Wednesday, April 24, 2013

So you think you're tough?

I was driving to San Diego today and remembering all of the times I drove from San Diego to Los Angeles for practice. I thought, we really ought to appreciate the sacrifices these competitors in judo and other martial arts make. They have to drive all over the place to get to practice. I remembered how hard those practices were, and thought again, yes, an average person wouldn't do it. Probably I don't appreciate how tough these young people are and the effort they put out to get better.

Then I got to the luncheon I was driving down to attend. It was a reunion of a lot of the judo people who trained and competed together over the past thirty or forty years. Since I worked out at the Naval Training Center for years (before September 11, it was a lot easier for civilians to work out on the base) there were a lot of Navy guys there. There were also several guys who had been in the Marines and at least one Army and one Air Force officer.

They had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Joe Ciokon and another of the Navy guys talked about a young man - I think they said he was 19 - who had locked himself in the boiler room of a ship that was under fire and damaged so that he could repair it enough that it would stay afloat while the rest of the sailors had a chance to evacuate. He died there and they later recovered his body.

At the other end of the table, they were discussing the assault on a cliff during World War II, guys climbing up ropes to attack the enemy from the rear - an enemy that thought they were not going to be attacked from the back because it was a sheer cliff.

Other people were talking about their service in Korea and Vietnam.

It occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe, this is one reason that people aren't so impressed with people in jiu-jitsu, judo and other martial arts. Don't get me wrong, it's really good you are doing what you're doing instead of laying on the couch eating potato chips and playing Donkey Kong. It just may be, though, that old guy who you think ought to appreciate your sacrifice more, when he was several years younger than you was in a jungle, in the boiler room of a ship or patrolling the streets in a country on the other side of the world where for all he knew, around the next corner someone might shoot him. And there was no referee to stop him from getting hurt too badly.

Just something to think about.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Why Do Some Judo Programs Have Students and Others Don't?

Look closely in the picture above. See the kids in the background? See the one against the wall? All of those kids, the one walking towards me, too, and more  you can't see outside of the picture are waiting outside for the gym to open when I get to Gompers Middle School. They're waiting for judo class.

Why do some programs have trouble getting five kids on the mat and others have students literally lined up outside the door?

There are probably lots of reasons but I can tell you three things that I do that I think make a difference.

1. I have a plan for the day. I don't wing it. Every day, when I come in I know what we are going to do first, second, middle and last. I might change my mind during the class, for example, if it seems as if students are having a hard time learning a technique we will work longer on it, instead of introducing a second new technique.

2. I have an overall plan. In general, we start with conditioning. Jim Pedro, Sr. gave me this idea about circuits at the beginning of the year and we have been doing these, on the average, three out of four practices. We've gone from two minutes of circuits to seven. The reason I like this is it is measurable and noticeable. Every kid has gotten better. It's like Jim said, if they do it, they WILL get stronger. Kids who couldn't do five push-ups in October can now do 60. Not only do I want them to get in better physical shape, my number one concern, but I also want them to learn standing technique, mat technique, get over any fears they might have about falling or attacking, learn conditioning, be aggressive without being mean, develop coordination and learn transition. I also want them to have fun. Everything we do is aimed at one of those objectives. My plan also calls for people getting better technically, so we begin the year learning basic throws and gradually move to combinations, for example.

3. I try to have a combination of predictability and variety. Predictability can be good. People like to feel like they know what is going on. Plus, if you have been coming to class regularly and I say we are going to do circuits, or we are going to do that exercise with the medicine ball where everyone is running, the students who get set to do it can see that they have learned something because the new students are just looking around. We do some of the same throws or mat techniques most practices and then I will teach a new one. I think most judo instructors, most of whom never had any other teaching experience, either try to teach too much in one day or are too repetitive and teach the same thing over and over. While I really like matwork and try to teach about 50% matwork each practice, it seemed to me that the students were somewhat better in matwork than standing, so we did all standing instruction today, although they each did about six rounds of mat work, as well as four rounds of free practice.
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why You Lose (and other things you don't want to hear)

Sometimes you look at a scene and it brings a lot of things into focus. I had one of those moments of clarity this weekend, and it was thanks to a photo one of the parents snapped during practice this weekend (thank you, Dan McNair a.k.a. Eileen & Liam's dad).

