Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't Be Defined by Other People

My last post, I argued against "blooming where you're planted".  If you don't memorize my blog posts, or worse yet, don't read all of them, here is a refresher of my allegedly sage advice.
  1. Don't be defined by other people's expectations of you. I used to tell myself all of the time, If you do what people have always done, you'll get what people have always gotten, and is that enough for you?
  2. Don't confuse wishes with plans.
  3. Recognize that success takes hard work, that there will be times when it's hard and painful. As trite as it is, it is true that tough times don't last - IF YOU DON'T GIVE UP - but tough people do.
  4. Never, never, never, never give up.
I want to ramble on about the first point for a while. Many of us are born into less than favorable circumstances. Maybe your family was poor, you live on a farm, far from the nearest library or gym, you are being raised by a single parent who barely has energy to make dinner after work before falling asleep from exhaustion. There are lots of reasons for the world, and the small number of people around you, to tell you that you won't succeed. Maybe you are an African-American or Latino kid living in an area where you have to worry about being beat up or shot on the way home from school. Maybe you have a disability, you are being abused by a parent, someone in your family is mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Have I covered all of the ways in which life can kind of suck when you are young? Probably not, it's a long list. The very most important thing I can say to you is this - It doesn't have to last. No matter how powerless you may feel at this moment, you can get the hell out of your situation. It may not happen right away and yes it will be hard, maybe for a long time, but if you don't give up, you can get out of the place you're in - physically or metaphorically - and life will be better.

Here is the first step:
Learn as much as you can. Didn't know what the word "metaphorically" meant in that last sentence? Then look it up. Obviously you have access to the internet if you are reading this. Go to there's a free dictionary on line. Join your public library, it's free, and read as many books as you can. Not a big reader? The Open University has free podcasts (they also have free ebooks). Get as much education as you can. If you drop out of high school for some reason, get a GED and then go to college. DON'T go hugely into debt to do it. If you can't get a scholarship to a four-year school, go o a community college. If college isn't your thing, go to a trade school, get an apprenticeship, get an internship. LEARN. You will never in your life meet a person who says,

"You know, one of my regrets in life is I wish I had remained more ignorant."

and here is the second ...

Don't let anyone tell you that you can't, not even yourself. Too often people internalize those voices they hear growing up,

"Who do you think you are? No one from this town/ your age/ with your disability .... "

Just stop it! Maybe they didn't, but here is what I told people when they said no American had ever won a world championships in judo,

"Someone's got to be the first, why not me?"

My friend, Dr. Erich Longie, was the first enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota to earn a doctorate. More often, the thing you are thinking about doing you won't be the first.  Other people who are no smarter or more talented than you have done it. Maybe you want to be a veterinarian, open a restaurant, become a stuntwoman  - whatever. The job exists. People do it. Why not you ?

If you catch yourself saying,

"Who am I to get this contract? I've never been a stunt person/ catered an event/ created a commercial website before ...

Stop it! Everyone in the world who has that job or business had a first day. Almost everyone had difficult days. Start telling yourself you'll do fine. Then work toward making that true ... and that's my next post.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

You don't have to bloom where you're planted

Yesterday, someone was talking to me about boys on small town North Dakota basketball teams. Many communities are full of fans of the local sports. The boys have a lot of exceptions made for them. Teachers look the other way when they skip school or don't do homework. Local police wink at drinking under age. There's no shortage of girls interested in them. Then, he said something that pulled me up short,
"For most of those guys, that's going to be as good as it ever gets."
What a sad, but often true, statement. Many of these boys turn into young men with low academics, no work experience or job skills. The girls who got pregnant by these boys are in the same situation often, with being a single mother added on top of it.

I see the same kids 10 or 20 years later, waiting on tables, working odd jobs on construction sites, driving home in a 15-year-old rusty car to a poorly-heated apartment and drinking too much.

