Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I Resolve to Stay the Same

"I have better friends than I deserve."

When I said this a few years ago to my wonderful friend, Dr. Jake Flores, his son, Jacob, Jr. remarked seriously,

"I don't think that's possible. I think everybody gets exactly the friends that they deserve."

I do understand Jacob's logic, and I hope it's true, that if you are an honest, loyal person, you get honest, loyal intelligent friends. On the off chance that he is correct, my New Year's resolution is to stay the same. As with most things I have done in my life, I am sure this decision and statement will gratify some and infuriate others. As usual, it will take me a while to get over it - oh wait, no, I forgot, it won't.

What I know for a fact as the year winds to a close is that I am incredibly blessed. This Christmas, as for most of the past twenty-some years, my house wasn't cleaned up but it was full of my children. I rather suspect that a clean house and several children are two incompatible forces in life. I'm okay with that.

I am back to work after a brief foray into retirement at the beginning of this year. That ended with me teaching a course at Loyola Marymount University, accepting a full-time position as senior statistical consultant at the University of Southern California and continuing as a technical consultant to Spirit Lake Consulting. This is good because I get paid. Just in case, though, I am trying to practice for retirement by occasionally going on vacation. All of us, except for Ronda, went to Palm Springs for three days just to see what it would be like not to work.

We all did very unproductive things like jumping from rock to rock to cross streams (no one fell in), riding horses in the canyons, laying by the pool in the sun and drinking white Russians and martinis. I am sure in the photo above that Julia and I are violating some resort regulation. I am equally sure that my husband takes all of these photos for evidence should it ever be needed in a custody dispute.

"Your honor, I told her that a fifty-year-old grandmother should not be jumping from rock to rock across a running stream with a ten-year-old, but she refused to listen to me."

Hah! Maturity is greatly over-rated. I have no intention of increasing my maturity rating in 2009.

After three days of this, we all concluded that the ideal duration for retirement is probably about three days. We were all ready to go back home and dive back into work. Having work you want to do is a pretty significant blessing. So is making a living wage (and a bit more) so you can buy bread (and white Russians) for your family. (And even after several white Russians the night before, does The Perfect Jennifer still look amazing or what?)

Yes, I am probably going to hell for not chastising my children more about legally drinking. That is rather hard to do considering that I am sitting here with a glass of champagne toasting the new year with my husband. If you ask my daughters, they will all tell you that I do preach to them regularly on not drinking too much and on a hundred other subjects as well. I don't intend to change that, either.

Speaking of hell and unrepentant, the new member of the family, Eva Maria, was baptized this week. Ronda was the godmother.

While among many of my friends, religion is considered somewhat lower-class, passe or just not 'what we do', I remain unapologetically Catholic. I don't intend to change on this score, either. Yes, the church leadership needs to be a lot more open-minded, pay a whole lot less attention to people's sex lives and move into the nineteenth century in its attitudes toward women. On the other hand, few institutions in the history of the world have been responsible for as much education, charity and culture as the Catholic church. That whole "feed the hungry, instruct the ignorant, visit the sick", yes, I really believe in that. I don't do so well on the "forgive offenses willingly" or "bear wrongs patiently". Yes, I know the latter are also part of the works of mercy encouraged by the church, but the truth is that my gut instinct is to meet wrongs with a whack upside the head, and it is probably the California penal code rather than the the Catholic teachings that prevents me from doing so. I doubt I'll change much on that score this year, either.

Oh, and there is judo. By the most random winding of coincidences I ended the year as the first female ever to become president of the United States Judo Association (or any national judo organization in the U.S., for that matter). I have noticed that some (about 98% of them male) have been incensed by this development. Some have been pleased, others amused and the vast majority disinterested because even those who practice judo have actual lives in which who is holding what office in which judo organization is about as significant as the name of the chief clerk in the Sacramento office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have decided not to quit judo this year. In part this decision is based on inertia. After 38 years, I am used to it. More than that, though, it is based on my conclusion that judo, like my children, really is more worth than it is trouble. Thinking about why, a few very recent memories came to mind.

The voicemail from the ten-year-old boy from the training center who took himself away from his presents on Christmas morning just to call and wish me a Merry Christmas.

