Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not Quite as Perfect as Generally Believed

Very often, people say to me,
"Your children are such wonderful, accomplished people. You did a great job as a parent."

Thanks. Just to give a word of support to all of you who are dealing with less than perfect children now, let me give you a little story I remembered today.

One day, Maria was supposed to be watching her younger sisters, aged ten and eleven, but had instead gone out to do something more interesting, leaving them home alone. As I open the door, coming home from a business trip after a twelve-hour flight, I see this scene:

Ronda is at the bottom of the stairs. At the top, is her sister Jennifer with an office chair lifted over her head, poised to throw it down at her younger sister. Interrupting this domestic scene, I yell in my loudest maternal voice

Jennifer glares down at me very indignantly and yells back in her most you-are-yelling-at-me-for-no-reason, what's-your-problem tone


My chair-wielding daughter, nicknamed "The Perfect Jennifer", graduated from San Francisco State University at 21 and is now teaching school. Ronda has been on two Olympic teams and Maria was Emerging Journalist of the Year for the National Hispanic Journalists Association.

So, all of you who are dealing with problem children now, hang in there, there's hope. I do have to warn you though, that there is a lot of truth to that bumper sticker:

By the time your children are fit to live with, they are living some place else.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why I Make My Daughter Do Judo

My daughter Julia has the kind of life that would have seemed to me, when I was ten years old, as something out of a fairy tale.
All of her life, she has attended the same private school, for the first ten years, she had the same nanny, she has lived in the same neighborhood in Santa Monica with her days filled with catered birthday parties with magicians, puppet shows and plays. Today was just another day for her when she went to the county fair with her best friend, got all-you-can-ride wristbands and rode the skyway, ran through the fun house and went up and down giant slides for 7 1/2 hours.

Why do I make her do judo? Here are several reasons:

In Julia's life, judo is probably the only time she doesn't get what she wants just by wanting it. No one can buy her a trophy at a tournament. She has to work for it. Learning to work for something is a lesson that will put her ahead of a lot of people for her whole life. I have given my daughter a lot of material things that she routinely loses interest in and that I box up and give to charity. We are drowning in THINGS in our house. What I want to give her through judo is a work ethic that will help her as a teenager, as an adult - which I am pretty sure that Hannah Montana video will not do.

Jim Pedro, Sr. explained it to me this way once when Julia was eight years old and I was worried about her competing in a tournament where I knew she would lose. That sounds terrible to say, but because she is big, I knew she would fight ten-year-olds, and that is a huge age gap. He said,
"Your children are going to fail at some point in life. Wouldn't you rather have it be now while you are there to help them deal with it instead of failing for the first time at 18 and falling apart?"

I have seen that with teenagers and young adults. Once they get to college on their own and fail an


When I'm not rambling on about judo and other sports, I'm making games. Please check them out. You can learn math, social studies, build your vocabulary.  Here are some free games and demos for you just because I am so nice.


exam for the first time, some of them drop out of school and go home.

Through a lot of hard work and more than my share of luck, I have been able to raise my child in a safe, secure home in a neighborhood where nothing ever happens. (If you live in a big city, you realize that this is a good thing.) As a professor, I have worked with students who were afraid to go to cities to present at conferences, or who were afraid of certain types of people.

As my favorite t-shirt said,

"There are lessons to be learned from competition, but fear is not one of them."

(I haven't seen that t-shirt in years. I wonder which of my kids swiped it? )

Yes, my daughter would prefer to sit on the couch and watch "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" rather than compete in a tournament. I make her do it because:

  1. She learns that hard work is correlated to getting what you want

  2. She learns to deal with failure.

  3. I learn to deal with her failure. That is a lesson a lot of yuppie parents find hard to accept.

  4. She learns to overcome her fears.

I make her work out in judo at least four or five hours a week because:

  1. Judo is not a bull---- sport like a lot of the other activities I see kids do. I see kids who supposedly do karate, tae kwon do, cardio kick boxing, softball or other activities supposedly "hours a week" and they look like pudgy little kids. Julia used to be a pudgy little kid until a year ago when I began to take her to judo regularly. The obesity epidemic in America worries me. I see kids with high blood pressure, diabetes and all the other risks associated with being overweight. This may be the first generation in America that has a lower life expectancy than the parents. We are pampering our childre to death, literally.

  2. Getting the habit of exercise, real exercise, not some phony, well-paid personal trainer telling you that you are working hard when you are not, is another benefit that will help your child for life. I am 50. I have had four children, I have one grandchild and this is how I look. I have never had liposuction or plastic surgery, all the parts I have are the original ones I was born with and I don't own any make-up. With all of the self-esteem and body image issues girls have, even more so girls in affluent families, it is very good for them to look in the mirror, say to themselves, "I look fine" and go on with life.

