Sunday, May 24, 2015

Athletic Competition: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

I've been sick the last few days and it has sucked, particularly because this is a very busy week for me. We had the last day of judo practice of the school year held at Gompers Middle School on Friday followed by the absolute last practice of the school year on Saturday at Ogden Judo School.

After having the privilege of teaching these really good kids for a year, or two or three, many of them I won't see again, so there was no way I wasn't going to show up. Besides, someone had to pay for the pizza!

I'm a big hypocrite because I lecture my kids all the time about staying in bed when they are sick and not making it worse.

There are lessons I learned from sports, and although I did judo most of my life, I ran track in college as well and I think these are lessons anyone learns who sticks with sports until at least the varsity level.

  1. You can always do part of something, even if you can't do everything. There were plenty of times when I was competing that I was recovering from a knee injury  -  I had several operations - but that didn't stop me from doing bench presses, curls, sit-ups, push-ups, swimming. Although I did not do all of the circuits with the students on Friday and Saturday, I did some of them. While Brian, Gabriela and I shared the instructing on Saturday, I did some of it.
  2. You can suck it up for a while. I've trained when I had the flu, with stitches still in my knee from surgery. Less than two months after Maria was born, I won the U.S. Open. Yes, I was exhausted, but I sucked it up long enough to win. I may not have been at my best on Saturday but I think I did a credible job teaching armbars and transition to armbars. 
  3. When you can't do what is best, do what will help you when you CAN do what is best. The best thing for training is often to go a bunch of rounds of randori, but you don't always have the training partners for that. The best thing for soccer is probably to play games. If you can't do what is best, you can run to build up your endurance, you can do drills with anyone who is willing.  Then when you get into games, randori, whatever you'll have better conditioning and better skills to take advantage of the opportunity.
  4. There is a difference between injury and inconvenience. I have snapped a ligament in my knee in competition and kept going to win the match. No,  I did not have it repaired, such surgery didn't exist back then. Ligaments are over-rated. On the other hand, I got pneumonia once. People die from that shit. I got some medicine and went to bed. When I had my first knee surgery - before there were orthoscopes and they had to slice you open - I was in the hospital for a week. It took me a few weeks before I could get back on the mat. Sometimes you really do have to take off and sometimes you're just sick and it sucks but you work out any way. 
These lessons wouldn't matter all that much if they just applied to sports, but they have stuck with me all through my life.
  1.  You can always do something. While I'm not at my best at the moment, I've spent most of today working for a half-hour or an hour, then lying in bed for an hour and repeating the cycle.  When I got too tired, I finally just took my laptop and went to bed to work there.
  2. You can suck it up for a while. I had to give a biostatistics lecture online on Thursday night. I muted the sound whenever I needed to cough or sneeze. It may have not been the most brilliant lecture I ever gave but by the end of it, I'm pretty sure the students had increased somewhat in their understanding of hypothesis testing and power analysis. The class is only one month long and it ends this week. It's the last class I had committed to do this year, but I had committed to do it - so I sucked it up.
  3. When you can't do what is best, do what will help you when you CAN do what is best. The best thing for me to do is work on the games we are planning to issue update versions of in the next few weeks, to analyze the data coming in from the games, to work on the designs of the new games. I know that being under the weather I'll probably be at 50% productivity on all of that. So, while I'm laying in bed, I graded a bunch of student papers and homework, wrote three blog posts and fixed a couple of minor bugs. Once I get over this annoying cold/flu thing, I'll be able to focus 100% on the games because the other responsibilities will be out of the way.
  4. Learn to make the judgement call between injury and inconvenience. No one dies when they have a sinus infection or cold. Some people do die of the flu but I don't have the kind that kills you. I'm just miserable, not dying, so I probably got 6 hours of work done today. Not what I had hoped but you can't always get what you want.

My sister and mom always lecture me that I work too much and tell me that a sane, normal person if she wasn't feeling well at 11 pm on Sunday night on a three-day weekend would stop working.

I suppose that's true.

Another thing I have learned from sports, though, is that if you have a goal, pursuing it won't always be comfortable, won't always be convenient.

But it will be worth it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Advantages of Being An Old Judo Player: Less Bullshit, More Tequila

Believe it or not, young people, there are some advantages of being old that make up for the wrinkles and bad knees. Chief among these is less dealing with bullshit.

1. You're more likely to recognize a line of bullshit.

For example, I've heard people saying that judo is growing in the U.S.

