Monday, April 27, 2009

The Deep Questions of Judo

Should you take a break? Should you move up? What uses have you made of judo belts? Why do cats sleep on judo gis? These, and other deep questions of life, are answered today.

Should you take a break? That all depends on what you have been doing up until now. A lot of people have questioned Ronda taking a year off and whether she is going to fall behind. I think she is doing the exact right thing. Ronda has been on the U.S. team since the beginning of her junior year of high school. She is now 22. If you have been living and breathing judo for six years, since your mid-teens, it is a good idea to take a break physically and mentally. She has started practicing and training again and will very gradually be working her way back to where she needs to be to win internationally. My prediction is that many of the people who are competing now are not going to make it to 2012.

If you don't need to gain international experience, there are a few advantages of taking some time off. One is that you have less chance of being injured. I read today that Tanimoto, the gold medalist in Beijing, is having ACL surgery after having been injured earlier in the year. A second advantage is that you get to experience normal life, having a job, an apartment, a car, a dog, a boyfriend who doesn't do judo. In judo, we sometimes see "fear of success", i.e., if I win, then what is there after this? Also, if judo is your ONLY thing in life, it can cause such fear of failure that it is paralyzing. An enormous amount of research shows a curvilinear relationship between anxiety and performance, that is, if you aren't anxious at all, could care less if you win, you do poorly. Performance increases with anxiety TO A POINT and then drops off again. If you stress out too much, you "choke". I know a big advantage I had as a competitor was that I had a baby, a job as an engineer and a man who wanted to marry me. I really wanted to win but judo wasn't the only thing I had in the world. The third advantage is that it allows you to physically and mentally recharge. Physically, all the minor muscle tears and strains can heal up. Mentally, it gives you a chance to deal with whatever else is going on in your life - family, relationships, a philosophy of life or those science fiction novels you wanted to read. Make no mistake, it is a long, hard road to the top of the world. Resting up before the charge is not at all a bad idea.

Moving up in weight - should you or shouldn't you?

Just in case you are curious what Taraje Williams-Murray looked like after moving up from 60 kg to 81 kg, I have included a photo taken at the senior nationals. I wondered if he would have ballooned up, but no, he was pretty much the same. Same nice guy, just more muscles. That could be his new tag-line. Taraje, if you are reading this, feel free to use it.

Whether 81 kg is the right weight for Taraje is for him to decide. I do know that he was looking miserable at 60 kg. I made the U.S. team the first time at 48 kg and won the worlds at 56. Ronda made the junior world team at 57 kg, 63 kg and 70 kg. I am dead certain that moving up was the right decision for her.

Here is how I would make the choice - when making the weight is the hardest part of the tournament for you, you need to move up. If you hate your life, are unhealthy and obsessed with food, it's not that difficult to figure out that this sucks. Adding a gold medal to a situation that sucks just makes you a person holding a gold medal in a situation that sucks. Come on, it's not all that difficult to figure this one out.

My suggestion to athletes considering a move up or down in weight is to try it and see how it feels. If you move up, you want to do it the way Ronda did and the way Taraje obviously did, by hitting the weight room, not the doughnut shops.

Speaking of taking a break, Ronda and I were at the dog park the other day, with Mochi on an orange belt instead of a leash because we could not find the leash. We got to listing all of the uses we have found for judo belts over the years, such as:

Tying your car trunk shut when it is broken.

Tying things down on top of your car when moving to a new apartment.

Whacking people with for punishment

Hanging between two poles and hanging up laundry

Tied on to a railing and used for uchikomis

Rolled up and shoved inside of boxes to keep fragile things from moving around

Wrapped on your hand and used to open jars

As a replacement for lost belts to bathrobes

Chew toys for the dog

For teasing the cat

Speaking of the cat, the reason that she sleeps on top of judo gis is that we don't want her to. That is why cats do anything they do.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Snakes, New York City and My Brain is my own again

Did it ever occur to you that you can't footsweep a snake?

For the past six weeks, my brain has been hijacked for non-judo purposes. I read thousands of pages of grants and spent a dozen hours in conference calls for a grant review. Much more than dozens of hours were spent on teaching classes on statistics, statistical software, testing new versions of software and writing up my latest research grant. I met my last deadline at 1 a.m. this morning so my brain is my own again. Hopefully, I will get back to writing in this blog on a daily basis. There is a lot going on, and just to catch up, I think I will just post random stuff over the next couple of days. This is in contrast, of course, to my usual practice of just posting random stuff whenever I get around to it. Oh, wait, I guess it isn't.