  3. In judo, both competition and practices, your children will meet a really diverse group of people if they stay in for any length of time. At 10, Julia knows children who speak Armenian, "a language I didn't even know existed," she said, after her first visit to Hayastan. From kindergarten through fifth grade, there has never been an African-American girl in Julia's class at school, but she has known Erin Butts since she was four years old. One of her deciding factors in going to a tournament or camp is if Erin is going to be there. They eat lunch together at the training center every Saturday. Through judo, she has met kids from every race, social class, religion and ethnic group. This has made her a better person.

Winning the world championships is an amazing thing. There is nothing in the world better than standing on the podium, watching the American flag go up and hearing the Star-Spangled Banner play.

When you get so good at judo that you know what your opponent is going to do before she does it, when everything just works - it is a feeling that is hard to describe if you haven't experienced. Being best in the world at something worth being the best at - that is a great memory.

As an instructor, you cannot promise those experiences for every student. What you can promise is that all of those who make a commitment will gain in strength, courage, tolerance and perseverance. And that will last your child a whole lot longer than an American Girl doll or a Nintendo DS.

=== REQUIRED JUDO TIP =============
1. Be a moving target. If you always throw people with harai goshi, work on o soto gari.
2. Related to the above, try to make your judo an integrated product. If your best throw is harai goshi, you want to work on o soto or some other throw that is a natural result when people block that throw.
3. Your matwork transition should include BOTH transition from standing to matwork and transition from your first mat technique to your second. If was was really good at seoi nage, my first mat technique would probably be kesa gatame, because it follows naturally from seoi, but my second would be ude garame or yoko shiho, because both of those follow pretty naturally from kesa gatame.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Failing to Appease the Judo Gods

I am a hypocrite. I admit it.

For years, I would sigh and explain the less than stellar performance of one of my students to fellow coaches this way,

"Yes, Little Joey (Joanna) has a lot of talent and could be junior national champion. The parents are that type - have the kid in a million different activities, always missing practice. You know that saying - they are going to end up with a person who is mediocre in a lot of areas instead of excellent in one."

Sigh again. Now I have gone from being self-righteous to being a hypocrite, because, you see, I am now that type of parent. I told Jim Pedro today that I felt bad about Julia missing judo practice at Sawtelle the last two weeks. I have had to give a couple of lectures at work that went until past 7 p.m. and had other commitments that just interfered with getting her to practice. He asked me how often she went to judo and I explained that, in a normal week, she has six hours of judo a week - one and a half at Sawtelle and four and a half on Saturday. Then I rattled off the other things she was doing - Monday she has gymnastics, Tuesday is volleyball, Wednesday is volleyball and judo, Thursday and Friday are volleyball. Saturday she has two judo practices and on some Sundays there is a judo practice or a tournament. She is also on the student council at school and in the debate club. Then, there is homework, cleaning her room and she is an altar server.

As I listened to myself talk, I thought, "Gee, that sure is a lot of stuff for a kid."

I said that I felt guilty that she had missed practice during the week but we still were going to skip the second practice on Saturday to go to the L.A. County Fair, since it only comes once a year.

Jim was quiet for a long time. We have known each other for a while now, enough for me to recognize his reaction when he thinks I have said something really stupid.

"Six hours a week is plenty for a ten-year-old. The few months before the junior nationals, have her work out more."

Ronda pointed out to me,
"You know, mom, I started judo around that age and I was only going to judo two or three times a week. You didn't even take me to the junior nationals until I was twelve. It didn't seem to hold me back."

(You can look at the video below of her during a grip-fighting drill and judge whether she turned out okay.)

So, why do I worry if I only get her to judo for four or five hours a week? We go to judo at least twice every week, religiously. Hell, if I got Julia to MASS twice a week the priest would be so pleased he would thank God even more often than he does.

Insanely, the more involved I have gotten with judo, the more I feel bad about not doing enough. If I miss a practice to take Julia to the county fair I feel bad (and speaking of thanking God, thank God I have Tony Comfort, Ronda, Gary Butts and occasionally Crystal Butts or Jake Flores to cover when I need to be two places at the same time, like the junior nationals and practice).

I think it comes from the number of people who are constantly asking for things. I don't blame them, usually they don't have anyone else to ask. Still, after I called Deb about the coaches clinic and athlete clinic at the All-Women's Tournament, called Bill Caldwell about the West Coast Judo Weekend Camp in San Diego, called Serge to talk about having Ronda help with the Great American Workout in Rhode Island and paid for Ronda and Julia's tickets to fly to Kalamazoo, Michigan for one clinic and then turn around and fly to Seattle for another - I decided I had done enough for one day.

