Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shag Okada: A man worth remembering

In the book, How to stop worrying and start living, Dale Carnegie wrote,

“I realize now that people are not thinking about you and me or caring what is said about us. They are thinking about themselves—.... They would be a thousand times more concerned about a slight headache of their own than they would about the news of your death or mine.” 

That is usually true. I have been too busy to write anything on this blog. I was in Tunisia and when I got back I had some terrific consulting opportunities come up, so I didn't write anything at all.  When I got some time, I planned to write something about the training camp. And I had people to meet with at work and practice at the West Coast Judo Training Center and a dentist appointment ...

and then I received an email that Shag Okada died.

So I stopped worrying about all of the rest of that stuff to write about him. I knew Shag for nearly thirty years and in all of that time he was never once anything but helpful and kind to me. He didn't have any reason to be. In fact, thirty years ago, a lot of people would say he had reasons not to be. I was female in a sport that was supposed to be for males. I was non-Japanese in a sport that was supposed to be Japanese. There was a lot of racism and sexism. Shag should have been on that side. He was older, Japanese, male, and integral part of Nanka Judo Yudanshakai (the largest and probably oldest judo black belt organization in the country). I didn't even go to a meeting for years after I got my black belt. Things get back to me, though. One thing that got back to me nearly thirty years ago when there was a discussion of funding players to the U.S. Open and National championships. My name came up and several people were against giving me a dime. I wasn't from the "right" club, "But she's a girl!" some people objected (I was in my twenties, had a masters degree and working as an engineer at the time). It was just as well I wasn't at the meeting. Shag, who even back then was a force to be reckoned with, stood up and said,

"But she's winning."

It was simple, to him. And I did get the same funding as everyone else. He was for equal opportunity before it was popular.

Various judo publications would ask high-ranking black belts to predict the outcome of the next tournament. (This was before we had the Judo Forum for things like that! ) I beat every American I fought for two years straight and yet, in every publication, the only person who picked me as the one to win the Panamerican Trials, U.S. Nationals, U.S. Open, World Trials or Olympic Festival was Shag Okada. When I pointed that out to him, and thanked him after one of those tournaments he looked surprised and said,

"But I had to pick you. I've seen you train."

The reason he had seen me train is that he let me, Dawn Beers, Jimmy Martin and two dozen other judo players use his dojo, Orange County Kodokan, every single weekend for years on end. Just to help us get better. Twenty-five years later, we started the West Coast Judo Training Center based on the concept he supported back in the 1980s.

When I had a baby, I wanted to get life insurance, which was something I knew nothing about. I asked Shag, since that was his business. I trusted him and whatever he told me I would have bought. He said,

"You're young and healthy. You don't need that much life insurance. Buy this one. It's not very expensive and it's plenty for you."

That kind of shot my negative image of insurance salesmen for life.

Shag was very knowledgable about judo. He donated an enormous amount of his time to judo from the local through national level all of his life. He was even an international coach, leading the Panamerican Team. He supported me when I was president of California Judo, Inc. All of that is nice and appreciated.

More than anything, though, what I remember about Shag over thirty years is that he was generous, honest, kind and fair. If, as I really do think, the measure of your success in life is how many people will be truly sorry when you are gone, then Shag Okada was a successful person indeed.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sixth Time is a Charm

Today was the sixth time Ronda entered the senior national championships. She has competed every year since she was 17, except for last year when she took some time off. For the sixth time, she won the national championships. She first competed in 63 kg when she was 16, back in 2003 and then moved up to 70 kg in 2007. She never lost to an American at either division.

Usually when someone wins a national title their family, friends and even acquaintances make a big deal out of it. I know for Ronda a lot of people took the attitude like,

"Oh, it's Saturday, I went to Starbuck's and Ronda won the national championships."

First of all, I wanted to take this opportunity to say how immensely proud of Ronda I am. Winning looks easy because she has trained so damn HARD, year after year after year. That's worth mentioning.This is the third point tournament she entered this year and among those she has had 11 matches and won them all by ippon. Someone made the snarky comment that doesn't mean she's been training, that she could have won them all easily anyway. I think that remark is incredibly rude and disrespectful to both Ronda and her competitors. Ronda has been very fortunate to have some really good people helping teach her and coach her over the years. She has also worked her ass off. She didn't go into Wal-Mart, walked down to aisle twelve and pick up super-ninja judo powers off the top shelf.