Speaking of snakes, as anyone who comes to the West Coast Training Center can tell you, I get a lot of my judo ideas from the Discovery Channel. Take snakes, for example. They have no arms or legs and yet they kill things, sometimes very large things. There is no excuse then, for someone who has both arms and legs, not to mention fingers and toes attached, to not be able to at least throw, pin or choke someone their own size. The first point snakes understood was keeping your center of gravity close to the ground. When in matwork, try being on your belly like a reptile. If you are pinning someone with yoko shiho gatame, put your stomach on the mat. You are going to be a lot harder to roll than if you have your butt up in the air.
[Hot tip: Few situations in life are improved by sticking your butt up in the air. Judo is not one of those situations.]

If you are going to pin someone and she is on her back on in "the guard", reach under one leg and grab the skirt of the gi. Shove your shoulder into her thigh. Step over her other leg so it is between the two of yours. Put all of your weight on it. Again, put your stomach on the mat (except that her leg will be between your stomach and the mat.) At this point, I drive my other shoulder into her stomach, slide up off her leg and to her side. Then, I reach up with my arm and grab around her head. You want to make sure you lead with your shoulder because if you reach up with your arm, you can be armbarred. Ronda does it a little differently and hers is a little more girly, but so is she.

Speaking of Ronda, we all went to the New York Athletic Club for Ronda to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I expected them to be a bunch of stuffed shirts but, on the contrary, they all turned out to be quite nice, intelligent and charming, especially Kevin Earls, who has the title of club captain, which, disappointingly, does not entitle him to dress like a pirate or even wear a captain's hat.

As my daughter, Jenn, noted in her Facebook comment on the picture above, Ronda appears to be quite pleased to be in the Hall of Fame. Speaking of Jenn, she came to New York with us, and my oldest daughter, Maria, took the train up from Boston with the baby.

Do not write Jenn and ask if she will be your friend on Facebook. She says she gets emails and requests from random judo people all of the time and always says no because she doesn't know them and she has no interest in judo. She actually liked the Hall of Fame banquet, though, because she majored in history and at the same banquet the NYAC inducted Teddy Roosevelt, who was a big proponent of sports in his day. In yet another disappointment, though, Roosevelt himself did not appear, since he had a previous engagement of being dead. There was someone from the Roosevelt society, though who gave a speech that was very appreciated by people who are interested in history.

Being more interested in judo, I am glad to be back home. I made it to practice three times this weekend. Twice at the training center and once at the grand opening for the judo club that is part of the Gracie Barra Center in Corona.

Right now, I have matburn over my eye, on my ankle and on my wrist, bruises on my arms from everyone practicing ippon seoi nage. It feels great to get back to normal. So what if I am not the typical grandmother, Eva doesn't seem to mind.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kindness is free: A reminder from Suzanne

I will not quit judo today thanks to a very nice judo instructor named Suzanne.

Many of the letters I get as USJA president are like this. Just match any of the choices with any other and you have several of the day's letters.

a. Dr. De Mars
b. USJA President
c. You-think-you're-so-great-because-you-were-a-world-champion
d. Who do you think you are?

I am writing to complain about
a. refereeing
b. the judo instructor on the other side of town
c. my former coach
d. reality

a. gave me a penalty just for taking 45 minutes to tie my belt during a match
b. refused to bow and call me o-sensei even though I received my woo-hoo-shidan the day before him which clearly makes me entitled to senpai rights.
c. once called me slow, which I am sure has irreparably damaged my development
d. has not complied with my desire to be emperor universal of all martial arts, the human race and several species of small furry mammals.

I want you to
a. fix them
b. kick them out of judo
c. use them for scientific experiments
d. sell their kids

and if you don't then I
a. will force you to resign
b. urge you to commit public suicide, preferably by setting yourself on fire
c. insist that you send me a million dollars
d. will sue you in state, federal, small claims, local, municipal and Disneyland courts

Every day or so, though, there is a letter from a lovely person like Suzanne who wrote to say that she appreciated the fact that I took the little spare time I had on a business trip to give a coaches clinic so she could go to one locally and learn new ideas for helping her students. Every time I get a letter from another lovely person like her, it reminds me while I do all of this editing magazines, teaching clinics, twisting arms for volunteers, begging for donations -- it's because every kindness deserves another. Thanks, Suzanne.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mitch Palacio, Maurice Allen, Mark Hunter, Tina Thomas and Gary Butts are smart judo cookies, but that's hardly a whole bakery

I haven't written in a while because I have been really busy traveling. First, I was gone for several days for work, and fit a couple of judo clinics and visiting my daughter and granddaughter around that. When I returned there was still more work since everyone, their aunt, their uncle and their neighbor's guinea pig are applying for the NIH Stimulus grants due in about two weeks by 5 pm local time. On top of all of that, I flew up to San Francisco to watch the national novice and brown belt championships. It is past midnight, technically Easter morning, and since the eggs are colored and the baskets hidden, I finally have a chance to breathe and also to blog.