Looking through the photos from the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals and seeing Frankie Sanchez coaching.

I remember when Frankie was born. After winning the world championships, I would drop by and work out at the Guerreros Judo Club on occasion, because it was near my house. Frank Sanchez, Sr. ran the club. He had probably just gotten his black belt. We were both in our twenties and just trying to, as Keith Nakasone so eloquently put it, "Share what little judo I know."

Twenty-three years later, Gary Butts and I got the idea for a West Coast Judo Training Center. By then, Frankie and Eric Sanchez were pretty much running the club their dad had started. We approached them at the USJA Junior Nationals with this crazy idea that we would raise money for mats from the USJA and USJF and maybe their dad would let us use one of his buildings for free for the next year or so to get it started. In 2008, we had our first full year at the training center and we start the 2009 practices on January 3.

Speaking of the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals, there was Hayward Nishioka, who I have known for more than half my life. He helped me with chokes in my twenties, and, in my fifties, I called him up and asked him to help expand and develop the USJA coaching program. He did not say any of the reasonable things to say, such as "I am a college professor with 30 years teaching experience, an eighth-degree black belt, a former world team member, coach of the world team and international referee. I am too busy and important." He said none of that. He said,

"Sure. Let's meet for lunch on Friday."

As I have told him more than once, when I grow up, I want to be Hayward.

From judo, I gained great friends who I have admired for decades. I have known my friend, Lanny Clark, since the 1983 Panamerican Games trials. His daughter, Tara, is fond of pointing out that back then her dad fought in a lighter weight division than Ronda. I am not sure whether she is teasing Ronda or Lanny. The point is, we have a whole new generation coaching judo and, as best they can, supporting and befriending one another.

I learned the discipline and work ethic that brought me academic and professional success.

Also, it keeps me from getting fat.

So, that is why I am in judo for another year. It has taught me lessons and brought me friends. As I looked through the pictures from the USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals, this one from the coaching clinic stood out, when Ronda drove 70 miles just to be there and help out. It's great that Ronda won a bronze medal in the Olympics this year, but that is not the reason that I do judo. The reason I do judo is that many of the people I love are in it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No one was impaled with a chicken, and other words of wisdom

If you are a young person who is having a difficult time in life, I wrote this for you.

Other people might not understand it, and certainly some people will say, "There she goes again, talking about the things she's done and how great she is."

I don't care. I did not write this for those people. I wrote it for you.

The end of the year is always a terrific time for me. I absolutely love Christmas, and on top of it all, I get more spare time than I usually have, that is to say, at least 12 minutes a day. While, surprisingly, work has not slowed down so much, I do have more time on the weekends and evenings as most judo clubs are taking a break. Today, Julia asked me if I would sit and watch Matilda with her, which I didn't really, because sitting down staring at a screen falls just above stepping on live snails in my bare feet on the list of things I like to do. However, the movie made me think of how much my life is different now, and how many young people in the world are still in situations that are far, far from the life they want for themselves.

In judo, one of the recommendations I make to coaches just starting out is to think about what you would say, if you could go back to yourself at 15 years old that would have helped you in your judo career. That is probably a good start for working with the 15-year-olds you are coaching now.

If I had to go back to myself at ten, or twelve, or fifteen, the most helpful thing I could probably say is,
"Trust me, it will all work out the way you want it if you keep working hard and don't give up."

Watching Matilda, Julia commented to her friend, Jacob,
"I wish I had Matilda's life. Not her parents, I love my mom and dad, but I would like to have her powers."

That was one of the things I wanted to work out, that as a parent, I would have children who completely unselfconsciously and matter-of-factly loved their parents.

When I was young, we had NO extra money. Any money we spent on judo gis or tournament entry fees or new clothes for school had to come out of something else we could have used just as much or more. When I was a kid, I wanted to have enough money to go into a candy store and buy whatever I wanted. Adults told me that it wouldn't be as much fun when I became an adult. Those people were wrong. Yesterday, for the umpteenth time, I went into the candy store and bought whatever looked good. Just like always, I was every bit as happy doing it as I thought I would be when I was ten.