Jim Pedro, Sr., probably the best coach in this country, was not at the U.S. Open this weekend. Since he was at home, I asked if I could call him over the weekend for the article for his coaching column. Much belatedly, I am going to be getting out another issue of Growing Judo.

He said,
"Call me Sunday. Saturday I am going to watch my grandchildren play Pop Warner football."

In the Bible there is a quote,
"My God is a jealous god."

Well, if the judo gods are like that, they'll just have to get over it.


In her blog one day, Ronda asked why coaches need to yell and can't just say something once, is it because they think all athletes are deaf. This video shows the answer.

Fly on the Wall at the West Coast Judo Training Center

In this video you will see...

Crystal doing a credible job of grip-fighting, attacking with a nice ko uchi, and then forgetting the entire concept of transition to newaza despite the fact that we mention it every day. You will also notice Sarah not attacking at all until she gets thrown, at which point she remembers that in judo you are allowed to do matwork when given the subtle hint of Tony yelling at her three times,
"Matwork! Matwork! Matwork!"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life besides judo

I haven't posted much here lately because I have been involved in a great many other things in life. We went on a campus visit to Mount St. Mary's College, as Ronda is checking out schools. She starts classes at Santa Monica College in a couple of weeks, but her plan is to transfer to a four-year school ASAP. Since she did not get back from the Olympics until most schools had started, she elected to take some eight-week courses at SMC to at least get some credits this semester.

Work has been very busy. I am teaching a new course on Stata next week, which is the statistical software package I use the least, a course on SAS, which I use a lot, a class on statistics at Loyola Marymount, a guest lecture for the USC Academic Medicine program on data analysis, finishing some web pages on graphics and reporting, preparing a class for the week after on high performance computing, trying to get SPSS server to work and then answering the usual 101 questions that people email, call or drop by about on statistics every day.

In the midst of all of this, my friend for the last 18 years and business partner for much of them was diagnosed with cancer. Let me summarize this briefly as this sucks all the way around. We have been friends for nearly two decades. I have been married three times and this friendship has lasted as long or longer than any two of those marriages put together.

So... he flew out to LA this week and we talked about the new project we are working on for tribal ethics. We also talked some about ethics in general, the values people live by, our beliefs in God/the creator/the Spirit world, and all of the things we have experienced together over the past 18 years. We have gone from teaching at colleges and universities to starting our own business. We have had a lot of dinners at a restaurant in Union Station near the capital before meetings with senators. We've made a lot of money, raised children, between the two of us, buried a husband and a son, grieved together, succeeded together, learned together and occasionally yelled at one another. We had dinner overlooking the marina one night and good Italian food at the Promenade the next. I had originally suggested sushi, but when he said,
"You know, back home, we put that on a fish hook and try to catch our dinner with it, and you guys just have it for dinner. I don't know...."

I thought maybe Lago would be a safer bet.

The first time I had a friend die, it was someone I knew in judo. I still remember it. Packy and I had been friends in Japan when we were training, where he had taken the current high school national champion, Kenny Patteson. When I moved to LA, I was shocked when who walked into Tenri but Kenny, who was now attending UCLA. Over the years, Packy and I would talk on the phone and run into each other at tournaments. Sitting around at Tenri one night when Kenny had just got back, I asked him how his Christmas vacation was. He said,
"Not good. Packy died."

I almost punched him. I told him it wasn't funny. It turned out not to be a joke. He was having pretty routine surgery, had a reaction to the anesthesia - you know how they say 1 in 295,000 people will have an adverse reaction - and you say, "Yeah, yeah," and you sign the forms before surgery? Well, he was the one.

As you get older, the first thing that happens,usually, is that your mentors die, the people you look to for guidance in life, to teach you right from wrong. When I was competing, I would call my grandmother before every tournament, and she would go to mass and light candles for me. This is something I do for Ronda to this day. Nanny died in 1999. My doctoral advisor, the person who I always could call for advice about statistics, died several years ago. About a year before he died he said,
"You don't need to call me. You understand this stuff as well as I do."

Still, I liked the security of having someone to tell me I was right. And then he wasn't here. Isao Wada died this year. John Ogden died. Kenso Kiyuhiro died.

As you get older, it goes from being people of your parents' generation who pass away to people of your own. Steve Bell died at 46. My husband, Ron, died at 54. My friend who was diagnosed with cancer is 55.

