Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why I do this !@#$

My husband called me from the phone downstairs. Since the election, I have been taking calls from so many people, he probably figured that was the only way he could get to talk to me.

"Can I get promoted to black belt?"

He asked, joking (he BETTER be joking, with the day I had!)

Julia was yelling at him,

"You're not even a white belt! You've never done randori! You don't hardly ever even come WATCH me fight! How do you think you should be a black belt?"

He said,
"Hey, I know your mom. I sleep with a world champion."

Julia made one of those faces that eleven-year-olds use to let you know you are veering into disgusting territory. My husband said to me, seriously,

"Why do you do this !@#$, anyway?"

I have been asking myself that question a lot lately, I wrote a "professional" editorial for Growing Judo on the direction the USJA is going. Seriously, I had a major operation, I have been working at home for a month because I can't walk and have been on pain medication and in between and after hours doing things like editing the magazine that is still not done.

I was talking to Karl Geis today and here is a brief summary of what I told him:

"Ask anyone who knew me when I was young and they will tell you I was not a very promising child. Make a list of things you don't want your twelve-year-old child to do and I did all of them with fighting at the top of the list. I was GOOD at fighting from the day I started judo because I already had lots of practice. My mom was a very small person, raising five children, working full time and when the school called there wasn't much she could do. If it wasn't for judo, I would be in jail now, no question about it. One day, I came to practice and the coach said,

'Miss AnnMaria, front and center.'

I came up thinking he was going to tell me how well I did in the last tournament. Instead he said,

'I heard from one of your teachers at school that you got in a fight last week.'

I said, with an attitude, as usual,

'Yeah, so?'
He said,
'If it happens again, don't ever come back here.'

In judo, I fought other kids and I got medals and pats on the back for it. People I had never met, like Frank Fullerton and Bruce Toups, sent plane tickets in the mail because they saw some potential in me. I fought in Paris, London, Vienna, Caracas, Hongkong. At 16, I was in college, at 18 I was an exchange student at Waseda University in Tokyo, where I went to study judo. At 19, I was a college graduate. From there, the path was clear, graduate school, a profession, a world championship, more graduate school, family.

If it wasn't for that first coach, I guarantee you I would be in a women's prison somewhere. "

How do you pay someone back for saving your life? For setting you on a different path? My first judo instructor wasn't an Olympian, he wasn't a very high rank, he didn't have a red and white belt. He learned judo in the Air Force, I think, when he was stationed in Japan. He taught for a few years at the local YMCA while he was going to college on the G.I. Bill, then he got married and moved away. I asked him once why he taught judo and he didn't give me any high-minded lecture. He said something like it seemed like a good thing to do. Three of his students are teaching judo still, Randy Rhodes in Missouri, Tim Schultheis in Illinois and me. There may be more.

So, that is why I do this !@#$ . It's not for all of those people who think they are so important. It's for the people who make up the majority of the USJA, those coaches just like Bill Shelton at the Alton YMCA, who are so important in kids' lives and those kids who could be on the mat or who could be holding up a liquor store and could choose to do the former because those coaches made that choice possible. They are who make judo grow.

I donate money to support judo because I can now, thanks to the educational opportunities I gained as a result of judo. I don't do it so I can get recognized as a sponsor. I do it because Frank and Bruce did it for me, giving me opportunities to help me win because they saw how hard I trained. I do it because this is what I can do. It's not as if I can give Frank his money back (he died a little over a year ago). Bruce is still around, cracking jokes and teaching sasae but I don't think he's going to miss a payment on the Mercedes if he doesn't get a check from me.

When I looked at the results from the election, I was humbled. The first thought that went through my mind was,
"Damn! I hope I don't let these people down."

I mean that with all my heart and the people I thought of were my first coach, the kids at the Alton YMCA, Frank, Bruce, the cute little boys at Hayastan (they have to get more girls in that place), the teenagers at the West Coast Training Center.

I guess that is why I have this blog, because in my editorial in Growing Judo, I need to be presidential and give my vision for the USJA, which can be summed up in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "“The great thing in life is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” Although, of course, being me, I took a page and half more to say it. Still, this is what has been going through my head every day since the election results were announced.

