Friday, June 20, 2014

Priorities change

You wouldn't guess that McDonald's would be a likely site for an epiphany, but this week, you would be wrong.

I was in San Diego for two days, taking a class on text mining, and stopped on the way home in San Clemente to get a cup of coffee at the exit that just happens to be half-way between San Diego and Los Angeles. I had stopped at that same McDonald's hundreds of times in my twenties, as I drove back and forth between San Diego, where I lived and had a job as an industrial engineer, and Los Angeles, where I trained at Tenri Dojo and Orange County Kodokan all weekend.

Thirty years ago, those drives were the most important thing in my life, because I got most of my total mat time in on those three days. We had practice Friday night, twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. Winning the world judo championships topped everything, except for my baby, Maria, who usually was ready for a bottle, just as  I pulled into the McDonald's and ordered a coffee for me and a carton of milk to pour into the bottle for her.

Since school is out and I'm not teaching at Gompers, I hadn't thought about judo in weeks. It's funny, because back in my competition days, it is what I thought about ALL of the time. Even if I was sitting in a meeting or writing a program, still, "I have to win, I have to win" was running through my mind in the background.

As I pulled out of the McDonald's, I was wondering, did it really matter. Was it really worth it? I poured so much of my life into judo, and unlike many competitors, whose life continues to be dominated by their sport, I came back from the world championships and immediately veered in a different direction. I had four children, earned two more degrees, started a few companies, wrote some scientific articles, made some games.

Even if weeks go by now without me thinking of judo at all, no, it wasn't a waste of time. The self-confidence, health and discipline I got from judo have been major factors in my success in other areas. People I met in judo have been a network for everything from mentors on starting a business to advice on parenting to consulting opportunities. I was able to teach my daughters judo and one went all the way to two Olympics and then transitioned to world champion in mixed martial arts.

The next question, which I've pondered for decades, is whether it would have mattered if I lost. What if I'd come in second at the worlds? Lynn Roethke was a silver medalist in the Olympics and, after crying for a few days, she went on to have a successful life. Ronda got a silver in the worlds and bronze in the Olympics.

If I'd lost at the end, would I have been even more driven to succeed, to make up for it (hard to imagine what THAT would look like, isn't it?). Or would I have gone back to UC Riverside and jumped off the bell tower? I really don't know.

What I do know, is that you can't judge a situation when you're in the middle of it.

I was talking to Josh Hadley this week, when I was being interviewed for the Hart Attack podcast. Josh's wife suffered a severe injury that left her disabled and he is now at risk of losing his home. You can contribute to his gofundme here.  I told him that I had times that felt like the end of the world - when I lost a tournament or didn't get a job I thought would be perfect for me, it seemed like a tragedy. Then my husband died and it really was a tragedy. Other things happened that I thought I would never get over.

But I did. What I've come to conclude is that Nanny was right when she always said, "God knows what he's doing even when you don't."

At the end of the day, there's another day. If you work hard, never give up and try your best to be a good person, those days eventually get better and better. Not right away, and sometimes it takes a really long time, much longer than you hoped for, but it all works out for the better in the end, even if the end is much, much different than you had expected in the beginning.

------------ Speaking of judo ...

I wrote this book. You should buy it. People besides me think it's good.
And I have a real job, too. I make games that teach math where you can kill things and get smarter at the same time, kind of like judo if they let you kill your opponents and eat them - and your opponents were buffaloes.

Monday, June 16, 2014

You're never too old to start anew

  I've got a surefire idea of how to fund our next round of development. I'm going to charge $10 to everyone who asks me one of these four questions:
    1. What made you decide to start an educational gaming company?
    2. Didn't you run into a lot of skepticism when you first started?
    3. Are you sure you will succeed?
    4. But aren't you a little old to be doing a start-up?
If you ask all four questions, I'm charging $50. Then, are you ready, here is where the real money maker comes in - anyone who follows up with:
"But, if all venture capitalists are funding only younger entrepreneurs, they can't all be wrong, can they?"
Or if they ask anything else that suggests that anyone needs permission to follow an unconventional path in life they are getting fined an extra $1,000 per question. At the current rate, I anticipate raising our next seed round by the end of the year.

Truth is, I wanted to make a computer game to teach math for 40 years - ever since I was a 15-year-old high school student writing a program to draw Mickey Mouse.