How sad is it that the peak of their lives was in high school and it was down hill for the next 70 years. It doesn't have to be this way.
If you find yourself in a bad situation, a common piece of advice is to,

"Bloom where you're planted."

That is, if you have a better attitude, you can be happy even if you are living in poverty surrounded by assholes. Maybe that's true, but I have a better suggestion ...

"If you aren't happy where you are with what you've got, figure out what you want, where it is and go get it."
When I was 15 years old, living in a small town and very unhappy, I moved to a big city, got a job and an apartment. It was HARD and at the beginning it totally sucked. I was going to high school, working for minimum wage at night and frequently broke. A year later, I was in college, which was better than high school, but still difficult. I was still working nights, still usually broke and also competing in judo around the country. Not much social life and very little money. People around me were wearing designer clothes while a few of mine were from Target and the rest from Goodwill.

At 19 years old, I finished my bachelors degree, moved to Minneapolis to get an MBA and train at judo. I still didn't have much money or social life and it was unbelievably cold in the winter. By 21, I had graduated again, got a good job and within a few years, I bought my first house and won a couple of medals in Europe.

At 23, I moved briefly to Colorado Springs to train in judo, then to San Diego where I worked as an engineer, bought my first car, won a world judo championships and had my first baby.

At 27, after having been divorced, remarried and pregnant with my second child, I moved to Riverside, where I bought another house, earned a Ph.D. and had two more children.

At 31, I moved to North Dakota, where I was a professor and statistical consultant for seven years.

At 38, I moved back to California, even though I was widowed with three children, owned two houses in North Dakota, had a full-time job and was up for a promotion to full professor in the fall. I went into consulting full time and have been doing it ever since.

I'm no longer poor, I have four wonderful children, I live somewhere that it hasn't snowed since the last ice age,  I love my work.

My point is that at each one of those moves, well-meaning people tried to convince me that I should bloom where I was planted. Maybe I could go to a small college in Illinois instead of Washington University in St. Louis. If I just tried a little harder to fit in, I could be happy living in a small town. I just needed to work on my attitude. I had a good job and was started on a career path, and should just accept that I wouldn't be winning a world championships or figure out how to do it with the coach I had even if he was crazier than two loons under a full moon. North Dakota has it's good points. Maybe I should learn to cross-country ski. Regardless, moving when I was so settled and had three children was just out of the question  - wasn't it?

There are a few key points to becoming more than what is expected of you:
  1. Don't be defined by other people's expectations of you. I used to tell myself all of the time, If you do what people have always done, you'll get what people have always gotten, and is that enough for you?
  2. Don't confuse wishes with plans.
  3. Recognize that success takes hard work, that there will be times when it's hard and painful. As trite as it is, it is true that tough times don't last - IF YOU DON'T GIVE UP - but tough people do.
  4. Never, never, never, never give up.
So, I guess now we know what my next four post will be about, don't we?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

How to lose 60 pounds with barely trying

When I was 19 years old, I noticed that lots of the people I saw in their fifties were very much overweight. I reasoned that few of them were a healthy weight one year and put on 60 pounds the next. It seemed more likely to me that they gained a couple of pounds a year for 30 years, and by the time they decided to do something about it, it was just overwhelming.

I decided then that there were things I could do to burn an extra few calories a day that might add up to two pounds a year. Any time I go anywhere that is less than three floors, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. Now, if I'm with a group of people, I don't leave them, but if it's just me, or my family, I take the stairs. How many extra sets of stairs is that in a year? I spend weeks in hotels, so I'd guess 100 flights a year - times 36 years is a whole lot of stairs.

I never look for the closest parking space. If someone is backing out, I don't wait on them. I drive by, park further away and walk.

Whenever I'm on the phone, assuming I'm not in the car, I get up and walk. Unless I have to be typing notes, I get up and walk around the neighborhood (or if I'm in North Dakota and it's freezing outside, around the building). How many minutes a day is that? Some days it's only ten, other days it's over an hour. How many miles is that a day? Probably averages 3/4 of a mile times 365 days a year.