When I became a young adult, I spent all of my time working, training and going to school. I ended up with four degrees and a career where I am always employed and never bored. Plus, extra added bonus, they pay me money. There have been times when it seemed as if I was missing out. I worked from 8 a.m. often until 1 a.m. the next morning. I was always reading journals, writing reports, grading papers. The good news is that the day will come when the medals will all be won, the degrees finished, the dissertation written. Now, I regularly go to the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Natural History Museum, the Getty Art Museum.

First you sow, then you reap. If you are a young person building a career and a family, know that there will be time eventually for the trips to the aquarium, museum, Bahama Islands and more. Try to fit in a little time now, though, just so you know what you'll want to go back to more often later in life. Rest assured, it doesn't have to be this way for the rest of your life.

My long-time business partner, Erich, taught me that anyone who travels a lot for their career needs to make time to appreciate the scenery. Whether you are traveling for competition or career, schedule an extra four hours to see the monuments at moonlight, the Mona Lisa, the summer palace of the emperor. Yes, I spent far too much time in airports for my taste, but I also have been to every building in the Smithsonian, the cathedral at Cologne (Koln), seen British gardens, Chinese junks and the monthly tournaments at the Kodokan.

We went to Knotts Berry Farm yesterday. As Gary Butts so eloquently put it,
"They let about a million too many people in here."

It was a good idea, get in free if you bring a toy for the Toys for Tots program. However, since you could bring a toy worth $10 and the usual cost for Knotts is over $50, tons of people came. By 3:25 when we finally decided to leave, you literally could not move among the crowds.

So, I called Medieval Times, and it turned out their next show was in five minutes and we were two blocks away. Julia, the three Butts sisters and I decided to have an impromptu judo-queens-meet-knights-in-shining-armor event. It was great. There were horses walking on their hind legs, a falcon flying over our heads, beer, an enormous medieval meal we ate with our hands, lots of sword-whacking, galloping horses and shouting. It was way more food than anyone the size of a regular human being could eat, and since we were distracted watching the knights, kings and occasional pooping horse (hey, what do you expect, they were REAL horses), we ended up taking some of it with us, the food, not the horse poop.

On the way home, Julia and Erin kept up a twenty-minute sword fight in the back seat of the van, then alternated between sword-fighting and pretending they were using the glowing blue swords to perform operations on other passengers, causing Amber to finally exclaim in exasperation,

"If one more person pokes me with a sword or tries to do laser surgery on me, someone is getting impaled with this chicken."

I thought to myself, hmmm, this goes on to my growing list of things I thought one would never have an occasion to say.

I get to do a lot of stuff at the drop of a hat - go to Medieval Times, Knotts Berry Farm, the Wild Animal Park, Bahamas cruises, Beijing, Athens, Las Vegas, Palm Springs. Years ago, I owned two houses. One was beautiful, up on a hill with twelve-foot ceilings, a wood-burning stove in the living room, a spiral staircase. Every time I walked in, I could not believe it belonged to me.

Now, I don't own any houses and nobody is impressed by my possessions. Often, people come to our place for the first time and you can almost see them thinking,

"Why do they live here? I thought they were doing well."

We have plenty of room for the three of us. I don't have a sports car. I have a van that I can haul all kind of judo kids around in, and it is paid off.

Maybe other people are made happy by a big new house and lots of things you buy at Pottery Barn. Many years ago, I decided that I did not care if I owned a lot of things but I wanted to DO a lot of things and SEE a lot of things.

Here is what I figured out in my thirties:
Live life by your own rules.. By that, I don't mean run over pedestrians in the crosswalk if you feel like it. I mean that you should decide on the life you want and go after it. The people who will think less of you because you did not bother spending a lot of money to impress them, are not people worth thinking much about anyway.

If you want a big house with a spiral staircase, then go after it. If you'd rather spend your days watching people in sword fights or your nights looking out over the Las Vegas strip, do that.

You probably can't have everything and whatever you choose, some people will look down on you. Ignore them.

For the first time in my life, my house is pretty clean and I even have time to decorate little houses out of gingerbread. For years, my house was completely trashed. I had three kids living at home for twenty years straight, worked two or three jobs and a good bit of judo coaching thrown in. Now the place gets cleaner by the week. Every time I have a day or so off more closets get cleaned, floors scrubbed. Now it is two steps forward and one step back, instead of the other way around, as it has been for years.