 When I applied to graduate school, I wanted to do my dissertation on computer-aided instruction, using a math game. That was in 1985, games were text-based and the Internet was for university researchers. I wrote a few simple games but then went in a different direction doing research in psychometrics, teaching statistics and had three children. When I was 36, my husband died and I veered in a different direction. Perhaps leaving a position as associate professor to start a consulting company on an American Indian reservation was not the type of safe, secure career choice expected of a widow with three small children. Funny, I only thought of that in retrospect. At the time, it seemed to offer a better life, so I went with it. Now the children are not so small and technology has evolved to make the games I envisioned 30 years ago a possibility. daughters 

There is a lot of attention paid to twenty-something entrepreneurs who can work crazy hours on a start-up for months with no salary because they don't have to worry about making enough money to pay a mortgage or picking the baby up from day care. You know who else can do that? People whose children are grown and have paid off their mortgage. In fact, I suspect with the rate student loan debt has grown, people over 50 are more likely to be in the position to work on a start-up.

 There is definitely a bias investors have toward younger entrepreneurs, but that hasn't slowed me at all. We're doing work at 7 Generation Games that is important, building a company that is a good place to work, learning a lot and enjoying life. I shudder to think how my life would have turned out if I hadn't been good at math. Being good in math got me a college scholarship, jobs as an engineer, programmer and statistician. More than that, because I made enough money, it gave me choices - to move across the country, to send my children to better schools.


 Math matters, and, yet, statistically, by one year old, my granddaughter was already several times more likely to be proficient in math than children in south central Los Angeles or East St. Louis. Which is why we, after raising well over a half-million dollars from federal grants plus a kick starter campaign,  topped it off with our own funds. We are going all in.  Making a game that encourages children to learn math is one way to level the playing field.

Now that I have the opportunity to do that, I'm not going to let a little thing like age - or anything else - stop me.

  Fish Lake Poster==============================

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Less is More: Coaching Elite Athletes

I was talking to someone about coaching yesterday and I mentioned something I learned from Jim Pedro, Sr. many years ago, although he said it in a funny, Boston accent.

He was always saying,

"Mo-ah is not always bett-ah."

When asked how much coaching I do of Ronda these days, I was reminded of this remark, because I rarely tell her anything. When I do, I tell her once. She heard me the first time, so if she doesn't do it, then there is no point of telling her again.

Now, this does not apply at all to teaching kids, and not as much to teaching novices, but for elite athletes, there is a good deal of truth to the assertion that less is more.

We were at a camp with dozens of athletes, several of them national competitors. Watching many coaches who were not as effective, they were non-stop telling athletes what grip to get, how to place their feet, what direction and how hard to pull, what technique to try next or quit trying.

Jim probably made 20% of the comments of these other coaches, but when he did talk, the athletes generally listened very closely.

Here is what I noticed:

  • When you are correcting 14 different things an athlete does, it is difficult for him or her to identify which is the most important to focus on.
  • Constantly correcting an athlete can reduce confidence. If my coach tells me I need to fix 14 different things, I must really suck. 
  • When you don't speak up very often, the times you do make suggestions athletes tend to listen. They are more likely to believe you have given some thought to what you are saying, because it doesn't come after 20 more ideas you spouted off the top of your head.
  • Conversely, when you are constantly correcting an athlete, it loses its effectiveness. After a while, you just fade into the background noise.

SO, it seems to be true, less is more. Or, if you live in Boston, mo-ah.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How Not to Suck at Work

I've been thinking about this post for a while, and since we have hired three new people who start next week, I wanted to do it now so no one thinks I am writing about them.

There are a few things that drive me crazy about employees and co-workers, and having heard enough other people complain over the years, I know I am not alone in these. As a public service, here are some tips on how not to suck at work.

1. Understand that you were hired to do your entire job. Yes, even the parts that don't interest you personally. Even if there are parts of your job that require you to do things you don't want to do, like getting up early, commuting in rush hour traffic, wearing a suit. You were hired for a whole job. Even if you are a part-time employee, they still expect you to do your whole job, and yet the world is FULL of people who want to pick and choose the parts of the job they will do.

Recently, I knew someone looking for an assistant. Countless people said things like,

"I want the job, but I can't do the part that involves traveling."

"I could do the traveling but I could not do the part that involves driving around town to pick up and drop off things."

"I could only work until 3 p.m. "

Then you don't want the job, because all of those things are part of it. There are people who will take a position and then just not do the parts that don't appeal to them personally or do a really shitty job on those parts, with the excuse "I needed the money."

Those people are assholes.

Let me explain how not to be them.  If you are not the sole employee, it is likely that there are people who like the exact part of the job that you hate. If your boss approves, make a deal with them. For example, I hate getting up early. Most places where I have worked, there is at least one person who gets up at 5:30 a.m. and would love to teach the 8 a.m. class, take the shift that begins at 7 a.m. Instead of dragging in at 9:30 for my 7 a.m. shift (suck), I trade hours so that they always get to leave at 3 p.m, I don't have to come in until 10 a.m. when I am somewhat functional, and everyone is happy.