To win, you don't need to be bitten by a radioactive spider, born on a far-away planet, to fund a multi-million dollar secret lair. I blame comic books. Even Batman, the one super-hero who did it through training, had millions of dollars to spend on special super-hero stuff.

I was at practice with these guys, plus someone I just met Zurab Bekochvili (world sambo champion - watch one of his matches here, the dude has some sick arm bars).

To be a world champion you need to balance on the line between arrogance and humility.
  1. You need to be arrogant enough that you believe you can beat anyone who stands in front of you.
  2. You also need to be humble enough to continually learn.
  3. You also need to work your ass off in training 
  4. AND you need to train in quantity as well as quality. That is, busting your ass two hours a day, four days a week doesn't cut it.

Given those four things, you can win.

This is why I roll my eyes when I CONSTANTLY hear young people say one of these things:

  • I have to move to Japan/ Brazil / France/ (insert name of state you don't now currently live here) to train
  • There is no one here to teach me
  • There is no one to challenge me
  • I only train with my coach and his group because no one else is as good as us
May-be that is true if you live in Tinytown, USA but if you live in fucking Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco - check yourself.

I won the world championships living in San Diego. I drove to Los Angeles every weekend. Marti Malloy won a bronze medal in the Olympics living in San Jose. Kayla Harrison won a gold medal in the Olympics living in Boston. Ronda won a world title in mixed martial arts living in Los Angeles.

There is no secret sauce, no magic bullet. If moving from Point A to Point B convinces you that you can win, then good for you. However, as I stood in a gym with people who had won world titles in two different sports, who had been on the national judo team for two different countries, it was very hard for me to buy the bullshit I hear from people about "there is no one here good enough to teach me".

If your coach - whoever he or she might be - is discouraging you from training in other places with other people, deep down that coach does NOT have your best interests at heart. Maybe one person might be a jerk or pedophile and you shouldn't train there - but everyone? Your coach is the sole holder of all judo/ mixed martial arts/ jiu-jitsu knowledge. I don't fucking think so.

I hear people say,
"Oh, sure, you, Blinky, Zurab (insert name X) won but judo is completely different now."
How do you know? You weren't even born then. Yes, there are differences and maybe you are correct (maybe not) but my point is that most people who say that have no fucking idea how judo was 20 or 30 years ago and are just repeating something they heard or throwing out an argument to justify not going to practice.

I'll tell you what I did NOT do
  • Always practice with the same people
  • Skip practice more than a few times a YEAR
  • Practice with people who didn't challenge me because I knew what techniques they did or I had beat them so many times they knew better than to try
  • Think I was too good or smart to learn from anyone who might have a good idea
If you aren't training every day where you are, if you aren't going after the hardest person in the room, if you aren't training at different clubs where people are new and you feel off-kilter, if you aren't seeking out everyone who can help you learn more - then you probably aren't going to do that in Japan, Brazil, Russia or (insert state where you don't live here). Because, you see, wherever you go, there you are.

If you are not out of your comfort zone a lot of the time, you're doing it wrong. If you keep avoiding those practices you don't want to do, you're doing it wrong.

The main reason that you're not winning is that you are lying to yourself.

There were days when I was in graduate school at the University of Minnesota when I would roller-blade around Lake Calhoun.  That's seven miles if you do it twice around. You know what I said on those days? Not, I roller bladed seven miles or I worked out or I lost three pounds. No, I said,

I skipped judo practice.

... because roller-blading seven miles is in no way the equivalent of working out for two hours with a bunch of guys who want to smash me in the mat. Because I was honest about it, I made damn sure that the next day, I didn't skip practice. Then, I moved from Minnesota to southern California, and when I got here, there I was.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Visiting Hayastan Mixed Martial Arts Academy (or any dojo)

Remember when you were a kid how much you looked forward to field trips? Well, I think martial arts clubs should have field trips, too.

Usually, the reasons for not doing so are a combination of elitism - we have everything we need here, why would we go anywhere else? and laziness.

There is also that bit of anxiety - what if we say we are going to go to another club and nobody shows up?

We took the West Coast Judo Training Center kids to visit Hayastan Mixed Martial Arts Academy today and it was great on a number of levels.

1. I got to watch Sensei Sako teach. He is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated instructors I know. He has been teaching young children judo for twenty years.

