. They have those squat toilets, too, but theirs aren't gross.

Food - I already talked about the food. My niece said that Americans will deep-fry anything. Maybe she is right but I would have taken a deep-fried twinkie over that stuff any day. After a week, I was home sick for Dunkin' Doughnuts and french fries. It beats raw flatworms all to hell.

The different
I think coaching must be very different in China because I got a lot of questions about Ronda's coach, Jim Pedro, Sr., who came to Beijing. I got the impression that even when I answered their questions people were still confused.

"He let her live at his house? Why?"
"She was only 16. She couldn't live by herself."
"She cooked and cleaned for him, right?"
"Ronda? My Ronda? No, are you kidding! He cooked for her."
"To make sure she ate right."
"Why would he care? Is he her father?"
"No, her father died when she was little. He's her coach."
"Is he her uncle?"
"No, he's her coach."
"Why would he care about her?"
"He's her coach."
"How much money are you going to give him as a bonus since she won a medal?"
"Every time I offer to give him money he gets mad at me."
"Why does he coach her then?"
"Because he cares about her."

There were about 100 other questions like this. I'd be very interested to find out what coaches are like in China. From the puzzled looks I got from people, I think it must be a very different system.

===========REQUIRED JUDO TIP==================================
Winning is a habit. Don't go to tournaments over your head and especially don't spend a lot of money to do it unless you just happen to have loads of extra money lying around. (If the latter, please send some to the USJA Development Fund. We even take credit cards. Call Katrina at the USJA office at 877- 411- 3409, toll-free, even. We'll put it to good use. I swear. )

If the senior nationals happens to be in your hometown and you are a green belt, or you are 13 years old, going to the Ladder Tournament and the Fall Classic is the day before, by all means, give it a shot. The absolute worst that will happen is you'll get an extra match or two.

Spending a lot of money and taking days away from work or school to fight 45 seconds in one match is no less stupid for the number of people who do it. Gary Goltz suggested I tell someone this and he would listen to me. I have been telling people for years and they still don't listen. I will try again. Here is your plan:
Go to the local tournaments. Win.
When you are winning all of the local tournaments, go to the regional ones, like the San Jose Buddhist, Golden State Open, Ocean State, etc. You know the major tournaments in your area. Win.
If there is a major tournament in your area - USJA Winter Nationals,All Womens Tournament any regional event, junior nationals - go. Don't be stupid, it's right there.
When you are winning the regional tournaments, go to the senior nationals and similar tournaments, e.g., the Hatashita International in Ontario, Canada. Win.
When you are winning the nationals, go to the U.S. Open and Rendezvous. Win.
When you are winning everything in North America, go to Europe and Japan. Win.

Why do people skip tournaments like the Golden State Open, Northglenn Invitational and Ocean State right in their own backyard and then go to the senior nationals? Why do people who cannot place higher than third at the senior nationals spend $2,000 to fly to Paris to compete in one of the toughest tournaments in the world?

There are two possibilities:
1. People are stupid.
2. Some people are not that interested in winning. They want the experience of being in Paris.

Recognize these are two different things. If you really want to win, all I can say is that I followed the plan above and so did Ronda. We both won a lot. That doesn't mean you can't go to Paris, but I suggest you separate your competition from other motives. I wanted to go to the Bahamas, Hawaii. the Costa Rican rainforest, and on a couple of cruises. So, I did. It was all way cool. It didn't have anything to do with judo and I didn't pretend otherwise.

If you are not winning, don't spend a lot of money going to tournaments. Spend it going to camps where you can train several hours each day and get better. Unless you are already beating almost everyone in the U.S. (as in, you have medals from the senior national championships) don't spend your money going to Japan or Europe for camp (unless you just happen to want to go those places and have the money). Win here. Then, go there and win there.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

How to Win and Why

Why to win

It was a nice weekend, beginning with my little one winning the Golden State Open. Today, I was throwing away trophies and came across the trophy from when Ronda won the Golden State Open in 1998, exactly ten years earlier. Somewhere else in the pandemonium in the hallway was a 2002 Golden State Open first place trophy and another from 2005. Years ago, Ronda threw away all of her second and third place trophies, but now even with just the first place awards, they have started to spill out of the closets again. Then, Julia is starting to come into her own and winning on top of that. For a while, I kept all of the international ones and all of her special awards, like Athlete of the Year from various organizations. Finally, those have started to go, too.
"Mom, did I win this one or did Ronda?"
"If we can't remember who won it, it can't be very special. Throw that in the box that goes into the dumpster."

I remember a time when I would feel so bad for my little kid (whichever one it was) that went home without a medal or a trophy. Jennifer, who told me as early as eight years old,
"I hate all sports and you will never make me like them,"

almost never came home with a medal. It wasn't that she had no athletic talent. I am sure if she'd had the interest, she could have been on the Olympic team with Ronda.

So, was I a terrible parent to make Jenn play soccer, basketball, judo and join the swim team? I kept looking for a sport she would like and never found one.

Am I a terrible parent that I routinely fill the dumpster with my other kids' medals and trophies, telling them, "This is not a warehouse."

What my kids learned from competition:

  1. You don't always get what you want.

  2. You can do things you thought were too difficult for you.

  3. You will improve in anything that you work at.

  4. Winning feels good.

  5. Losing sucks. (Well, it does.)

  6. If you lose, you can train harder and try again.

  7. You were born into the wrong family if you are looking for someone to accept excuses for not getting what you want out of life.

  8. If you really don't enjoy doing something, you can quit and find something else you like better. (Ronda quit swimming. Somehow, that did not ruin her Olympic chances. Jenn eventually quit all sports, moved out at 19, graduated from college at 21 and is living in San Francisco. Despite her irrational choice of location, she is reportedly not gay and has an alleged boyfriend to prove it. If she brings him to Thanksgiving dinner, we will acknowledge that he exists.)

  9. You'll be a whole lot better off physically if you exercise. (Jenn may not compete in any sports but she does walk a lot and get a lot of exercise. Just look at her - is she beautiful or what?)

