London 2012 Paralympic Games

This post is long over due. I’ve been meaning to post this  the past couple days now but been kind of busy. This is about my  experience in London at the

Paralympic games. I was not expected to  medal at the games. However, as my coach Scott Moore has told me  before I have a funny way of doing things I’m not supposed to be  doing. I had so much support going into London it was almost  overwhelming. The months leading up to the games were exciting,  difficult and frustrating at the same time. By the time we had  gotten to London I was nearly sick of judo and was just ready to  fight already.

The first day of competition had my adrenaline off  the charts and I wasn’t even fighting yet.  It was the energy of all  the other competitors, especially the crowd. Seats were sold out  I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. My day of  competition comes and I am more than ready.

On my way to my first  match, which was against France, I had no idea how it would turn  out but win, loose, or draw I was going to give it everything I  had. Once I stepped on the mat, as far as I was concerned it was  just me and the French man in the whole arena. “HAJIME!” The ref  yelled, and we went at each other like titans. Neither one of us  giving up anything. The match went on and on, Scott was on edge  screaming his head off my body felt like it was breaking down. We  go in to golden score and I’m down by a shido. Before the ref yells  Hajime, I tell myself “You will not die here!” “FIGHT!” “HAJIME!”  Again we go at it like titans, this time I score! I scored a yuko  off of O-Uchi. Its over, I’ve finally won- WRONG! Refs decide  otherwise. They talk amongst themselves in their little referee  huddle. Its decided the score was taken away. The match was not  over I was still on this freaking mat. This match was going on  longer than the sum of all of my other matches in the past. We are  back at the center of the mat. “HAJIME!” I was  determined to make  this the last Hajime I hear of this match.  I attack with everything  I have left. I score again yuko with another O-uchi, but this time  its not taken away. FANILLY, this match is over. The ref announces  me the winner I snap back into reality and the crowd is going  crazy. I come off the mat and I hug Scott and he’s basically  carrying me back to the warm-up area. Ed Liddie another one of my  coaches meets us there. He tells me that this is it. IT can be  done, I can take home one of two medals a sympathy medal or an  actual medal. My mind was made up I wanted to leave with some hard  wear. Scott and Ed and all of my team mates believed in me and  that’s all I needed…

First post and wont be the last.

A long way for a judo workout!

We have been very fortunate over the years to have judoka from all around the world visit our dojo.  Some have come for a workout while in town and some have come for a few months or even up to a year or more.   When we have someone visit from a country for the first time we hang that country’s flag from french_groupthe ceiling around the mat area in the dojo.  We’ve amassed quit a collection of flags over the years, so many that we actually have a key so we can identify all the flags.

We did not get a new flag tonight because one of our club members is from France, but we were fortunate enough to have a group of 20 teenagers and their coach visit from Toulouse, France.  A few years ago we had a member of our club from Toulouse.  Julie was an elite player back in France and trained with us for around 2 years.  She now lives in California but knows the coach of a local club in Toulouse and worked with her to arrange a trip for these teens to Colorado for a week.  The kids have had an exhausting week, having visited a few clubs before us, including the Olympic Training Center last night.  Julie also told me the ran at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs this morning.  That explains why the kids looked so wiped out after practice.  Julie informed me that Toulouse is a small region so the club is not super  competitive, so the kids are not used to such rigorous training,  but I was very impressed with the skills these kids had.  They ranged from yellow-black belts and despite being tired from several days of training at altitude they all worked really hard.

I’ll keep this one short, it’s getting late we have belt testing tomorrow and I believe we have 15  people testing!

Talk to you soon…

Ever been to Candyass Cottage?

I’ll bet you have been to Candyass Cottage and didn’t even realize you were there!  If, however, you are a member of the Denver Judo Club and have missed practice in the past few weeks, you have more than likely been accused of visiting Candyass Cottage.  If you have missed more than one practice in a row you have probably been accused of paying rent at “The Cottage.”

ca_cottage_backI don’t remember the exact conversation, but we had a few guys miss practice on Friday night a few weeks ago after telling us they would be there and we were talking trash about why they were not in  practice    One of the guys is really into skiing so I believe it was my wife who suggested he might be in the mountains, and I looked up and said something along the lines of “He is in Candyass Cottage, that’s where he is!”  I don’t know where it came from, it was just the first thought that came to me.  I’m not usually so quick witted, I think of all kinds of cool retorts to comments but usually way too late to be funny.  Everyone there  erupted   and we could not stop laughing and talking about the new establishment I had just created, so of course we all took to Facebook to tell the guys we were talking about of their new status as residents of Candyass Cottage.

