When is My Next Promotion?

I want to talk to you a little about rank in martial arts.  I have heard many times, as I’m sure many of you have, “belt color is not important, a belt is only used to keep your gi closed!”  I will admit, I have even said that, but when I have said it, I was talking to a student who was worried about fighting someone who was wearing a black belt.  My point was that just because they are wearing a black belt doesn’t mean they are great fighters. I have also come to learn over the years, it doesn’t actually mean they are any good at [your favorite martial art here].  I use to say that the black belt just means that he or she has just been doing judo for a while, and may know a lot of techniques, but it does not mean they are necessarily a good fighter or coach.  Unfortunately I have also come to discover over the years that it doesn’t even always mean that they know a lot about judo.

Karate Gi

http://www.elvisblog.net/ Mr.%20Potato%20Head/ Part%202%20and%203/ Karate%20Gi.jpg

Oh and before I go on, if someone has an 8th degree black belt in judo, an 8th degree black belt in karate, an 11th degree black belt in tang su do, and a 99th degree in a “style” they invented last year, I have trouble taking them seriously about anything, much less judo and rank.  Although I have been thinking about creating my own “style” of something and calling it albin-do and making myself a 21st degree black belt with 8 gold stars on my belt!  If you know me, you’ll get it.  If you don’t get it, send me a message and I’ll explain it to you.  If you are offended by it, get over yourself, it’s a joke.

Ok, back to the article!

The more time I spend in judo the more I realize that rank or belt color is not always equal to the skill or knowledge of the person wearing it.  I will even give myself as an example.  I was a Nidan (2nd degree black belt) from 1995-2001.  The Colorado Judo League promoted me to Sandan (3rd degree black belt) in 2001 for winning the gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Sydney in 2000.  It was actually pretty cool because they did it at the Denver Classic, which is the tournament run by my club, Denver Judo.  After that, I had not given any thought to going for my next rank until Warren Agena, head Sensei of Northglenn Judo, who I have a great amount of respect for, both for his skill as a judoka and his knowledge of judo, wrote a letter to the Colorado Judo League saying that he believe Heidi and I should be promoted for all our accomplishments in judo and for our service to the judo community.  I was honored but still didn’t know if I would test, but we put in our applications and were approved and promoted in 2008.   I also realized that as we gain more students with black belts it was important for us to advance so we could recommend them for higher promotions when they were ready.

In 2013, Heidi asked what I thought about putting in our applications for Godan (5th degree black belt).  We thought about it for a while and decided to go ahead and do it.  I believe we were promoted mostly for our work with and the success of the Paralympic Judo program in London in 2012.  Plus, I had to go up if she was! I can’t give her even more power over me than she already has!  Do I think my skill and knowledge of judo is equal to my rank?  Probably not, but it is not from a lack of desire to learn and grow in the sport.  Do I think my rank is deserved?  I honestly do not know, but I will say that it was granted to me by people of higher rank and years in judo, and knowledge and skill than myself.  They felt it was deserved either for my skill and knowledge of judo or for my contribution to the judo community, or a combination of the two.  I am sure it will be a long time before I am promoted again and I am ok with that.

Ok, now on to the point of this article.  Even though it is possible that I am higher in rank than maybe I should be, or maybe not, I do believe that people do often put way too much importance on rank and belt color.  When I started judo, I didn’t go into it thinking about getting a black belt.  I went into it thinking abut competing because I had been a wrestler and thought it was similar so it would be fun.  That was it. I’ll admit that the first time I put my gi on and went to class with all the other white belts and saw my Sensei standing in front of the class with her black belt, I did think it would be pretty cool to get a black belt some day.  Of course I had to start with getting my yellow belt and then working my way through the ranks.  My more immediate concern was getting good enough to beat the green belt who kept choking me and the brown belt who kept arm-barring me.

Back then I didn’t think about rank.  I tested when my Sensei told me to test.  As a matter of fact, when I was a Shodan (1st degree black belt) she told me she wanted me to test for my Nidan (2nd degree black belt) and I told her I didn’t think I was ready to go up in rank and she told me, “I didn’t ask your opinion, I said I want to test for your Nidan!”  So, I tested for my Nidan a few weeks later.

Don’t get me wrong, I was proud to sport my orange belt or whatever color I got, but honestly I was more proud that my Sensei thought I was doing well enough to go up to the next rank.  I will admit I was proud the first time I put on my black belt.  It was a sense of accomplishment.  Don’t misunderstand; I have been honored and proud of each rank after that too.

Orange Belt

I get a little annoyed when people worry so much about rank; they get promoted then almost right away ask when they can test again.  We have a decent sized club, so we do rank testing a few times a year, but you don’t get promoted every time there is a test.  We ask our other instructors who they feel should be promoted from their classes and then Heidi and I are the final say on who gets promoted and we, along with some of the other black belts form the promotion board.

It’s not just students that are worried about promotion. Instructors are guilty of this as well.  I might even be guilty of this from time to time.  If a student is doing really well in competition and works really hard in practice and helping others and the dojo, I enjoy rewarding their work with a promotion.  Granted I will not promote someone to the next rank if they have just been promoted or if they do not have the technical skill and knowledge required.  We do require time-in-grade before we promote, but if someone is doing all the things I talked about we may give then a batsugan (instantaneous promotion) without testing them.  We do still require them to learn the techniques for their new rank that they may not know, but it is rare that they do not already know the techniques.

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that I am a thug and not a purest, but for me it is important that my students not only know how to fight but also understand judo, and it is my greater hope that they will grow to love judo as Heidi and I do and that it will become a life long passion as it is for us.  I’ll talk about that more in another article.

From a competitive standpoint, I feel it is important for a competitor to get as much experience as possible and that means going to as many tournaments and getting as many matches as possible.  If I have a student who is doing really well in the novice division, I will have then fight up in the senior divisions if I feel they can handle it and not get hurt.  I want them to challenge themselves, but I will not push them out of the novice division the first time they get a first place trophy.  I always think the more matches the better.  If I promote someone to brown belt (for seniors) they are no longer allowed to fight in the novice division.   Having a brown or black belt does not mean someone is any good, as I said before, but taking someone who is at an orange belt level and putting them in a position where all the can fight is black or brown belts is not a good idea.  For example, if someone is a yellow or orange belt and doing well in local novice divisions, I do not think it is a good idea to send them to a national competition and have them fight in the senior divisions.  It can be discouraging but also dangerous.

If you have to be a brown belt or higher to go to a tournament, there is probably a reason for that and maybe your athlete should just want a year or so.  It’s one thing to put them in a situation that challenges them, but another thing all together when by the rank you give them you are putting them in a situation they are completely unprepared for.  Of course there are some people who will never be successful at competition or just aren’t interested in competition, and I am certainly not saying they should not be promoted just because they do not win at tournaments.  Judo is so much bigger than just competition.  I’m just saying that if you have someone who is competing regularly, their promotions should coincide with their ability, at least when going from novice to senior.  Some people will move up more quickly and some more slowly. There is no one rule that fits everyone.

On the other side of the coin, there are some coaches who are so obsessed with winning that they hold their students back, or sandbag, so they can continue to dominate the novice division rather than risk having them not win in the advanced division.  After all it looks better for my club if my students are winning, right?  Not if you have someone who has been doing judo for 20 years still wearing a yellow belt just so they can keep winning.  Of course I am exaggerating with the 20 years but you get my point.  If you have an athlete who is doing well in the novice division and they move up to the senior division and struggle, it’s ok.  That’s the way it should be!

Old Black BeltWe have a student who was dominating the novice division as a white and yellow belt, never losing a match and never going more than a minute with anyone, so we jumped him up to brown belt.  He wasn’t learning anything killing all the novice players. And now, while he doesn’t win every event he enters, he is challenged, is learning more, and has goals to strive for.  I want my athletes to be successful too but having a kid who has been doing judo for 2 years wearing a white belt is ridiculous.  It does not make you look good to be beat up on a bunch of true beginners if you have been doing judo for a few years, challenge yourself and move up.  We have a young lady in our club who has been doing judo for several months. She is a junior so moving up from yellow belt to orange belt will move her from the novice to the advanced division. At her age and weigh in our area, there are a couple of really tough girls in the advanced division. We discussed this with her and she decided to go ahead and test for her orange belt because she wanted to challenge herself against the better girls, not just be happy beating other novice players.  We are very proud of her. She may lose more matches than she wins for a while, but overall moving up is going to help her improve much more quickly.

Of course I am talking about this from a Western perspective.  In Japan Shodan doesn’t mean the same thing as it has come to mean in the West.  As I have always understood it, in Japan, Shodan just means you know how to fall and know enough to be ready to be considered a student of judo.

I guess my overall point to this article is rank should not be the defining factor in your judo training and coaching.  Challenge your students but don’t push them beyond their ability and don’t hold them back so they can keep wining.  Judo is about challenging yourself, and as Kano Sensei put it, the “perfection of the human spirit.”   There is no one size fits all standard for rank, but coaches should have minimum criteria for rank and stick to it.

Of course this is just my opinion.  Ok, I have to go get a bite to eat and start writing my syllabus for albin-do.

As always, thanks for reading.

I’ll talk to you soon…

Which Way is Right

One of the things that drives me crazy when I am showing someone a technique, and I hope my students never do this when visiting another club, is to have someone say, “Oh, well my coach taught me to do it like this” or “my coach does it this way”, or anything like that.