So, if you are that ten- or fifteen- or twenty-year-old who is living a "Matilda-like" existence at the moment, before she got to be adopted by Miss Honey, take heart.

Never give up. Decide what you want. Keep working. It will work out, all the gingerbread houses, jelly fishes, sword-whacking, candy stores and perfectly adorable children.

And no one needs to be impaled by a chicken.

In case you have never heard of Matilda
- check out the Roald Dahl website because you are probably missing out on a lot of other great stuff, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Judo Christmas Cheer

First of all, let me second Julia's opinion and just say, "To hell with making weight."

If you can't even eat Christmas dinner, then you are probably cutting too hard, too often and should really consider going up a weight division. People often make the mistake of assuming that they should go into the lightest possible division. On the contrary, you should go into the division in which you personally perform the best and feel the strongest, both technically and physically. Take Eric Sanchez, for example, who competed at 66kg and won quite a lot as a junior. Just a few years later, he won the USJA/USJF Winter Nationals at 90 kg. He looks a lot healthier and happier at that weight. Plus, I bet he gets to eat Christmas cookies.

This is the time of year for Christmas parties, Christmas programs and generally getting together with family and friends. As anyone can tell you, I am not the most warm and fuzzy person. In fact, there might be some truth to the rumor that I need a martini to sit through one more Christmas program with young children playing Christmas songs badly. However, having attended a vast number of such programs in my life, I have to tell all of you who complain about going, complain about the quality and complain about the work to put on such events - you are wrong.

Community is important. It is important to get together, those people who are doing judo still, those friends they met in judo who rarely show up at the dojo any more, and family members who sat through a thousand hours in a hundred gyms, usually wondering what the heck was going on.

"Did he win? What does that gesture the referee just made mean?"

When we get together at these events we see old friends, people we knew and we remember how much we liked them and how smart they are. We see young adults and remember what bright, funny children they were.

A former competitor who is a very good judo coach once said to me,

"I have no interest in that Little League judo that you do. I know we need it or we are never going to have Olympic medalists, but I'm just not interested in it."

In my view, everyone who thinks like him is missing out.

These people aren't worth spending time with because one of them, or one of their children, might one day win an Olympic medal. They're worth spending time with because it's fun to spend time with kids who are smart, athletic, hard-working, respectful and have a sense of humor. Those kids usually don't come about by accident. They usually come from parents who are smart, hard-working, caring and interesting in themselves. One day, one of them may win an Olympic medal. Definitely, a lot of them will treat sick people, teach children, design buildings, cars or computers, start new businesses and employ a lot of people. Yes, and in the evenings, instead of drinking beer in front of the television set, they come and do matwork, or learn kata, fight with the same guy they've tried to throw every week for the last 15 years. (Okay, and then they go home and drink beer.)

This is a lesson that the judo clubs like Sawtelle, Goltz, Amerikan, Southside and other really large clubs around the country have learned and it is why they are some of the largest clubs in America.

Also, I just wanted to mention, for those of you who are in the midst of a blizzard right now, that we had our second annual winter mini-camp in San Diego last weekend, with 17 folks from the USJA/ USJF West Coast Training Center making the trip. Tony Comfort made everyone get up and run on the beach at 8 A.M. It was cold, too! It was less than 60 degrees, like 58 or something and we were all freezing. So, you see, we feel your pain.

Other than that, it was two days of great judo with Dr. Jake Flores showing up to teach on Sunday and Paul Nogaki & Dr. Ruggero Galici on Saturday. Of course, Tony, Ronda, Gary and I were there, too, but we are always there, so I think our team appreciated the guests more.

The work out on the beach was a good idea, I have to admit, but next time I think it needs to start later, say around ten, after a few cups of hot coffee.

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

I think judo is like parenting. You can't replace quantity time with quality time. Notice that these players spent five hours practicing on Saturday and three on Sunday. They also had a conditioning workout in the morning. Over the years, lots of people have told me how much smarter than me they are, that I am just tough, training hard while they are training smart (whatever that means) or training with "the best coach in America" (I never figured out how a dozen different guys can all be "the best coach in America" isn't that a logical impossibility?)

