Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Princess of Moldova

So, I took a quick 20 hours away from programming this weekend (my day job) to fly out and see Marina Shafir compete in the Tuff-N-Uff championships - which she won very handily, thank you very much, in the first round - but NOT by an arm bar just because she does not want to be too predictable or known as a one-trick pony. (I'm kidding  - well, I'm not kidding that she won, nor that she threw her opponent and choked her. Now she has some belt for 145 lbs and she's all smiley. It's all good.)

The funny thing though is the back story - our family has known Marina for years. She used to come visit when she was a teenager and Jennifer, who is a year older than Ronda, did what all big sisters do to younger sisters and their friends. She teased Marina unmercifully until she was practically in tears.

"There's no such place as Moldova. You made that up!"

To which Marina would argue that no, it was really a place. Jenn insisted that she prove it by speaking Moldovan. When Marina explained that there is no Moldovan language, they speak Russian, Jennifer contradicted her,

"No, there's no Moldovan language because there is no such place."

Geography is absolutely my worst subject, well, maybe second-worst besides English literature. I mean, who really cares what some dead poet meant in some stupid poem, anyway. So, when they came to me to referee and asked had I ever heard of Moldova, I said,

"Wasn't that the name of the country the girl was supposed to be princess of in The Princess Diaries?"

After that, Jenn called her Princess Marina for a couple of weeks, and would torment her by shouting out at random moments -

"Name one famous Moldovian! You can't, can you? You know why? Because Moldova doesn't really exist!"

Other helpful suggestions on twitter today were that Moldova is the name of a company that sells high-end chocolates or the underworld in Lord of the Rings.

Well, Marina is older now and doesn't cry when Jenn teases her any more, and she got the last laugh.

You see, she never did have a nickname for fighting. Some people had suggested The Fear, but I guess she didn't like it. When the Armbar Nation people made up shirts for Marina, Jessamyn (The Gun) Duke and Shayna (Queen of Spades) Baszler , Marina's shirt only had her name on it.

I guess you have to have a fighter nickname, so when she came out last night it was as Marina THE SUPERNOVA FROM MOLDOVA Shafir.

Of course, I had to call Jenn and tell her, who nonetheless insisted,

I still say she made that country up.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Speed, Aggression, Technique and Minimum Effort

A young man asked me on Facebook

I recently saw a interview with you on The Ultimate Fighter. You said that you can use speed and aggression when technique doesn't work. Isn't that exact opposite of Kano's theory of maximum efficiency with minimal effort? I'm just a shodan, who doesn't belong to a tournament club. I'm just trying to wrap my head around a different way of looking at things. 

I'm a statistician so let's look at it like an equation with

 Effect = .4X1 + .3X2 + .3X3

Say technique is X1 and speed and aggression are X2 and X3 -- so, if you are equal on all of these things, the person with the best technique will win. If you are somewhat better on technique, even if you aren't quite as strong and aggressive, you will still win. My point there, though, was that you use what you have. The Ultimate Fighter show is filmed over 8 weeks. You are very limited in the amount of technique you can learn in 8 weeks. That is NOT to say that you should not learn every bit that you can, but simply that you can't learn a whole lot more technique in 8 weeks so you have to leverage every single asset that you have.

In competitive judo, I think we do many athletes a disservice by telling them not to use strength. That's like telling basketball players not to use their height. What we want is for people not to use ONLY strength. Seriously, why would you not use every asset that you have? That doesn't sound very efficient to me.

My other point is that many people who are technically skilled are not mentally as strong as they could be. They will hesitate and even if they have a better hip throw (harai goshi), while they are holding back waiting for just the right moment to get that perfect timing, you can knock the person down with your so-so leg sweep (o soto gari), get on top and win the match.

The biggest weakness I see in most American judo players is that they don't attack enough. They are always waiting for that perfect moment for the big throw. I know this is not unique to the U.S. but I cannot say if it is as prevalent in other countries as I see here. I'd be interested in hearing opinions on this.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Help a Start-up and Learn Some Life Lessons

Eric Ortiz wrote the following blog post. He is married to my oldest daughter, Maria. He also is the founder of Moblish  - an application to allow anyone with talent, integrity, hard work and a cell phone to become a journalist.

His company is in the running for a $20,000 seed grant.

 You can vote for Moblish here, or you can vote for Moblish at the end of the post.

I got some advice before I ran my first half marathon.

Start slow.

Pace yourself.

Don’t let your wife beat you.