This is not about my ego and thinking that “I don’t care how your coach does it, my way is correct”.  That is not the point at all, unless you say “my coach does it like this” then you demonstrate something and I have no idea what you are doing.  In that case, I probably am thinking something along the lines of “well, either your coach is crazy or you have absolutely no grasp of what he/she was trying to show you and have gone in the wrong direction completely.”  What I would say however, is something like, “ok, well let me just show you how I do it, and see how that feels.”


Ippon-Seoi-Nage – http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-ROoMn7EWz9I/TktDDhwbv0I/AAAAAAAAAB4/sTsBEjH81L0/s1600/Ippon-Seoi-Nage.jpg

My wife, Heidi Moore, always says, you can ask 20 black belts to demonstrate a technique and get 20 different versions of the same technique.  My best throws are ippon seoi nage and morote seoi nage.  I do ippon to the left side and morote to the right side, both with a right-handed grip.    I have won matches with several different throws over my competitive career, but if you look at my career as a whole, if I won a match with a throw, there is a 99% chance it was with left ippon seoi nage.  My style of seoi nage tends to be a little different than the average seoi nage.  I do not believe my style of seoi nage is any better than any other style or that I am a master of that throw.  I do believe I have a seoi nage that works and has been very effective for me in competition and I believe my style is the best style for me, period.

People get so wrapped up with the idea that “my sensei showed it to me this way, so this is the only way I will do it” mentality.  I had an excellent sensei, Connie Lavergne, who taught me seoi nage as well as most of the other throws I know.  She taught me what we always called “text book” seoi nage, which meant, the way you would perform the technique on a belt test.  I always thought, and still think, she was one of the best teachers/mentors I have ever had, in any subject, including life, but my seoi nage doesn’t look much like it did back when she taught it to me.

Ippon Seoi Nage

Ippon Seoi Nage – http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_ioNe6upsVRI/TUCyDCu43CI/AAAAAAAAAGM/Zi04JjCYtsI/s1600/koga10.PNG

When I went to my first Paralympic training camp back in 1993, my favorite throw was uchi mata.  The coach, Larry Lee, asked me why I was doing uchi mata, to which I replied, “It’s my favorite throw!” To which he replied, “Well, it sucks!”  He gave me some pointers and told me to go home and work on it and at the next camp he had me show him how I was progressing.  He looked at me and said, “Oh my God, it’s worse.  You should never do that throw again.”  He showed me what he called a double-fist seoi nage to the left from a right grip and had me work on it the entire camp.  When I got home and showed my sensei, she didn’t tell me that I should ignore him and do seoi nage the way she had taught me, she said, “that’s interesting,” and helped me work on it.  She wasn’t offended that I was doing a throw that was totally different than the way she taught me, she agreed that style of seoi nage along with the way I had developed my morote fit my body type and fighting style.  Once I had developed it and was starting to get it a lot in randori and tournaments, she had me teach it.  I have to admit that after several years it has evolved again.  I don’t know when that happened but one day a teammate asked when I started throwing it “that way” after I had thrown it in a tournament and I asked what he was talking about.  He showed me the video and I was surprised, and said I hadn’t noticed I was doing it differently, but it stuck.

So I learned a great lesson from her – my way is not the only way, or the best way, it is the best way for me.  It might not work for you, but it might. How will you know if you do not try?  Heidi and I have been the head instructors at Denver Judo since Larry turned the club over to us back in 1999 and when I teach beginners seoi nage, I teach it pretty much the way my sensei taught it to me.  In the advanced “competitive” class, I teach it the way I do it.  Some students like it and some do not.  I always tell them, “this is the way I do it, try it, if it works for you, great, if it does not, that’s ok too.”   I want my students to be exposed to different ways of doing techniques, not just my way.  We have several other black belts and instructors in our club, some of whom have been our students from white belt and some whom have come to us as black belts, and they all have their own way of doing things.  You can recognize our style in many of our students but those who have gone to other clubs and training camps have taken what they have learned from us and other instructors and adapted techniques to fit their body type and fighting style.  As a coach, it is also my job to help my students, for the purpose of competition, to find throws that best fit their strengths and style, like Larry did for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had students learn something from someone else and come and ask me about it, and I have wondered if either the other instructor is crazy or if my student completely misunderstood what was being taught.  I would never go to another club and have someone demonstrate something and openly disagree with them, especially in front of their students.  What I tell my students to do, is to try what is being taught, whether you agree with it or not then when you leave, if you do not like it, just forget it, but if you do like it, bring it back and show us.

The other thing I don’t get is the proprietary mentality some instructors have.  I had a teammate back in the day from another state who said if he wanted to go train at another club he had to sneak, because his instructor would not allow his students to train at another club.  I don’t mean any offense, but that is a foolish notion and only hurts your students.  When I moved to Denver, every club in town practiced on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and we had a Friday night practice too.  Sometimes we would cancel our practice and go to another club, but the first thing I did when the club was turned over to me was move our practice days to Monday and Wednesday.  This allowed two things to happen, both of which were positive:  1) It allowed students from other clubs to attend our practices which benefits our players by having other people to train with and 2) It allowed our students who were serious about competition to visit other clubs.  It also allowed Heidi and me to visit other clubs so we could train and not be responsible for teaching.  Ok, that’s 3 things.  I was going to the OTC on some of those days but if we couldn’t or didn’t feel like driving down to Colorado Springs, we could go to Northglenn or Hyland Hills to train and they could do the same.

Ippon Seoi Nage

Ippon Seoi Nage – http://i832.photobucket.com/albums/zz250/VQ1E4/Kogaseoi2.png

I get that not everyone is into competition and we, of course, do not require it, but we do encourage our students to go to other clubs.  We have a lot of really good coaches in Colorado, as well as some really good athletes.  Even if you are not into competition, you seriously limit yourself and your knowledge of judo if you only ever train in your own club.  I don’t care how great your instructor is or how strong your club is.  Plus, as much as I loved competing, judo is a great community and I love going to other clubs because I have known many of the instructors and athletes for years and I enjoy working out with them and hanging out and chatting after practice or even going to get something to eat afterwards.  I love judo, not only for the training but also for the community.  I have friends all over the world, some who have only known me over the Internet but have taken me to their clubs and even into their homes when I have visited their town or country.  I love my club and the people in it like family, and I am so proud of how hard we all train together, but I am even more proud of we encourage and support one another.  I love our hard practices on Monday and Wednesday when the mat is full and everyone is working hard and Friday night with not as many people, but still going hard, but one of my favorite practices is Saturday morning, because we get a good workout then several of us go out to lunch.  Not every Saturday but most of them.

The other great thing about having other people visit your club is being exposed to their techniques.  We get a lot of visitors to our club from Colorado, around the US and even the world.  We always ask our visitors to show us some of their favorite techniques.  Even though it might be a throw we all know, they may show a new way to do it or to set it up.  I have learned a lot over the years by having visiting black belts teach their favorite techniques.  We had a visitor to our club last week from Iowa who I had heard a lot about from two of our club members who had trained at his club when living in Iowa.  He has some excellent judo and showed a really cool way to set up tai otoshi.  I promised I would give him a shout out when I pulled it off in randori.  I’ll have to do that on Facebook because it has not happened yet.

People get so wrapped up in competition and keeping their techniques a secret, because no-one else in the world does ippon seoi nage “like me”,  that they forget what judo is really about.  By the way, in case you missed it, that line about no one doing ippon seoi nage like me was sarcasm.  Give me a break.  As good as I think my seoi nage is, I certainly don’t think I’m the only one doing it that way or that I am the best at it.  It works for me and I have been successful, but I hold no secret key to unlocking the power of ippon seoi nage or any other technique.  Ok, I do, but that’s another blog.  Just kidding!  The secret is thousands and thousands of repetitions and thousands of missed attempts in training and competition.

I am guilty of this to some extent, in my role as Paralympic team coach, my job is to prepare our athletes to the best of my ability and theirs for competition.  My role as coach/sensei at Denver Judo is to teach my students all of judo, not just for competition, though we tend to be pretty competitive for a “recreational” club.  And teaching them judo does not just mean teaching them to win tournaments.  We have many students who do not want to compete in tournaments, but love judo and work just as hard as everyone else and they are just as much a part of our judo family as the serious competitors.

I use to think it was a cliche when I would hear people talking about judo being a lifestyle, but I get it now.  I want my students to experiences all the great things I have through the sport of judo, not just medals, though winning medals is nice too. And at the end of the day, judo is so much more than just winning and losing.  As I said, I have so many good friends all over the US and the world because of judo.  I even share judo with my wife and son, which is such a joy, except when Heidi chokes me!  Not everyone gets to spend so much time doing what they love, much less with the people that they love.

Scott Moore at a Paralympic camp

Scott Moore at a Paralympic camp

Ok, I’m starting to get into a whole other topic now.  My point in this article, actually two points: be open to learning not only new techniques but new ways of doing the techniques you already know.   That is one of the great things about judo, I have been doing it for almost 26 years now and I am still learning all the time, and not only from people of higher rank than me or even high level competitors.  I have often learned from people who I out rank and even my own students.  When I went to Paralympic camps I would learn so much I would have to write it down or video the demonstrations and the first thing my sensei would do when I got back was to ask me to show her what I had learned, not only so she could help me continue working on the new techniques but so she could learn and pass on new things to her students, and I try to do the same thing.