All of this is a reason to pause and think about what we are doing with life. Is this what I want. More and more, I am focused on the things I enjoy doing in life and dropping those that I don't. After work yesterday, I dropped by the carnival at St. Anne's School, just because Dennis and Julia were there and I felt like it. My unappreciative child broke three confetti eggs on my head and my more appreciative husband had a glass of wine with me while we listened to live music which could be described succinctly as louder than it was good. Still, we were not quite too old to enjoy it.

This doesn't mean I have quit judo. I went to the training center today and was very happy to work with some very good up-and-coming judo players. There also some past the up-and-coming stage. I guess Tony Comfort didn't appreciate the YouTube video of him and Eric slacking the last practice, because he was throwing everybody around today. I don't think of Tony much as a matwork guy but he was pinning lots of people, too.

Whoever that is he has pinned there is just one of many of today's victims.

Although I do enjoy judo, I am finding a lot more balance in my life. The things I enjoy the most, like practice at the training center, I am still doing and things I find the least rewarding, I am not doing, like meetings with people who have very little judo knowledge and for whom I have zero respect. There is a USA Judo election this week and I am not going to be within a thousand miles of it. In fact, when they are casting the votes, I think I will be discussing array statements in a classroom at USC. Some people tell me I "owe it to judo to give back". I don't know if I still owe anything to judo after thirty-eight years in the sport, but I am pretty certain by the aches in my knees, hands and elbows tonight that I am still giving back, but in ways that I choose, not that other people choose for me. (Re-read that last phrase, it is important.)

This isn't to say that life is perfect. There were a couple of kids I wanted to thump on the head at practice today,

"Can I go work on armbars with Ronda?"
"No, you are in this group because you are 10. You cannot do armbars for another five years."

Even those kids are a pleasure, though. They are at the training center because they are talented beyond their years; 80% of those who attend are 13 and older. Today, out of 30 people we had five who were under 13. They have adult-sized talent with child-sized bodies and maturity. So, even my frustrations have a good side.

Tomorrow, some of the players will be at a tournament, some will be at practice at the training center and my little Julia will be home studying. And it will be another beautiful day in paradise.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Ronda comes out of the shower to find that the "Parent and Coaches Meeting" for the West Coast Judo Training Center was actually a surprise coming home party for her.

What? No, seriously, there isn't a meeting? And where did all this champagne come from? And who brought me flowers?

Awww - come on, I can drink now. I'm over 21. I'm not in training. It's my party.

Ronda and Gary Butts toast the West Coast Training Center, coaching and being home for good. And after all that, and two practices on Saturday, two dozen of you made it to practice at 10 a.m. on Sunday!

Thanks to everyone for coming. See you next Saturday.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What to Teach and Why & Some News from the Home Front

What do you teach first and why?

I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours ....

What I start teaching children under 12 ....

I teach beginners o soto gari because it teaches stepping in to do a backward throw, it is a high scoring throw and is a good combination with other throws. It can also be done from a variety of grips. Thus, it is a good building block.

I teach o goshi because it teaches them to use their hips, and to turn, putting both feet underneath them, instead of one in front. One problem I have seen with o goshi in kids from other clubs sometimes is that they will keep trying to force o goshi in a tournament, trying to get the hand behind the person's back, when that just telegraphs what throw you are going to do. I have not had that problem much with kids I taught. I am not sure why. It may be because I teach tani otoshi also, so the opponent doesn't know which way you are going to go.

I teach ippon seoi nage because it also teaches pulling and turning, which are fundamentals, and it can be done when you can only get one hand on the person.

Depending on the player, I teach harai goshi or morote seoi nage. If the student is taller, I prefer harai, and for shorter students, morote.

I try to teach what I think will be relatively (and that IS a relative term) easy for the student to learn, since people are reinforced by success to keep coming back.

I also teach a sort of o soto makikomi, but from the knees, that ends in kesa gatame, and a half-nelson. I also teach tani otoshi to yoko shiho gatame. So, even a very young student has matwork moves from three different positions.

What Do You Teach to Help Move from Junior to Senior Judo?

For older students, age 13-16, the challenge is to make the move from junior to senior competition. This includes, at a very minimum:
1. Combinations - children do very few. Adults do more, though not nearly enough!
2. Counters - again, this is something you almost never see children do, except by accident.
3. Gripfighting, breaking grips, attacking off the grip, attacking from different grips (see why I taught o soto at the beginning!) At this age, I start to teach gripfighting as a skill.
4. Analysis of your own strengths and weaknesses in a match.
5. Armbars, turnovers, more matwork combinations. I emphasize having a matwork move from every position.

In judo, as in life, when you move from being a child to an adult, life gets more complicated.