  10. Win or lose, tomorrow, your family will still love you, it will be another beautiful sunny day in paradise and it will still be someone's turn to change the guinea pig cages.

How to win

Over the past two weeks, I have had the opportunity to watch the Olympics and then the Golden State Open, a tournament that ranges from five-year-olds to senior E-level divisions. It provided a good contrast for what distinguishes those who win at the international level from the average judo player.

Winning starts with technique.
Yes, technique is not everything but it is one of those necessary-but-not-sufficient conditions. I have yelled at Julia about a thousand times to get her left foot back more when doing harai goshi and I will yell at her a thousand more times, I am sure. I remember when Ronda was the same age telling her over and over, "Your shoulders always go forward. When you do o soto gari or uchimata, your shoulders always go forward."
Hint: With little kids, and maybe even adults, I have always found it much preferable to emphasize what they SHOULD be doing, e.g., put your left foot back, put your shoulders forward, instead of "Don't have your left foot in front" or "Don't lean backward."

Not surprisingly, even at the senior level, the technique at the Golden State wasn't as good as the Olympics, and the further you went from the senior black belt divisions, the worse the technique. Some of the younger kids had only one or two throws they tried and those not very well.

At the training center, I use the analogy from gymnastics a lot about "sticking" a landing, where the gymnast lands smack on both feet and stops, instead of stumbling and taking two steps after the landing, or landing and almost falling over, etc. In judo, we need to "stick" our techniques.

There isn't an easy way to get good technique. You need to practice it over and over, not just throws on the crash pad but throws on the mat, throws while you are moving in every direction.

People who win aren't snobbish about how.
I had good technique. It was matwork technique which made a lot of people look down their noses at me. Yet, when I would do that roll-over choke that Gary Butts calls the Rousey Roll, I whipped over, landed in a pin and choke at the same time, and then switched to an over hook for a tighter pin, and I did it in a matter of seconds. As long as the referee's hand went in my direction at the end of the match, I was cool with the fact that I didn't throw for more than a koka. Masae Ueno, who won the 70 kg gold medal, threw Hernandez of Cuba with a leg pick. The Mongolian player who beat Kenji Suzuki the first round and eventually won the gold medal threw everyone with a double-leg take down - morote gari. Hernandez, who won the 70 kg silver medal, threw most of her opponents with a double-leg or ippon seoi nage. At the Golden State, I saw players throw someone for a yuko or waza ari and then get up instead of follow through for the pin or armbar. Several of those players lost by getting thrown or pinned later in the match.

We need to train more and train harder.
Crystal Butts is one of my favorite judo players for the same reason she is NOT a lot of other people's. She has an attitude. Whenever I tell her to go an extra round, or do more throws than other people she gives me "that look". She fails to realize that, having experienced three teenage daughters, one teenage niece and a ten-year-old, I am immune to any and all looks from teenage girls. The thing I like about Crystal is she will always do more. She won't do it graciously, but she will do it. I can't remember a single practice she ever missed. However, when we were doing newaza one day, it struck me - Crystal does not have a feel for matwork. I thought about this a lot and my conclusion was that her problem was that she was 14 years old. She just needs more hours on the mat. On a good day (which one never has after 50), my matwork fit the description of Anakin in the first episode of Star Wars,

"... His reflexes are so fast - like he knows things before they happen."

When I was younger people gave all sorts of Zen reasons for this, none of which I bought into. It's like that good and evil drill in the last Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo - if you have done that drill 10,000 times when someone does an inside turn to escape from kuzure kesa gatame, you automatically hook the arm, make a wide step with your leg and switch into kami shiho gatame. When you swim, you learn to move in water. In gymnastics, you learn to move in the air. In matwork, it's the same, learning to move in another environment, when you are not on your feet, and you have another person moving at the same time. It is moving in air most of the time, even if you are only a few inches off the ground and on top of the other person. My point, and I do have one, is that you get that feel by hours and hours on the mat.

Train harder because it brings commitment.
When I was in Beijing, I asked Jim Pedro, Sr. why he thought the Cubans won and he said,
"They train harder than us."

I persisted that it can't be that simple. Somewhat irritated, he answered,
"You always ask me that about people and I tell you they train harder and you don't want to accept it. That's what it is. Every one of them is a hard match because they train harder. They are in condition to take advantage of every opportunity. They spend more hours on the mat and they train harder."

(I think he may also have added something about shutting up and quitting bothering him so he could watch judo.)

He is right. (Don't tell him I said that. He already thinks he is right all the time and does not need any encouragement.) If you spend more hours on the mat, you will have more time to work on technique, you will be in better condition, you will have more time to work on tactics. If you fight HARD and get beat into the mat, when you get out there, you are going to be determined that no one is going to beat you. At the Golden State, I asked Tyrone Taketa what he thought the difference was between the Olympics and the competitors there and I was interested to see that he said exactly what I was thinking. I can't remember the exact words but it was along the lines of they were committed and expected to win.

When Ronda went against the Hungarian to get into the bronze medal match and went in to her o soto gari , she intended to make it work. She wasn't thinking, "I hope this works," or "This probably won't work". I am pretty certain that her real thought was "I'm throwing you." Period. I have seen pictures of it - it was a knee drop o soto - where both her knees were in the air and Annette's feet were both off the ground. That's commitment. Part of that commitment comes from having given up over four years of her life, training in Massachusetts, Japan, Spain, running at 6 a.m. a thousand times, having Jim yell at her until she cried to train harder, lift more, fight harder. You need to commit in practice to commit in the tournament. You need the will to win not just on August 23rd at the Fairgrounds but on Monday morning when you get up and run, and every other Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday an Sunday for years on end.

HINT: Be careful who you ask that commitment of. That is going to be part of the subject of my talk on Friday night at the coaches' conference - when to push harder, how to GRADUALLY develop an athlete appropriate to his or her age.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Judo for Kids: Questions answered and the good and evil drill

I get a LOT of questions from parents, often apologizing for taking my time and worried that they are overbearing parents. If you are worried about it, you probably aren't. It is perfectly fine to ask people about how to help your child. I do it all the time and I think most people do. Unfortunately, we don't live in communities with three generations of our families like a century ago, so now we have to ask people on the Internet.

