We were pretty young back then, both in good shape, training every day. We both were lucky that we started out with good coaches and I think I can honestly say we were above average as far as technique went. We'd both won a lot of juniors and were starting to place in the senior national events. At this age, we were pretty closely matched.
Our judo club practiced in a room on the second floor. One day we were working out doing matwork and it was pretty even. We were rolling around, he was on top, then I was on top. We were really going at it and neither of us was willing to give up. We rolled off the mat and were still fighting in the hallway.I wasn't going to give up and neither was he. Finally, we got to the top of the stairs and he was still not willing to let go. I'm not crazy. We're going to go rolling down the stairs and it's going to hurt, maybe seriously, just to win one stupid round of newaza randori in the dojo. I tapped out. When I look back, I think that was the point where I realized there was a major difference between me and him. He was willing to go down the stairs and I wasn't.
Now, my friend, who did not win the world championships, is a successful, smart person who is a really good judo player and had a good measure of competitive success himself. As he said, he's not crazy.
So, am I saying that if you start fighting with people until you go rolling down a flight of stairs that you are going to be a world champion. It's not the specific event, in fact, if you went out and rolled down a flight of stairs today, I wouldn't be too impressed because I had to tell you about it. The point is that one person just had that attitude and the other didn't.
Ronda and I were interviewed for a TV show on MMA last week. One question the interviewer asked that I hear frequently is,
"What do you think one really important lesson you learned from judo that has helped you in life?"
I think I get asked this more often than Ronda because I am old so have presumably seen most of my life by now. I think one lesson I have learned is to be willing to go down the stairs. I started out with a safe job as an engineer and a huge aerospace company. I quit that to get a Ph.D. and become a professor. With a safe, full-time, tenure track position, I quit to start a business. After making a comfortable living doing program evaluations, statistical analysis and programming, I'm taking the risk and starting up a new technology company. I'm involved in a highly technical field and trying to solve a very complex problem.
My niece asked me,
"Are you sure you'll be able to get this to work?"
I told her,
"No, we don't know how it will turn out. That's why we call it 'research'."
So, maybe I will completely fall on my face, I won't be able to solve the problem and I'll have to find something else to do. I don't think so, but I don't know.
What I do know is that I am going to take the risk because that's what I learned from training to be world champion in judo - the willingness to go down the stairs, knowing full well that it might hurt like hell, but not being able to give up that chance to come out on top.