Speaking of life getting more complicated, Hurricane Ronda arrived last night, as anyone would know by the state of our living room. Nonetheless, we have all been glad to see her, that is, when we can find her among the clothes-trophies-boxes-variousRondaDebris volcanic eruption. As glad as the rest of us have been, no one, not even Julia, is happier than Beijing the cat. She has staked out Ronda like a mountaineer laying claim to Mt. Everest. Ronda did not appreciate being compared to a mountain. After a week off of training, she is feeling a little out of shape and not too happy with the mountain references. All I can say is that she is lucky that Beijing does not have a flag to plant on her somewhere.

It will be an interesting adjustment for Ronda, going from athlete to coach. She has been planning out a lot of ideas for the West Coast Training Center, and we will be having a meeting with parents and athletes after practice on Saturday afternoon to discuss the schedule, Sunday workouts, tournaments, camps and so on. I think she will do a great job. Still, going from having things decided for you to being one of the major decision makers is going to be a switch. I have no doubt she is up to it, and she'll have the support of other more experienced coaches (sounds nicer than saying 'old people) and I am sure most of the athletes will be happy to work with her as well. Should be good times, starting this weekend - if she ever gets any better. Everybody is under the weather. It is a regular TB sanitarium around here. Maybe we're allergic to cats.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What to Do Better: PG-13

After the last blog, I had some more ideas on teaching younger athletes, but I promised to write about 13-16 year-olds today. Of course, the age range is approximate and depending on the individual's maturity level, could range a little older or younger.

Rule #1: During these years, you need to decide if you want to be a serious competitor or not. This is not an irrevocable decision. You can decide at 14 years old that you like judo but don't want to go to the Olympics because that just isn't what you want to do. That's perfectly okay. Winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry is a wonderful thing, too. I never wanted to do it personally, but that doesn't make me a loser or make the Nobel Prize any less of a great thing to win. At 17, you can change your mind and train for the Olympics. Or, at 21, you can decide to scale back and concentrate on college for a while. This window isn't open forever - 46 is too late to go to the Olympics in judo.

There are two tough parts to this decision. First, it has to be your decision. Although you definitely should consult your parents and your coach, you need to decide for yourself. Deciding that you're not sure is okay, too. Second, the really hard part if you know they aren't going to like your decision, is sharing it with them. Every coach who has been around for a while has seen parents spending a huge amount of money sending their children all around the world, to expensive training camps in the U.S. "to fulfill their Olympic potential". Although the coach and everyone else knows the athlete really is not that driven to win, the parents are blissfully ignorant because their child doesn't want to let the parent down by saying,

"You know, I know what it takes to win the Olympics and I don't want it that badly."

Believe me, it is going to be even harder to say ten years from now when they have taken a second mortgage out on the house to fund your travel.

As a coach, it is really important for you to periodically discuss their goals with athletes. LISTEN. Don't argue. Most people do not choose to go the Olympic route and if that athlete wants to train for fun, to stay in shape or to some day be a teacher him/herself that is fine. If that is not fine at your club, and a few clubs are solely for competitors or solely for non-competitors, recommend a club where you think the student would be happy. Doctors, counselors, lawyers and other professionals make referrals all the time.

Your goal should fall in one of three broad categories:
1. I want to do judo, get a black belt, maybe help teach at this club or start a club somewhere else, but I am not really interested in competing any more.
2. I'd like to compete when I can, maybe go to the nationals, even try the Olympic trials if I can, but judo is not going to be my whole life. Getting into a good college, work, prom or playing the Wii are just more important to me. I wouldn't mind helping out at my club or some other club some day.
3. I want to win the Olympics if I have to walk through the gates of hell to do it. Maybe I will think about being a coach when I am done.

Let's assume you are one of the first two, because guess what, 99% of the people are, but about 10% of them don't admit it. Every one of those three groups ought to go to all of the GOOD camps and clinics they can. At 13-16 you still have a whole lot to learn and the more people you can learn from, the better. For you future instructors, you are looking for a broad range of knowledge. For you competitors, this gives you more time on the mat to practice your skills. GOOD camps, like the Judo Forum camp will offer options. Look at the picture below and the one at the beginning. Both were taken at the same camp.

Ronda and Rick, two people who competed in the 2004 Olympics, are going after each other in randori. This was shortly before Ronda left for the 2008 Olympics and Rick is doing his best to push her to the limit. Above, Gary Butts and Mark Bruce, two coaches in their late thirties who have actual jobs they have to show up for on Monday, are instructing a young player who wants to learn better grips.

When you go to camps like this one, they will usually let you select which sessions you want to attend.