There isn't a short route, there isn't an easy way and any coach who tells you otherwise is selling you a bill of goods.

Oh, and work on your counters. And combinations. Most people are not very good at either one, so if you could improve these four areas where most people are weak, you'll do a lot better in competition:

Combinations - especially front to back or back to front. This is an opportunity missed SO often competition.

Counters - ever notice that people who counter tend to favor a grip around your back or over the arm that is on their lapel?

Gripping - you should be able to break a grip you don't want and have a few means of getting the grip you want, just like you have set-ups for the throw you want.

Transition from matwork to standing. If I say this enough, maybe you'll practice it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to do judo on your dog

The USJA/ USJF Winter Nationals were amazing. They had a coaches clinic with coaches from Alabama, Alaska and Arizona (we left out the other state that begins with A - Arkansas, but Mike Dobbs did stop by to watch the tournament). People from states not beginning with A also attended the tournament - 561 of them, to be precise. There were 20 kata teams, a full day of senior and masters competition, a clinic with 100 people on the mat including Jim Bregman, Okada, Jim Pedro, Dawn Beers, Roman Mitichiyan and yours truly. The training center crowd did awesomely awesome including four gold medals from the three Butts sisters, a silver and gold for Rachel Garcia, silver and gold from our two masters players, Allen and Gary, gold from our youngsters at the other end, Julia, Haykus and Eric. Speaking of Eric, Eric Sanchez dominated the 90 kg division. Victor Ortiz won the 60 kg division. Brent placed second, having a hard fight all the way up the losers bracket to do it. Yes, it was a great event. It had ALMOST everything. The only thing missing was judo with a dog. Therefore, because we at the USJA are a full-service organization, I have included in today's Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo a video lesson on How to Do Judo with Your Dog.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How to SEE (not watch) judo

At the coaches' clinic today we discussed analysis of a judo match, what to look for and what to say to a player. Here is what NOT to say to your player:

"Are you left-handed? I didn't know that."
(I am a hypocrite because I have said to Erin and Crystal approximately 743 times each 'Since when have you been right-handed?')

'More pull'.

'Get your grip. No, get YOUR grip!'

'Be aggressive.'

'Play smart.'

You can't necessarily learn by listening to good coaches because sometimes they and their players have a code. For example,
"Kristin, think!"

Might mean to Kristin, who has been told this many, many times in advance by her coach, "You are ahead and you have 30 seconds left. Don't try any high risk attacks. "

Here is what I look for in a match.
Observing my own players

Who got a grip first? Did my player get a grip from which he or she could attack? Did the other player get a grip which kept my player from attacking? If my player only does ippon seoi nage, did the other player get two hands on my player right away hold on to the right arm for dear life?

Who attacked first? Did my player do most of the attacking? Did she/he try any combinations or counters?

Did my player score? If so, with what technique? Was the opponent moving forward, backward or to one side when thrown?

In matwork, did my player follow through in a transition from standing? Was my player able to reverse being thrown into a matwork technique, e.g., from being thrown with a ko uchi gari, armbarring the opponent with juji gatame.

On the mat, did my player attack or only defend? If he or she attacked, were all the attacks from one position, e.g., with the opponent on all fours? Can my player attack from the top and the bottom?

If my player is behind by a score, does he/ she fight differently? If so, how?

Observing the opponents
At the very, very least, I want to know if the other players are right-handed or left-handed, stronger on the mat or standing.

Absolutely, if they throw my player, I want to know with what throw, if it was off a combination (seldom) or straight in. I want to know what grip they had when they threw.

The next practice, I say to my player, let's call him Walrus, Wally for short,

It was good how you won your first match with o soto gari. He almost threw you with that ippon seoi nage right off the grip, but you managed to get two hands on him the rest of the match, hold his hand down and, when he tried to stand up straighter, go in to your o soto. Good job. Next time, have your hands up and be prepared to get a grip on both hands from the beginning so he can never try that seoi nage.

In your second match, against that left-handed player from Belleville, you had trouble getting your grip. You kept switching to left-handed grip and that is a bad strategy. You aren't left-handed and you are weaker from there. When you came in for left o soto, you got countered.

So... right now, let's work on grip-fighting against a left-handed player, getting your right grip and coming into right o soto gari.