 The first two pieces of advice were provided by veteran runners and lasted for about 500 yards. The final bit of counsel I gave to myself and was followed for all 13.1 miles. I’m a competitive person. I like to win -- or perhaps more accurately, I don’t like to lose to my wife.
The mindset is born out of irrational machismo from my Cro-Magnon heritage, ego and pride. In other words, general ignorance and stupidity, with a healthy dose of misguided, testosterone-fueled exhuberance.
Nevertheless, on the day of race, winning to me in the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay meant completing the picturesque course -- through downtown Monterey, Pacific Grove and along the Pacific Ocean -- in front of my better half, Maria.

I finished in two hours and 27 minutes, in 4846th place out of 9051 participants, 2,002nd out of 2,528 men, 279th place in my age group (40-44) out of 340 runners, and first in my marriage, 42 seconds ahead my wife.

Here’s a quick recap of how the race went for me.
I started fast. A half-mile in, I said to my wife, “I feel good. This is going to be easy.”

One mile in, I asked her, “Do you want me to run with you.” She said, “Go ahead.” I picked up my speed and left her in the dust. I was moving, passing people left and right.

Four miles in, my pace slowed. People started passing me. Old and young, large and small. Then, I found a nice, comfortable pace for the next four miles.

Around the eight-mile mark, we made the turn for home. I wondered where Maria was. I thought she must be far behind me.

Then, I saw her 30 seconds later as I began running in the opposite direction toward the finish line. She was right behind me.

A minute later, she was right next to me. I said, “Hey.” We conversed for a moment. Then, I sped off and ran fast (in my mind, at least) for a mile or two. Then, I slowed down. Then, my wife caught up to me. Then, I sped off again. I followed this routine for the rest of the race.

At Mile 10, my body started telling me to stop and walk. My mind started giving me a pep talk, “You’re almost there. Keep going. One foot in front of the other. You can do it.”

I had never run more than 10 miles in succession before. The bone spurs in my right ankle (the remnants of a broken ankle suffered on my 19th birthday) were barking. Each step felt like a nail being driven into the top of my foot, a screw being tightened. I put my head down, blocked out the pain, and just kept moving forward

Around Mile 11, guess who? My wife. She had a smile on her face and the same steady pace she had been employing for two-plus hours. She looked comfortable, ready to run a full marathon. I was not. She could see I was struggling and delivered one last message of encouragement, “You know you don’t want to finish behind me.”

She was right. I sped ahead and started my kick toward home. I picked up the pace, started passing those who had decided to walk. I wanted to join them, but I knew if I did, I would finish behind my wife. So I continued my uneven gait. Each stride that got me closer to the finish line yet came with the price: a little more sharp discomfort.

Mile 12. Over. People yelled inspiring words. Signs offered support. “In my mind, you’re all Kenyan.” I passed Cannery Row. I asked John Steinbeck for strength. Someone yelled, “Looking strong, Eric.” I just kept my head down.

Mile 13. Done. The end was near. I could see the finish line. I mustered the energy for final burst. I felt like a Kenyan. One-hundred yards to go. I heard people calling my name. I figured it was our family who had come to watch me and Maria race – Eva (my 5 1/2-year-old daughter), Emilia (my almost-2-year-old daughter), Julia (my 15-year-old sister-in-law), Dennis (my father-in-law) and AnnMaria (my mother-in-law). I couldn’t acknowledge them. All I could do was keep my head down. And run.
I crossed the finish line, running. I took another step and slowed down. No need to worry about stopping too fast. I walked a few steps and got a beautiful ceramic medal put around my neck. I kept walking and got some Gatorade.

I saw Maria a minute later. My calves were burning. I found a place to sit down. Now, my body was letting me know who was in charge. I got up and could barely walk. Maria was ready to jog back to the hotel, while I laid down on the curb and waited for a cab.

What did I get for finishing in front of my wife? Two days of being able to hobble and walk with a severe limp, unable to put any pressure on my right foot. Then, I got sick and was bedridden for a day and hacking up phlegm for days after that. A week after the race, I strained my lower back riding my bike and could barely walk again for a few more days.

I am almost back to normal.

So who was the real winner?

Maria is planning when to run her first marathon.

Maybe I will join her. If I do, I will let her finish first.

Moblish is in the running for a NewU seed grant . Please vote for Moblish  .

Free Rice Winners Week 1

The winners of the Free Rice contest for Week 1 are:


Each of these people have donated over 100,000 grains of rice - enough to feed 30 people or more. Thank you!

Please email me your mailing address at or DM me on twitter if I follow. (Tweet me if I don't and I will.)

We'll send you an autographed poster. Let me know which you'd like. The Insureon ones (below) are smaller so are more likely to show up in your mailbox undamaged.

