Tuesday, May 28, 2013

My Opinion on TUF (Not that you asked me)

Warning up front: This post is not for children.

Not that anyone asked me, but I thought I would give my opinion on The Ultimate Fighter show. I've only watched this show the season Manny Gamburyan was on it because, well, I have an actual job that requires me to go places like North Dakota, where I am at the moment, and do work.

Doing work conflicts with reality shows in general. I've watched about five minutes each of Jersey Shore (I think that's the name) and some show about the Kardashians. Both times, I changed the channel quickly as I felt brain cells beginning to die. I've never watched the O.C. which explains why, when I asked our dentist, Dr. Pratt, how his children were doing he gave me a strange look and said,

"You don't watch TV, do you?"

When I heard about the last-minute switch in coaches for the show Ronda is on, my first thought was,

"That's a pretty dick move."

Not so much replacing Cat, who was injured (ouch!) but keeping it from Ronda until the last minute. If you're going to have an athletic competition, then it should be fair. Among other things, that means you don't give one competitor information that the other doesn't have. You don't let one player know something weeks in advance of the other player.

So, it is pretty clear that whoever is making the decisions here has decided this is not an athletic competition, it's a reality show. That's what a lot of people have been saying all along, it's just going to be a side show and not a serious athletic event.

Here is my advice to Ronda, not that she asked me either, but that has never stopped me before.

You know who gets to decide if this is an athletic competition or a reality show? You. 

My coach used to be amused by other coaches who before the match would be giving lengthy instructions to my competitor - get your right cross grip, then go for the uchi mata, then switch  .... As Jimmy Martin said, why didn't they tell her that in the last six weeks before the match. Every now and then, though, he would get annoyed by all of the posturing. That's when he would pull me close and whisper in my ear his coaching advice.

"Fuck. Her. Up."

So, if I was Ronda, I would train my ass off and I would follow the sage coaching advice of Jimmy Martin. I'd also make damn sure I found out who pulled that dick move on me and never trust him/ them again. The good thing is you get to take out your emotions beating people up and that will make a great show.

You can forgive, but don't forget. If someone will manipulate you just for show, well, that tells you something about them doesn't it?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Jesse Moya Surprises Gompers Middle School Judo

You know why old people are cynical? It's called "experience".

If every person who said to me,
Oh, you volunteer at an urban school. That is so great. I'd love to help you out.
had actually given me a dollar, I wouldn't be paying for the extra mats and crash pad this fall myself!

About once a year someone like the people at FightChix who sent t-shirts (thank you!) and Jim Pedro, Sr. who donated his share of the advertising revenue from this blog (also thank you!) follows through and actually gives anything to the program.

Well, that's not exactly true - when the judo class started years ago, I sent out an email and posted on this blog asking anyone who had an extra judo gi to drop it off. Many of my former students did, as well as some other generally nice people.

As a general rule, though, people mostly complain about how bad education is in America, run down teachers and schools and don't do a damn thing to help.

It's been a few years, and the gis, which were already used when donated, have gotten a bit ragged. Whoever gets there first gets a gi in his or her size and the rest end up with one too small or too large, but hey, we manage. The kids work hard, we have water, snacks are provided by the Woodcraft Rangers after-school program, school staff volunteer. I can't complain. It's a good program.

Let's go back to the clinic Ronda did to raise money for Didi Hirsch a few months ago (and for which Blue Cotton donated shirts - thank you!)

The tickets were $200 each but one spot at the clinic was raffled off as part of the fundraiser for the West Coast Judo Training Center. The person who bought the winning ticket was Jesse Moya of Moya Brand gis.  He's that guy in the right front of the picture. He said,

"Oh, that's so great you volunteer at a middle school. I'd like to help."

I'm sure I made some polite noise while thinking to myself I'd never hear from him again. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when Patti Ochirino (also known as Bradley's mom) gave me two judo gis at the next practice, saying they were for the kids at Gompers. We gave them to two of the students who had been in the program the longest. One is a graduating eighth grader who has been taking judo for two years. I thought, well, that was nice.

