Thursday, March 24, 2011

Judo in the public school: How to make it happen

Judo is not a popular sport in the United States. One of the many suggestions for changing that unpopularity has been trying to get judo as a school sport. Reasons vary. One, which you should all forget about, is that we would then have funding for instructors, travel to tournaments and other costs. In fact, most districts are struggling just to cover the costs of teachers in the classroom, much less anything else.

So, just how did we get a judo program at a school in one of the largest districts in the country? 

1. Check your ego at the door: Get a sponsoring teacher

LA Unified has a policy in which I am very much in agreement. They won't let just random people come in and work with their students unsupervised. Yes, I have a Ph.D., sixth-degree black belt and world championships. Ronda has Olympic and world medals. Guess what? No one cares. For all they know we are child-molesting serial killers and they are going to have an honest-to-God certified teacher employed by LAUSD physically present during every practice to insure that we don't do any child-molesting serial killing. Not only did I not object to that, I thought it was great. As a parent, I don't want random people coming to the school and teaching my child unsupervised.

We didn't actually didn't find a sponsoring teacher. He found us. Mr. Gonzales, chair of the Social Studies Department at Gompers Middle School in Los Angeles had just completed teaching the unit on medieval Asian history, and mentioned to his student teacher that he would really like to find someone to teach judo at the school. Normally, that would be as far as it went, but his student teacher happened to have a younger sister who had just won an Olympic medal in judo.

2. Teach for free

To make the judo program happen, Mr. Gonzales had to be willing to stay after school for ninety minutes every Friday for - well, apparently forever  - with no pay. Oh, did I mention that Ronda taught for free, too? My friend, 1980 Olympian Steve Seck, thinks we are crazy for doing this. Of course, Steve thought we were crazy before, too, so nothing has really changed.

3. Have a guardian angel willing to loan you mats

One of the coolest, nicest people I know in martial arts isn't even in judo. His name is Sean Davila and he is one of the kind of people who gives Christianity a good name. He even wrote a book called Wolves in the Valley about being a martial artist and faith. It has really good pictures (seriously, they're nice) and poetry, some of which I even liked, which is saying something because as a general rule I dislike poetry even more than I dislike rhubarb, octopus and escargot (those being the only food-like substances in the world that I won't eat). And it has stories about faith, questioning your life. Anyway ... before he wrote a book, he owned a karate school or two and knowing that he was the kind of guy who honest to God believes in practicing what he preaches, I called him up and asked if he had some mats we could kind of borrow. And, as I knew he would, he said sure. So, off Ronda went to load up a van full of mats.

4. Have friends

Ronda works at Dynamix Martial Arts, competes in mixed martial arts and works as a veterinary technician. So, sometimes she can't make it to practice. So, I started teaching some of the time, because we believed it was very, very important to be reliable. If Ronda can't be there, I'm there. If neither of us can be there, for example, if she is fighting in Las Vegas and I went to watch her, then Richard (Blinky) Elizalde my fellow coach from the West Coast Judo Training Center runs practice.

This is our third semester at Gompers. There are a few things that I would like to change. It would be really nice if we had practice more than once a week, but that's hard for several reasons. One is that it is an hour drive (or more) in rush hour traffic for me to get there, plus another 35-40 minutes to drive home. It's not very easy for me to make the time once a week, much less two or three times. On top of that, we would have to get Mr. Gonzalez to stay more than once a week, which is a lot to ask on top of his already busy schedule. His wife just had a baby recently, too, so that makes it an even more unreasonable request. I'd like to find a way to take the regular students somewhere else to practice one weekend a month, which is something I am hell-bent on making happen at least once before the end of the school year.

My main goal right now, though, is to get the judo program institutionalized. By that, I don't mean having everyone in the class committed for mental illness.  I heard this term years ago at a meeting in Washington. The speaker was talking about programs funded by government grants and the difference between those and institutions. He said,
"An institution is permanent. When your kindergarten teacher leaves,  what happens? Do you not have kindergarten any more? No. You get a new teacher. Because kindergarten is more than that one person."
So, that's a little on how we got a judo program started at a public school. Next time, I'll tell you why.


JudoWill said...

This is the same sort of model we employed when we created the club here at Drexel. Luckily, our first instructor was actually a faculty member ... and by the time he left I had become a faculty member.

But you're right, if you're not a teacher at the school the likelihood of them letting you run the program without supervision is very low.

Dr. AnnMaria said...

Yes, I used to teach judo at the college where I was a professor and this is how hard it was.

Me (on the phone with chair of PE Dept): I'd like to teach a judo class.

Chair: OK. What time?