Coaches: Lose the O-sensei b.s. If a young athlete asks if he or she can attend the technical session instead of the randori one, unless there is some hugely pressing reason to say "no", as in, they were being a complete jerk, you should say, "yes". Students will learn far more in the session they were interested in attending.

I have seen 70-year-old men bore young athletes to tears going on about the history of judo and how to do sasae tsurikomi ashi from 400 directions when the athlete just wanted to FIGHT. I have also seen fifteen-year-olds forced to go one round of randori after another until pride was the only thing that kept them from breaking down in tears. Maybe it will make that person tougher. If they aren't interested in competing, that isn't going to help so much and the technical session would have been far better. For the young competitor, that exact same lesson two weeks after the U.S. Open might be a great opportunity to pick up a new skill. Two weeks before, it is just an annoyance. Too often, the training for our young brown and black belts is determined by someone else's ego - Of course they all have to learn from ME.

Personally, I like teaching small children. I think they are funny and you can have a good time with them. For a while, that was all I did because so many other people ONLY wanted to teach players once they had a brown belt or so. I think that was a mistake and the easy route on my part, because many of those players ended up quitting. If I had to do it again, I would stand up for those teen players more.

My daughter, Ronda, is really good about that. Sometimes we have visitors to the West Coast Training Center like Dan Takata, who is a really good referee, who came to talk about the rules and the players had a hundred questions. Other times, though, we will have people who might be very knowledgeable but our younger brown and black belts have driven an hour or more for practice and they expect an hour of randori, a half- hour of matwork randori. Ronda will pull me aside and say,
"Mom, you need to say something or I will."

That's when we split the coaches and masters level players out to learn from Sensei Moshimoshi and the younger competitors get out and fight. Some of our younger competitors will come over for instruction, too, and that is fine.

I know this wasn't focused to much on techniques but here is the fact: You need to decide what your goal is first, because where you go determines what steps you are going to take to get there.

========== ACTUAL JUDO TIPS =================
For serious competitors, from 13- 16 you need to start training at least four times a week AND lifting weights AND running on top of the four times a week judo. In the U.S. we don't have enough hard randori partners to build up your strength and endurance to its max with judo alone.

NEVER skip judo for running or weight-lifting. If your other workouts make you too tired for judo, cut back on the intensity of those.

What age you start lifting is going to be decided by how soon you develop physically. Pretty much when you hit puberty it's okay to hit the weights.

Keep a record - it can be a journal or just notes on your calendar but it should include at the very least what you did that day , e.g., ran 6 miles, judo at NTC. Lifted weights - curls, bench, cleans - for reps, judo at Tenri. If you don't keep a record it is too easy to fool yourself on how hard you are working.

You instructor types should keep a record also. Keep notes of the stuff you learn at camps. Buy instructional videos and study them. Jimmy's Grip Like a World Champion is good (kind of boring but really good information). Mike Swain's tapes are good - basic judo, basic grappling, and if he still sells those videos on Counters & Combinations (that's the best one), hand techniques, etc. grab those. Hal Sharp's tapes are really good too, and the least boring with lots of highlights. I think we have the Shoulder Throws one from Fighting Films and another one.

I'll try to write more on younger kids Tuesday. I think I am coming down with something so I don't think I will post anything tomorrow. I kind of feel like I got run over by a train. Of course, maybe I am just sore because I am too old to do two practices a day any more.

Friday, September 5, 2008

How to Do Better

===== But first, a word from our sponsor: West Coast Video #1 =====
Eric and Tony - guys ! Two words. Attack. More.

In the entire minute, I counted a total of three attacks from the two of you. Tony has an excuse of having worked out since 10 a.m. and this was taken around 3:30. Eric is too young to be slowing down near the end of practice.
============= Now, to my point and I sort of have one ======

After reading an article I am writing on how judo is eating its young, Serge Boussyou gave me the sage advice,
"All of the problems you point out are true, but you can't just tell people what not to do. You need to give them advice on what to do as well."

Here is a start, in random order. Everyone else feel free to add your comments. I will get some from Ronda when she gets home and a few others as well.

If your child is under 13, I recommend this.
1. Focus on learning, not winning. If you have to choose between whether your child attends a practice or a tournament, pick the practice. Remind your child often how much he or she has improved since beginning judo. It is bound to be true. After six months, everybody is a lot better than the first day. After a year, they are even better.