The other point is to share with others.  That’s a good life lesson too by the way.  See, I’m not only a judo thug, I’m a philosopher.  But seriously, for those who think you have the secrets to judo and will only share with those who pay you, get over yourselves, you don’t know anything thousands of other people don’t know too.  Maybe you do have a unique way of doing something, but even if you have adapted something to fit your needs, you most likely are not the first or the only person to come up with that variation.  Besides, if you adapted something, it is something that someone else shared with you, so be a valuable asset to the judo community and pass it on.

As always, thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…

If It Was Easy

I used to visit a forum about judo a while back and there were several reoccurring threads about how to make judo more appealing or how to attract more people to judo.  I have also seen posts on Facebook and other blogs on the same subject.  The main questions are how do we get more people into judo and once they are in the dojo, how do we get them to stay.

United States’ Travis Stevens reacts after losing against Germany’s Ole Bischof during their men’s -81kg judo contest semi-final match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012 at the ExCel arena in London. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GettyImages

United States’ Travis Stevens reacts after losing against Germany’s Ole Bischof during their men’s -81kg judo contest semi-final match of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 31, 2012 at the ExCel arena in London. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELEJOHANNES EISELE/AFP/GettyImages

Now that I have started this article with those questions you are probably expecting me to give you my answers.  I’m sorry to tell you, I don’t have the answers to these questions.  I will give you my opinion and some possible suggestions, but I will also talk about why I think it is definitely an uphill climb, at least in the United States.  At the end of this article, I, as always, would love to hear your comments/thoughts on this subject. The best comment will get a new All About Judo T-Shirt!  I know, exciting!

The first issue is getting people in the dojo.  I can only speak to my experiences here in the US but the biggest problem is that no one has heard of judo.  I was shocked the first time someone told me way back in the day that judo is the second most widely practiced sport in the world behind soccer.  I had pretty much the same reaction that people have when I tell them that today, “What? Get the heck out of here.  How can judo be the second most widely practiced sport in the world if I’ve never even heard of it?”

I cannot actually prove that judo is the second most widely practiced sport in the world but that is what I have been told by tons of people throughout my judo career and here is a blurb from the International Judo Federation (IJF) website making the same claim:

Practiced today by millions of individuals, judo is undoubtedly the most popular combat sport in the world. In terms of sheer numbers of participants, judo is the second most popular sport of any sport, soccer being number one. In terms of national organizations worldwide, judo is the largest sport in the world, with the greatest number of member nations in the International Judo Federation, or IJF. http://www.intjudo.eu/Judo_Corner

So, for the purpose of this article we will assume I am right, but mainly because I know this is true!  Judo is too awesome for this not to be true!

Ok, now for my thoughts on why it is possible for the second most practiced sport in the world to be so unknown in the US.  Please, if I miss anything you think might be a contributing factor, comment at the end of this article.

It’s hard to decide where to start so I’ll just start at the top.  I think one of the biggest reasons judo is not bigger in the US is because judo is hard and it hurts.  There are tons of other reasons and I’ll cover some of them but for me it all boils down to judo is hard.  I have seen so many arguments about how we need more exposure, to get judo into public schools, to get exposure in the papers and on TV.  All that is well and good but it is a rough sport.  So even if we get them into the dojo, no matter how fun you make it, judo is hard.  When the kids in my class say, “this is hard,” I say, “that’s right, it is hard.  That’s what makes you special, if it were easy, everyone would do it!

Another issue, along those same lines is that in competition, there is always a winner and a loser, in every match.  You can set up division so every kids gets a medal, but even those kids that get a medal, unless it is gold have to lose matches.  Losing has become taboo in youth sports in the United States.  I’ve talked about this before so I won’t talk here about how damaging this “everyone is a winner just for trying” or “there are no losers” philosophical shift we have undergone over the past 10 or 15 years, is to our society.  I’m also not going to talk abut how hard it is to learn to lose graciously, which is a valuable lesson, if you never lose.  Of course there are losers, without losers there can be no winners.  If you lose a match it does not mean you are a “loser” as a person, it just means you lost that match, try again!

I’ll pick on the #1 practiced sport for this point.  In soccer as in many other sports, they do not keep score at the lowest level so both teams can “win.”  The problem is, though the officials may not be keeping score, the kids and probably most of the parents are.  When the game is over both teams know who won and who lost, even if there is no official winner.  Judo, by the very nature of the sport, does not lend itself to that philosophy.  Don’t get me wrong here, I do believe some parents and coaches do put way too much emphasis on winning and losing, especially in youth sports.  Of course we send our kids out hoping they will win, nobody trains hoping to lose or at least I hope not.  But we do tell our kids that it is about the effort and if they give their best effort and do not win they should still be proud and we will be proud of them.

Ok, I could talk about that all day, but I’ll stop and move on to my next point.  This kind of goes back to the idea that judo is hard.  Kids are taught pretty much from the time they can walk to throw a ball and not long after that to catch a ball or to hit a ball with a bat, or shoot a ball through a hoop, so they grow up with these skills to some extent.  They lean them from their parents, then they lean to do them properly from Physical Education teachers and coaches when the get into school.  So we grow up learning the skills of all the primary sports in the US – football, baseball, basketball, and now soccer.  So, when a kid is 10 years old and you put him in football, he may not be proficient at throwing, catching or kicking a football but the likelihood that he has at least thrown a ball around with his dad or his friends is pretty high.  When you put your 10 year old in judo for the first time he will be learning skills that he has never seen or come anywhere close to trying before.  The thing I actually think is cool about judo is that he is also learning skills that his parents have never seen or come close to doing either!  But then we get back to the idea that judo is hard and when he starts getting thrown if he is not a little tough he may not stick with it.  Just like with other sports skills you build them up to taking falls on the mat but the first time you are thrown on the floor it can be a bit of a shock, not just with kids, but also with adults.

Kevin Szott at a training camp preparing for the 2004 Paralympic Games

Kevin Szott at a training camp preparing for the 2004 Paralympic Games

I always give the example of when I started judo at 18 in a P.E. class in college, the class was completely full with 40 people.  We practiced our break falls and throws on thick crash pads but we didn’t take any real falls on the regular mat for a few weeks. When we took our first falls on a Tuesday, the class was down to 20 on Thursday.  Then when we took our yellow belt test at the end of the semester, I think we were down to 12 students and I was the only one who ever came back.  I’m not telling you this to prove how much tougher than my classmates I was, if anything it may prove they were smarter than me.  I’m telling you this to illustrate that it is not just with kids, it’s hard for adults too. And let’s face it getting thrown to the floor then getting back up and letting them do it again is just is not natural!

I am not saying that football, basketball, or any of the other, much more popular sports in the US are easy.  I’m just saying that kids enter these sports having already been exposed to many of the basic skills necessary to play, so they have a head start.

Ok, another reason judo is not more popular in the US is because the first time little Johnny throws the football that is actually catchable, his parents decide he is going to be a professional football player.  He will play for one of the top college football teams then get drafted into the NFL, making millions of dollars.  This is the same for basketball, baseball, soccer and in the more northern states, hockey.  Of course there is nothing wrong with wanting the best for your kids and hoping they are good enough to earn a college scholarship and then make it to the pros.  I don’t know the actual statistics but even most really good youth athletes will never go pro, but the big-ticket sports in the US are flooded every year with kids whose parents know they have what it takes to go pro.

Judo is a much more obscure sport and there are no professional judo leagues in the United States, so it simply cannot compete with these other sports.  Even among the Olympic sports, judo is not considered to be one of the big ticket sports.  If you have ever watched the Summer Olympic Games, you have probably noticed that track & field gets tons of coverage, as do gymnastics, swimming, diving, etc.  Even ping-pong gets move coverage than judo, and by more I mean any coverage.  In 2012 we were able to watch judo live over the internet, which was very cool, but just once in my life I would love to be able to watch judo on TV and not have to stay up until 3 o’clock in the morning to do so.

When I fought in the World Championships for the Visually Impaired in Madrid, Spain, back in 1998 I made it to the finals and was told they were going to hold the finals until the next day so they should show all the finals live on European TV.  I was a little annoyed to have to wait until the next day to finish my division but it was also cool to be shown on TV across Europe.  I was recognized by a lot of people in the streets of Madrid over the next few days.  That would never happen in the United States.  Here pro football, basketball, baseball, etc players are idolized but in France and Japan, Teddy Reiner and Ryoko Tani respectively, (both World and Olympic Judo Champions) are huge celebrities, idolized by millions.

It also comes down to marketing. Because these other sports are so popular companies pay millions to have their products endorsed by the top pro athletes.  If anyone ever finds a way to get rich off of judo you better believe it will have a sudden rise in popularity and you will start seeing it on TV and reading about it in the newspaper.

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

My point here is that judo definitely has an uphill climb to being as popular as it is in other countries, the world over, because it is not a big money making sport.

One last issue that I will cover here is that judo is not popular in the US because it is all in Japanese and the scoring is hard to understand by the average person, and with the International Judo Federation messing with the rules ever 15 minutes, trying to make more “spectator friendly,” they are actually making it harder for the average judo player to keep up with the rules, much less the general public.  I think it has lost popularity among the judo community in the US because of all the rule changes.  I think the IJF has actually damaged the sport by taking away some of the techniques that made judo so exciting.

As I said at the beginning, there are lots of reasons judo, while be the greatest sport in the world and the #2 practiced sport in the world, is not more popular in the United States.  Again, this is just my opinion but I truly believe the points I have covered are very big contributing factors as to why judo is not more popular.