Two really common questions are:

1. How do I get my child to be tough? Judo is a tough sport. Ronda is tough as nails and my nine-, ten- or eleven-year-old is not that tough. Should I be worried?

2. How do I help my child get better at judo.

Answer: Does your child cry easily? Is he or she too shy to talk to other children? If so, your kid is just as tough as Ronda was at 10 or 11, which is why I put her into judo.

Development is a graduated process. I say this all the time. Ronda swears I put her in with giant monster black belts when she was younger. Actually, her first tournament was a novice division, white and yellow belt girls. She won by all ippons. Her next few tournaments she also fought in the 11-12 year old novice division. Because she is left-handed and came from swimming so she was already in good shape, she won a lot in the novice divisions. When she was still a white belt she had probably won a half-dozen tournaments by all ippons, so I put her in the 13-16 open division, where she came in third place after losing to two, older purple belts, both of whom won the Junior U.S. Open in their weight divisions that year. Ronda cried in the corner for half an hour after she lost.

Success breeds success. I did NOT move her up into the open divisions until she was winning in novice. Then, I had her do both the same tournaments, so even if she lost a couple of matches, she came home with a gold medal and a bronze one. By the time she was no longer in the novice division, she was winning the open division for her age group regularly. One answer to making your child tougher is to gradually increase the challenge level as he or she meets each one.

There is a LOT more I will write about in the next few posts.

This week's Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo features a matwork combination drill that Julia and I call the Good and Evil Drill. I stole this from Jim Pedro, Sr. who taught it at a clinic years ago. I already did this combination - well, the last three steps anyway - but the way he broke it down into steps for teaching was a great way to teach little kids and beginners. Oh, by the way, I do know that the pin at the end is kami shiho gatame, I made a mistake, yes, I feel shame, no need to write me and rub it in.

We have a couple more videos that were Julia's ideas and after that I will do a couple on drills I did not steal from anybody but made up myself. Ronda will be home by then, so maybe we will get her to do the Chokey-chokey song and drill.

Volunteering, Judo and Other Things in Life

After coming back from China, I coached at the West Coast Training Center the next day, slept 11 jet-lagged hours the day after that and still had a paper that needed to be finished by Monday for publication in the proceedings of a software conference where I will be presenting. I worked on it for 17 hours straight and submitted it on-line at 2 a.m. Tuesday, Gary Goltz, the king of all salesmen, talked me into coming out to a showing of the Tokyo Olympiad, sponsored by Nike, where we did a 45-minute judo demonstration that included a match between me and Ashton.

(Note to self: Fifty-year-old grandmothers should not be lifting young women half again their size up on their shoulders because even if they throw and armbar them, said young women pop out of bed all springtime fresh-looking and go jogging the next morning while the aforementioned grandmothers try to move while groaning, "What the hell was I thinking?" and "Ooh, my arthritis! Where's the aspirin?")

Since I had already been to two practices and a demonstration in the four days since returning from China, I decided to skip practice tonight and clean the house. Yes, I know that sounds as if I have lost my mind, but lately, I have had an epiphany of sorts. It started with a couple of comments that Ronda made in the middle of a really long post on her blog.

First, she mentioned Sayaka's remark that 100 yards away from the stadium where people were battling it out for a gold medal, people on the street didn't even know judo existed. Second, she pointed out that the day she competed was just Wednesday. It didn't stop being Wednesday because the 70 kg women fought in the Olympics that day.

Judo is great. I have been involved in it one way or another for 38 years of my life. I have fought in everything from the 12 and under white and yellow belt division to the world championships. I've coached at all levels from preschoolers through college and held positions from committee member in the local black belt association to president of the largest state governing body to vice-president of the United States Judo Association.

As far as all of the organizations, my involvement has a very simple motivation. Back in 2004 when Jimmy Pedro, Jr. was running for president of USA Judo, I told Jim Pedro, Sr.
"All I want is for judo in the U.S. not to suck. You and your son are part of that not sucking. That's why I am supporting you. It has nothing to do with liking you or not."

Actually, I like Ron Tripp, the current president of USA Judo. He's smart, he's funny and a nice guy to have a beer with. However, on all dimensions from ethics (come on, we had a child molester on the board of directors for years ) to the abysmal showing in the Olympics (as I said in my last post, if it hadn't been for Jim Pedro, Sr.'s athletes, we would have had exactly ZERO medals out of the 224 given out in the last four Olympics - 14 divisions times four medals times four years (for those of you who don't know, there are two bronze medals given out) our general performance as a sport can be summed up as "sucking".

Where do volunteers come in? First, if it wasn't for volunteers, we would have no judo at all. I try very hard - and unsuccessfully - to return every email and voicemail message that I get. Currently I have 326 messages in my in-box. I will probably set aside Sunday and get it down under 200. Often, I will get email from judo coaches, parents and athletes around the country saying,

"I can't believe you took the time to answer my question."

I try, because you ARE judo. I have been somewhat discouraged with some of the people in our judo organizations lately because, in my opinion, they are losing sight of the fact that judo will live or die based on that person who has a dojo on the corner, that parent who drives his son to practice, that coach who volunteers at the community center. Having a title, having a high rank, doesn't increase the number of judo players - offering a class at the YMCA does.

I went to the absolutely beautiful Doheny Library at USC today to get a couple of books. Doheny has NINE FLOORS of books and magazines and is one of, I think, 26 USC libraries. I am sure they have over a million books in their collection. I took two books I really wanted and decided to pick up the third one at the engineering library after I finished these. Like everyone else, I have the option of being a volunteer at judo activities, or reading any one of the million books in the library or cleaning my house.

Speaking to another very nice man yesterday, I said that if I could not trust people in his organization, I would not work with them ever again. He said,
"Oh, you don't mean that."
I said,
"Oh, but I do."

I don't think he understood it. Even my friend, Gary Goltz, seemed unclear. He said,
"AnnMaria, when you say you will never work with someone again, you sound like a loose cannon, like you are threatening people and no one likes that."