I am constantly impressed with him. He knows good technique for judo and sambo. He also understands children very well. Unlike many judo instructors whose teaching for kids is very pedantic and far better suited to adults, Sako is literally hands on, stopping students and demonstrating how to improve their posture, gripping and throws.

2. All of the students got to meet and work out with different people. No matter how nice the people are you train with normally, or how good they are, it is beneficial on a lot of dimensions to meet new people. Above the judo benefit, which was good, there is the meeting people you don't normally associate with. Most of the students at Hayastan are Armenian. None of the students who came with us were Armenian. We can have all the diversity workshops we want but nothing builds tolerance better than getting to know people from other ethnic groups who are nice, smart and hard-working - as every kid on the mat was.

3. It's a really nice facility, so as well as variety in partners and instructors, the students got to train in a state-of-the art location.

4. I met  Zurab Bekochvili who taught an arm bar I had not learned before. It was so cool. Sensei Zurab who was a Russian national judo champion, world sambo champion, Georgian (as in the country) Greco-Roman champion and a genuinely nice guy.

The practice just flew by. Almost everyone wanted to stay longer - so we did. There is a sight for you - kids begging their parents to let them stay just a half-hour longer and practice more.

Field trips. Try it. 
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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What I learned from judo about life

Jim is probably right when he says all of the time,

Sports emulate life.

I'm a cynical person overall because I have seen so many people who don't keep their commitments, who say they will be somewhere, do something but then it gets to be too much effort to do what they said they would (we call that keeping your word) and so they go back to bed.

On the other hand, I'm often pleasantly surprised by people who DO exactly what they say and more. For example, the nice people from Fight Chix said they would send us shirts and they did. Gift-wrapped, no less, with notes.

I particularly appreciated it because I cannot tell you the number of people over the years who have said,

"That's so great that you and Ronda have taught at that middle school in south central Los Angeles for years. I'd love to help you out."

The number of them who have actually followed through, though, can be counted on the fingers of one hand by a person who had lost some fingers in a tragic mining accident.

I do things because I think they are the right thing to do, not because I expect to be appreciated - and I often am not. I don't  expect generosity. For example, we did a Kickstarter campaign in February to raise money for a game my company did. I was very touched by the people who backed it. I was not even surprised that some of the people who I had helped A LOT in judo did not. I'm cynical. I expected that.

On the other hand, all of the students posed for the picture above and were very thankful to receive the shirts.

We had received two judo gis from Moya gis (thank you Jesse !!) and one of the students who had a black shirt said,

"I got one of the gis last week. Here, take this shirt and give it to someone who didn't get a gi and give me a pink one."

One of the teachers came to me during a break at practice and whispered,

This is not Santa Monica. You know there's no way those boys can wear a hot pink shirt to school. 

At which point, one of the students who overheard him said,

"That's okay, Sensei, I'll give it to my Mom."

Next thing you know, all of the pink shirts in size large were gone, to be taken home and given to people's mothers, one of whom came up after practice to give me a hug and thank me.

At the very end of class, one young man came to talk to me. This kid is so quiet that the first couple of weeks I had wondered if there was something wrong with him that he couldn't talk. He said, in a voice barely above a whisper,
"Sensei, do you think I could have that one small, pink shirt you have left? There's this girl I like ... "
How could I say no?

So, here is what I learned from judo today:

Sometimes you CAN count on people.
Sometimes people DO appreciate what you do for them.
Sometimes people ARE generous.
And never underestimate the quiet ones.

On top of all of that, if you check out the number of arm bar attempts in matwork randori in this video from practice. I'd like to think some of that is MY influence.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Advice to Young People

Since all young people obviously need advice from me, here is four minutes of it.

Or, in one word: Chill.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Winning on the Ground Infomercial - judo speed drills

Another video blog .... why winning on the ground is awesome, how judo drills help, how judo and jiu-jitsu matwork differ

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If Amazon is sold out you can buy it straight from Black Belt at 18.95

You can buy the ebook for $9.99 at either Amazon or Black Belt. Barnes and Noble sells it for the Nook as well.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No time put into a student is ever wasted

Some coaches or trainers believe that if a student quits martial arts after several years that the time put into that student was wasted. I disagree.