Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't Judge a Person by their (media) coverage

At one point in life,  I was naive enough to believe that the media reported news, or, at least, facts. That is, it might not be news that Ms. Celebrity Naked did nothing but eat grapes and get plastic surgery but it was at least true. As I said, I was naive.

Take my little pumpkin, for example.

You might ask, who is that guy photo bombing between me and Ronda (and thank you to Hans Gutknecht for the photo). Actually, he is with us, his name is Jose Gonzalez and he is the teacher who for the last five years volunteered after school so Gompers could have a judo program. (You need a credentialed teacher who is an LAUSD employee to supervise.) Ronda got him a ticket to sit with us. He offered to talk to any of the media, in either Spanish or English, about how she started the program, taught for free for two years and auctioned off her TUF gear on ebay to raise money to send the kids to Kansas City this year. When they needed an extra $500 to bring another student, she handed over her credit card. No one was interested in talking to  him, so he just came to dinner with us and ate chicken wings. (Ronda Rousey, host of the world's least drunken after parties. No drugs, little drinking and usually mom and a few sisters. Lots of chicken wings, though.)

In case you are interested, here is the whole Gompers crew

There are now THREE staff members who volunteer, so we almost never have to cancel class. The lovely ladies on the left are Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Beene's wives, then there is Jose Gonzalez, Will Beane, me, and Jimmy Sanchez who doesn't have a wife because he is just a young puppy.

Then there is the charity stuff. Here are just two :

  • Ronda is auctioning off her wraps from the last fight to benefit St. John the Baptist Church. On top of that, she'll be adding thousands of her own money to see that the chapel gets finished.
  • The magazines were donated by someone to raise funds for a young man who competes in judo in the visually impaired division. He wanted to know if he could send his collection of Ronda magazines for her to autograph and auction off, with all of the money going to the paralympian. She said, "Sure". Sorry, I don't even know either of their names.

There is the free rice competition, for which she donates autographed posters, fight gear and money (matching cash donations). For the past two fights alone, her groups raised over 43,000,000 grains of rice for the UN World Food Programme.

Here is a fourth, where our good friends/ family at Armbar Nation are auctioning off posters that Ronda will autograph personally with anything you want (within reason - nothing pornographic or libelous). The funds go to provide awards for high academic achievers at John Leichty Middle School in downtown Los Angeles.

My point is that she gives A LOT of herself, her time, her money, her stuff - and yet no matter how many times I, or Jose Gonzalez or Jessica Bueler offer to talk to people about it there is seldom a wisp of interest. I didn't say never, but I will tell you this, she has helped with charity events far, far, far more times than she has flipped anyone off, but you'd never know it by what you read on the web or see on TV.

Rant off.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Try again: Mama AnnMaria's Second Best Advice to Young People

Recently, I posted my best advice to young people, which boils down to "work harder than you think is reasonable and never, never, never give up".

My lovely daughter, Julia, often complains to me that I expect her to study more than most people. My answer is that if she wants to have a better life than most people she is going to have to work harder than most people. This is a continuing saga. Stay tuned for the next 6-8 years to see how it plays out.

The never, never give up part is super-important.

Thanks to Brad Slater, William Morris Entertainment, for the photo

I've had every reason in my life to give up. I tore my ligaments and cartilage in my knee when I was a teenager - back in the day before orthoscopes, ACL repair or knee replacement. I lived in a small town in the Midwest hundreds of miles from the nearest well-known judo instructors. So, I had focused on mat work and conditioning. It was what I could do with what I had at the time. Then, when the opportunity was there, I went to Japan as a foreign exchange student. I came back to the U.S. and lost the national championships. Then, I came back the next year and won.

There are people who believe that if you don't get into Harvard, Yale or some other Ivy League school that your path in life is going to be a dead-end. You're wrong. Sure, the old school tie will get you some interviews, and maybe venture capital, that other people don't get. In our case, my company has been very successful obtaining grant funding. There are other ways.

Don't give up doesn't mean to keep banging your head against a wall. In that case, maybe you should consider climbing over the wall, going around it or tunneling under.

For example, Ronda thought she would go to the Olympics in swimming when she was a little kid. After swimming competitively for five years, she got bored with it and started judo. She went to two Olympics and a world championships, and though she got silver and bronze, she did not win the gold. However, it wasn't what she wanted any more and instead of going for a third Olympics, she made the switch to mixed martial arts.

There is a difference between giving up and changing goals. In one, you stop and sit in the road and in the other, you keep going forward, but in a different direction.