What Gary didn't quite get is that I was merely stating a fact. Like any other volunteer, I have a lot of options. I can give back to my community through volunteering at my church, my child's school, my local judo club, my state organization, Save the Whales, Save the Freckled Three-Legged Iguanas (okay, I just made that one up but you get my point).

At the showing of the Tokyo Olympiad, I ran into my old team manager and former Tenri homeboy, Dr. James Wooley. I reminded him of the time after he had retired from competition when I asked him if he was depressed he couldn't compete any more and he said something like,

"Oh God, no! I had a great run and I loved it. Two Olympic teams, Panamerican Games, everything else, but now I'm done, I have a practice, a wife, a son, I couldn't be happier."

At the time, at my great pinnacle of wisdom at 23 years old, I thought he was just putting a good face on it, that of course everyone who could not compete any longer was depressed because their life was essentially OVER.

Well, I retired from competition at 26, married, had children, got degrees, a career and was very surprised to find that my life was not in fact over but was just beginning.

I told Jim Wooley that I had not decided whether to run for the USJA Board in 2009 or not but that I had decided for sure that I was absolutely done after that. I asked his advice and he said,
"I think you are exactly right. You and Jim Pedro have done an enormous amount. Your share and more. Whenever you feel you want to hang it up and go fishing or sit in front of your computer or whatever you do, you have earned that right."

I know that I am not more important than, deserve more votes than or any way different from the rest of the volunteers in judo. I do what I do because I enjoy doing it, trust the people I work with and believe I am making a difference toward 'not sucking'. Whenever any part of that equation changes, I will quit volunteering with that group, forget all of their names, and instead probably read a book or clean my house or walk down to the ocean where the sun will be shining on another beautiful day in paradise.

And it will still be Wednesday.

So, that is why I always try to call and email everyone back and thank them for being involved in judo. Because, if you get disenchanted with us and go fishing, our organization will have one less valuable person and we will be the lesser for it, while, for you, it will still be Wednesday, regardless AND you'll have fresh fish!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Observations on Coaching an Athlete to the Olympics

I've had a lot of respect for Jim Pedro, Sr. for a long time, but it increased considerably over this trip to the Olympics. Jimmy has had athletes in the last FIVE Olympics. This year, he had Ronda, who won a bronze medal, Daniel McCormick (who placed 9th)and Taraje Williams-Murray. In 2004, he had Ronda (who placed ninth), Taraje, Alex Ottiano and Jimmy, Jr. (who won a bronze medal). In 2000, he had Jimmy Jr. (who was the 1999 world champion) and Alex. In 1996, he had Jimmy, Jr. (who won a bronze medal). Despite having had athletes on the last five Olympic teams and having coached EVERY American who has won an Olympic medal in the past 16 years, Jim Pedro, Sr. has never been selected as the Olympic Coach. He has never been allowed to stay in the Olympic Village. Instead, every four years, USA Judo selects three or four other people, most of whom have zero athletes on the team and none of whom have ever coached an Olympic medal winner. WTF???

Ronda lived at Jim's house for nearly two years, and he has moved her in from time to time since then when she needed that extra help to avoid all distractions. When the whole story about Fletcher Thornton having molested a bunch of underage players came out before the Olympics, Jim had Ronda move into his house where there was no Internet access, no cell phone coverage and not even a home phone. THEN, he arranged for a judo player from Slovenia around her weight to come also and had them train three times a day while he monitored every aspect of her performance.

Last year, there was a trip scheduled to a training center in Japan. I expressed my concern (I am sure he would put it that I nagged him unmercifully about it!) to Jimmy that unless she had a coach - HER coach - there to watch her during practices, to identify the problems she had with specific players and develop strategies to work on those when she came back it would be a waste of time, just Ronda training with random Asian players. Jimmy said,
"If Ronda wants me to go to Japan with her, all she needs to do is tell me. I don't think she needs me."

The next practice, Ronda walked up to Jim and said,
"I want you to go to Japan with me."

He booked a ticket.

Yet, Jimmy managed to focus on what he could do to help Ronda win, when any normal human being would have been eaten up with the unfairness of it all. It was possible to get passes for friends and family to get into the Olympic village.

I am sure Jimmy would have liked to have gone, since it was only open to athletes and coaches during the last Olympics in Athens. Ronda was focused on competing when I saw her Tuesday (she fought Wednesday) and she did not get around to getting his name on the list, so he ended up not being able to go over there before he left for home. Normally, he would have taken her to task for that, but as a coach, he understood she needed to make weight, work out and think about the tournament. He put what was best for her ahead of what he wanted, even though he had flown thousands of miles to get here and was on the outside for the fifth time.

I can only imagine how Jimmy must feel about a system that never picks the only coach who has produced Olympic medalists, yet, I never heard him say one negative word about Israel Hernandez, the coach who was in Ronda's chair during the Olympics. Talking down the other coach only hurts the athlete's confidence - sort of like divorced parents putting each other down. There must have been great temptation for Jimmy to yell out instructions to Ronda during her matches, but Jim realized that is a real distraction for the player. Several times, Kayla Harrison, one of Ronda's teammates from Massachusetts, stood up and said she was going to go talk to one of the staff members from USA Judo and try to get Jim coaching credentials to get down on the floor. In desperation, she offered to get one of the athletes to give him their badge so he could go down on the floor and talk to Ronda. Jim told her,
"I am NOT going to go down there. If Ronda needs me, she knows I am here."

Before her bronze medal match, Ronda did come over to the stands where we were sitting, and Jim was able to yell instructions to her before her match.

After Ronda won the bronze medal, she came up in the stands to hug first me and then Jim. Israel also came up in the stands to shake Jim's hand and thank him for the opportunity to coach Ronda in the Olympics.

Several points came to mind after this experience:

  • Jim was able to put Ronda's needs before his own both before and during the tournament. This is probably one reason he has had so many Olympic athletes come from his program

  • Even at the time when he had the most reason in the world NOT to help her out of resentment, i.e., she was fighting for a medal in the Olympics, coached by someone else and he didn't even have a pass to get to the floor to talk to her, he STILL went out of his way to give her any advice he could because he cared about her winning more than his own feelings about the situation.