While I would love to see it grow, I have to admit, I kind of like that those of us who continue to practice judo are a special breed and I think the fact that judo is hard and it is not for everyone makes all the more special because like I said before, if it was easy, everyone would do it!

As always, thanks for reading.

I’ll talk to you soon…

Step Outside…

Don’t worry, I’m not challenging you to a fight.  I am however challenging you to step outside – outside your comfort zone!  You may not have ever thought of it this way, but being successful at anything requires trying something new.   Sometimes, trying something new is not such a big deal, like trying a new flavor of ice cream.   The only risk is that you may pay for something you do not like.   But often trying something new can be a big step and may involve some degree of fear and anxiety.

Ryan Jones and Scott Moore demonstrating techniques at St. Albans Judo Club, St. Albans, England 2012

Ryan Jones and Scott Moore demonstrating techniques at St. Albans Judo Club, St. Albans, England 2012

Stepping out of your comfort zone can be tough, that’s why it is called a comfort zone – you feel comfortable there.     The problem with playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone is that you never discover what you are capable of achieving.   Of course there is no guarantee that you will succeed if you do take the chance, but there is a definite guarantee that you will not grow as a person, or as an athlete, if you are not willing to challenge yourself.   Your comfort zone should be a good starting point and a place to come back to when you need to regroup before trying again, but it should not be a place where you spend most of your time.   I don’t know of anyone who has stayed in his or her comfort zone and achieved anything.   Of course my blog is primarily about judo so that is what I base much of my writing on, but when I talk about not achieving anything if you stay in your comfort zone, I am not just talking about gold medals, or judo, or even sports, I am talking about ANYTHING!   Whether it is in education, or business, or sport, or music, or any other activity, if you are not willing to challenge yourself, you are never going to grow, wherever your interests lie.

That is not to say you cannot lead a happy life if you do not challenge yourself or step outside your comfort zone.   The argument could also be made that if I do not take a risk I cannot fail so, while staying in my comfort zone may not give me the opportunity to succeed, but it will also protect me from disappointment.   To that I would say, true, but we all suffer disappointments in our lives.   If you take a risk now and then and fail, you will be better prepared to deal with life’s disappointments.   But, if you take a risk and succeed, just think how great that would feel! But you will never know if you do not take a chance.   I’ve said this in previous articles, but I think this is one of the biggest problems with youth sports and our society overall.   We teach our kids to be safe, and not put themselves out there.   Ok we encourage them to play sports, which is an example of stepping out of their comfort zones, but we make sure they cannot experience failure by not keeping score.   This ensures they are not learning to deal with disappointment, so when they are faced with disappointments or rejection later in life they are not prepared to handle it.   That’s one of the many things I love about judo.   When you compete in a tournament, every match has a winner and a loser.     Losing sucks!   I hate losing, but it is a part of life, and the sooner you learn to handle losing, and make it a learning experience, the better off and more well-adjusted you will be.

This year we transferred my son to a new school for the 4th grade.   The new school has a music program so he decided he wanted to learn to play an instrument.   Stepping outside his comfort zone is something we have always encouraged him to do, but it has sometimes been hard for him to try something new.   Joining the band program probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I do not believe he would have done it a year ago, so his mother and I were so proud when he came home with the band flyer and said he wanted to join.   He wasn’t sure what he wanted to play so he and I went to band night and he tried every instrument twice and finally settled on the trombone.   It has been so cool to see his excitement on band days and how eager he is to show us what he is learning when he practices every night!   My wife and I are very proud of him for taking the chance and trying something new.

Jordan Moore Playing the Trombone.

Jordan Moore Playing the Trombone.

This example of my son joining the band is a small example, but for a 9-year-old who has often struggled with getting out of his comfort zone it is a huge step and that is where it starts.   When something else comes along that he wants to try but might be a little anxious about, he will be much more likely to step outside his comfort zone and take a chance.   These small steps are where it starts.   If you fail you can go back to your comfort zone and regroup and work up the courage, with encouragement, to either try again or move on and try something else.   If you succeed, it makes you feel good about yourself and you are much more likely to take bigger risks in the future.   Of course when our son or one of our students tries and does not succeed we let them know how proud we are that they made the attempt and that even trying something new is a success, and we help them learn from the experiences which will help them in the next attempt.

“You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.” — Percy Cerutty

Another example of stepping outside of your comfort zone is the decision of a teenage girl from the beginning class at my dojo, Denver Judo, to start going to the advanced practices.   Camille is a 14-year-old girl who is a yellow belt and weighs around 114 pounds.   Of course the first advance practice she attended was a Friday night practice, which typically consists of warming up then right into randori (sparring).   Friday practices lately have been what we call Giant Night because everyone who has attended lately has been six feet tall or taller, except for Heidi and me, and we both have a few inches and about 75 pounds on Camille.   She walked into the first Friday practice and saw all those… did I mention that everyone there was a black or brown belt?   She never missed a beat, she did at least one round of ne waza (ground fighting) and one round of tachi waza (standing fighting) with everyone there, some more than one.   I was proud of her for coming and staying for the entire practice but wondered if she would come back to that one again.   Not only did she come back to the next Friday practice, she also came to the Monday advanced practice the following week.   We had a pretty hard practice with warm ups, then about 45 minutes of drills then about 45 minutes of tachi waza randori.   I went over to her during one of the drills and asked how she was doing, and she said she was good.   I said that this practice was a little different from the beginning class and she laughed and said, “yeah, but it’s fun!”

Again, that may not seem like a big example of someone stepping out of their comfort zone, but for someone who has only been in judo for a short time to make the transition from the beginning class where your skill level is close to most of the people in your class to a class where not only are you pretty far down the ladder as far as skill level but also in size, it is.   Fortunately there were several other ladies in practice on Monday closer to her size, but either way, I’m proud of her for making the jump to improve her skills!

Now, I’ll give you a much bigger example of stepping out of your comfort zone.   One of the guys in my club, Ryan Jones, was a Paralympic hopeful for the 2012 Games in London.   Unfortunately he lost during the trials to Dartanyon Crockett who went on to win a bronze medal in London.   Ryan is an excellent athlete, and one of the hardest working athletes I have ever worked with, a work ethic he shares with his brother Scott, who was my teammate at the 2004 Paralympic Games and who I coached going into the 2008 Games.   Of course Ryan was disappointed with coming so close and not making the team, but he made a sacrifice of his time and money to go to London to be a training partner for Dartanyon.   It was a great experience for Ryan and I was proud of him for being a team player and going, but it is not the way he was hoping to go.

We had talked in the past, if a bed became available, about Ryan moving to the Olympic Training Center as a full-time resident Paralympic hopeful athlete.   While the move would not be that far geographically, it would represent a major change to Ryan’s life.   Ryan has a full-time job here in Denver, and the move to the OTC would mean giving up his job and his life in Denver to train full-time.

As I said, we talked about it back in the spring, but hadn’t really thought about it for a while.   Then in July of this year, ESPN release a story that featured Dartanyon Crockett who they had featured before.   Click here to see the original video. The original story was how we found Dartanyon and got him into the judo program.     In the follow-up story it talked about where Dartanyon was since the airing of the original story, so of course it featured him in London but started with his moving to the OTC and then making the Paralympic team.   ESPN was there at the Paralympic Trials in April of 2012 when Dartanyon beat Ryan to make the team.   When I saw the video of them fighting I had mixed emotions, just as I did back at the trials.   When I saw Ryan loose to Dartanyon, I was so disappointed for Ryan who had worked so hard, but also proud for Dartanyon who had also worked hard.   My heart sank when I saw the video because I knew Ryan would see it and would relive that emotional time.     Click here to see the follow-up video (I’m in this one too).

Ryan Jones at the 2012 German Open

Ryan Jones at the 2012 German Open

As I expected, when I got to the dojo the next evening, Ryan came in and sat down and told me that he had seen the video.   I could tell he was hurting over it all over again.   I told him that I felt bad when I saw it knowing he was going to see it.   What I did not expect is when Ryan told me, “I want to make my own highlights, not be in someone else’s!”   He asked if there was any possibility that he could still move to the OTC to train full-time to make a run for the team for Rio 2016.   I told him I would check but before we started the ball rolling, I wanted him to think seriously about what it would mean to give up his job and life in Denver and move to the OTC.   I wanted to make sure he was serious and committed and this wasn’t just a knee jerk reaction fueled by emotion.   So after several conversations between Ryan, Heidi and myself, we decided to move forward and got the ball rolling.     I only wish I would have been there to see his face when I texted Ryan his move in date.   I wrote and told him, “Your move in date is October 1. Now it’s REAL!”  He wrote back “Oh WOW!”   So we talked that night at practice and a few days later he put in his notice at work, and we are having his good-bye party this weekend!

There may be those of you who think, “stepping out of your comfort zone is one thing, but quitting your job to go live in a dorm and be a full-time athlete is CRAZY!”   I know that not everyone could make that decision.   I couldn’t right now, I have a wife and a son, so I would have to consider them when making a decision like that.   Ryan is in his early 30’s and already into his career so it was a tough decision, but he is single so this decision only affects him.   It is still a hard thing to do, but you never know what is going to happen in your life, so if possible, you have to take advantage of these opportunities when they come up.