The joke has gone so far that  my wife went to Zazzle.com and created a t-shirt with Denver Judo on the front and a picture of a candy house on the back with the text that reads” Get Out of Candyass Cottage And Get on the Mat!”  We have already sold several of them and mine should be here this Friday!  I will be sure to post pictures of the group when we get our shirts.

One last story about  “The Cottage ” before I end.  This past Friday we had a good workout but  attendance  was low so I made the comment that there must have been a pot luck at the Candyass Cottage and those of us in  practice  had not been invited.  One of our guys wrote to tell me he was not coming to practice because of a shoulder injury he has been nursing and that he would be buy to pick up the keys to “The Cottage” at 5.  I  text-ed  back and told him I didn’t have the keys because I have never been to Candyass Cottage.  Of course I didn’t tell him, but I believe that at some point in our lives we have all been to Candyass Cottage.  The important thing is not to get too comfortable there of you will find out how hard it is to get out of Candyass Cottage once you start paying rent!

I know there wasn’t a lot of judo but we have had a great deal of fun with this in the dojo and I just had to share it with you.  If you would like a “Get Out of Candyass Cottage” t-shirt you can get yours at  ttp://www.zazzle.com/get_on_the_mat-235516671540914473.

Talk to you soon…

2013 Sr. Nationals

The 2013 Sr. National Judo Championships were held in Virginia Beach, VA. this past weekend (April 13-14, 2013). We arrived in Virginia Beach Friday afternoon, April 12 for registration, the coach’s meeting, and the draw for the Senior divisions. The draws for the visually impaired, brown belt, and masters divisions took place after the senior session had concluded on Saturday.

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Alyssa Gilkey on the podium with 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist, Kayla Harrison

As I said in my last post, I have always enjoyed attending Sr. Nationals as it is the premier US tournament and showcases most of the best US athletes fighting for the title of National Champion. While the divisions still are not as big as they were even back when I was starting to compete at nationals, many of the divisions have been getting bigger over the past few years and will hopefully continue to grow. While I like the Virginia Beach area, I feel the attendance would be better overall if Nationals were consistently held in easier to get to locations. The top players will still go because they are fighting for points but the lower level “up-and-coming” players, and also masters and visually impaired players would be more likely to attend if the flights were cheaper and more convenient.

Regardless of the location, I love going to Nationals. As I said before it brings out many of the best players and makes for an exciting tournament, plus I’m just a “judo bum'” at heart and love the atmosphere that exists at the bigger tournaments. I will admit, I also love traveling to the different cities and staying in hotels and all that goes with it.

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Laurie Ann Pokin with coaches, Heidi and Scott Moore

As much as I enjoyed the tournament I will say that I was terribly disappointed in the number of visually impaired athletes who showed up for the tournament. We have far more visually impaired athletes on our list than we have ever had before. But having them on paper will not help our program grow, we need them on the mat, training and competing. People tell me all the time that they want to make the Paralympic team, or win a Gold medal like I did. What I should start telling people when they say this to me is “Prove It!” I have no problem with people, visually impaired or not, who just want to learn judo and be recreational athletes, but if you say you want to be a champion, you have to give everything you have to make that a reality. In my dojo, if you are just interested in being a recreational athlete but are willing to work hard in practice, great, but if you want to travel to tournaments with the Paralympic Judo athletes and coaches, I expect you to be serious and to do everything you can to attend every event possible, including tournaments and training camps as well as your own dojo’s practices.

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Greg Sadar with 2 bronze medals!