  • This time was not as bad as four years ago in Athens, when even the coaches from other countries commented that Ronda was looking up in the stands at her coach for guidance. There is a big difference between 17 and 21 and she was more self-assured this time.

  • There is something fundamentally rotten and corrupt in our selection of coaches for the Olympic team and it is so endemic that people just accept it. "Yes, the guy who has coached all of our medalists from 1996 -2008 and has had players in the last five Olympics is not an Olympic coach and never has been. That's because it is so political." Doesn't that bother anyone but me? Maybe there is a reason China won 18 more gold medals than we did so far. The only thing I can really do as an individual is not join USA Judo, not sign up my little daughter, not go to their junior Olympics or support them in any way. So, I don't. It may be only a little I can do to protest unfairness but I do what I can.

  • If you want to coach an American athlete to an Olympic medal in judo, it seems all you can do is care about that person greatly and not expect to get anything back. Not that I do not greatly appreciate the help Israel Hernandez gave to Ronda as one of the Olympic coaches, because I know he sincerely did everything he could to help her. Still, it is a little too bad that the photo of her hugging her coach in all the papers is of Israel and not Jimmy.

I think I will call him in the morning as all I can really do is let him know I really appreciate what he has done for her - that, and send him cigars!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Judo player uses for parents

I am in China this week. Julia helpfully (?) filmed this episode of Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo with me in advance.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Restaurant of Disgusting Things

China has beautiful architecture and art. Too bad you can't eat it.

During my junior year of college, I was a foreign exchange student in Japan, living with the wonderful Saito family in Nerima-ku while I attended Waseda University. Mr. Saito told me one day, in the context of talking about how terrific his wife was (did I mention they were a wonderful family?) that there is a Japanese saying that the best houses are American, the best food is Chinese and the best wives are Japanese.

All I can say is that Mr. Saito must have gone to a different country than the one I visited which was also coincidentally named China. We did eat at a couple of good restaurants, both owned by the kind gentleman who hosted our group in China. In a lapse in judgment, we decided to explore our environment and branch out to random Chinese eating establishments. This adventure, which was entirely my fault, made clear to us all why there are so few fat Chinese people.

I am a big believer in experiencing the culture wherever you go, and not eating just at McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Doughnuts every day while you are in Beijing. Thus, Ronda, Jim and I ended up in a restaurant with me pointing at random things on the menu. After trying several of the dishes, Ronda commented,
“I don’t know how to read Chinese but I am going for the translation of that sign out there as being ‘House of Disgusting Things to Eat’”.

The rice and something that the waitress suggested that tasted like orange chicken were both pretty good. It actually was chicken, too, according to our waitress.

Let me try to describe the rest of it. There was this mess of green stuff that looked like kiwi, had the texture of cactus leaves, which I actually like to eat and recommend as low in calories. Unfortunately, the cactus resemblance did not extend to taste. Did you ever try chewing on a blade of grass as a kid? Imagine if someone took a bowl of that grass, cut it into leaf shapes, poured maple syrup on it and threw in a tablespoonful of dish soap.

Ronda took one bite and asked,
“You didn’t actually pay money for this, did you?”

Ever the optimist, I suggested,
“Maybe you are supposed to just eat part of it, you know, like artichokes, where you scrape off the top part of the leaves.”

I tried it, without success. There was no part of it that was edible in the usual definition of the word.

When they brought the next plate out, Jim Pedro pushed himself back from the table and exclaimed, aghast,
“What the Christ! AnnMaria, when I got up to get a beer did you order a plate of koala’s balls?”

Ronda immediately chimed in,

“I can’t eat those. I’m a vegan now.”

How convenient. For the record, the plate of small, light brown round things was not koala’s balls, or, at least, I don’t think so. They tasted more like pinto beans soaked in lye. When I assured her they were most probably vegetarian, Ronda tasted a spoonful and promptly announced,
“I think I’m going to throw up.”

The next plate of things was something I thought from the picture in the menu would be eel, which I happen to like. Ronda and Jim took one look at the plate of grey, slimy stuff the waitress laid on the table, both of them just laughed and shook their heads saying,
“Oh, no.”

Me, being the food adventurer, had to choke down a piece. I wish I had gotten the name of this dish so I could recommend that you not try it. By the taste and texture, my best guess is that it was the intestine of some barnyard animal left in a vat of snails to be crawled on over night to provide flavoring and extra moisture.

Hot tip: If you are in China and they bring you a plate of something grayish with white streaks, slimy and resembling tossed flatworms – don’t feel the obligation to taste it. You aren’t missing a damn thing.

The fruit salad was good, and had recognizable fruits in it. Even the unrecognizable ones tasted good. Ronda wouldn’t eat it, though, because she was convinced the sauce had egg or milk in it because it was white. Apparently vegans have a color-coding system. Who knew? I pointed out that tofu was white but she responded that I had lost all credibility in the food category with the plate of flatworms.

Jim said,
“Now you know why I had beer for lunch. Here, have a glass.”

The beer was pretty good, and I don’t usually even drink beer.

As we left the Disgusting Things Specialty Restaurant, it occurred to me that the only things I really liked so far were beer and rice. If I lived in China, I would have to become either an anorexic or an alcoholic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

So Your Child Made the Olympic Team: Eight Tips That I Wish I Had Sooner

(Hey, it's my 50th birthday today and I will spend it in China, Japan and back home in Santa Monica. Because of the time difference I get a 36 hour birthday. I have a 4 hour layover in Japan and am typing this on kind of a funky Japanse keyboard. Good thing I remembered enough of the Japanese I learned in college to read where to log in, etc.

Thanks to all of those people who sent congratulations. Since I did not have Internet access for the last week except on my iPhonE for about a gazillion dollars a second, I have a lot of posts saved up on the Olympics, China (the Restaurant of Disgusting Foods) and general observations, like dishing dirt on Jim Pedro, Sr. who had all of the young Chinese girls in love with him - "He has so much hair! Don't you think he is hot?" "There are multiple ways in which that question can be interpreted, but I believe the correct answer to all of them is 'no'."