For a good example of this, you can read a post I wrote about Justin Flores on the day he married Shirley.

You don't give up on your dreams, but sometimes you find a different dream.

Other times, you decide that today is not the day. My husband died when I had three young children, so it wasn't really feasible to start a company writing educational games. A lot of my professional and personal goals were delayed while I took care of other priorities, but I kept learning new programming languages, developing more skills until I was in a position to start another company, to write a book. I never gave up, and I really wasn't unhappy, because I knew that eventually, I would do those things if I kept working towards those goals. In the words of Mary Anne Radmacher.

“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.” 
-------------------Shameless Plugs --------------------

You can buy our beta version of Spirit Lake:The Game for $9.99 now and receive the update in May for no extra cost. 

Jim Pedro, Sr and I wrote a book on mat work. It's good! You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Black Belt

Monday, February 17, 2014

Somebody Else's Dream

When I get some time next year, I'm planning on writing a book on parenting with the title,

Somebody Else's Dream

There are a lot of parenting books out there that tell parents how much we suck, either just in general or in comparison to other cultures, whether it is the French, Japanese, Chinese or whoever is supposed to be sucking less than us this year. I wrote about this a while back in response to a Wall Street Journal article saying that Chinese mothers are superior.

In fact, the title of my post two years ago was tongue-in-cheek. Not only do I not believe that any nationality has a monopoly on good parenting, two other titles I have considered for the book are

Nobody really knows what they are doing


Marching confidently through the fog

(I'm pretty sure a publisher would veto the last one as not obvious enough.)

It's a bit ironic that two years ago when my blog post was re-posted on Tech Crunch a number of commenters said,

"Her daughter got admitted to Harvard. What have your daughters done?"

Um. Yeah.

What bothers me about the books and articles exhorting us to have children start studying 10 hours a day from preschool until they score perfect SAT scores 15 years later, is that your children are living YOUR dream. Isn't that everyone's dream, to get into Harvard, go to medical school, get a job at Google and make a LOT of money?

Um, no.

Some people said they agreed with me that there is a difference between success and happiness, and while giving up sports, sleepovers and focusing on doing well in every subject, regardless of interest might make people successful, it won't always make them happy.

In fact, my point isn't only the difference between success and happiness but also that success isn't only defined by how much money you make.

I think I'm fairly successful. My bills are paid, I've been able to support four children through education at private schools, I live in a nice neighborhood by the beach where it hasn't snowed since the last ice age. There are people who are surprised when they come to our house and find we live in a three-bedroom townhouse and not a big house with a sprawling lawn. I find that interesting because how big of a place do three people need?

Watching the Olympics this week really drove this home. There are a lot of sports I had never heard of, and even though they were fun to watch - like skeleton - I would never want to try them. Yet, for some of those athletes, just being there was a success.

When I competed, I never understood those people who were just happy to be there, whether it was the world championships, national championships or the Olympics. I was there to win and would have considered anything less than a gold medal a failure. Lately, though, it has occurred to me that my attitude is no more rational than those people who consider me unsuccessful because I have chosen to spend my money on sending my children to the Olympics, NYU and USC rather than buying a Mercedes and a house in the suburbs.

Like those people at the Olympics, I have arrived where I wanted to be.

If my children can say the same when they are in their fifties, I'll have been a great success as a parent.

If you'd rather read a book on judo and matwork by me and Jim Pedro, Sr. click the link to buy from Amazon

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mama AnnMaria's Best Advice to Young People

Hey, I'm talking here!

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.

Never, never, never, never give up!

Listen, I'm not just typing this for exercise for my fingers.  The real secret in life is that you can compensate for a whole lot of other disadvantages with hard work. I'm not stupid or naive. I know it is one hell of a lot easier to get into Harvard if you go to college prep schools, have tutors, take special SAT classes and don't have to work during high school. Yeah, it's NOT fair. So, what are you going to do, give up?

I have a good friend, Dr. Erich Longie,  who for many years was president of a tribal college. Students would say to him,

"I have three children. I can't afford to go to school full-time. I owe money from when I tried college when I was 18 and dropped out so I can't get any financial aid. If I take one class a semester and pay what I can, it will take me five years to qualify for financial aid again. Even if I do everything - work, pay off my old loans, study, don't fail a class, I won't graduate from college for another eight years."

And Erich would respond,

"So, what? So, you'll graduate in eight years then."

Listen to me. I'm old and one of the advantages of being old is that if you pay attention, you learn things. You are stronger than you think. The people you think are stronger, smarter or  more talented than you - they're not. Usually, they just had a head start in life - better schools, better neighborhoods, parents with more money.