The xyience ones are very big (see below)
If you won this week you cannot win next week but you CAN win as one of the top ten at the end of the contest.

If you're just tuning in and want to know what the free rice contest is all about, click here.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Real Talk, Real Women is Real Good

Let me start out by admitting completely and without reservation that I was wrong.

When Miriam Khaladi asked me if I'd do an interview for her radio show, Real Talk, Real Women, I said sure. She seemed like a nice young person, another very nice person, Elizabeth, from Fight Chix clothing, had recommended I speak with her, and I had a new book on matwork, Winning on the Ground out that I'm sure my publisher, Black Belt Books, would like me to promote.

Then she asked if I would write a chapter for her book, Real Talk, Real Women. My initial thought was that she probably wouldn't want to use it because the most common phrase to come from Miriam is, I am not making this up,

"Much love from Amsterdam,"

Where the most common phrase to come from yours truly is,

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

However, I had started a new company recently, 7 Generation Games, and our chief marketing officer thought I should try to get as much exposure for it as possible. She also thought I should swear less. She got one out of two.

To my surprise, Miriam did include my chapter, and then further reinforced my prejudices by asking several times if I had a head shot or professional photo I would like to use for the book. I told her no, I'm 55 years old and I look it. I don't own any make-up and any physical fitness I have is a side effect of teaching judo, not an end in itself.

When she suggested I promote the book on my blog and other social media, I was hesitant. How good could a book be by women who compete in bikini competitions, fitness competitions (whatever the hell that is) and fitness modeling? I told her, truthfully, that I never recommend any book that I haven't read, and I would have to read it first.

Did I say I was completely wrong? Oh. My. God. Some of the stories in this book from women who have been strippers, addicted to drugs, sexually abused, raped, survived cancer, overcome eating disorders - and I thought *I* was a bad ass!

Yes, there is a bit much of make up and "much love" and stuff that is not really me, but I tell you what, given what some of these women have overcome and accomplished, hey, you can be a bikini model or a competitive embroiderer and you still have my utmost respect.

Buy it. Read it. Yeah, it's bright pink, but one thing I have learned from this is both literally and metaphorically to never judge a book by its cover.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ronda Free Rice Contest - this time it's serious

I guess with all of the missing weight going on with The Ultimate Fighter show maybe it's timely to be talking about the free rice contest again.

In a nutshell, around two years ago, when Ronda was cutting weight for a title fight, she came across the Free Rice site (I think maybe her youngest sister was assigned to do it for school). She had been complaining about being hungry and then sat up and said,

"How much would it suck to be hungry every day?!"

So, the free rice contest started. Each time she makes weight, from training camp until the weigh-in, people can play as part of a group. It is free to play. Each time you answer a question correctly, an advertiser donates 10 grains of rice. So far, there have been 16 people donate 1,000,000 grains each. Pretty amazing, huh?

The top people get prizes. ALL the money goes to the World Food Programme. The prizes are donated and my company, The Julia Group, takes care of the shipping.

According to Jessica at Armbar Nation, who keeps track of these things,
"Between the last three fights, the group has raised over 88,000,000 grains of rice. Since one bowl of rice is about 3,400 grains and comes out to about 3 cups of cooked rice, that is enough to feed approximately 25,882 people."

Last time, when people asked could they donate money instead of donating rice on the site, we said no, just to give the people who did not have a lot of money a chance to win. (Yes, Jim Pedro, Sr. used to call me a Communist all of the time.)

However, this time around, there are two differences. One, is that there is a great and pressing need for supporting the World Food Programme with 2.5 million people in the Phillipines in need of emergency food assistance due to the super-typhoon.

The second is that we have a lot more prizes thanks to the generosity of the folks from Insureon and Xyience, two of Ronda's sponsors who provided stacks of posters. The Insureon poster is above and the Xyience one is below.
Ronda is coming over to sign them tomorrow.

Here is how to help people, and win prizes:
1. Join the Ronda Rousey Team Free Rice group and play. Make sure you are playing for the group. We'll send prizes to the top five every week, the top ten at the end of the contest and to another ten we pick randomly at the end. (You can only win a weekly prize once, but the top ten at the end will all get prizes, as will anyone who donates over a million grains.)

2. Donate $500 or more to help with super-typhoon relief. You can donate using a credit card or Paypal at the World Food Programme site. Take a screen shot or print to pdf the page that says Thank you, Your donation of $500 has been received and email it to

3. Send a check for $500 or more to St. John the Baptist Church, with the memo Super Typhoon Haiyan Relief. The address is 3883 Baldwin Park Blvd., Baldwin Park, CA, 91706  They will send me your mailing information. You don't need to do anything else.