Okay now this weirdo Japanese keyboard had decided that everything should be in caps, so I am having to type this holding down the SHIFT key. I hope you all appreciate it!


It struck me after it was all over how lucky I was that Jim Pedro, Sr. was along in Beijing because he had been to four previous Olympics as a parent and a coach. When he told me he had plans to go sightseeing every morning, I thought he was crazy. It's the Olympics, how can you even think about anything else?

Every day, Jim had something planned that took us hours. In addition to the amusement value of hearing Arkady complain about the walking and repeatedly sounding like my ten-year-old daughter:

We were here before, we already saw this temple. What is it with you and the walking and walking around?

No we didn't you crazy Russian, that was another temple.
What's the difference? It looked just like this one.
we saw a lot of incredible stuff. We went to temples that were thousands of years old, took pictures of some beautiful architecture. In short, we took time to soak it all in, just being in China. The huge benefit, I realized later, was that I was too busy ogling all of the sights to worry nearly as much as I would have otherwise. I was actually having a good time and more relaxed. (More is a relative term here. As all of my daughters can tell you, I worry for a hobby. If I didn't have anything to worry about, I would worry about that.)

Since I was more relaxed myself, meeting up with Ronda later in the day was less stressful for both of us. Instead of going on about all of the things she should remember to do or not do in the competition, I told her about all of the cool stuff I saw that morning.

Momentarily, I considered reminding Ronda not to take the tournament too lightly, because she did not seem as freaked out as I usually was before major events when I competed. Then I caught myself and remembered that this was the Olympics and no one with a pulse is taking it lightly. So, I didn't say anything about the tournament. Come on, you have known your child his or her life and probably 10 years or more as a competitive athlete. Anything crucially important you should have said 50 times by now instead of waiting until the day before competition in the Olympics. Instead we talked about the murals she wanted to paint in the house and the movies Julia wants Ronda to take her to see. (Here is part of the seascape she painted on the wall in Julia's room after the last big tournament. The little monkey is not part of the original painting. Julia added that later.)

Dr. James Lally, who is involved with USA Shooting as well as the USJA, has been around a lot of Olympic athletes and their families. Both his stories and my own experiences have shown me the good and bad side of families.

Things not to say include:
"We made the Olympic team"


"I flew half-way across the world to watch you compete."

Unless you and your child are competing as a team in synchronized diving, YOU did not make the Olympic team. Yes, most Olympic athletes have unbelievable, incredible support from their families. Still, out of the two of us, Ronda and me, one woke up on Thursday morning with every muscle in her body sore and looking like she had been in the middle of a prison yard brawl.
Hint; It wasn't me.

Yes, you flew half way around the world, but your child has been focused on this day for every waking moment of the past two years or more, not to mention the years of training before that. I think it helps that I was once an international competitor, so I understand the need to get focused before a match.

I have seen parents sulk because their child did not want to be with them and instead needed to sit in the sauna to lose weight, run, or just sit and think about the game plan for the next day.

It is what it is. Ronda is a b-tch and a half the day before she fights, always has been. She recognizes it and is sorry afterward, sometimes even at the time. Things that I would have thumped her on the head for any other day, I let pass. For one thing, I was twice as bad when I was a competitor, so it would be too hypocritical to tell at her for being rude.
Bruno Bettelheim said,

"Whatever a child does, no matter how crazy it may seem to us, it was the best thing he could think of to do at the time."

Your child is under an enormous amount of stress and handling it in the best way he or she can think of right now. Yes, I am sure you did not raise your child to be a rude, whining, self-centered little twit. You have every other day of your child's life to teach him or her to straighten up and fly right, but not today. (If Ronda thinks that Olympic medal is getting her out of changing the cat litter even once, she is so mistaken. Okay, well, maybe once, but that's it.)


1. I believe in you.
2. I will love you no matter what.
3. I am proud of you.
Just repeat those in random order. Those are the right things to say. I promise.


I noticed that Jim Pedro was really nice to be around this trip. He was helpful, pleasant and considerate. During the day when Ronda was fighting, he turned to me and said,

"As hard as it is for me, it's 100 times worse for you. I know, I've been there kid."

It dawned on me that a big part of the reason he had been harder to get along with on those other trips was that he was every bit as nervous then as I was today.
No matter how much your children win or how old they get, you still love them and worry about them and hold your breath each match every bit as much.

Remember if you are with other parents who seem a bit like jerks that they are nervous, too. You probably don't realize it because you are too stressed yourself but it is doubtful you're at your social best this moment either.

The nice folks from NBC came up and asked if I minded if they taped me during Ronda's matches. I told them that I didn't mind as long as they didn't mind the fact that I was going to scream my head off like a complete idiot.

They said,

"No, that's fine. We actually like that."

So, congratulations, your child is at the Olympics. It is a great experience to watch. Try to take it all in, including watching your child compete as one of the top athletes in the world. There was one point in the bronze medal match where Ronda was thrown up several feet up and I was sure she was going to lose the match. Four inches from the mat, she twisted in the air, landed on her feet and attacked. I completely forgot everything else for a second and the thought that went to my mind, with pride, was
"My baby is an amazing athlete."

When I mentioned it to Ronda the next day she laughed and said,
"Did you like that? I must have practiced that friggin' matrix move at Jimmy's a thousand times. I better pull it off."

So, yeah, enjoy it. It's a great experience once it is all over and you can exhale again.

I have a lot more to write about the tournament, tips for coaches and China in general (dudes, what's with the plumbing?). More later. It is my birthday, I have several thousand yen in my pocket and there is a great restaurant next door, I am told, so I am going to drink sake, toast my life, judo and the Olympics.

Monday, August 11, 2008

china is a different country

So far it is not as crowded as I expected. By government fiat there is no traffic. Try that in LA and you d have a recall vote on the ballot in 15 minutes. No wireless here so I am limited to my iPhone for updates for now. I am going to walk around and check out the neighborhood before heading over to the Olympic village to see Ronda.