SO ..... Jesse contacted Jose Gonzalez, the teacher at Gompers who sponsored the judo program (we need an LAUSD teacher on site to supervise - he has done this for four years without pay). He got every student's name and size and showed up on Friday with a new judo gi for each student.

So, thank you to Jesse Moya and Moya Brand! Thanks to you, I am a little less cynical today.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

One size definitely does NOT fit all

On Sunday, there was a judo tournament, so many of the usual suspects were not at practice until later. The first hour and a half or so was just Scott (an adult novice, north of 200 pounds), Christian, a purple belt weighing around 70 pounds and Elias, his little brother, who is a about 40 pounds on a  heavy day.

(Apologies if I didn't get the weights exactly right. This is not the LA County Fair and I am not the weight guesser guy.)

In such a situation, what you should NOT do is try to teach everyone the same thing. For three hours, we went through different moves for different people (we were eventually joined by Liam, later by Blinky and I don't know who came after that because I had to leave).

We all did ko uchi makikomi, although I do think it was a better move for the smaller people. We did it both right and left. We all also did that drill showed on the Armbar Nation site with Julia where they run back and forth doing uchi komi. That is really just a conditioning drill and everyone can get in a little better shape.

Then, we did a sacrifice throw into an arm bar. While each person tried each variation - and here Christian is doing the variation I asked Scott to emphasize.

The way I usually do this move, is I do the throw, do a backward roll as I do it and land ON TOP of my opponent.

Now Scott, as I said, is a good 200+ and well over six feet tall. As I unnecessarily pointed out to him, Olympic gymnast material he is not.  So, when he did the throw, I had him do  the arm bar as demonstrated above, where he threw his opponent with a sumi gaeshi . There is a nice video of how to do sumi here. We did not actually do it that way on Sunday because that is a bit more advanced. We did it for people who we bent over stiff-arming you.

So ... Scott did the sumi gaeshi to the arm bar.
Christian did a drop seoi nage to this same arm bar.
Elias just did the throw to the pin.

Too often I will see coaches who are 5 foot 1 (a perfect height, by the way) who teach everyone to do a drop shoulder throw because that is what they do.

Don't be like them. Be like me, Captain Modesty.

Oh, yes, check out my book of matwork tips and techniques which did not include the one above. Maybe that will be my next book if enough people buy this one.

If not, I guess I'll write my next book on statistics, which would be okay, too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mom advice on judo and life

Don't expect appreciation. Whether it is helping out at a tournament or teaching someone how to do an arm bar, do things either because you want to do them or because you think it is the right thing to do.

Most people have an egocentric view of the world. Of course you will help them because they are so awesome/ talented/ fun to be around. They may just consider the fact that THEY enjoy running a tournament proof that it's enjoyable and expect you to enjoy it, too.

If you go around expecting appreciation for the things you do, you'll end up bitter. Do what you think is right and forget about it.

I teach judo because when I was young people taught judo to me - for free. It made a huge difference in my life and so I try to pass that on when I can.

Don't lie about your achievements. I know people who claim to have competed in the Olympic Trials or won national championships earned a PhD when I know they did not. The irony is that these are all really accomplished people and if they just stood on their own honest achievements they'd be admirable enough. Lies are like interest on money, they accumulate. Once you have told someone you were in the Olympics/ earned a PhD, then you end up having to repeat that lie because it gets brought up again. Inevitably, someone will ask me about the time I was in graduate school with Dr. Joe Blow and I happen to remember Joe Blow dropped out and never finished.

Try to be empathetic. No, I do NOT say that in front of Joe to the person who brings it up. I'm not an investigative reporter from the New York Times. Personally, I think having your lie exposed regularly in front of people you (I hope) respect is punishment enough. Now, if Joe is claiming to be a surgeon and might do harm to someone, I will certainly speak up, but if he is a retired teacher who claims to have earned a PhD and competed in the Los Angeles Olympics, I'm going to keep my mouth shut. I really have no idea why people would claim such things, but I do believe everyone has a back story and there must be some reason he says those things. It would embarrass him, his family to out him and I don't see what good it would do. If it takes a lie to make people feel good about themselves, that's sad.