Why $500? Because Ronda is training every waking moment and she gets far more requests for autographs than she could possibly respond to. No, there isn't any assistant or stamp or machine that signs them (although it has been suggested many times). So, she agreed to sign 100 posters that could be used to raise money for charity and that is what we have and we are trying to raise as much money as possible while still allowing her time to train.

For people who do win prizes - they will be mailed out every week, on Tuesday, so if it takes a week or two, don't panic.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Would You Do If You Could Do Whatever You Wanted?

I decided yesterday that I was going to limit myself to working 12 hours a day. Since I started at 11 a.m. this morning at 11:08 when I looked at the time, I stopped.

The main reason for this decision is my observation of many people I know older than me who continue working into their sixties, seventies and even eighties because that is all they have. That isn't to say that they don't have families. In fact, many of them do. From all appearances, they love their families and their families love them back.

It's just that their entire lives, they have gone off to the office, university, military base or wherever and done whatever it is they do. They know nothing else.

A friend of mine asked me why I felt like I shouldn't work all of the time. He pointed out that I really enjoy my work and that my older children were all out on their own, my youngest is in boarding school, and when she is at home she doesn't really need a lot of care. She can watch Vampire Diaries while laying on the couch with no help from me.

Here is another place where judo has been a good metaphor for life. When I was competing, I had several teammates a generation ahead of me in terms of competition - they had been on the world or Olympic team 5 or 10 years prior. Those who had an education had gone on to get good jobs. Those who didn't have an education, no matter how many national championships or international medals they had won were not doing very well. I decided to stick with my day job as an industrial engineer, despite the urging of many people to quit and train full time. After I won the world championships, I went back to school for a Ph.D.

Now, looking ahead at the people 10 or 15 years further along in life in similar careers, the ones who are still working don't seem all that happy. They don't seem unhappy, either. It's more going on auto-pilot.

I don't know the answer to a good old age. What I do know is that women in my family tend to live into their nineties, so I'm probably going to have a good many years left without the need to work to pay the bills.

I know that I'm not going to be the person who volunteers to be on every committee. I've been chair or president of so many organizations at the state, regional and national level that I have lost count - everything from judo to the American Association on Mental Retardation. Although I liked some of the people I met and I believed the work was necessary, I can't honestly say that I ever wanted to do it. I'm currently president of the board of a non-profit for one more year and after that I'm done for life.

I'll probably continue to teach a course in statistics each year for the next five or ten years, but I don't see myself teaching into my eighties.

As far as teaching judo, frankly, I'm getting old and can't do half the things that I used to do. I think most judo instructors hang on longer than they should. There is nothing wrong with moving aside and letting the younger people take over.

I went from training to beat everyone in the world to getting a PhD to getting tenure to starting a business, all while raising a family.

Now the family is 80% raised, I have the PhD, the business is stable and within a few years, I expect to sell it and hopefully make a pile of money.

What then? What will I do when I'm not working? The truth is that I have no idea. The only way to figure it out is to deliberately schedule some time not to work. (I can hear my niece, Samantha, saying, "Ha!" all the way from St. Louis.)

If you've been reading this blog since it began you seriously need to get a hobby but you also know that I have tried to retire a couple of times before.

So, yes, this is my next stab at easing into retirement - working 12 hours a day and actually taking two weeks of vacation this year.

Julia has been lobbying for a tropical vacation and Dennis liked Hawaii, so we'll probably go there for one week in the summer. For the other week, we're debating between staying home and ???

The last time I took an actual vacation when I didn't work (as opposed to working in a new location) was 1980.

Earlier this year, I had planned to take 2-4 days a month when I didn't work but after a few weeks, I got busy and forgot about it.

That's another thing I have learned from judo. If you really want to make something work, if you fail at it the first time, you try again.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

At the end of the day ... there's another day

For the thousandth time, I stopped today and thought,
"Wow! I have a great life!"

When I was young, I thought it would be really depressing to be old. I wouldn't be able to compete any more, I would be slower, wrinkled, guys wouldn't notice me ... all the good stuff in my life - dating, parties, being an athlete, it would all disappear and the only thing I was good at that would be left would be -- studying.

Don't laugh, I actually really thought that way.

Now I am old and I have discovered that with age comes perspective. The people that post nasty things in comments sections around the internet, it never bothers me, I just think,

I wonder how you have so little going on in your life that you post insults to people you have never met, never will meet and who laugh at you. How sad!