So far --- what there is more of here

Habitual conservation of electricity, water - less waste
Big brother type slogans
People speaking Chinese - one person who picked me up at the airport spoke limited English. Not as many people speak English as I expected

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Don't Let Anyone Sit on Your Head

Today's Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo points out what apparently is not so obvious to many people in judo, i.e., it is preferable NOT to allow people to sit on your head.

Julia was not terribly helpful in this week's video. In fact, she insisted on watching the movie, Annie, until late at night and, as a result, we did not have the video posted on Thursday but, rather, two days later.

I apologize to anyone whose quality of life has been negatively impacted by this delay.

I leave for Beijing in the morning. Having been a partner in a consulting company for many years, this is my first actual paid vacation in a long time. You don't go to work and they direct deposit money into your bank account. What a concept! Whoever came up with this, I am all in favor.

Watching Julia at the conditioning practice in the park this morning, while Ronda is in Beijing about 72 hours from competition, a thought crossed my mind,

"I don't know how it will all end, but this is how it begins."

Julia was whining and crying because it was hot, Tony had made them run a half-mile to the park, run ten wind sprints, do about 80 push-ups and then do some football running drill. She wanted to give up and walk back, but Tony and I both yelled at her and she ran the half-mile back. After lunch, we had another three-hour workout when she was crying again by the end of it, apparently just for the exercise because she wasn't hurt and there was nothing wrong with her.

Julia is almost the age at which Ronda started judo and I see a lot of similarities. She has lost her baby fat and is starting to get some real muscles. She gets frustrated and cries when she can't throw people. She gets mad when she cannot get techniques to work. And she really enjoys hanging out with her friends from judo and eating junk food of which I disapprove.

I have been feeling nervous for the past few days, but I felt a lot less nervous after today's practices. Part of it, of course, is getting a chance to work out and just work out some of that nervous energy. Another part, though, was looking around at people like Gary and Tony who were there when Ronda was ten years old, and realizing that we - all of us at home, the Pedros - have done our best for her, and she has done her best back. She is ready.

"I don't know how it will all end, but this is how it started."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sometimes I Listen to Myself Talk

A few nights ago, I was out with some friends and in passing, a young man was mentioned who had great potential. I said it was too bad that his talent was most likely going to go to waste, just like a thousand others I had seen over the years. Two of the people at dinner asked,
"What do you think he needs to do that he's not doing?"

(It didn't dawn on me until later that he was from their club. This is the part where it becomes obvious that tact was not a required course in any graduate school that I attended.)
I answered,
"He needs to quit believing his own press. He needs to realize what a huge gap there is between being third in the U.S. national championships and winning the Olympics."

Later, thinking about what I had said, I wondered why that was the first thing that came to mind, that he needed to think differently. Why didn't I mention some specific judo techniques or drills? It's very likely that is the sort of answer they were expecting, e.g., he needs to do more uchikomis, more throws, lift weights three times a week. In fact, thinking about it now, I can think of some definite suggestions for improvement, for example, that I have only seen him do two matwork moves consistently, and both of those occur from the same position, when the person is on all fours and he is on top of them.

So why is thinking differently the first thing that comes to mind that all of those people - and there really have been so many of them over the years - who had far more talent than was ever realized? Am I really turning into one of those useless old people who when you ask them for advice, instead of saying, "Get an inside grip and control the left shoulder by grabbing the lapel three inches higher," gives fuzzy, mountain-top-sitting guru platitudes like, "Always remember that no one has the right to beat you."

Yep. Probably. Most definitely. Except .... (gasp for stunning revelation here)... maybe those old fossils had a point, and I just figured out what it is.

Speaking of old fossils, Jim Pedro, Sr. has a saying he repeats all of the time,
"Sport emulates life."

I believe it is true in judo and in life in general that if you change your way of thinking, the rest of the changes follow from that.

It's like this ... when I realized at 19 that winning the U.S. Open just meant that I was a pretty good judo player and there were still people out there that I did not know how to beat, it never occurred to me to just do more of what I had been doing. I moved away, started going to training camps, went to stay with people like my friends Steve and Becky Scott in Kansas City and we would spend weekends thinking about judo, talking about judo, trying throws, trying matwork combinations, trying to figure out what would work for us and what wouldn't.

When I decided to win the world championships, not just "do my best", or "try not to embarrass us too badly and if you fight the Japanese, try to last at least three minutes" - I changed how I did judo all over again. I started going to Tenri every weekend, doing five practices on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, another four the rest of the week. My judo did not just change in quantity, but in quality.

To move from being a success on the national level to being a success on the world stage, I think you need two things. First, you need to see the distance you must cover to bridge that gap. Second, you need to take the steps to do it. The one follows from the other. The main failing I have seen in most of those people with great potential who never made it was they never could check their ego at the door of the dojo. Now, it can truthfully be said that I have a high opinion of myself. Yet, I always actively sought out people who could kick my a$$, not just on a two or three week trip to Japan, and not just going with some three-hundred-pound seven-foot guy, but people who were close to my size and just better than me, whether they were visiting or if they were at the dojo down the street.

Think about this - why will people spend thousands of dollars to fly to Korea or Japan to train for a month with people who can throw them, but not drive twenty miles on the day their club doesn't have practice to a club where someone can give them a good fight? Instead, they go to clubs where there is a "gentleman's agreement" not to fight too hard, not to "cheapshot" anybody by going straight into matwork from standing (not sure how that is a cheap shot since they allow it in tournaments), not to rough anybody up.

I knew I had to push myself to be best in the world, and if that meant that Steve Seck threw me 10 times during a five minute round of randori or that Neil rubbed my face into the mat trying to turn me over during matwork after I had just armbarred him, then so be it. My goal was to win, not to impress the people sitting on the benches in the dojo watching practice. I knew I could not afford the luxury of worrying about them, because I could see how long and steep the road was in front of me.