When I moved to Denver so I could train with my Paralympic coach full-time and go to the OTC a few times a week in preparation for the Sydney Games in 2000, I was just out of college so I didn’t have to give up a career, but I did have to leave a college club and the public club I had started with some friends, as well as all my family and friends.   I was leaving a place where I was the top athlete in the club, so I wasn’t losing may rounds of randori, if any, to go to train at the OTC where I couldn’t throw anybody!   It was a hard decision.   In the end, what helped me and I believe Ryan, make the decision to move is not wanting to wonder “what if?”   If Ryan stays in Denver and makes it to Rio and wins a gold medal that would be fantastic.   But, if he stays in Denver and does not make it, he would always wonder if he had done absolutely everything he could have to achieve his dream.   If his situation were different that answer might be yes. But for Ryan the only way that answer could be yes was to give up his job and move to the OTC.       Now what if he moves to the OTC and still does not make it?     That was the question I had too.   I had already been to the Paralympics when I moved to Colorado, but I wanted to win gold.   Again, if I had moved and did not make it, I would always be able to hold my head up and look at myself in the mirror with no regrets.   I would be able to say I did everything I could have done and didn’t make it.   I would still feel bad for not making it, but I would rather go for it and fall short than never try, and that is how Ryan feels too.

I will admit that as his coach, I am torn, I am so proud of him for making that very difficult decision and will be proud whether he makes it to Rio or not.   Of course I hope with all my heart that he does make it, because I believe he deserves it and has the skill to make it.     The unfortunate truth is that not everyone who deserves to win, always wins, but that is the nature of sport!   Heidi and I and our entire club will be sorry to see him go.   Ryan has been one of our most loyal and hardest working members for several years now.   Along with all his own training, he has been helping us with the youth program for a few years and we will miss his help and the kids will miss him as well.       Ryan has been a very important part of our club and a good friend for while so it was hard for me to set in motion the process that would take him away.     But just as my Sensei did for me, I encouraged him to take the next step to help him.   I know that I could have convinced him to stay just as Mrs. Lavergne could have done to me, but that would be self-serving and not what a friend or a teacher who truly cares for and wants the best for his students does.

Ryan Jones Playing dress up with the Japanese Team after the 2011 World Championships, Antalya turkey

Ryan Jones Playing dress up with the Japanese Team after the 2011 World Championships, Antalya turkey

So if after reading this, you still cannot understand why he would give up everything for something that may not work out, I have to admit that I feel a little sorry for you.     Not everyone has the opportunity to give up everything to chase a dream, but if you cannot even imagine doing what Ryan is doing, it makes me wonder if you have ever had a dream that means so much that it becomes as much a need, as a dream.   A need so strong that if you cannot go for it now, all you do is think about it and dream of the day when you can finally pursue it.

If you do not understand this feeling, I hope that someday you will.  Pursuing my dreams has made my life so exciting! It has made all the blood, sweat, and tears completely worth it.   Not only did I fulfill my dream of winning a gold medal at the Paralympic Games, I was the first American to do so, and more important than that, my pursuit of my dream lead me right in the path of the most wonderful woman I’ve ever known, who is now my wife!

I don’t want you to think that I am telling you that people like Ryan, or me, or the many others who have given up safety and security to pursue a dream are unique.   There are countless individuals who have given their all in the pursuit of a dream, and none of them could imagine not giving their all.   Some of them reached their goals, some of came close, and some have not, but one thing they all have in common is they were courageous enough to step outside thief comfort zones repeatedly to live their dreams.   The ability to do so is one of a very important attribute necessary to be a winner!

“A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.” — Denis Waitley

Thanks so much for reading!

Talk to you soon…

Blind Guy Makes History… Again

I want to start this article by saying that I have really been enjoying watching the World Championships over the past few days.   I have watched all the US matches and as many of the others as I can and keep my job.   I have to admit that while I’m still not a fan of all the rule changes over the past few years, overall there has been a lot more action than I’ve seen in a while.   The matches have really been exciting and I’m looking forward to the next few days of competition.   This brings me to the point of this article.

Scott Moore with Myles Porter at the 2011 World Championships in Turkey.

Scott Moore with Myles Porter at the 2011 World Championships in Turkey.

While the World Championships is a very important event, most people have no idea that one of the athletes, regardless of the outcome, will be making history just by stepping on the mat in Rio!       If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I do not subscribe to the idea that “we are all winners just for trying.”   Though that may be true, I am a competitor and I always went into a tournament planning to win.   I did not, of course, always win and was usually able to learn from, if not enjoy the experiences when I lost, but the experiences was still not as great as it would have been had I won.     But this Worlds marks the first time a visually impaired judo athletes has ever earned a spot on the sighted US world team.   On Saturday, August 31, 2-time Paralympian, Myles Porter who won a silver medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games will represent the United States in the sighted World Championships in Rio!

This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is!     It is so exciting for me to see how far our program has come as far as inclusion into the mainstream judo community.     When I started judo, I had no idea it was included in the Paralympic Games.   Actually, the year I started, 1988, was the first time judo was included in the Paralympics for men.   I didn’t know anything about judo in the Paralympics until I got my USJA magazine in 1992 with a full-page picture of Jason Morris, who had won a silver medal at the Olympics on the cover.   Then I noticed a small picture down in the bottom corner of the page of Brett Lewis who had won a silver medal at the Paralympic games.   There was an article in the magazine about the Paralympic judo team.   It wasn’t long after that I met Larry Lee, the Paralympic team coach, who found me through my high school wrestling coach.

In 1996, the United States won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games.   I would guess that most of the judo community or at lest those who have been involved in judo for a while know it was Jimmy Pedro.     I would bet there aren’t many people who can name even one of the 4 people who won medals at the 1996 Paralympic Games.   I’ll give you a hint, I am one of them. But besides me, can you name any?   If you know me well, you may know others that you have heard me talk about, but probably not all.   Marlon Lopez won bronze at 65kg, I won bronze at 71kg, Jim Mastro won bronze at 95kg, and Kevin Szott won Silver at +95kg.

Ok, I’ll give you another chance, that was a long time ago.   In 2000, the United States didn’t win any medals in the Olympics but was arguably the #1 team in the world at the Paralympic Games.   Can you name any of the 4 medalists from the 2000 Paralympic Games?   I don’t count. Of all the guys on that team, I am the only one still involved with Paralympic level judo so I have had some publicity from USA Judo when I was named head coach of the 2012 team (and recently when they made me a meme!)   I’ll give you a hint, many of the same guys won medals in 2000 that won them in 1996.   Marlon Lopez won bronze at 66 kg, Brett Lewis who was injured in 1996 so had to withdraw at the last minute won a silver at 81kg, I won gold at 73 kg, and Kevin Szott won gold at +100 kg.

I won’t continue with each year but hopefully you are starting to see my point.     Please do not misunderstand and think that I am in any way talking down about our Olympic program.   I am first and foremost a judo guy. I love judo and I am very proud of all our Olympians!   I do understand that the Olympic divisions are much deeper than those in the Paralympics.   I am not taking anything away from any of our athletes.   I am just pointing out that in the past we have not had anywhere near the recognition the Olympians have had despite winning more medals.

Kevin Szott at the 2004 Paralympic Games

Kevin Szott at the 2004 Paralympic Games

I don’t think anyone is really to blame for this, we were part of a different organization and while blind and visually impaired athletes were competing at local tournaments, most people didn’t know much about us.   We were part of the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) until 2008.   After the 2000 Games, US Paralympics was created so while they were part of the USOC, we were still governed by USABA until 2008.     The USABA did a good job with our program but they were just not part of the mainstream judo community.   In 2009, it was decided that where possible, Paralympic sports should be governed by the National Governing Bodies (NGB) of their able-bodied equivalents, so judo moved to USA Judo.

I am not going to say that everything is equal, but things have come a very long way as far as exposure and press, and even funding.   I don’t care what anyone says about USA Judo, they have done a great job with the Paralympic program.   Things were a little rocky at first, but we have a great staff, if I do say so myself, and we have a great working relationship with USA Judo.   I am very proud of what we have accomplished over the past 5 years and am very much looking forward to continuing our relationship and further developing our team in preparation for Rio!   You may not be able to name any of our three medalists from the 2004 Paralympic Games, or even our single medalist from the 2008 Paralympics, but I’ll be many of you know who our two medalists were from the 2012 Games in London!   I’ll help you out, Kevin Szott and I took bronze at 100kg and 73kg respectively, and Lori Pierce, who was one of my students, took silver at 70kg in 2004, which was the first time women were included in the Paralympic judo program.  In 2008, Greg Dewall won a bronze medal at +100kg.   Do you know the names of the guys who medaled in 2012?   I’ll be you do! They are both OTC resident athletes: Myles Porter won silver at 100kg, and Dartanyon Crockett won a bronze at 90kg. You may even have received a post card with them on it when you renewed your USA Judo membership this year.

I think there are a few reasons for the recognition of our program getting better over the years.   I don’t think it was because people didn’t believe that a visually impaired athlete could be competitive at the national level with sighted athletes, I don’t think anyone had ever given it any thought at all.   Until 1998, no visually impaired athlete, at least none that I know of, had ever been nationally ranked among sighted athletes.   One of the first things Larry Lee did when he took over as coach of the Paralympic program back in 1992, was to start having our athletes train with   elite sighted athletes.   He started having all our training camps at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.   Back then it was not uncommon to have 30 or 40 nationally ranked athletes on the mat.   He started doing things like having those of us that didn’t have families or full-time jobs move out to the OTC to live and train for 4-6 weeks at a time.   I did that in 1996 before I won bronze in Atlanta, and in 1998 before I won the World Championships in Madrid.   But even then, no one had really given us a second thought.   In 1998, Kevin Szott took a bronze medal at the US Open, which made him the first visually impaired athlete to be ranked on the national point roster among sighted athletes.