2. Don't miss work, come in late, miss an appointment or fail to get an assignment done using the excuse, "I was too busy." This just drives me nuts. YOU were too busy?  So I'm supposed to complete the report, write the program, pick up the mail or whatever it is that you were too busy to do? Because I'm just sitting here doing nothing? Presumably, your coworkers are also busy people. Now they are busy people who think you are an asshole.

3. Don't use not knowing how to do something as an excuse not to do your job. Let me explain how all of the other people in the world who did not exit the birth canal with a knowledge of Google apps and software development kits figured it out:

  • They read these paper things with black squiggles. We call them "books".
  • I have heard that you can find lots of information on the Internet. If what you seek is not on wikipedia, don't despair. There are other websites.
  • AFTER having tried to figure it out for themselves, they talked to other people.
If your employer has their act together, they should have some type of training for you and even, hopefully, a mentor system set up. If someone says to you, "Feel free to ask me if you have any questions" then you should feel free to ask them if you have any questions.

Don't abuse the privilege, however, or you may find your email answered with something like this.

How do you know when to ask for help and when to do it yourself? Here is a good flowchart for making that decision:

  • Figure out how long it will take YOU to find the answer.
  • Figure out how long it will take the person you ask to find the answer.

If the two numbers are equal, do it yourself, for God's sake. Otherwise, you are just asking the person to do your job.


  • Divide your salary into your estimation of the other person's salary.
  •  If it would take you twice as along to do it, but he or she makes twice as much money as you, figure it out yourself. 

The net gain to the organization in dollars will be zero and you will take the other person away from their work. They are probably doing this calculation in their head and figuring it costs the company the same for them to figure it out as you but now they are doing it instead of their own work and they think you suck.

If it will take me half an hour to modify the code to show a message when a student gives the incorrect answer, then I don't want you spending 40 hours figuring it out. Even if I am somewhat irritated to have my own work interrupted, I can calculate the benefit to the organization of me taking the time to answer the question.

Hopefully, these three tips will bring you a little bit in the not sucking direction.

If you yourself do not suck at work and have additional advice to proffer, please do include it in the comments.

================ SHAMELESS PLUG ======

This is what I do as a job, games to teach math.
You can buy one. It will make you smarter. If you are already maximally smart, give it to a dumb person you know.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Duck's blood, Ronda, fundraising, St. John and soccer

You may be excused for wondering what these five things have in common:
  1. Duck's blood
  2. Ronda Rousey
  3. Fundraising
  4. St. John the Baptist Catholic church
  5. Soccer
The first part comes from a story told to me by Jennifer, which turned out not to be strictly correct, proving that one should always have a healthy skepticism when it comes to matters of faith pronouncements by the one daughter who decided not to get confirmed.

Her story went something like this

Holy shit, how much of that Ronda stuff do you have in the closet anyway? Pretty soon, people are going to think it is like in the middle ages when they were selling the blood from that saint as a relic and finally someone asked how much blood could one saint have had, anyway. When they investigated, it turns out that it wasn't even human blood, it was duck's blood.

If you are curious about the story, you can read it here. It was not a relic being sold. It was supposedly the blood of Christ and some say the whole duck story was trumped up. Anyway, it was 500 years ago so I guess we'll never know, nor, in my case, care.

In answer to Jennifer's question, we had about car trunk full of Ronda's fight gear, which made its way into the closet in my office when Ronda gave her old Honda to Julia as a birthday present. There were a couple of things that had sentimental value, like some exercise equipment that Gene LeBell gave her, gloves from her fights (although she did donate one pair of those).

I would say about half that stuff has been either auctioned off or she decided to keep it. There are about a dozen things still in the closet and four more that she recently autographed and gave to the Armbar Nation folks to auction off. So, when it is gone, my house will have more space and a few charities will have more funds.

The two charities that will receive the funds from this latest auction are
  • Ojai American Youth Soccer Organization Under 16 team - they are playing in the national games to be held in Torrance, and we need to raise about $4,000 to cover the cost,
  • St. John the Baptist Catholic church - they are building a new chapel, and Ronda gave them cash for the deposit but they still need over $10,000.
Ronda agreed to deliver the items in person the day after her fight, if the winning bidder would like to pick them up from her at the establishment of her choice where adult beverages are served. (Hey, she's planning on having won and being celebrating.) Or, we can put whatever you won in the mail, if you would prefer.

You can see what is being auctioned off here. There are four things, wraps from her UFC 170 fight camp, two pairs of gloves and a pair of shin guards. Ronda pointed out that she doesn't wear shin guards any more, she just used those when she was beginning her mixed martial arts training. (She thought collectors might find the fact that there won't be any more of those interesting. I don't know if she ever had another pair than these. It is possible there could be one in her house buried under a pile of something. As far as I know, this is the only one pair. )

Friday, June 6, 2014

What Do You Need to Teach in a Judo Class?