++++++++ Judo Tip of the Day +++++++++
My first senior national, U.S. Open and collegiate national gold medals were all at 48 kg. Top players in the lightweight divisions either have to have blistering speed or be able to slow down those people who do. If you are fast, but not best-in-the-world fast, you need to compensate by having an advantage in physical strength and conditioning. Greater strength allows you to crunch down and hold those little human pinball people in place so they can't whip off a seoi nage and dump you. Sometimes those players are overconfident on their speed and they don't have all of the endurance, or maybe it is just a genetic factor, kind of like Cheetahs, which are the fastest animal on earth - for short bursts of speed. If you can hold them to the fourth minute of the match or into overtime, they have nothing left. Make sure that you have a lot left. I ran track in college and I was definitely not a sprinter. Some days at practice we would do 20 100 yard dashes, I believe the rationale for this was the coach hated us. The sprinters would finish 10 yards ahead of me on the first 100. By the tenth one, I was even and by the 20th, they were ten yards behind me.

One good way to run down the clock on those Speedy Gonzales players is in matwork. This is good in general because speed does not generally provide as much of an advantage in matwork as standing, and it is also a good way to grind an opponent down. If they are on the bottom, make sure all of your weight is on them, even if they are on all fours or flat on their stomach.

If you are on the bottom, make sure you have them tied up. Think leeches. (If for some reason totally beyond me you would like to actually buy real leeches, like to suck your blood or something,you can purchase them here) .

You also need to learn to use gripping to lock down and block out those people who are faster so they can't pop in with a seoi nage or tai otoshi. This current MTV generation acts as if they invented gripping and grip-fighting. I must admit that they are more scientific about teaching and studying grips than most competitors I knew when I was younger, however, it is definitely not a new concept. One of the tactics I used, as did other people like me who had strength as more of an asset than speed, was to get a high grip on the collar and drop my forearm down on the person's chest, to make it easier to block when they came in.

If you really are strong enough, another option is just to move up a weight division, which is what I finally did, in fact, I moved up two divisions. The competitors weren't as fast, I was still stronger than almost everybody and it had the advantage of being able to eat a much greater quantity of Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip and Baskin-Robbins peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. Hey, sport, like life, is all about balance.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Isao Wada: A Judo Life

You know that when the truth is told,
You can get what you want or you can just get old.

Hundreds of people came to Isao Wada's funeral yesterday. Tony Mojica talked about how Sensei Wada encouraged him as a teenager at his first senior nationals. Roger Yamashiro and Mickey Matsumoto talked about how Isao had tolerated their misbehavior as boys and helped guide them into men who were pillars of the community.

Isao was a leader in many ways. I remember going to Gardena years ago and asking if it was okay if I worked out. He said, "Yes, yes, of course!"

For many years, it wasn't "of course". Maybe if you grew up in judo and were Japanese or Japanese-American you don't realize how unwelcome people like me and my friends Jake Flores and Blinky Elizalde were often made to feel. We were NOT welcome. Occasionally people told us that to our faces, but more often it was the "forgetting" to tell us about tournaments or yudanshakai (black belt association) meetings, the being turned down for promotion "because your paperwork wasn't typed", the invitations other people got to come work out that didn't include us, and sometimes, the people who just tried to beat us into the mat until we would go away.

I know that there were bad things that happened to people of Isao's generation, that they were often discriminated against, many of them were sent to concentration camps far from home, and lost everything they owned. After the war, there was a lot of discrimination, too. Maybe if I had been that age and had that experience I would have been bitter and distrustful toward people who weren't "like me". Growing up, I heard behind my back, and sometimes to my face, "Judo is a Japanese sport. What is she doing here? Why doesn't she just go home?"

Isao was different and he told everyone they were welcome, and he did treat it like, "Of course, everyone is welcome to train at Gardena Dojo. This is a judo dojo." He was too polite to add, "Are you stupid or what?"

Not everyone agreed with him and I admired immensely his effortless ability to stand for what he believed in without fanfare. He was right and he knew it. Everyone else knew it, too, and if they disagreed, they went along because Isao had a tremendous amount of moral authority.

Anyone who knows me can attest that I do not suffer fools gladly. If someone is petty, mean or unethical, I will stand up to them and in no uncertain words.

Isao was different. He said things simply and he made you listen. At a Nanka meeting when I was MUCH younger, someone brought up the fact that a good bit of the development budget of the local black belt association went to "a girl".

Isao stood up and said, "So what? She's winning." He didn't add, "Are you stupid or what?" but after that, everyone felt stupid.

I wasn't any more special than anyone else. Isao ALWAYS stood up for what he thought was right and did it simply, matter-of-factly. It was because of that so many people had so much respect for him. He had a good uchimata, and he knew more about judo than the great majority of people. He knew more about being a good person and building a community than anyone I ever met.

When I was younger, he was one of the very few people who, if he told me to sit down and shut up, I sat down and shut up. To the day he died, everyone was like that around him. It wasn't because he could beat us up, it wasn't because of what he would do TO us if we didn't. It was because of what he had already done for us, as a role model, as a teacher, as someone who supported and nurtured Gardena Judo Club to be there, open to everybody, "of course".

I do understand some of those who resent people like me and Jake and Tony. We will never have a judo club exactly like Isao and we will never be a senseis like him. Isao embodied a kind of Japanese judo culture that was very wonderful. As the old senseis die, that is slipping away, both in the U.S. and around the world, including in Japan and that is really sad. In the 73 years of Sensei Wada's life, judo changed, society changed and yet he held fast to some of the basic tenets - give back to the community, be a good person. As I looked around the church, I saw more people I sincerely admire than I think I will ever see again in one place. I saw friends I had made as a child and known nearly all my life. I also saw some bitter old men who still look at me like something the cat drug in.

You can't turn back time. I will never be a sensei like Isao. I'll never be that good. I will never have his calmness, I'll probably always swear at people who I think are morons and yell when I think someone did something wrong. I doubt I'll ever get invited to be a deacon in any church. So, did I learn nothing?

Henry David Thoreau said,

Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.

Yeah, I can do that. I think Thoreau would have liked Sensei Wada. Who knows? Maybe now they are hanging out together.