If I need to go anywhere - pick up a gallon of milk, mail a letter, deposit a check - if it's a mile or less, I walk. This annoys my youngest daughter to no end as she thinks she should be chauffeured everywhere. Some days I walk 3 miles or more, but unless it's raining, it's almost always at least half a mile, to pick up something.

I have a very sedentary job - sitting at a desk, in airports, on planes. So, I try every day to get in some exercise. I have an exercise bike in my living room and if I watch TV for half an hour, I'll ride the bike while the show is on.  Almost every hotel has a pool, so I'll go swim for half an hour or so. And I teach judo once or twice a week.  On a good week, I work out six days out of seven. On a busy work week, maybe only four.

My point is, if you change your habits NOW, you won't have to struggle with your weight for the next twenty or thirty years.

Think about it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why I Haven't Been at Judo

One of the people in judo I admire most hasn't been involved in judo much for about forty years - Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell. He was a member of the 1964 Olympic team, then went on to found a successful business, was in the House of Representatives and then became the only Native American in the U.S. Senate.

I'll be teaching judo this Friday at Gompers and then I head out to North Dakota for two weeks. I've been to two tournaments in the last year. I won't be back at the West Coast Judo Training Center until February 1st, when we are having a clinic on transition, with me, Richard Elizalde and Gary Butts. Hopefully, I won't get snowed in and spend the weekend in Belcourt instead.

There are three reasons I haven't been around much. One is implied in the previous paragraph - I'm working on developing and testing games that teach mathematics. That takes a lot of my time when I'm at home, and it takes a lot of time away from home demonstrating the games, installing them in school computer labs, meeting with students and teachers to get their feedback. Growing a company is not a part-time gig.

Second, I think far too many people continue teaching judo for too long. The tribes I have worked with have a lot of traditional wisdom. One idea I particularly admire is how historically, tribal leaders did not persist until they were 60, 70 or 80 years old. They stepped down, let the younger people run the hunting, fighting and other business of the tribe while the elders provided advice. I think our judo clubs and organizations (hell, most of our organizations - universities, Congress) would be better off if more people did this. I'm 55 years old. I'm not nearly as fast or strong as I was 30 years ago. What I can do and demonstrate is limited. It's time for younger people to step up and teach.

Fortunately for me, I'm a better programmer than I was in my twenties, so more of my effort goes there. Yes, I teach that, too.

The third reason is that I'm not convinced that, in the U.S., competing at the highest level is that positive. It costs a lot of money that most of the students I coach don't have. If we are going to do fundraising, I want it to be for something that is a positive experience for them - not an ego trip for coaches and referees. The benefit of judo should be to meet people from different walks of life, see the country, get exercise, test your skills. Too many tournaments are not focused on that - they're on making sure your belt is tied right, you bow properly and you never violate any of a set of rules that seems to be changed every Thursday.

I took my students to the freestyle judo nationals in Kansas City last year and I hope to do so again next year. We went to a tournament at Hayastan and a practice there in part because I suspected (correctly) that most of my students had never met an Armenian despite living near one of the largest Armenian communities in the country. I also knew that at both of those venues the sole focus would be on the competitors having a good experience and everyone would treat our team well.

I wish I had time to take my students to a tournament every weekend and teach three or four times a week, but I don't. My highest priorities are my family and business, in that order. The students' priorities need to be on school. I talk a lot to them about studying, applying to charter schools or scholarships to private high schools. That is going to benefit them a lot more than attending a lot of tournaments. My goal is to develop people with a sound mind in a sound body.

When I was in Kansas City, Norm Miller gave me a book written by Margot Sathay. She was an Englishwoman who taught matwork at the Kodokan. When I was going to drop out of college at the end of my junior year of college, stay in Japan and train, Margot told me that she wouldn't teach me if I did. She told me that some things in life are more important than judo. I learned a LOT from Margot, and not just about matwork.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Free Rice Winners Weeks 4 and 5

Finally got around to getting the rest of the free rice winners for weeks 4 and 5. You can get a weekly prize and a top ten prize, but you can't get a weekly prize twice. So some of these people are also on the top 10 list I posted yesterday.