After that, Kevin quit his job as a strength coach at Penn State and move to Colorado Springs to be an off-campus resident at the OTC for judo.   The following year I got on the national roster and then again in 2000, so I also became an off-campus resident at the OTC.   I never got higher than 7th on the roster, but Kevin had gotten as high as #3 in the country and had their been an Olympic trials in 2000, he would have gone.   Then in the 2000 Paralympic Games, I made history be becoming the first American judo athlete to win a gold medal in either the Olympic or Paralympic Games.   Kevin then won his gold the following day.   Maybe some day I’ll write about our race to be the first.   Because of that, and for our overall team doing so well, people started taking a little notice of our program, really for the first time.

We got a little more recognition in 2004 and 2008, but again, the issue was that our governing body was not part of the mainstream judo program.   When our program was moved to USA Judo after the 2008 games, we were all a little shocked and didn’t know what was going to happen.   To there credit, they embraced the program and ran with it and we have gotten more recognition than we have ever had, medals not withstanding.   We got more publicity going into the games than we had probably had throughout my entire Paralympic judo career, and we got more press for Myles   Porter’s silver and Dartanyon Crockett’s bronze than I ever got for my Gold and 2 bronzes.   I’m not bitter about that, not much anyway.   I look at it as we were pioneers, paving the way for these young athletes.

Scott  Moore Meme by USA Judo

Scott Moore Meme by USA Judo

I know I said earlier that the problem was not that people didn’t think we could do it, but that is not entirely true.   It was not the problem at first but once we started going to bigger tournaments in the US I think that is what people thought.   People had the mentality of “aw look honey, those blind guys are competing, and they are doing such a good job!”   People would say I did a good job weather I won or got slammed through the floor, and I hated it.   I never wanted to be recognized for being a blind judo player; I just wanted to be recognized as a judo player.   I don’t think that has totally gone away.   I often hear people praising visually impaired athletes for bad performances.   I’ve talked about that before and may again but not here.   We just wanted to be recognized as equals or at least equally recognized, and making the national roster helped.   For a long time there was just Kevin and I, then Myles came along and not only made the roster, this year he moved up to #1 on the roster and became the first visually impaired athlete to represent the United States at the sighted Pan American championships and on Saturday he will be the first to represent the US at the sighted World Championships.   Myles has lived and trained at the OTC for several years now and has really developed as a judo player.   I am really proud to have played a small part in his success.   Myles is coached by Ed Liddie at the OTC and I’m sure Ed will coach him in Rio as well, but the last few teams I was on were Myles’ first few, so we spend a lot of time traveling and training together as teammates.   To his credit, when I met him he was a green belt living in Ohio and because I had done what he was hoping to do he would call me and ask about tournaments, and training drills all the time, because he wanted to get better.

If I have to be honest, I am a little jealous at how much he has done and how much press and exposure he gets, but as a coach and a Paralympian and someone who has been involved with the Paralympic judo program for 20 years now, I am so proud of him for all he has done and is still doing.

I think it is interesting and is actually a small point of pride with me that Myles is #1 in the United States and on the sighted world team and is doing so well, but we still have not had a Paralympic gold medal since 2000.   Don’t get me wrong, I wanted for him to win gold so badly in London, and hope that he and others do so in Rio, but it speaks to how good Paralympic judo really is when the #1 guy in the country took silver!

So on Saturday, I may be at practice but while Myles is on the mat, I will be off the mat watching on my iPad or on the dojo computer.   There is no way I will miss Myles making history.   I know right now he is thinking about fighting and not about making history, but when it’s all said and done that will mean a lot and something he will never forget and it is something that is so important for other visually impaired athletes and the world to see.   We don’t do this to be role models – that is a side effect, although not a bad one.

Before I end I want to wish Myles and the rest of our team the best of luck but I also want to say congratulations to Marti Malloy for a great performance for a silver medal at the Worlds.   Also, I am so proud of team overall, everyone is fighting so well.   They may not all be making the medal stand but they are winning some really good matches.   In their first Worlds Hana Carmichael, Jonathan Fernandez, and Hannah Martin won some really good matches and represented us very well.   Hannah Martin made it to the third round and fought for 5 minutes with the former World and current European champion and lost 3 shidos to 2 shidos in a really tough match.   We still have room for growth and improvement but it is nice to the US team winning on the world stage.   Keep up the good work and again, good luck to Myles, you’ve already made history, now go out there and kick some butt!

As always thanks for reading!

I’ll talk to you soon…


Don’t Ever Give Up!

This article was inspired by a post my wife made on Facebook over the weekend and one of the comments she got on her post.   Before I get into the article I want to start by saying I am not writing this to attack anyone on their views on this subject.   I recognize that my opinion is not the only one on this subject.   I’m not even saying I’m right. This is just my opinion!

Bronze medal match at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Bronze medal match at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.

Ok, now that I have that disclaimer out of the way I’ll tell you what I’m talking about.   My wife was watching the World Cadet Championships over the weekend and saw a few kids get caught in pins and one tapped out and a few others just laid there and didn’t fight to get out.     So Heidi posted on Facebook, “I don’t get not fighting when you are pinned or tapping out of a pin.”   Now, of course we were not there and it is possible, although unlikely, that 3 or 4 kids in a row who got pinned were injured so they tapped out or just lay there until the 20 seconds ran out.   Like I said, we weren’t there so I’m not going to talk about these kids specifically, this is just what started the conversation on Facebook and was the catalyst for this article.

Most people agreed that you should never give up then someone said, “You know if you have a chance or not of escaping. No sense in making everyone watch you flop like a fish for 20 seconds if your opponent has a good one sunk in.”   When Heidi came back and said, “at the World Championships?” he did come back and agree that kids should fight but for the “old farts” you have to conserve your energy.   He then talked about using losing as a teaching tool to come back better next time and that experiences will tell you when you have been bested and conceding gracefully is honorable.   He went on to say he has seen many early taps in masters divisions.   I’ll give you the masters divisions if we are talking about the much older divisions, but in general, especially in elite level competition, shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to never give up?   After all, 20 seconds may seem like an eternity when you are the one being pinned, but it is not all that long to try to escape from a pin.   When I was competing, I loved nothing more than holding a grown man down against his will for 30 seconds.   I always thought anyone can get caught with a good throw or even a good choke or arm bar, they happen so fast, but a pin lasted for 30 seconds when I started and 25 by the time I retired, so wining by a pin in judo, while not as flashy as a big ippon throw, is a much better show of control.   Conversely, there was nothing I hated more than being pinned, so I always fought tooth and nail to get out of every pin.   Even today in practice, I do occasionally get caught in a pin, but I rarely stay in one because I fight so hard to get out.     Don’t get me wrong, I do love getting a nice big throw for ippon, and I eventually transitioned into more of a standing player as I developed, but I came from wrestling so when grappling, I am much more likely to win by a pin than a choke or arm bar.

My first comment on the post was in response to his comment about using losing as a teaching tool.   I said, “Learning from a loss is important but what does giving up or quitting teach? I talk to my students about learning from a loss but I also teach to never give up!”   His comment to that was, “If someone has a choke applied, do you tap or nap? If the outcome is inevitable, why delay” to which I commented, “A choke is a little different than a pin. You have 20 seconds to get out so why not at least try? I would rather try and fail than just lay there.”   There is nothing dishonorable about conceding victory when your choice is to tap or take a nap.   If those are your choices, you have lost.   The reason a pin in judo lasts 20 seconds is so you can have 20 seconds to try to get out of the pin, so why not use them?   One of our athletes was pinned at nationals and got out with one second remaining and got up and threw the girl for ippon.

If you try, you might lose, but if you do not try you are guaranteed to lose.   My Facebook friend and I each posted one more time but they were longer so I won’t post them here but the last comment on the post, so far, was from a friend and former Paralympic teammate of mine, Scott Jones, who said, “Sports, i.e. judo, are a reflection of life. It’s struggles, the successes, the failures, the need for tenacity, the opportunity to overcome. It can build great tools to handle the realities of the world. And one reality is if you practice giving up you will give up both on the mat and in life. And that’s why you teach your kids to never give up. Not for the medal but for the life’s lessons.”

Never Give Up - Frog in a Crane's mouith, choking the crane

Never Give Up

I had not gone into the discussion thinking about anything more then competition but I could not agree more with Scott’s thought on this subject.     Many people may not think lessons learned in sports apply to every day lives but those people are wrong!         If we teach kids that giving up when it gets hard in judo (or anything), do you not think they will carry those lessons to other areas of their lives? Of course they will.     That’s not to say that if a kid gives up on a pin he or she will necessarily be a failure in life, or in judo for that matter.   I am saying that if a kid gives up every time they get pinned and it is not addressed then the lesson being learned is that when things get tough, I can just give up – and that is not a lesson we want our kids learning in any area in their lives.   On the flip side, they should also know that if they get pinned and try really hard they may not get out, and while that may suck, it is the effort that is important.   This is when learning from a loss comes in, when the athlete tries and fails you address ways to improve and practice, but if the kids doesn’t even try to get out, then the lesson they need to learn is to try.