"Damn! I hope I don't let these people down."

Friday, October 16, 2009

We got elected, now get to work!

The USJA election is over. I must say that I am pretty pleased with the outcome. The 11 people elected to the board all ran on the same slate with me or I with them, however you want to put it. Not only did we win, but we won by A LOT, a factor of two, three or four to one, compared to the opposing candidates. Several people called and emailed congratulations, which I very sincerely appreciate. The most amusing had to be my daughter, Ronda, who crowed into the phone,

"Woo-hoo, Mom, you kicked some old people USJA committee @$$ !"

In case you did not know, here is the new board, to take office at the next official board meeting.

Dr. AnnMaria De Mars, CA
Jim Pedro, Sr., NH
Gary Goltz, CA
Paul Nogaki, CA
Roy Hash, TX
Neil Ohlenkamp, CA
Marc Cohen, NY
Lowell Slaven, IN
Joan Love, CT
Bill Montgomery, CT
Dr. Jim Lally, CA

If you are interested in serving on any committees, or have suggestions, email me at and someone will contact you. If you want to donate money to support our programs, email me and I'll write you back twice !

Now we have to get to work. I have about 100 things I'd like to see happen. Here are some in no particular order.

* Work with USJF to have another USJA/USJF/ Judo Forum camp after the junior nationals. These are open to anyone with a gi (and $75). We give tons of scholarships to deserving people and they are great. Everyone who won the 2009 or 2010 junior nationals gets to attend free. There is always a lot of judo, pool parties and good times.

* Continue to improve our electronic communication. For a start, I really want to get our coaching materials more organized and more available. We have had a couple of people volunteer/ coerced to help with that. Neil "Mr." Ohlenkamp will spearhead this initiative, I hope (Neil, if you are reading this, hint, hint)

* Provide more outreach to clubs. This can be scholarships for camps and clinics, coaching materials, information like Growing Judo, the new Kodokan Technique program Hal Sharp has developed.

* See the All-Women's tournament that Deb Fergus and the Southside Dojo crew pioneered continue to expand. Roy Hash is now hosting one in Texas and there are some folks planning another tentatively scheduled for Las Vegas in January.

* Get more member services, like the arrangement we have with Golden Tiger Martial Arts , who give a 10% discount just for entering your USJA number.

-------------- REQUIRED JUDO TIP ----------------------

Learn ashi-waza and sutemi-waza (foot techniques and sacrifice techniques). As Bill Caldwell pointed out, I do ko soto gari, ko uchi maki komi and o soto gari, which are foot techniques, but I mean the techniques like foot sweeps - okuri ashi barai, de ashi barai, sasae tsurikomi ashi. I also do tani otoshi, which is a sacrifice and a terrific counter. What I don't do enough is tomoe nage, sumi gaeshi (although I do it more now). Do you see the pattern? Things that require timing more than strength, I don't do. That's a mistake.

Now here is a tip for coaches - don't try to have your players be like you. Ronda does a really good sumi. My goal for Julia this year is not to win the junior nationals but to develop some foot sweeps. In part I can't do certain techniques, like tomoe nage, because I hurt my knee when I was young and just physically could not do it. Another reason, though, is that I was extremely strong for my division and I used techniques that took advantage of power versus timing, which worked for me. However, I would have been even better as a judo player if I had learned both types of techniques well. I made the mistake that many successful competitors do of focusing on the small subset of throws I could score with NOW. The mistake was that BEFORE I was a successful competitor, when I was a kid, I should have been learning both of those things. Argument # 1,102 for not emphasizing junior competition near as much near as young as we do. AFTER I was a successful competitor, I should have spent more time learning these techniques. Well, it's not too late now. And I even have a new knee, which the doctor PROMISES me will not hurt and will actually work some day soon.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I would come to judo practice if they had free cheese (West Coast Judo Training Center is BACK!)