  1. EgoAmigo  544,440 grains donated
  2. box8 385,620
  3. evilblackdog 283,670
  4. megneck 203,580
  5. PolarEagle96 150,040
  6. ipsofacto 126,840
  7. esparzdan25 83,960
  8. D.Hizzle 58,650
  9. wolfcastro23 49,660
  10. Lesly Fuenzalida 46,490

Please email me at or if I follow you on twitter, DM me and give me

Your mailing address

Whether you would like a @Xyience poster or an @insureon one. Yes, they are autographed.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Free Rice Winners - Top 10

Below are the top 10 in the Ronda Rousey Team Free Rice competition.

User Name Grains in Group

louchristopher 1,243,440

Alan260 1,188,240

laurajw1988 1,001,000

dangerousH2Os 599,000

Ego Amigo 544,440

Hugo Lemos 467,720

yingherng 455,300

sdidntknow 402,510

box8 385,620

norad2 369,090

During the five weeks leading up to the weigh-ins, the group raised 10,000,000 grains of rice for the World Food Programme, which will feed over 3,000 people. In addition, there was a donation of $500, which Ronda matched, and a donation of $50, which I matched, so the WFP also received $1,100 in cash.

Prizes: In the past, we tried to guess what the top place winners would like and did not always guess correctly from what I heard. So ... the prizes are either a shirt-shred made by Ronda or original gear from The Ultimate Fighter show (shorts, tank tops, etc.) . The people who donated over 1,000,000 grains of rice can pick which they want (I already heard from Laura) and the other seven people will get what is left.


If you are on this top ten list and don't want a shirt or TUF gear and would like an autographed poster from Xyience or Insureon instead, let me know that, too.

I'll post the weekly winners from weeks 4 and 5-ish along with the 5 selected at random tomorrow. They get different prizes so I didn't want to include it in the same post and get people confused and mad at me because they expected one thing and got another.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

On Fighting, Fame and Popularity: Advice from Elders

Many years ago, after I won the U.S. Open for the second time, an older judo player, took me aside and gave me some advice. He said that I would start to see people trying to pick fights with me for no reason at all. One of his equally talented friends standing nearby nodded in agreement. I was skeptical, why would anyone want to do that.

He patiently explained,

A few years ago, I was in the exact same position as you, where I was winning everything in sight. How does someone get attention? They come up and they start an argument with me. Now, other people are noticing that asshole because he must be somebody important if I'm talking to him. Say my buddy here takes my side - now he's got two guys on the Olympic team to argue with. The more attention you pay, the more other people notice, because they're looking at YOU and the more attention and satisfaction that guy gets out of it.

I asked him what he did and he replied,

I just walk away.

He must have noticed how stunned I looked (trust me, this guy was a bad ass), because he explained,

All those guys are doing is trying to get attention. Even if I kick their ass, they're happy because then they can go and complain to everyone about what a terrible guy I am and brag about how they got in a fight with me. Ignore those people. They're maggots trying to feed off the results of your hard work.

About the same time, another judo player who was a few years older gave me equally good advice. He said,

Never leave it to the judges. Look at my opponent, the number two guy in my division - face that looks like it ought to be on a Wheaties box. Look at me, face that looks like it ought to be on a wanted poster. You're like me - you're not from the right club, the right family. Your coach isn't any big name famous coach and your parents don't donate money to the judo association. If it comes to a decision, know that your going to lose. So, never let it come to a decision. You have to be so much better than everyone else in your division that it would be an embarrassment for the referee not to call it for you.
Any of you who did judo back in the 1970s and 1980s want to guess who the two men were who gave me this advice?