My old friends and I laugh at this because we have been around long enough to remember when there were several times as many people in the divisions at the national championships as there are now. Because we were there, we know that those tournaments did not have novice divisions, brown belt divisions, masters divisions. There were actually several hundred black belts competing and they weren't over 40 unless they were Hayward Nishioka.

Some flavor of judo is being taught in many ju jitsu and mixed martial arts schools, but the number of people seriously aiming for the Olympics in this country has never been smaller.  Those of us who have been attending the tournaments realize that there were half as many competitors in the black belt divisions as 15 years ago.

People can't lie to you as easily when you're older because you know the history of events and the character of individuals.

2. You don't have to put up with bullshit.

I don't care if I ever get promoted again. As my good friend, Steve Scott, says,

"It's not as if my belt is going to get any blacker."

People try to give me the analogy of,

"You earned it. You went and picked up your Ph.D. diploma, didn't you?"

It is not at all the same thing. That would be like getting your black belt.

Getting a seventh-, eighth- , ninth-degree black belt is just stupid. It's like if after you got your Ph.D. you got someone to award you a "Gold Star Ph.D." The other people with doctorates would have special parties just to laugh at you. I know they would because I would host them at Lula's with shots of tequila on me.

Much of the business of the judo organizations in this country centers around people paying money and kissing ass so they can get promoted to muckety-muckety-muck degree black belts.

These days, instead of going to meetings with people I don't respect, I get together with my friends, drink tequila and laugh at those people. It's pretty awesome.

Friday, May 15, 2015

No one is like family but your family: A picture is worth a thousand words

I received several emails today from people saying,

Your daughter, Ronda is SO sweet!

These emails were special in that they came from my family. Sometimes people ask me why I think Ronda has avoided the pitfalls that many other entertainers and athletes have fallen into. One answer is that, if you read the book she wrote with Maria, My Fight/ Your Fight, you'll see that it has not always been smooth sailing.

Still, by comparison to many young people who are in the public eye, she has her head pretty squarely on her shoulders.

One advantage Ronda has, I think, is a large family solidly behind her that has always been there. No one is like family but family, I don't care what all the new friends sprouting up have to say.

When Ronda had book signing scheduled in Florida (State Motto: Your grandparents live here) there was no question but that she would carve some time out of her busy schedule to spend with her grandmother.

One way family is different is that you have history. Several years ago, Ronda was driving across country to get back to California and take her GED before going to work at the minimum wage jobs she had then. My sister lived in Missouri back then, and when Ronda stopped in, her Aunt Joy made her a home cooked meal and baked her cookies to take on the road.

If you look closely in that picture, you'll see a container of home made chocolate chip cookies that my sister gave her. My point is, Joy didn't like her any more or less then than she does today and I'm sure the cookies were equally delicious.

You have inside jokes with your family that other people don't get. For years, I've been telling my mom that I'm going to create an Internet persona for her as a party animal. Every time we are at a family get together, I make sure I have a picture of her with a drink in her hand - even if it is somebody else's drink or actually just water in a martini glass. That's her, Grandma, party animal.

It's like Robert Frost said,

Home is the place where when you go there, they have to take you in.

Anyone who has a good deal of success and is not an idiot realizes that much of what is pleasurable in that lifestyle is dependent on keeping up the money and media. Everyone from the waiter at the five-star restaurant to the person you are dating right now would find someone else if you were broke working at a 7-11. That causes a lot of pressure to keep it up, and sometimes that pressure can be too much.

There is a security in having family behind you. My mom was delighted to see Ronda. She was equally delighted, a month ago, to see Julia, who has written nothing closer to a best seller than her AP English final.

The fact that no one in the family is dependent on her success in any way probably helps to make Ronda's life more of an even keel. Yes, Maria wrote the book with her, but Maria had a career in journalism when Ronda was 16. This wasn't make or break it. As for the rest of us, we have our own lives, so if Ronda says something in the media that is re-printed on 47 different blog pages (why DON'T these people feel bad about not having original content?) well, we probably didn't even read it.

She doesn't have to worry about letting us down in any tangible way, and if she is acting like an ass, no one has the least reluctance to let her know at the very first sign.

On the other hand, if we tell her that is adorable, like in this picture with Rhadi Ferguson's beautiful daughter, Little Rhadi , she knows we mean that too.