I was talking to Ronda the other day about someone who I had once thought would be a good judo player and turned out to never win anything past the junior division of the state championships. She said,
"I TOLD you that kid would never be any good."

Then I mentioned someone else who had placed once or twice in senior nationals and she said,
"They're never going to amount to anything either. You know why? Because they always have an excuse not to come to practice."

She is right, too. The biggest deciding factor over the years I have seen between those who made it - by which I mean in this case winning senior international medals - has been their ability to take an adult perspective of judo.

Let me give you an example. As an adult, when was the last time you said to someone at work,
"I'm not going to work with you on that software design because I don't like you."

You are supposed to get over behavior like that by the time you are sixteen, and that's if you're a slow learner. I teach graduate school and I also run a small business. I give less than a damn whether employees or graduate students on a team are BFFs or hate each others' guts. You don't come to work for love and friendship, that's why they have to pay you to show up. You come to achieve a goal and you are expected to act like an adult while you work on it.

People don't come to practice because:

  1. I don't like Sensei Schmoe.

  2. I don't like that guy in the smelly gi I have to work out with sometimes

  3. They spend 20 minutes on conditioning and I can do that at home. (Note that I have seen the people who say this and none of them look like they spent three hours on conditioning this morning. It is possible they have a perfect body and just keep it covered with a layer of fat to protect it, but I doubt it.)

  4. I have to study. (And none of the other 160 hours in the week are available for you to study.)

I have heard a thousand excuses for people not coming to the West Coast Training Center. If it was closer to my house, on a day besides Saturday, in a regular permanent gym, in the morning, in the afternoon, served free cheese because I am lactose deficient.

Well, thanks to the generosity of one of our parents, we now have a new location in a permanent gym, with practices on Saturday and Sunday. Both Saturday morning and afternoon. It is in West Covina so it must be closer to SOME people's houses. We still don't offer free cheese so people who were looking for an excuse will still have one.

Please share this invitation with your club members. You are very welcome to attend.

GRAND OPENING - New Location

West Coast Judo Training Center
537 Vine Ave.
West Covina, CA 91790

Saturday, October 24
Practice 10- 11:30 and 1-4 on Saturday
Cost $10 for the whole day !

Sunday October 25
11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Little Changes All the Time

My daughters accuse me of using the same lines over and over. They will roll their eyes, look at one another and groan,

"Mom saying number 10,342."

The worst thing about these accusations are that they are true, but I repeat myself because, damn it, they aren't doing it yet (whatever it happens to be), or, I want to make sure they keep doing it. In short, I am uncertain of the details but I am sure I am right.

One of these sayings, particularly applied to judo, is

"Always be a moving target."

In this video from her junior clinic in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Ronda is showing two variations of ko uchi makikomi. Notice the first one she grabs the leg. The second, she does not. To comply with the new rule changes, you can do the same exact combination with that little bitty change.

Sometimes people improve by making big changes, they move to Sensei O-Greatness Dojo and learn the Move of the Killing Antlers and defeat all of their opponents. Far more often, though, people improve by small changes added together.

I said this is one of my sayings for judo but I think it really applies to business as well. You should always be looking at how you can get better. Lately, having weeks to lay in bed and stare at my singularly uninteresting ceiling, I have seen how I have gotten into a bit of a rut and made some decisions regarding how I am going to make some changes in my professional life. These aren't dropping the whole statistics thing and becoming a milkmaid changes, but more like Ronda's switch from grabbing the leg to more of an arm drag, a modification here or there that may make a better whole.

One day, my niece, Samantha, got irritated with me (how that could happen I do not know since I am, as I frequently tell her, the soul of sweetness and light) and she complained to Ronda,

"Your mom says, 'Go to college'. I go to college and bring home my best report card in years and she says, 'A B-average is not bad but you are smarter than that. Next semester, you could probably make all A's.' Isn't anything ever going to be good enough for your mom? Isn't there ever going to be a time when you are good enough and there's no more improving expected?"

Without a pause in her unending quest to defeat Zelda the Crystal-Emerald-Cavern of Fornication video game, Ronda answered,


Why do they say this like it's a bad thing?