When something doesn't work - and everyone has proposals that don't get funded, tests on which they do poorly, tournaments they lose - I don't get stressed out about it.

I try my hardest to do my best and then, whatever happens, happens. I might sulk for a few minutes, or an hour or two, but then I pick myself up and try again.

Several years ago, I was at a company where the catch phrase was "At the end of the day ..."

As in, when you add it all up, have you been a success or a failure?

I found this rather silly because, at the end of the day, there's another day. That's how time works. Several people have asked me for advice lately on various topics, so, for them and anyone else who is interested :

1. At the end of the day, there's another day. Don't rest on your laurels or cry over spilled milk. Every new day is a gift from God (or the universe, if your beliefs tend that way). You get to start anew. That is wonderful.
2. Success is the best revenge. The world has more assholes than necessary, in my opinion. People will insult you, belittle you and let you down. Go on and be successful and don't give them a thought. You'll get the fun of being successful and the fact that they are in the corner seething with resentment and envy is just icing on the cake.
3. Follow the most brilliant stress reduction plan ever. Ask yourself two questions: "One, can I do anything about this?" If the answer is ,"No", quit worrying. Maybe the planet is going to fall into the sun tomorrow but unless I develop superpowers, I can't change it, so I may as well enjoy life until then. If the answer is, "Yes", then ask yourself, "What step can I take right now to fix this?" Then do that thing.
4. Realize that whether it is writing a computer program (there is a reason they call it 'hacking') or running a marathon, life is a series of small steps that add up. Just take one and then the other. That is the secret to success (see #2). You'd be amazed the number of people who don't take those steps and are then bitter when life passes them by (see #1).

If you want more advice, leading up to my birthday this year, I wrote a series on my company blog of 55 things I have learned in (almost) 55 years.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It Only Seems Like the Only Thing in the World

I was working on our latest game, Fish Lake, when I noticed a tweet that mentioned my name.

@judoinside had tweeted

Today in 1984 in Vienna Burns became the 1st USA world champion ever. Burns is mother of 2008 Olympic medalist

It's funny, at the time, winning seemed like the most important thing in the world. Don't get me wrong - it was great and worth everything I had to do to get there - but life goes on. As Wendy said to Peter Pan when he came back for her - "I'm ever so much more than twenty now."

It just served to remind me again that the world is big and time is long. What seems like the only thing in the world at one point is going to be just a fond memory years from now.

If you made mistakes, learn from them, and move on. If you had successes, learn from those and move on, too. 

I think it is great that I didn't remember what I was doing 29 years ago because I was too absorbed in what I was doing today. Life has gone on in a happy way. Not only am I Ronda's mother, but my youngest daughter, Julia, was home for three days so we had to do important things like go to the Farmer's Market, sit outside at a nice French cafe and have brunch, shop at Bloomingdale's with Dad's credit card.

When we're young and competing, it's easy to think that winning (or losing) at the world championships is going to be the best (or worst) day of our lives.

We ought to have the wisdom of my little granddaughter, who, when we went to Disneyland this year kept saying,

This is the best day of my life - so far!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Balance Day at Judo

I try to have a consistent theme running through each practice so it is apparent I am not making it up as I go along. I also try to select a theme based on what I know the group I will be teaching needs. Of course, this is much easier when you are teaching your own class then doing a clinic, because you know the skill level and athleticism of the people likely to show up.

This is what we did at Gompers Judo yesterday:

1.  Warm-up by running in place, both on the mat and on crash pads - which made it apparent that while our kids are tough, they are not in good shape. Remind me to give them running drills as a homework assignment.

2. A game I learned from Justin Flores that I think he picked up at a wrestling camp - you have to keep your feet planted shoulder width apart. You try to get your partner to move his or her feet by pushing against each other's palms to start. If you pull away and the partner is still pushing, that will usually pull them off balance. If you pull away quickly, and as they pull back to stay on balance, you push on their chest, it will usually push them off balance. Each time your partner moves a foot, you get one point. When one person has three points, you switch partners.

3. We did the "help-em-up drill" for when your partner is leaned forward. You can read this in detail in our book, Winning on the Ground. In brief, a failed attack by the partner or you resulted in him/her with one knee on the ground and one up. If your partner is silly enough to try to stand up, you "help
em up" by lifting, and as you do so, you turn and throw with an inside leg sweep (uchi mata - and yes I know in Japanese it means inner thigh throw).

4. We did standing uchi mata - the same throw, to work on technique.

5. We went back to number 3.

Did they get it perfectly? Of course not. Perfection doesn't come from a single day. It comes from a long string of good days added together. Today was a good day.