That's the thing about family - they know everything about you and they love you anyway. That is the source of security and sanity, in my not at all humble opinion.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How to Deal With Bullying

I've been asked a few times recently to give advice on bullying and I was at a loss. Truthfully, I experienced no bullying in school.

If another kid, or group of kids, tried to fight me, I would launch myself at the biggest or closest one in the group. I might get hit by a board (happened), have a brick thrown at me (happened) or have another kid kick me in the ribs (also happened), but at the end of it, someone in addition to me was going home with scars. Next time around, they picked someone else.

If the mean girls at school said things about me, I reached up and yanked the ribbons out of their hair and they didn't say it in my hearing again.

For all of those saying, "Yeah, you go girl!" you are wrong.

I was suspended from school, expelled from school, in juvenile hall, in foster care. These are not experiences I would recommend.

If you're saying,

"Kids should learn how to defend themselves", 

I would answer,

"Parents should teach their kids not to be assholes to other children."

Let us agree that the world is not perfect, shall we?

While "punch them in the face" may be a satisfying solution, it should NOT be your first choice. One reason is that it doesn't teach you how to deal with the world as an adult. You yank the ribbons out of the hair of that snooty co-worker in the next cubicle and your ass is getting fired, sued for $5,000 and maybe going to jail for assault.


The Perfect Jennifer had three pieces of related advice.
  1. Tell the teacher. When she hears about bullying going on in her class, she puts a stop to it. If you think Ronda is mean, you have never seen Jenn when someone is picking on one of her students. Think about the most embarrassing thing you have done in your life that you hope no one knows about ever. Jenn will find it out and - seriously, you don't want to cross her. Either the student can tell the teacher or the parent can call. Email first asking for an appointment.
  2. If your teacher does nothing, go to the principal. This may embarrass the teacher into doing something. It also means the teacher cannot easily deny knowing about it.
  3. Lawyer up. Tell the school you are going to sue them. If you can't afford a lawyer, consult legal aid. The reason I suggest emailing and calling is that you have a record you contacted the school. If you talk to several staff members you have evidence of multiple contacts. Most teachers and administrators are not uncaring jerks. Even those that are don't want to be on the end of a lawsuit where you have a good bit of evidence.

My advice is that somewhere before 3, call it 2a, you may want to bring in reinforcements. If your child is in special education, you have a right to bring someone else with you to meetings at the school. I'm not sure if regular education students necessarily have that right, but I have gone to schools where a child had an issue and the parent did not speak English and no one has ever told me I had to leave. However tempting it is, don't bring the head of the local Hell's Angels group. Bring someone like your minister, a friend who is a psychologist, retired principal or lawyer. Again, you have a witness and the school might be a little more proactive if someone was watching them.


My brilliant niece, Samantha, also had a brilliant idea.

It may be a while before you get action from the school and before it has any effect. What do you do in that case?

She pointed out that if your child is having an awful time at school, the worst situation is to come home and spend all evening thinking about how much school sucks and how you have to through it all again tomorrow. Sam suggests finding something your child likes - it could be art, playing an instrument, karate or soccer. Whatever it is should take up a lot of time.

This accomplishes two things. First, your child will be too busy doing whatever it is, and enjoying him/ herself to think about how school sucks. Second, even if school sucks, there is something to look forward to at the end of the day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Think About This When Your Life Seems Like Crap

I'm on the Fort Berthold Reservation this week learning about Community Reinforcement methods for prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Bruce Gillette, the Licensed Addiction Counselor who organized the program keeps making this point:

If you want to grow a good crop, what do you put on it? Manure, right? All that crap you are going through in your life can make you more productive in the end. All we need to do is plant some seeds in it. 

What do we mean by seeds? A seed can be thoughts and beliefs that you can be something more than this. I know people who had severe problems with alcohol or drugs for years, and one of the key factors that helped them turn around was that little voice in their head of their mom or grandma  (sometimes long after she was dead), saying,

You are somebody special. You are better than this.

A seed can be planted by a coach or a teacher, who gives you that idea,

You 're smart. You're talented. You could be a doctor. You're great with machines, you could be an engineer. You are a good football player, but you need to get in better shape. 

Maybe it could even be a blog (-:

The point Bruce is making is that the crap you go through -  working three jobs, going to school full time and going to college full time, having a baby at 16 years old, needing to work, find day care and finish school, screwing up and ending up in jail for a year - all of that makes you stronger in the end, once you start to grow.