My sensei use to tell me my biggest problem is that I expect everyone to want “IT” as badly as I did. She was talking about people just coming to practice, and reminded me that not everyone wants to be a national or Paralympic champion like I did. When it comes to my dojo I agree and I still have that problem, but if you want to make a national team in either sighted or VI judo, you have to want it more for yourself than I want it for you or at least as much. You cannot be successful if I want it for you more than you want it for yourself! I also wanted to point out that VI judo is real judo and our top athletes train hard and do take this seriously. We currently have three guys living and training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I think a lot of people think they will just show up and walk on a team or go a tournament and just walk through the divisions. This is not the case, and if you show up with that mind set you will be in for a rude awakening! That is what I found out when I came home from my first VI training camp with a fractured rib and badly bruised ego! But, that inspired me to work harder to be as good as those guys who had battered me for the 4 days I was there. So, I encourage you, if you are a VI athlete or a coach of a VI athlete and you aspire to the Paralympic Games, don’t come in as a “tourist” come into it prepared to give it everything you have.

Sorry for the rant, but I had to get that off my chest. Now, I will end with saying I am very proud of how hard everyone from Denver Judo fought. I have posted pictures through this blog that do not necessarily apply to the content but I wanted to share them and I’ll share how our club members did below.

  • Ryan Jones – 2nd in VI – 81kg – 9th in Senior Men -81kg
  • Alyssa Gilkey – 2nd in Senior Women – 78kg. She did very well and I was proud of how hard she went after 2012 Olympic Gol,d Medalist , Kayla Harrison in her only loss on the day.
  • Greg Sadar – 3rd in Masters M3 and 3rd in the Masters under 50 Open division.
  • Laurie Pokin – 1st in VI 63kg
  • Kedge Zawack fought hard in a tough 90kg division and Men’s Open but did not place.
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Laurie Ann Pokin and Angie Moran posing with their medals

As always, I am very proud of our athletes and hope to do more road trips to tournaments. I am very big on competition and love winning but some of my fondest memories from judo are not just the medals and tournaments but traveling with my teammates. Kedge and I were talking a week or so ago and agreed that the road trips crammed in a van traveling for hours with or college teams are some of our best memories.

Thanks for readying,

Talk to you soon…

Getting Ready for Nationals

Hard to believe we are already in April of 2013, but we are and that means Senior Nationals is almost here. We are leaving Friday for Virginia Beach, VA. for the 2-day competition. I’ve always loved going to Nationals as a competitor and as a coach, but I’m not sure which role is more stressful. As an athlete all I had to worry about was me but as a coach I don’t have to worry about myself but I have to worry about all my athletes. This year we have 5 athletes from Denver Judo fighting at nationals. We have 2 fighting in the Visually Impaired (VI) division and Laurie is also fighting in the brown belt division and Ryan is fighting in the Senior division as well. Kedge and Alyssa will be fighting in the Senior division and Greg will fight in the masters division. Alyssa is actually training at her old club at Iowa State University until she can make it back to Denver so she is ours so I hope they don’t mind but we are claiming her!

20130410-223109.jpgIn preparation for nationals, we have been pushing hard. I’m still sore from the open mat on Sunday and our regular practice on Monday and I’m not even competing. Even though my legs and back are still sore I really enjoy working out and pushing hard with the team. I was able to do all the fitness stations and then did some of the ne waza until my knee started hurting again and even a little tachi waza with some of the smaller people in practice. I’m looking forward to our last practice tonight before we head out Friday morning.

I have always enjoyed going to nationals as an athlete and often went to coach my wife, Heidi, while she was still competing, but it is really exciting to bring several athletes from Denver Judo, which makes for a fun trip. I have always loved traveling as a team so I am really looking forward to this event.

I am also looking forward to the Visually Impaired competition at nationals. Overall, I am disappointed in the number of VI athletes attending nationals but we do have some new people that I am anxious to see compete against some of our veterans and we have a few weight class changes from some of the veterans so I’m anxious to see how everything will shake out! The 2016 games are only 4 years away so we are already preparing for the qualifying events coming next year, so I am really looking forward to see how some of the new guys and girls do at nationals ad the upcoming events in Brazil, Lithuania, and the Para Pan Am’s this summer in Colorado Springs.

I’ll do my best to post to this blog from Virginia Beach if I have time but if not I will post as soon as I get back and will hopefully get some pictures as well.

Stay tuned!