One of the things we tell our kids is that the chances of winning are much greater if you try!   We even have a poster from the Paralympics on the wall that says “You can’t win if you don’t try. What’s your excuse?”   Of course no one wins all the time, and we can learn from losing, but I feel it is very important that kids learn that if you try, you may fail, but if you do not try failure is guaranteed.   I lost many matches throughout my athletic career, but I never lost because I did not try.   I hated losing, but as much as I might be disappointed in a loss, if I knew I gave it my all, I could at least hold my head up knowing I did my best.   If I did my best and lost that is when I went back to my coach and talked about what I should have done differently.   If I did not try, then what I should have done differently is I should have tried!

Don’t get me wrong, if a young kid does out on the mat and gets pinned and just lays there I’m not going to pull the off the mat and yell at them about not giving up, but I am going to explain to them how important it is that they try to get out of the pin.   I am going to talk to them about giving their best effort and if they lose to be proud that they were brave enough to go out there and try.   I always tell my kids that if they do their best I will be proud of them no matter who wins the match.

One of the things I hate about our society today is the idea that everyone is a winner all the time and people don’t learn to lose.     When my son played basketball and soccer they didn’t keep score.   The officials didn’t keep score but there was not a kid on that field that didn’t know the score.   This topic is a whole other blog, but that is one of the things I like about judo, there is always a winner and a loser.   I believe that learning to lose and to deal with the loss is a very important lesson for kids to learn.     I think it is also important for them to learn that it is ok to lose as long as they did their very best.   If they did their very best and lost they should be proud.   I do not believe they learn anything good from losing if they do not try.

Again, this is my opinion and I in no way intend this to be an attack on the person that I discussed this with on Facebook.   He is certainly entitled to his opinion and I can see his point to some extent.   I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.   Please feel free to leave a comment below but remember to keep it civil whether agreeing or disagreeing with me or anyone else commenting.

As always, thanks for reading.

I’ll talk to you soon…

I Can’t Do the Work for You

A few months ago, I did a series of article about some of the characteristics I felt are very important in my success as an athlete.   It was a 3-part series called What Makes a Champion.     I apologize if some of this is a repeat of what was in those articles but this is a topic that is very important to me.   I have seen so many people come and go in judo, which I get; it’s not for everyone.   What I don’t get is the ones that come in and really get into it and come to practice all the time and show an aptitude for the sport and even talk about wanting to get serious about training and going to nationals/world championships/Olympics/Paralympics, and then you never see them again.     I understand that judo is hard and when beginners come in they may think it looks easy and are shocked at how physical judo really is. I’m talking more about the people who have been in judo, at least for a little while and talk about wanting to be a national or international champion but then when it comes time to make sacrifices or it starts getting hard, they quit.

Day 1 of camp at the 2013 US International Judo Championships for the blind

Day 1 of camp at the 2013 US International Judo Championships for the blind

One of the things I struggle with most as a coach is that I sometimes feel like I want it more for some of the athletes than they want it for themselves.   Don’t get me wrong, I coach at a local club with everything from beginner/recreational players to national and international competitors.   If someone is only interested in competing locally I still coach them to win and our advanced practices are geared for competition and we all work really hard.   What I struggle with is the athletes who talk about wanting to be national champions but are not willing to put in the time and effort and make the sacrifices to make that possible.   Or even worse, when I talk to them about what it will take to be successful and they are all gung ho and are doing well then you hear the screeching from them hitting the brakes  and you never see them again.

If you don’t want to be a national champion or have no desire to go to the Paralympics, that’s ok, but it is so frustrating to have an athlete who says they want to be national or Paralympic champion and I work to get them opportunities to help them and they turn them down.   I am always amazed when I talk to an athlete and offer then an opportunity of a lifetime and they say, “let me think about it” or “no thanks.”   This is along the same lines as the parents who say “Why isn’t my kid doing better in competition?” but only bring them to practice once in a while, and the folks who say “what do I need to do to win?” when they only come to practice once a week. I’m sure they can hear crickets when they say something like that to me.

Another one that gets me is, “I don’t have the money.”   Don’t misunderstand me, I understand that traveling around the country and the world is expensive, but when I was the athlete and the Paralympic coach called me and offered me a great opportunity, I would say YES, absolutely, I want to go, and when they told me how much it was going to cost me, I would say, ok, when do you need the money.   Then I would get off the phone and start trying to figure out how I was going to get the money, but I always got it.   I am not wealthy, not do I come from a wealthy family.   To me, it’s all part of having the desire to win, you cannot win if you do not go.

In 2005 my wife won nationals, which forced a fight off for the 2005 World team.   She was injured in the fight off, so she was the alternate.   The other girl,  after a week or so, declined her spot because she could not afford the trip to Egypt.   When the team leader called and asked Heidi if she wanted to go she said, YES.   Then she called me and asked how we would ever be able to afford it.   I told her we will work it out, but you are going to Worlds.   We did some fundraising and made a little from that but not nearly enough.   In the end, we took out a home equity line of credit so she could go.   There was no way I was going to allow her to miss such a great opportunity.   Not only did she go, but I went to watch her fight.   I realized not everyone has the ability to do what we did and maybe that was not the best thing for us financially, but again, you cannot pass up on an opportunity like that.   We did struggle after that trip, but it was totally worth it, and I would do it again. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a lot of funding available in the US for up-and-coming judoka, but it is what it is and you have to make due.

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

Scott Moore talking to Coach Willy Cahill at practice

My point is this, if it is important enough you will find a way.   If it’s not, that’s ok but tell me that up front.   I get that it’s not for everyone, and I get that judo is hard.   Mastering any sport is difficult, after 25 years I’m not even close to mastering judo.   I also get that along with being difficult to master, judo is very physically demanding – in other words it hurts.   It takes a special person to get thrown down to the floor and get up and do it again.   I get all of that, but when my junior students complain that something is hard, I always say, “if it were easy everybody would do it, that’s what makes you special.”

It’s hard and it is not for everyone, I get it, it’s just so frustrating when you see someone with a lot of talent who works really hard and is so excited about judo one day then not so much the next day.   I always love it when people tell me how much they love judo and how important a part of their lives it is or how important it is to their family. Then a month later you realize you haven’t seen them in three weeks, which can be a real disappointment.   If something is so important to you, I don’t know, maybe you should do it. Just a thought. Maybe they are just saying that to suck up to me because they think that is what I want to hear.   I would just as soon hear the truth.   I know judo is awesome and the coolest thing they have ever done or will ever do, I know all that.   I think I said something like this in a previous article but it bears repeating.   I am not impressed by words, or at least not any more.   I am impressed by actions.

In part 2 of my series, what makes a champion, I talk about desire.   If you truly have desire, you will do the work and you will find a way to get to practice, the gym and to tournaments.     Understand, there is a difference between the desire that drives a champion to win and just wanting not to lose, even if you really want to not lose really badly.   Desire will drive you to do what you need to be successful, wanting to not lose will drive you until it hurts or is inconvenient or expensive.

Finding one athlete who really gets it and who has the desire to succeed, if not necessarily all the talent, can make all those who do not, worth it. I was that athlete.   I wasn’t the most skilled judo player, but I had the desire and was willing to do whatever I was physically able to do and then some to succeed.

I use to laugh when I was competing and I would hear coaches yelling at their players who were visibly tired something like, “do you want this more than him”, or “who wants this more,” or “how bad do you want this,” or something along those lines. I would always think that was a dumb thing to say because my thinking was, of course they want it badly and they want to win.   My mistake was that I thought everyone had the same drive to win that I did.   I did not always win, of course, but I did not lose from a lack of effort or desire to win, sometimes I just got out played.   And that is the mistake I often make as a coach, I assume that every athlete that goes to a tournament or to a training camp must want to win just as badly as I did, and that is not always the case.

London 2012 US Paralympic Judo team

London 2012 US Paralympic Judo team

I love judo, and I love teaching it at my club, and I love coaching it.   I am so proud to be able to give back to a sport that has given me so much and as the Paralympic coach, I am so proud to be able to help visually impaired athletes realized their dreams and hopefully to help them go far beyond what I did, but if they want to be successful, they have to want it for themselves at least as much as I want it for them.   I will give everything I have to help them realize their dreams, but I cannot do the work for them!

If you have read any of my posts or if you get to the bottom of this one you will a quote I use a lot.   I use to always have to give a favorite quote for my athlete bio when I was competing so I would always try to come up with something from someone else, but one time I couldn’t think of anything so I came up with this one and have continued to use it ever since.   I have it as my signature for all my articles on this blog but I thought it would be appropriate here.

“If you are not willing to work hard to realize your dreams, why bother dreaming” – Me!

As always, thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…


A Whole Lot of Judo

This post is a little over due but we have been so busy over the past week and a half that I just have not had time to sit down and write anything.   I have started posting videos of techniques in the meantime that you can checkout at http://www.allaboutjudo.com/category/video/.   The first is of me teaching one of my favorite turn overs into tate shiho gatame and the other one is 2012 Paralympian, Ron Hawthorne demonstrating a choke he picked up from one of the Japanese 66kg players at camp.