Don't exaggerate your accomplishments. I just looked at the last national championships results. In some divisions there were only 4 or 5 competitors. In some there were as many as twenty. That's smaller than the number of teams in a regional elementary school girls soccer tournament. If you won, good for you. Seriously, good for you. Judo is not an easy activity and you were best of the people who showed up. However, if you equate it with winning an NCAA championships in track, you are seriously deluded. There aren't more than a couple of dozen clubs in the country that care about winning national championships. A couple dozen is probably being generous. You accomplished a difficult task as a result of your own talent, discipline and effort. That is an admirable achievement. All over the country, every day, people accomplish difficult tasks through the same combination. All of them have achieved an admirable thing. My point is not to confuse being brilliant with being "brilliant above all others". This is very good advice for life as well as judo.

Speaking of which, I have to run because I'm teaching at 2 this afternoon in Bellflower, whether you all appreciate me or not!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Choosing Freedom looks at sports behind the iron curtain

For those of you younger than me, that phrase "the iron curtain" may not mean much. Back when I was competing there was a  Cold War going on with the U.S. and its allies on one side and Russia and its allies on the other. It was a stand-off , of sorts, since neither country risked launching nuclear bombs at the other and get nuked in return, but we all wondered if that might happen some day when some people crazy enough got into power.

As a proxy, there were all kinds of other crazy things - wars in Vietnam, Cambodia - and, of course, the Olympics. In 1980, the US boycotted the Olympics in Russia to protest the invasion of Afghanistan (isn't it ironic?). In 1984, the Soviet bloc boycotted the Olympics in the US. In all of the other Olympics, there was continuous moaning when the U.S. lost to Eastern European athletes.

We were told that they trained harder, had better sports science, more dedicated athletes.

One of those athletes, Leo Frincu, recently published a GREAT book called Choosing Freedom.

To be honest, I originally bought the book simply because he is Ronda's strength and conditioning coach and I wanted to support him. The book is only 3.99 for the Kindle. I figured it would probably be some lame new age feel good-y thing about follow your dreams, blah blah blah.

I was wrong.  It started out with Leo's early years in a kindergarten where all Roumanian children were sent during the week while both parents worked. He talked about being beaten and constantly hungry. Well - I don't want to give away how he went from there to world wrestling champion to American citizen and entrepreneur.

When we watch the Olympics in the US we almost never hear the stories of athletes from any of the other countries. Read Leo's book. For those like me who grew up being told that the medals won by people like Leo were vindication of the Soviet way of life and that we should all train and live like the Eastern Europeans, the book will prove especially fascinating.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

No pain, no gain, not exactly

Let's talk sports injuries, one of the more depressing topics I could cover on this blog. Most seriously competitive athletes have been told to shake it off, fight through the pain, pain is temporary, glory is forever and 100 other clich├ęs . I've probably repeated every one of those myself and there is a certain amount of truth to them. If you're going to compete on the world stage, you need to train under conditions where other people would give up. If you have a headache, a tooth ache, you train any way. If you had knee surgery, you do bench presses or run through mat work drills or perfect your sacrifice techniques - that's how Ronda learned sumi gaeshi and how I developed a really good ko uchi makikomi and tani o toshi.

Random irrelevant question - why do you see people in mixed martial arts do ko uchi gari and not ko uchi makikomi? Well, actually, the only person I've seen do ko uchi gari is Ronda, but the question still stands.

ANYWAY .... to get to the point ... that attitude is necessary to winning, but it can be overdone in two ways. The first is when you are ignoring something that will get worse if you ignore it. It took me several years to learn that when I get bronchitis, pneumonia or the flu and keep working and working out, I end up getting sicker until I absolutely cannot do anything.

The second way is more insidious. Almost every elite athlete ends his or her competitive years with some injuries and those get worse as you get older, particularly if you "fought through it" when you were young.

I had several knee surgeries and finally had my knee replaced when I just could not accept the number of things I couldn't do. I hadn't been able to run for over a year by then, couldn't really do any judo except matwork and even walking around all day, like at Disneyland, would leave me aching at the end of the day. Even bending my knee to get something out of a bottom drawer was out of the question. When Julia was young, we never went hiking or climbed out on rocks in the ocean as far as  I did with the other kids when they were little because I never went further with a child than I was sure I could carry her back if necessary. Now, every day when I just do the simple things - hike in the mountains or even bend down to pick something up, I wonder why the hell I waited so long.