You really will be stronger in the broken places. You'll learn that the past is the past, that's why we call it that. It's over. You will learn that you can overcome difficulties. When you are at the top at that pinnacle, you'll still understand what it's like to be at the bottom.

Let's assume you are sitting somewhere reading this and asking me,

Fine! I've gone through plenty of crap, now how do I get the seed to grow?

I have an answer for you (didn't think I could hear you all the way here in North Dakota, did you?)

 Want to go learn to be a programmer? Watch a video on javascript on youtube, buy a book, go to a forum on Ruby and read the section for newcomers.

Want to graduate from college? Check out the website for your local community college. Start looking at four-year schools that interest you. (Hot tip: Do NOT sign up with a for-profit school. They're not worth it.)

Want to be a world champion? Go outside and run. Do some push-ups and sit-ups right now. Write down how many you did. Do it again tomorrow

My answer is this: start. There is always one thing you can do. Do it. Sprout!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

NOT DEAD YET and The R Word

I'm not quite to the age where when I drop out of sight for a while people start wondering if I have died - yet.

However, more and more often I am confronted with facts of my own aging. It is not just the judo - I came to grips with that part a long time ago, and perhaps it has prepared me for this next stage.

Frankly, I've never understood competing in the masters divisions, being the best judo player in the age 55-60 category. If that floats your boat, go for it, but personally, I've been there and done that.

Over thirty years ago, I was one of the best athletes in the world.  I labor under no delusion that designation still applies.

 I have arthritis in my hands and arms pretty bad, a combination of years of gripping judo gis, sixty-hour weeks on a keyboard for decades and genetics. My grandmother had arthritis and she never did anything more athletic with her hands than stir a pot of soup. One of my knees has been replaced with titanium. Every time I go through airport security that doesn't have an x-ray machine, I set off all of the terrorist alarms and get strip-searched by a 200-lb lady named Laquisha.

Most of my hundred-yard dashes come in airports between connecting flights.

Curiously, I still weigh the same as when I was competing.

When I first met Brewster Thompson on some international team we were on, he stared at me and exclaimed,

"YOU'RE the 56 kilo player? Damn! Those pounds must be packed in tight!"

Not packed in so tight any more.

Physically, I'm nowhere near the athlete I used to be. In part that is becaue
I don't put in the time to work out more than 2 or 3 hours a week

In part, it's because as anyone gets older, their maximum speed and strength decline.
That's why you don't see any 40-year-olds winning the 400 meters in the Olympics.

It's all right. I've moved on.

After retiring from competition 30 years ago, I've reached the age where most of the people I know
know are either retiring from work or at least thinking about it.

This week, I attended a statistical software conference that I first attended 30 years ago.

It's pretty expensive, as conferences go, and has sessions on topics like the LSESTIMATE
statement and debugging your macros. The people who attend have generally done well in life, overall.

Most of them are facing the same questions:

Now that I have raised my kids, paid for the house (and sometimes the boat and the vacation house),
established myself as a respected member of the scientific (technical, academic, whatever) community, taken the cruise to Alaska or trip to Europe - now what?

For most of them, the answer seems to be to keep on doing what they were doing.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine who was at the same conference and she said,

But what else would they DO? This is what they do!

The same seems to be true of many athletes I see, competing long after their prime. Doing something becomes it is what you have always done seems an inadequate choice to me. In both sports and business, I see many people who took a path for a particular reason - whether it was to win the Olympics or become financially secure - and continue long after that reason no longer exists. They made their money, won their medals, or are too old to ever win/ become president of General Motors. Yet, they keep going.

Last night, in a fourth attempt in two weeks, I actually WENT AND HUNG OUT. Yes, I went to see Adam Hunter at the Improv, with my neighbor. The last time we did anything together was in the summer - I don't go out much generally.

We were talking about all of this and she said,

"Talk to me about this when you retire for real."

Living down the block for 18 years, she knows I have made 3 unsuccessful attempts at retirement.

I'm certainly not going to quit 7 Generation Games any time soon. This blog was started when I was in an airport on the way home to LAX and I'm writing it 3 days later on a flight en route to Minneapolis.

I come from a pretty long-lived family so while this plane might fall out of the sky any minute, the odds are that I can expect another 30 or 40 years before I need to seriously work on that bucket list.

At this point, I have more questions than answers on The R word. However, I do know this - I don't want to be living those last few decades on automatic pilot.