I went to Washington University in St. Louis for my bachelors degree. It's a really good school. Because my family didn't have a lot of extra money, but my mom did have two younger kids at home, there wasn't any choice but for me to work full time while I was in school. At the same time, I was competing in judo. At 19 years old, I graduated from college and won the U.S. Open in judo. If I didn't have to work, I'm sure I would have had a better GPA. So, what?

I went on to graduate school at the University of Minnesota because, at the time, there was a good judo club there.  I didn't have a car and I HATED waiting for the bus in the snow in Minnesota when it was 10 below zero. Part of that time, I quit competing in judo because I was working full-time and going to school full-time. It was hard but it wasn't really all that terrible. I had friends, I was learning a lot in school. The part I think most people aren't prepared for is how consistent you need to be to succeed, whether it is a sport or academics. I have to be honest, this is the part where a lot of people annoy me, too.

To get a BSBA and MBA,  I had to study and work for a total of 5 1/2 years - straight. I'm not whining about it, I'm just pointing out a fact. That's 66 months, or 2,007 days when I worked  midnight to 8 am, then was in class by 10. There were weekends I competed in judo tournaments, got back in town at 1 a.m., sore and tired, and, you guessed it, got up and got to the university the next morning.

I've seen too many people who could have been successful but gave up. Often, they seem to have a false idea of how much work or how long it should take. I've heard people over and over say,

"But I worked SO HARD to get a promotion / degree/ championships."

and I think,

So what? Try harder. Try longer .... and if you don't succeed

Try again. (But that's the point of my next post.)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Never Confuse Wishes with Plans

I tried leaving the door open hoping people would drive by and throw in bags of money, but that didn't work, so now I'm going with this plan.

This was my response years ago when my new husband asked me if I was going to continue traveling so much for business.

Often, I ask young people in high school and college what their plans are for the future and they tell me something like,

  • I'm going to win the Olympics.
  • I'm going to be in the NBA.
  • I'm going to be a pediatrician.
  • I'm going to start my own company to sell my designs for sportswear.
  • I'm going to transfer from the community college to Stanford, major in computer science there and go work for Microsoft after I graduate.
None of those are plans. Those are all wishes, even the last one, which kind of sounds like a plan but is really a wish in disguise.

A wish, according to our good friends at Merriam-Webster, is
"a desire for something to happen or be done".

A plan, is defined as

Something that a person intends to do


a set of actions that have been thought of as a way to do or achieve something ... a method to achieving an end

Notice the key difference here - with a plan, you don't just want something to happen but you are also taking STEPS to MAKE it happen. The last person sounded like he had a plan, but, in fact, he spent far more time partying than studying. The result was that he had a C average and no more chance of getting admitted  to Stanford than Patti and Lynnie - and they at least have the excuse of being guinea pigs.

My advice to people who want to improve their situation in life is simple:
  • Have a short-term plan,
  • Have a long-term plan,
  • Regularly evaluate how well you are doing on both of those.
For example, if you really wanted to win the Olympics (a long-term plan), you would be training every day (a short-term plan). You might also have 12 local tournaments a year you intended to enter, with the goal of winning every one of them. If you achieved that goal, you would decide that you were making progress and then set the next goal to enter three regional tournaments as well as the local ones and win each of those.

In my case, I want the games for my company, 7 Generation Games, to be used by millions of students throughout the country. To make that happen, we need really good games that are easy for people to install and use.

To make the games more fun, I want to add more animation even to the problems, so I am looking at a couple of javascript libraries - spritely.js and fabric.js - to make simple little animations. For example, if you get the problem on deer hunting correct, a deer will appear trotting across the screen followed by a hunter stalking it and that will be the introduction to the next level where you get to hunt deer. I think little touches like that everywhere will make our game better than the ones that just have a box come up that says, "You're right! Have a gold star!"

How am I doing on it? Truthfully, I could be doing better. That's why I look at how I've been doing on a daily basis - today, I did some work on the game but mostly was "distracted" by deadlines on other projects that I have that also pay me money. That's not a terrible thing. It's like missing practice because you had to study for a final exam.

However, you need to be aware that your plan is off a little and make up for it - practice twice a day on the weekend. If you did poorly on a test because you were at a tournament, next time, study on the bus on the way there and back so you don't fall behind. If you aren't keeping up with your plan, decide if it's really worth it to you to go to the Olympics or get into Harvard. Maybe it's not. If it is, then you need to decide how you are going to change to make that happen.

In my case, I have to quit blogging and get back to work.