I've been running around with my lovely grandchildren this week and it's very obvious that my arm is messed up.
It's been that way for a while.  Last month, my elbow was bothering me to the point that I tried to really cut back on typing, thinking it was repetitive motion injury. When that didn't help, I took the drastic step - for me - of actually taking two days away, staying in a cottage and going wine tasting - although I admit I took my iPad, a notebook and several books of technical documentation.

That helped a little with the pain - but 14 years competing gave me a pretty good foundation for ignoring pain. It's the obvious inability to do simple things - I can't do more than ten push-ups - I mean the real Marine-style push-ups, not the half-ass fake push-ups kids do at practice - I can still do 50 of those.  When I'm carrying my granddaughter who probably weighs 20 pounds, if I have to push off with one arm, say to climb up on a jungle gym, I make sure I put her in my right arm because I can only do a one-handed push-up with my left arm.

I was chasing my other granddaughter across the monkey bars and I couldn't get all the way across because, again, I couldn't pull up all of my weight with just my right arm.

My excuse for not going to the doctor about it was I could ignore the pain, I'd just get better if I went on with life, I don't have time to bother - hell, I'll have to get an appointment between trips to San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, North Dakota and Florida.

The problem with old sports injuries is that even though, like with illness, ignoring them causes more problems in the long run, unlike illness they worsen gradually. A second problem is ageism. There is the old joke:

A 93-year-old man complained to his doctor that he couldn't bend his right knee. When the doctor told him that at his age he needed to learn to accept that he would have some disability, the man retorted that his left knee was the same age and it worked fine.

It will be interesting to see if my doctor tells me that it is perfectly normal for a woman my age to not be able to do a one-handed push-up holding a 20-lb weight, or not whip off 50 push-ups and what the hell is a grandmother doing standing on top of the monkey bars with a five-year-old. (Fortunately, Maria did not post those pictures because, as Eva reminded her, "I don't think Grandpa would approve of this.")

The point is, that it is normal for ME. If we don't get those sports injuries taken care of we'll have a much more restricted old age, and after having a pretty damn full youth, that would be a shame, wouldn't it?

Buy our book. It's really good.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Know When to Fold 'Em and When to Hold 'Em

The day Justin Flores barely missed the Olympic team, it broke my heart.  Dr. Jake Flores, Justin's father, and I have been friends since before he was born. When my husband passed away, Jake arranged an interview with UCSD to help me move back to California. Instead, I ended up in Santa Monica, driving to Vista on the weekends, where my little Ronda, at 11 or 12 years old, would be working out with Justin, who was still in high school.

So ... by a twist of fate and an injured neck, Justin didn't make the Olympic team. Unlike many of his cohort that day, he did not decide to try for one Olympic team after another. He had been on a couple of world teams, won medals in the U.S. Open, Panamerican championships and more. He'd had a scholarship to wrestle at a major wrestling powerhouse. He decided to end his judo career and go back to finish school.

Next thing you know, he had graduated with an art degree, done an internship, illustrated some children's books , formed a company that has produced some outstanding artwork for our companies (7 Generation Games and The Julia Group) - certainly he would not have accomplished all of this by now if he had kept training and tried to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

In his book, The Dip, Seth Godin talks about knowing when to quit and when not to. He says that we are told quitters never win and never to quit, but that is not correct, that really successful people know when to quit and when to keep going. As the gamblers say, know when to fold 'em and when to hold 'em.

It's really difficult to have the courage to face up to a dream you had and say, "This is not meant to be", and then go on to something else. I feel sorry for the judo players and other athletes I meet who are far past their prime and still telling themselves and other people, "I'm training for the Olympics." Even if they make the Olympic team, even if they win the Olympics, what are they going to be? A thirty-six-year old with no education,  no work experience and no family? Is that REALLY your dream?