2. Select tournaments based on ONE thing only - how will it benefit your child? There are a few tournaments a year that I insist everyone from the West Coast Training Center attend, particularly the Golden State Open and USJA Winter Nationals. These are events that are hosted by people who have been good to the center in terms of support, in getting us started and continuing to encourage people to attend. The lesson I want to instill is, "Show gratitude and loyalty to the people who have helped you". For the older players, there is the additional bonus that these are big, well-run tournaments where they get lots of quality competition. I don't think that is the major factor for an 11-year-old. Learning to be a good person starts young. Sometimes I will really encourage a student to compete in an event because I think she is avoiding competition or a particular person because she is afraid. If the player would not be completely outclassed, I really encourage her to compete but NOT before preparing her by making sure she comes to practice regularly and has enough judo knowledge to have a chance of being successful in the tournament. Going out and being cannon fodder doesn't benefit anyone.

3. Set a practice schedule of 5-6 hours a week and stick to it. Six hours is three or four practices a week. This is enough for your child to learn quite a lot and still be a kid. You want him or her to have time for school, homework, reading books, friends' birthday parties and so on. Stick to the schedule. If your child knows he has judo Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, he can learn to plan around that. Expect some whining about the TV show that no one in middle school will ever speak to him again if he doesn't watch on Monday night. Take your child to practice on Monday anyway. Only let your child skip practice for something really special, like their best friend's birthday. The other 51 weeks, your child should be at practice. This teaches commitment and discipline. Children feel more secure with a routine. They will also learn to plan around existing commitments. If your child does not go to practice, don't spend any money sending him or her to tournaments. This is a lose-lose situation. Either your child wins and decides practice is unnecessary or your child loses and decides he or she sucks at judo or that judo sucks. I have heard many parents say,

"Maybe he'll lose but that will teach him he needs to practice more."

If he was an adult with a mature perspective, that might work. I have never seen it work with a child. That doesn't mean it never will, but the odds are not in your favor. Besides, why not take your child to practice regularly, then to a tournament that he wins. I have seen that work a lot.

4. Let your child do activities besides judo, in fact, encourage it. Julia is on the student council, in the debate club, choir, gymnastics and judo. At various times she has taken karate, ballet, hip-hop, Spanish classes, swim lessons and I am sure some other things I forgot. Last year she and I went to Camp Bushido in northern California. This year she went to the three-day judo camp by the sea, where she roomed with two friends and had a great time. (Ronda and I were there, too, but in different rooms.) She also went to two weeks of day camp at the gymnastics school and an overnight camp in the mountains with several friends from her school. No, she is not the world's greatest ten-year-old judo player, but she is a pretty great ten-year-old.

5. Outsmart your child. The more hours you can get your child to happily be on the mat, the better. Here are some things that work for me:

  • Whenever there was a local tournament that one of my kids really wanted to attend, I took her, even if it was highly inconvenient. It lets your child feel that he or she has a choice and that you value them enough to give up your time. If judo is important enough for you to put yourself out, then it must be something to value.

  • Tie judo with fun stuff. This does NOT mean flying to Peru or Japan for a tournament. You can only do that once. The break between practices at the training center for lunch is a fun time for the younger kids to socialize and annoy the older ones. Sawtelle is close to a strip mall with some nice stores. We usually stop after practice and go shopping or out to eat. I hate shopping but Julia loves it and she has to have clothes, so we may as well go while we are close. I am usually against eating too much junk food, but we have 4 1/2 hours of practice on Saturday, so we always stop at the doughnut shop on the way home, since Julia has worked off way more calories than she would eat. When Ronda was little, it was the Baskin Robbins on the way back from Mojica's Judo Club.

  • Find camps and clinics where your child has a good time. These have lots of hours on the mat and should include FUN. If at all possible, go along. Many, like the Academy by the Sea camp we had in June have the option of parents staying at the camp or in hotels nearby.

  • If you personally see the class your child attends as boring, repetitive and not helping your child improve, find a different club. This is always really hard to do. It may be that this club is just a poor fit for your child. It may be a poor club. Not every judo club is great. However, if you have changed clubs three times and are still not satisfied, then maybe the problem IS you.

  • When you do go to an "away" tournament that requires you to stay somewhere overnight, which should ABSOLUTELY not be more than four times a year, pick one where there are fun things for your child to do. This doesn't have to be Disneyland. Julia had a great time in Kalamazoo hanging out with Erin watching movies in the hotel, ordering room service and swimming in the pool with Tamara. The last two years, Julia picked the USJA Junior Nationals as the one she wanted to attend based largely on the hotel was cool. (Wait until you see the place Jesse Jones has for the 2009 USJA Junior Nationals - it is great!) See stuff besides the gym. I have taken my kids snorkeling in the ocean in a glass bottom boat, to an authentic Moroccan restaurant, complete with a belly dancer with a sword balanced on her head, on a horse and buggy ride under the stars in Indianapolis, on a tour of Harvard University (where Julia now says she will attend college). Make it fun for you and your child.