In no particular order, here are a few highlights of judo life over the past couple of weeks. I was talking to Mark Hunter from Ohio this evening and he commented that judo in this country is withering and that people who look at being on the USJA board of directors as a source of "power" are completely illogical.

I agree in general, but I have seen some hopeful signs of judo around the country. Easter, spring, new life and all of that, and I am reminded of when I lived in North Dakota and you would see new plants sprouting up in tiny shoots from the snow. One of those new developments is the tournament I attended in San Francisco. As Tom Peters said, there is no incremental way to excellence. You need to come up with a whole new concept to move from a stagnant organization to an excellent one. Here is Mitchell's excellent idea .....

Many people start judo as teenagers or adults. There is really nowhere for them to compete. If a 15-year-old who started judo last year enters the junior nationals, by the second round, at the latest, he is almost sure to hit someone who is a brown or black belt and has been in judo several years. Even if our newcomer has great talent, he is going to lose. This is even more true for a player who starts at 23 or 32. Once that person passes the novice level and enters the brown and black belt division in local tournaments, he or she is going to run into players who have 10 or 15 years of experience. For anyone who wants to compete, it is going to be a series of losses, often to people who aren't training nearly as hard as our newcomer, but who have put many years into the sport previously. Many of us "running things" had those 15 or 20 years in and we don't really think how frustrating it must be to someone to continually lose despite coming to practice regularly and training seriously. These adult students are precisely the people we want to stick around to get black belts, become teachers, run our tournaments, referee and coach.

Mitchell's solution was to start a national tournament for them. It was a brilliant idea. He teaches at City College of San Francisco and his students do everything from announcing to pooling to running the tables. It is great experience in organization and management for them, the sort of experience students don't often get at exclusive private universities, much less community colleges. For the competitors, the tournament is very encouraging as it gives them the opportunity to test themselves against their peers. Especially for women, they get a chance to compete with others of their weight and rank, instead of being thrown into pools with people bigger and much more experienced.

Mark Hunter is another one of those guys who is growing judo in innovative ways. Twice, he has held the USJA National Coach Symposium in Ohio. At the first event, in one of those funny six degrees of separation, the keynote speaker was Maurice Allen.

Now, Maurice is a several time European champion in judo, and was also a national champion in freestyle wrestling and world champion in sambo wrestling. One of the cool ideas I got from his club was the game of Dodge Ball.

As a warm-down activity, the children move around the mat, sliding their feet facing inward, outward, running forward and backward, but the exercise is improvised a little by black belts who throw large balls at the children. I have written previously about the importance in judo of kinesthic awareness and here is a fun way to develop that along with aerobic conditioning. Some people believe that being a serious competitor is incompatible with having fun at judo. I believe that nothing is further from the truth and I am glad to have Maurice as one more data point supporting my hypothesis.

Then, there are Gary and Tina who I think are smart because of the things they do and the questions they ask, respectively. When I first brought up the idea of a training center for those athletes who had potential but who had not started judo young enough, won tournaments early enough or were not old enough for the "elite coaches" to bother with, Gary saw my point right away. He had been at Venice once or twice a week when Ronda was a little green belt ankle-biter and knew full well how no one but me and my friends had paid her any attention. He could see how other kids could benefit from having the opportunity to have people in addition to their home coaches guiding them and who could get better with more practice if there was just a regular practice that was convenient for them. He also understood that, while having clinics is a great idea and useful for players, that it is extremely helpful to have coaches watching YOUR progress, who can tailor their recommendations for the throws and matwork techniques that you personally do. Gary is not completely brilliant, though, as you can see from the picture above. The two midgets, Julia and Erin, had progressed in matwork faster than Gary expected and when they got him in a double arm-bar today, he was stuck.

Tina's insightful question today came after I covered two topics, discussed below, under judo tips. She wanted to know why all coaches did not provide the same sort of analysis we do at the training center. She wanted to know, "Isn't this just obvious?"

I told her that everything is obvious once someone explains it to you. The idea of a lightbulb seems pretty obvious now but the human race went millions of years without electricity.