Recently, I read a comment someone made about a post I wrote a while back (and cannot find) where I explained why I take my Gompers Judo students to very few tournaments.

One reason is that I want them to have a great time. These are kids who have few advantages in life, and I want to add to their good experiences. With only one day a week to teach judo (hopefully expanding to two in the fall, with some help from my friends), choices have to be made about what to teach.

My students may know how to do a shoulder throw and an arm bar but not how to tie their belt perfectly. Their judo gis are mostly jiu-jitsu gis donated by the fabulously generous folks at Moya Brand (THANK YOU!) and a few more that my children and their friends outgrew.

Their gis might be too small or not the right color.

We went to an inter-club tournament with Guerreros and the always wonderful Guerreros families made us feel welcome and did not say a word.

We went to an inter-club tournament at Ogden's and Dave Overbury asked one of my students,

Is that a jiu-jitsu gi?

I got ready to fight, because I was NOT going to have anyone make one of my kids feel bad, and then Dave said,

That's really cool. I like the black gi. I have some jiu-jitsu gis myself. They're really comfortable.

Contrast that with the reaction they would have gotten at many tournaments, where they would have been yelled at and disqualified for not having the right color uniform, yelled at for not having their belt tied correctly.

So, to the comment --- someone on a forum had brought this up and asked if I was not even teaching my students to tie their belts or fall correctly how were they going to get along in life, not having learned to attend to the basics, to details.

Let me answer that  ... I've been listening to that bullshit all of my life.

 I definitely don't have the best falls (ukemi) . Partly that is due to bad knees that don't bend and partly due to not practicing it all that much. Nonetheless, I managed to win a world championships, Panamerican championships, the Pacific Rim and Austrian Open.

When I was a kid, the teachers told me that I would never get a good job with terrible handwriting. I have very bad eyesight that wasn't corrected until long after I started school and my handwriting was abysmal - still is. A million points to the Lions Club for the vision screening they fund in schools.

My mom, a very wise woman, had a different take on it,  she told me,
Go to graduate school, because you are going to need a secretary and a housekeeper your whole life, so you better make the money to afford it.

Mom was right. I don't clean house and my handwriting never improved.

My point  -  I think you are absolutely wrong if you think tying your belt and wearing the right color judo gi is the most important thing to teach. Here is what I want my students to gain from judo:

  1. Physical fitness.
  2. Friends who look out for one another.
  3. Self-confidence.
  4. Respect for themselves and their fellow students.
  5. Better grades and higher academic goals.
  6. Adult role models who are successful professionally, academically and personally.
  7. A good time for two hours after school, in a safe place.
  8. Better nutrition.
That's a lot to fit in to 35 lessons in a year. Somehow, belt tying didn't make it as a high priority.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

More or Better: Sports Imitates Life

Earlier, I posted on the blog for one of my companies about the daily decision I  make, whether to make more levels of the games or go back and improve the existing levels.

People might think that's a no-brainer and instantly reply,

"Better, of course!"

Let's think about that for a moment, though. We make games to teach math, so along with being fun, each game has to have a sufficient amount of math in it to justify kids taking time out of the school day to play it. We have a game that teaches word problems using division and multiplication. Our next game teaches fractions, which teachers, research and our own experience tell us are really important to getting into abstract concepts as in algebra. Maybe we end up with students who are super at algebra but have no understanding of statistics.

Which brings me to teaching judo. Some instructors will have a student do the same throw 10,000 times. We've all met those people. Either they throw you with seoi nage (a shoulder throw) or they don't throw you because that's all they have, but they are good at it.

On the other hand, you have the people who know every kata and claim they can do 67 different throws, but you never see them throw anyone in a tournament with any of them.

When teaching, I aim for a spot between the two. Every practice, I try to split evenly between standing and matwork. When a tournament is coming up, I put off teaching anything new, and try to focus on getting what they do know better. After the tournament, I'll start on learning more techniques.

I found it interesting that in an interview last week Ronda mentioned that her mom still calls and reminds her all of the time,

"Are you working on your arm bars?"

which is true, but that she also works on striking and other skills that "open up the way to Arm Bar Town."

It's not just better versus more, but also making sure that the "more" you add fits in with what you already have. I wrote about that in an earlier post - the Lego theory of matwork  - which circled me back to thinking about how can THIS relate to business. With a few seconds thought, the obvious struck me, that you need to focus on what your core business is and build off of that.

Excuse me, now I need to email a few people about business ideas. (Yes, for real.)

------------- SHAMELESS PLUGS -------
You can buy my book Winning on the Ground, here

and you can buy our new game, Spirit Lake: The Game, here.