Colorado Statewide Workout

Today we had the first monthly statewide work for Colorado.   Some of the coaches in Colorado, myself included have been talking about doing something like this for several years and the Colorado Judo Council decided to endorse/promote a monthly statewide workout.   The first one was this morning at Northglenn Judo Club in Northglenn which is a suburb of Denver.   Attendance was ok for the first one but I am hoping it will catch on and continue to grow.   I was proud that my club Denver Judo had around 9 or 10 adults attend and will hopefully have some of our kids attend future workouts.

It was also great to see a few of the athletes from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.   It is a great opportunity for the local athletes to get the chance to workout with the players from the OTC.   We are lucky in Colorado to have the OTC right down the road but it’s hard to get there for practice from Denver as they practice at 5 p.m.   I remember leaving work early and struggling to get down there in time when I was still competing.   Having them attend the statewide workouts will give those who might not otherwise have the chance the opportunity to train with some   of the top athletes in the country.

We did this for a while when I was still living in Louisiana and it was a lot of fun plus athletes get to workout and learn from different people.   I loved it when we would drive to New Orleans or Baton Rouge for a Saturday workout then go have lunch with the hosting club before driving back home.   We got to workout with people we usually only saw at tournaments and learn from different coaches which is always a good thing.

I wasn’t able to do as much today as I would have liked because I tweaked my LCL (lateral Collateral ligament) in my knee in practice earlier this week.   I did the warm-up and did a few rounds of ne waza (grappling) and some gripping but not much else.   I did get to workout a little with a Paralympic hopeful, Robert Tanaka, a very talented 13 year old who I truly believe has the talent to make the 2020 Paralympic judo team if he continues developing the way he has for the past several years.   I have known him since he was around 6 or 7 and it has been really cool to see him develop into a very talented junior player.   After my standing round with Robert, I told my wife that by the time he is on the Paralympic team I might not be able to beat him anymore!

The next Colorado statewide judo working is scheduled for May 4, 2013 from 10a.m.-noon at Grace Jividen’s club, Gracie Judo.   In case you don’t know who Grace Jividen is, she is a 1992 Olympian.     Grace is really cool and an awesome judo player.

If you are in Colorado on May 4th, you should plan to attend.

Talk to you soon!

Great practice last night

Practice attendance is often a little light the Monday after a tournament.  Last night we had about 16 people on the mat including 7 black belts.  Not a huge group but not a small one either.

We started the night as always with warm-ups and stretching then we spent a little time working on defending my favorite throw, drop seoi nage.  I had some reservations about doing this because as I said it is my favorite throw, and I don’t compete anymore so randori (sparring) in the dojo is my only chance to throw people.  So you can understand my reluctance in teaching my students how to stop my best attack.  As a coach, however , it is my duty to help my students prepare for competition, and part of that preparation is helping them, not only with throwing but also with being able to defend against being thrown.  One of our competitors has been having trouble with getting caught with drop seoi nage lately and got caught a few times at the Northglenn tournament this past weekend so I talked to him and we decided I would go over defending that throw.  We will probably, at least with him, spend a little more time working on it in preparation for the upcoming USA Judo Senior National Championships in Virginia Beach, VA.

After the technical session we usually start with ne waza (ground fighting) then go into tachi waza (standing fighting) but since we had spent the time working on stoping drop seoi nage, and because I sometimes get carried away with the amount of grappling time, we went straight into tachi waza.  So we spend the entire last hour doing tachi waza.  It was a great workout and while I did not go every round I did most of them.  While I no longer compete I still very much enjoy judo and sparring and I can also work with students during the round if they are having trouble with something.  When working with one of our guys who is much taller than me, I showed him a way to stop what I was doing to control his grip and to turn it into a big throw.  I had hime walk through it a few times to see what I was talking about then we resumed randori.  I was hoping it would be a throw he could use as a secondary go to throw when faced with a similar situation, but was I was not expecting is that he would blast me with it during that round.  He  is a good fighter and already know the throw but this was a different way to enter into the throw.  I was not expecting to end up on my back with him grinning at me when it worked.  Made me a little proud though, a little sore too!

It ended up being one of those workouts that you go home from feeling really tired but feeling really good too.

Great workout with some great people!  I love Judo!