============== JUDO TIPS =====================================

If someone grips both sleeves and holds you down so you can't attack with your seoi nage, o soto or uchi mata, they are most likely waiting for you to pull away, to go out, at which point they can follow you and attack with o soto gari, sode tsurikomi goshi or a foot sweep. The solution is NOT to go out but to go in. Attack with ko uchi makikomi, o goshi, an ankle pick or other throws where you go across, so you are not going directly against their grip as you would be if you pulled out.

PRACTICE THIS - I have said it a million times. During the tournament is not the time to be solving these problems. You and your coach should have solved them ahead of time and the tournament is just when you put those solutions in practice.

Matwork: Practice attacking from the "turtle position". You should practice attacking from all different positions but this is the one where I see people most often being stupid and just staying there like, well, like a turtle. If they are in front you can do a double-leg. If they do sankaku you can do the sankaku counter. If they are on your back you can do ippon seoi or a wrestler's roll. ATTACK !

Think about it this way - if you are ahead, you can eat up the clock on the mat and not get a penalty, if you are "showing progress" which is sure the hell not staying in a shell. If you are even, you can change a defensive position to an offensive one and increase the chances the referee will give you a decision as opposed to turtle-boy. Then, of course, there is the possibility that you will be able to pin, choke or armbar your opponent, if you just ATTACK.

My opponent: It's what's for dinner.

P.S. Those of you who want to write me hate mail about that previous sentence and how I am so bad for judo, here is another tip, sell your patches and buy a sense of humor

Rest in Peace, Virgil Bowles

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Need Smarter Friends: Judo Book Party

I am jealous.

My business partner, Dr. Erich Longie, mentioned that he had just come from a book party. He, and several other friends, all met at Dr. Carol Davis house to discuss the book they had all read, Rebuilding Native Nations.

I was upset. Why do my friends never have a book party? I have at least one bookcase in every bedroom, the living room, kitchen, hallway and even one of the bathrooms. I have books. And, I have friends.

So, let's have a book party. I know many people who are interested in judo. There is the large group who genuinely want to improve, realize that the world is a big place and there is far more of just about everything, including judo, than they could ever possibly hope to know. I see a lot of those people as they are always at camps, clinics, extra practices. There is the small minority who think they know it all, Erik Erikson's bitter old men (and a few women) who have failed in those final psychological tasks of stagnation versus generativity or integrity versus despair. I try to avoid them and they hide from me like they're vampires and I am garlic factory. Then, there is the other large group of people who have the same attitude as the first about learning but who are prevented from a lot of opportunities by circumstances. They either work a lot of hours, or inconvenient hours that prevent them from attending clinics and camps, or they live in rural communities and other areas where there is not a lot of judo within a convenient distance. I don't see near as much as I would like of those people.

I am talking to the last group, primarily, because I am falling into that these days. Work has attacked me lately and I have been at judo exactly once in the last week. My plan, is to pick one book, read it over the next few days and comment on it here. I picked Steve Scott's book Coaching on the Mat based on the scientific criteria that it was the first judo book in the house I laid my hands on. I was going to read Ron Angus book, Competitive Judo again but I could not find it. This means that either I lent it to someone who did not bring it back (if it was you, fork it over), or it was left lying around the house and the housekeeper put it under the bed with is what she does with all things laying around she does not know what to do with.

I am afraid to look under there. The last time I did spring cleaning was in 1997. I am pretty certain that the objects under the bed have mutated, organized their own government and formed a standing army.

So, read Coaching on the Mat. I just read the first couple of chapters. I normally skip through books just reading what I want. If I was to do that, I would have skipped to the section on Drills. However, since this is a book party (what, you weren't paying attention?) I am going to start at the beginning and read it all of the way through. So far, the best two ideas I have read are his statement that athletes can overcome bad facilities, inadequate funding and a host of other deficits but it is nearly impossible to overcome bad coaching. The other point he makes with which I agree is that the coaches are really what make any sport survive. We could have the best offices in the world in our national organizations with the best computers for mailing out membership cards, the best referees, brand new Zebra mats, and without coaches to teach new people the sport, it would all die.

I have to head out to work. I'll post more on the book as I read the rest.

Judo Tip
CONTINUING EDUCATION - The best time is on the mat but you can't always be on the mat. Get some good judo books and DVDs and when you get home from working second shift, watch or read them.

Judo reunion ! If you did judo in the Midwest during the 1970's and 1980's think about going to the judo reunion in July. Vickie Daniels and others set up a website for the reunion and old judo stories.