About the same time as he missed out on the Olympic team he broke up with his girlfriend. It was a hard time.

Let me just say that Justin was - ahem - fit the stereotype of a male athlete when it comes to women. I was somewhat taken aback then when about six years ago, I had flown to middle of nowhere Texas to coach Ronda in a tournament and Justin said to me,

"I want you to meet this girl, Shirley. I'm not kidding you, I think she could be THE ONE."

So, here we are years later, with a college degree, a successful business and the love of his life. I was thinking back to the Olympic trials when Steve MacBaisey said one of the most insightful things I have ever heard in person.

This is a day when some people's dreams come true and other's dreams are crushed.

The real winners find another dream and make it come true.

Congratulations Justin (and Shirley). I am so happy for you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

How I Pick Winners

I have been wrong about people but only in one direction. That is, sometimes I have underestimated people and they have turned out, years later, to be far more than I would have predicted. Olympic and world silver medalist Lynn Roethke springs to mind. When I first met Lynn she was one of those people that was so damned nice that you wished she'd win but I just saw no chance of it. Her first problem was that she was too small for her division. She faced up to facts, dropped two weight divisions and started winning. She needed to move out of her comfort zone in Wisconsin and she did that, too, training in Colorado Springs at camps (where we first met) and then moving to New York and later California. I will say that in the cases where I was wrong, they were always people like Lynn who made massive changes in their training and choices.

I have not been wrong in the opposite direction. People I expected to win international medals always did. Often, these were not the same people everyone else expected. For example, when my lovely daughter, Ronda, was young, she never was selected for those programs for "high potential juniors", but I expected her to win.

Darlene Anaya, who won a bronze medal in the world championships, surprised a lot of people by her performance but not me.

If I was going to select a team I would look at this:

  • When in a match and down by a score, pinned or in other disadvantageous situation, does the person fight out? I don't mean put up a good fight, I mean escape and turn the tables. Being able to shake it off when the fight isn't going your way both shows mental strength and the ability to adjust.
  • In training, when no one is watching, is this person going their hardest? Being a small person is a big advantage to me, because I can slip into a corner of the gym, climb up on the bleachers and watch without people noticing me. A lot of those who other people rated highly dialed it down when they didn't have an audience.
  • How do they react to a loss? Particularly if a young player lost to someone who was supposed to have beaten them, say the current Olympic team member, I'd watch what that person did afterward. Was the kid barely holding it together because he was so devastated or was he happy to get a silver medal in the U.S. Open at 17. (I got a silver medal in the U.S. Open at 17, lost to one of the best women in the world - and I'm STILL upset about it!) No one has the right to beat you, ever.
  • Does this person have the best coaches, best training partners - if not, I mentally add on points. If you are in the running with no advantages then when, like Lynn, you make a change and get better coaches, better training partners and a better situation for training, then you have the possibility to make a big leap in comparison to your competitor who is already in the best possible scenario.

Why did I expect Darlene to win a world medal one day? When I was 19, I won the U.S. Open, collegiate nationals and senior nationals. (There was no women's world championships or Olympics back then.) This little fifteen-year-old brat came out in the semi-finals of the nationals and tried to beat me. No, of course she didn't beat me. She was 15! But she expected to, she came out swinging (not literally, this was judo, after all) and when she lost she was heart-broken. She wasn't happy to be fighting for a medal in the national championships when she was barely out of middle school. She was from somewhere in (I think) New Mexico and she trained with her dad, her little brother and her little sister.

For those of you would would point out that Darlene didn't get out of the pin that day and thus refutes my first point - no. My other point is that you don't judge people on a single match or tournament. Everyone has good days and bad days, or when they are young and small, can get hopelessly outmatched.

EXCEPT - my other other point - anyone I see give up in a match, I mean just decide it's too hard and quit fighting, I know will never win in that sport. It doesn't mean they may not go on and be wildly successful in some other area of life but if you don't care enough to fight NO MATTER WHAT then this particular discipline is not your passion. Go find something else that is.

I could ramble on more, but I have to get back to work.

How do YOU spot winners?

(Also, sorry I didn't approve the comments on the last post for days. I was in San Francisco and just got back.)