Speaking of judo, someone told me a long time ago that the only reason he read my blog was for the tips about judo and that it should be required to have a judo tip in every post. To make up for my slacking in the past, here are a couple of training tips. Next time I will try to remember to put in some tips on defense in matwork, since this blog is getting too long already.

Why does someone out of left field sometimes beat the number one player? It isn't often that a player is number two or five for years and then knocks off the number one competitor in the division. There are a few reasons, some having to do with the top player and others related to his or her competition.

If you've been competing against a person for a while, you know what your competitor does. You know if the person is right-handed or left-handed, prefers forward attacks, does counters, is better at matwork. That person isn't very likely to catch you with something unexpected. You don't get to be number one unless you STUDY your competition. You also expect them to know what you do. They're studying you, too. On the other hand, a person who is just coming up from the juniors you may never have seen before. The person comes in for a forward throw, you block and next thing you know you are slammed with a backward combination that you didn't see coming. Or they have some weird way of doing o soto gari from both sleeves or something else that you haven't expected. The point is, your regular competitors have spent years working on their techniques and anything new is going  to be well, new and somewhat unperfected. "Unknown" players though, can have been working on that double-sleeve o soto gari from when they were six until now, for ten years, but YOU don't know about it.

Not only are those unknown players, by definition, going to come at you with techniques which you can't predict but they also don't necessarily know they are supposed to lose. This can cut both ways. They can approach the match thinking,
"Oh, my God, oh my God, I'm going to get humiliated."

I've even heard people in that position say,
"Well, after I lose to ----- , then I have either Joe or Blow to fight for bronze."

On the other hand, the people you have beaten ten times before, psychologically it IS going to be hard for them to overlook the fact that you beat them the last ten times by ippon and they haven't gotten magically better since then and you haven't gotten magically worse.

So, if you are the underdog, take this tip to heart. Come on in the beginning of the match like a bat out of hell before the :"favorite" has figured out what you do, if you're right-handed, if you're a terror in matwork. Don't hesitate, don't be afraid to attack.

Now a few words to the "overdog" . Kind of sucks, I know. If you win, everyone expects it but if you lose everyone will make a big deal of it. Sort of a double-bind for you. Know what sucks even worse, though? Losing! So, listen up here. The two huge mistakes you don't want to make both involve getting cocky. TRAIN!!! I know that is brain-dead obvious but I have seen too many people who have won the nationals, U.S. Open, whatever, several times and don't really train for it, who take the attitude,

"Oh, so you think Joe Blow is going to beat me?"

Maybe not. Maybe Sam You-Never-Heard-Of is going to beat you because you are out of shape, had to kill to lose those eight pounds to make weight at the last minute, you ran out of energy at the third minute and got thrown because you were exhausted.

Never, never, never take anything for granted. They don't give you points on the board just because you won the last two years. The second reason the "overdog" loses also has to do with being unprepared, but psychologically. So, you get to the tournament, you trained, you were in shape and your first match is Sally Lou Who. You're used to feeling out your opponent, getting your grip. You walk up to Sally Lou, reach up to get a grip and she drapes herself over your arm and does a soto makikomi and you're done.Apparently she has not received the memo that you're supposed to grip fight for a while before attacking.

Or you knock Sally Lou down for a yuko right off the bat, and start to get up so you can throw her for ippon the next time, but Sally Lou whose dad was four-time Olympic wrestling champion has crummy throws but the best matwork of any fifteen-year-old in the universe and she turns you and pins you for ippon.

That 15-year-old kid you're going to fight? Take her every bit as seriously as last year's Olympic team member. Warm up for the match just the same. Get the grip you want. Get the set up you want. Be ready. Because you know what? You need to make it through that fifteen-year-old kid or you're not getting to the finals.

You'd be amazed how often people are thinking about who they're going to fight in the finals when they haven't even fought their first match yet.

I was visiting Mojica Judo Club one day and a very insightful young player asked me,
"What do you think about when you are competing in those big tournaments like the world championships?"

I told him,
"If you think about it like winning the Panamerican Games or the World championships you'd be so nervous you'd go crazy. I just think about winning the next match,about making one less mistake than the other person."

Good job little Pumpkin on making the least mistakes today!