Since I have to leave for practice at the West Coast Training Center in about 8 hours, I am going to bed. I'll post ideas on kids from 13 to 16 or so.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How Easy Is It to Teach Judo? A non-random, non-controlled study

This week's Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo is assisted by our neighbor who took my preschool judo class for six months as a four-year-old and has not been back in six years.

Julia decided to use her as a guinea pig since one of the actual guinea pigs is enormously fat, the two fifth-grade guinea pigs we had been watching over the summer went back to school this week, and all guinea pigs have very short legs and difficulty balancing on one leg without falling over, making o soto gari a poor choice of throw for them. (Hey, I wonder if I am part guinea pig?)

Question: What throws would work well for a guinea pig? I can't think of any really, except maybe ankle picks, since they are close to your ankles already. They would have to concentrate on matwork to be good at judo.

That settles it. I am DEFINITELY part guinea pig.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Eating our seed corn

When I lived in North Dakota, the ultimate description of someone doing something so short-sighted that they must be crazy or desperate was, “They’re eating their seed corn”.

As every farmer knows, you always save corn for planting. Those who eat their seed corn now will have nothing later on.

How does this apply to judo in America ? I see it time and time again. The Junior World Trials were the latest example. We have fourteen-year-old Katelyn Boussyou as an alternate to the junior world team, sisters Mindy and Chrissy Chow coming in at fourteen and fifteen respectively.

We only have six female juniors on our national roster at 78 kg and only ONE at 78 kg +. Our national roster for males has only three people at 100 kg, five at 100+ and eight at 90 kg. Are there not any 18 or 19-year-olds in America over 190 pounds that might want to compete in the junior worlds or junior Panamerican championships? Apparently there are less than half a dozen.

Where are our junior competitors? What happens to them? Off the top of my head, I can name a half-dozen kids who placed in senior nationals before they were 18, several before they were 16. Every year we had a dozen or more who won junior Panamerican medals. Where are they now? Some of them are at UC Berkeley, West Point, getting a Ph.D. in Physics. Where they are NOT is on our Olympic team or even in our Olympic trials.

I have said many times that when Ronda began competing, I did not know what was the right developmental plan to get her to her full potential. What I did know was that none of the people who had followed the triple-crown- get – the –most – points, go – to – junior – worlds early route had won an Olympic medal. Ronda won the triple crown exactly zero times because she only went to all three tournaments her first year of junior competition, when she was twelve, because two of them were within driving distance of home, and she got second in one and won the other two. I paid exactly zero dollars for her to go to Junior Panamerican events. If it wasn't fully-funded, she didn't go. Sometimes, even if events would have been funded, she didn't go.

Like all parents, I have made my share of mistakes, but I think I did a few things right. As much as possible - and with their father dying when they were young, it wasn't always - I tried to let my children be children. The year she was 15, Ronda competed in two senior events, the Golden State Open and U.S. Open. At 16, she competed in five senior events - the Golden State Open (she won), Fall Classic (she won), U.S. Open (she placed second), Ontario Open (she won) and Korea Cup (she placed 5th).

Today was the second day of school. We normally go to Sawtelle for practice but Julia said she was tired. She wasn't used to getting up so early. She suggested we could go on Friday instead. She's ten. She's tired. We stayed home.

I had an argument with a coach once who told me that I just didn't understand coaching, that he coached football and he knew what it took for a boy to be a man. I told him that a ten-year-old boy needed to be a ten-year-old boy.

Some parents honestly believe they are doing the right thing.

Others are living vicariously through their children, whether they admit it or not. They want to tell people that their child was on the Junior Panamerican Team, Junior World Team, competed in Europe, even if what it really means is their child came in first out of three in a trials and then lost within two minutes of the first round at an international event. I am not arguing that these kids don't have great potential because I am sure some of them do. What I do think is they would be more likely to fulfill that potential if they went to several training camps, competed in a lot of regional tournaments, lifted weights and just aged into their adult bodies.

Still other parents tell me that is what their child really wants, and I believe those parents. However, what my daughter Julia wanted tonight was to watch TV until midnight and eat Red Hot Cheetos. What she got was stir-fry tofu and in bed by 10 p.m. Sometimes you have to be the mean parent - and do you ever have my sympathy on that one.

I really love my job. I am a better statistician than I am a judo coach, and I don't exactly suck at judo. One thing any statistician can tell you is the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. What has predicted success in Olympic judo? How may of the countries with successful judo teams have any players under 17 at the junior world championship? How many have ANYONE under 20 competing in the world cup events?

Think about it.