and how destroying my knee made me a world champion
No one has ever accused me of being a reasonable person. Instead, I pursued international competition, rather successfully, if I do say so myself.
What I learned was to turn strengths into weaknesses. As you can see here, my throwing technique is not the best. I start in a standard grip.
I turn into a throw, just like anyone else.
Because my knees are very bad - better now, since I had one replaced, but prior to that I had one ligament and no cartilage in the right knee - none, not even the stuff that is supposed to cover the end of your bones - and was missing one ligament and some of my cartilage in the other knee - I can only bend a very little, as you can see.
The opponent just sort of ungracefully rolls off of me and lands on her side. Not very hard and not completely on her back.
However, I am in a perfect position for an arm bar. I have her arm at the elbow, her arm is straight up in the air. My right foot is close to her body to keep her from turning to the right. My left foot is near her head, also keeping her from turning to the right.
It takes less than a second for me to fall backwards, taking her arm with me. As I fall, my right leg goes over her body and both hands slide up to her wrist so that I have her arm locked against me with two hands. Then, I just arch to finish the arm bar.
What I learned was this -- to turn my weakness, that is, my inability to lift someone up so that I could throw them hard and flat on the back - into a strength, by practicing the transition from that rolling off my back position into a really tight arm bar.
When I got injured, I thought it was the end of the world, that I would never be able to do judo again. Oddly, it was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned to focus on what I could do and not what I couldn't do. When I was injured things like ligament replacements and total knee replacements didn't exist. That meant I had to find a different way to win that didn't require being able to stand up very well. I learned to look at what other people were not very good at as an opportunity - that was mat work in general and particularly the transition from standing to mat work and the transition between mat techniques.
If I hadn't blown my knee out when I was a teenager, I'd probably have gone along like everyone else, trying to do a better shoulder throw and never have really won very much outside of the U.S.
Three other really important lessons I learned at the same time were:
- that success often comes from doing what no one else is doing,
- hard work has an almost infinite capacity to make up for what you're missing in other areas, even missing body parts,
- it's perfectly fine to pursue goals that are completely unreasonable.