2013 US International Training Camp

2013 US International Training Camp (Not everyone made this picture)

As I said, the past week has been very busy.   The US hosted three tournaments on July 13-14, then we had a three day training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.   The first tournament, held on Saturday, July 13, was the 2013 IBSA World Youth Championships.   The United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) hosted this multi-sport event, but Heidi Moore was the tournament director and I was the coach for USA Judo’s team.       The very young US team did well, earning 1 gold, 2 silver, and 3 bronze medals.   I’ll post links to the full results at the end of this article.   One of the standouts for the US team was newcomer, Ben Goodrich who took first in the boys 18-20 -100kg division.   He only had one other kid so the fought the best 2 out of 3 with Ben winning both matches pretty easily.     Ben was a high school wrestler who had a 33 and 3 record in his senior year.   I found out about Ben through my old teammate, Jim Mastro, and actually got to meet him when I went to Jim’s camp back in July.   I wrote about my trip to Minnesota in “Sports Camp, What an Experience.”    Ben won both his matches by throwing his opponent from Russia with a variation of Ko Soto Gari, then pinning him for ippon.   Ben is only a yellow belt in judo so he still has room for growth but is a tremendous athlete, with a bright future in Paralympic Judo.

The next event, also on Saturday, July 13, was the Para Pan American Championships also hosted by the USABA with Heidi as the tournament director and me as the coach for USA Judo’s team.   In this one, the US team, comprised of a mix of athletes from newcomers to Paralympians.     The US team earned 2 gold, 4 silver, and 3 bronze medals in this one.   Some of the most exciting matches of the day were in the -90 and -100 kg division with our 2012 Paralympic medalists, Dartanyon Crockett and Myles Porter.   Dartanyon dominated the -90 kg division, including the final match when Dartanyon, 2012 Paralympic bronze medalist, went up against 2012 Paralympic champion, Jorge Hierrezuelo Marcillis of Cuba.   Dartanyon lost this match when he was caught for a waza ari and he couldn’t get it back, but Dartanyon completely dominated the Paralympic Champion throughout the match.   I know I may be a little biased here but that attach that resulted in the waza ari was one of only two attacks in the entire match by the Cuban.   Dartanyon was working him over and threw him for what everyone except the referees in the match thought was ippon.   But the scoring in judo is subjective, what bothered me the most is how the Cuban finished the match with a wazari and not one shido!   It is beyond me how you can spend so much time in a match without attacking and not even draw one shido.   I have seen players do a lot more work than the Cuban did in this match and get 4 shidos.   The Cuban is great player, I’m not trying to take anything away from him but in that match Dartanyon was a far superior player even if the referees did not allow the scoreboard to show it.   I will say that the Cuban better get to work because the way Dartanyon has developed over the past year, it will not be long before he will be looking up at Dartanyon on the medal stand!

Bowing in at the 2013 US International Championships for the Blind

Bowing in at the 2013 US International Championships for the Blind

The other exciting division was the -100kg division.   This was a round-robin match-up with 2012 Paralympic silver medalist, Myles Porter – USA, 2000 gold 2011 bronze medalist (81kg), Isao Cruz – Cuba, and 2000, 2004, 2008 gold, and 2012 bronze medalist, Antonio Silva – Brazil.   The first time through, that’s right I said the first time through, Silva beat Cruz by ippon, Porter beat Silva by ippon, then Cruz beat Porter by ippon.   In that match, Myles was looking a little flat and got caught in a pin.   After the ref called ippon the Cuban player sat up over Myles with his hands raised and yelled something celebratory in Spanish then stood up and turned to the obviously pro-Myles crowd and celebrated his win.   A little side note, I remember this kid from the 1998 World Championships when the US team that I was on fought Cuba in the team competition for the bronze medal.   He fought a really tough match with our 81kg player Richard Kinney.   The match went down to the very end with Cuba pulling out the win.   After the match Cruz ran over and started shouting in the face of my coach, Larry Lee.   It was very heated, but Larry only responded by holding up 5 fingers and saying 5th, because even with his win, we won the overall round to take the bronze medal.

Ok, back to the less distant past.   Because each player had won 1 match by ippon and lost 1 match by ippon, they ended in a 3-way tie, so the division had to be fought again.   In the first match, Cruz beat Silva who was visibly tired throughout the match.     The next match was Porter and Silva, but, exhausted from his last three matches, Silva pulled out, leaving Porter and Cruz.   After losing to Cruz in the first round, then having him taunt him after the win, Myles was fired up and dominated Cruz, knocking him down a few times then arm-barring him for ippon.   This was the last match of the tournament and made for a very exciting finish!

Gi's drying at the OTC

Can you tell there is a camp going on?

I also wanted to congratulate Adnan Gutic for his first Pan American win.   Adnan has been with us for a few years now and missed qualifying for the 2012 Games by a few matches, but is working hard to make the team in 2016.   Adnan is one of the hardest working athletes I have ever worked with so it was really awesome to see him on top of the podium.   When the winners were announced there was a question from the Brazilian team who thought their player had finished second.   I ran over to the announcer and took a look at the bracket to make sure.   Because it was a round robin division with 5 players, it is not just about wins, but how you win, so it came down to the total number of points and the Brazilian had in fact taken third.   When I finished explaining that to the Brazilian coaches, I heard Adnan from atop the podium say, “but I’m still in first right?”   Great job Adnan!

Now on to tournament number three for the weekend, the US International Championships for the Blind, hosted by USA Judo with Heidi as the tournament director and me as the USA team coach.   Over the past few years we have hosted a VI US Open along with the regular US Open but since there is no US Open this year we decided to host a separate event and this turned out to be one of the biggest VI events in the world, far bigger than anything previously held in the United States.   We had 83 VI athletes, including 12 of the medalists from the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.   In this event, the US team earned 1 silver, and 6 bronze medals.   This was a very strong event, with Dartanyon Crockett taking bronze with another tough loss to the Cuban in the semi-final match.   He went on to beat one of the Canadian players, Tony Walby, for the bronze medal.   Walby was an elite player in the sighted ranks in Canada for many years. Myles lost in the semi-final to Oliver Upmann from Germany due to a leg grab, then lost a tough match to the Cuban to take 5th on the day.

Myles Porter and Ron Hawthorne with, Chief of US Paralympics,  Charlie Huebner,

Myles Porter and Ron Hawthorne with, Chief of US Paralympics, Charlie Huebner at camp

2012 Paralympian, Ron Hawthorne took a hard fought bronze.   Ron had a tough first match against Selli Musa of Turkey.   Ron dominated the match and had several small scores then threw the Turkish player for ippon with Uchi Mata Sukashi.   In his next match he fought a tough Korean player.   There was no score about a minute into the match when Ron grabbed the leg and was disqualified from the match!   Remind me to write a blog on the leg grab and other IJF rules!   The loss to Korea   who, by the way, went on to win by getting leg grabbed in the final as well, dropped Ron into the bronze medal match where he blasted  Taiga Kato of Japan with a beautiful Tai Otoshi in the first minute of the match to win the bronze medal!

Overall the events ran very well and we are hoping to make the US International a yearly event and are even looking into what it will take to make it a qualifying event for the Paralympic Games.   As of right now there are only three events a judo athlete can attend to qualify for the Paralympic Games, and that is not nearly enough!   Wow, I am seeing all kinds of potential future blog topics as I am writing this one.

Ok, so now the tournament is over, it’s time for camp.   After two great days of competition we had a three-day training camp at the OTC.   The camp format was two practices a day for three days.   All but the last practice started with a warm-up then about 20-30 minutes of technical practice, then randori.   Rather then Heidi and I doing the technical portion of every practice, we thought it would be good to get some of the other coaches involved.   I taught for the first practice, then 3-time Olympian Celita Schutz did the evening practice on the first day.   Kumagai Sensei of Japan took the first practice on the second day and J.P. Bell of Great Britain took the second practice on day 2.   Heidi took the technical portion of the first practice on day 3 and then we did not do a technical session for the last practice.   Some of the teams had left after the morning session so we decided to just warm-up and go right into randori and we finished a few minutes early.

US Coach, Heidi Moore with Swedish Coach and friend, Martin Pernheim

US Coach, Heidi Moore with Swedish Coach and friend, Martin Pernheim

All three tournaments and the camp were a great success and several of the coaches told me if we have the US International and a camp next year and do the same thing they will definitely attend.   The biggest concern you have as a tournament director is hoping people will come to your event then hoping everything runs smoothly.   For the weekend, we had 120 athletes over all three tournaments with 83 in the US International and 70 athletes stayed for camp.   Can you imagine a camp with 70 blind people on the mat at the same time?

I have watched Heidi worry over the Denver Classic for the past 12 years.   It has always been a great event because Heidi does such a great job of organizing and running it.   I also feel the three tournaments and camp were such a huge success because Heidi did such a great job of recruiting all the other countries and because she did such a great job organizing and running them.   She also has an awesome assistant (lackey) – me.   I’m only a great assistant because I do what she tells me to do!

So for that I applaud USA Judo for allowing Heidi to take charge and run the event and Heidi for all her hard work to make the event such a success!

I also wanted to say a big THANK YOU to the OTC athletes.   Many of the athletes not only came to the evening practice, which was an hour earlier than their normal practice time, but they also came to the morning workout as well.   Your time and efforts are greatly appreciated, not only by me, but by the international players coaches as well!

2013 ParaPan American Results
2013 US International Championships Results

As always, thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…

Do Dumb Juvenile Delinquents Grow Up to be Stupid Criminals?

As the tag line suggests, this blog is about sharing our judo experiences.   Well, last night I had an all-new experience in judo.   I teach the advanced classes at Denver Judo, so I don’t often get to attend the beginning classes.   We have some really awesome instructors who teach the beginning classes so Heidi and I can spend some time together with our son, not on the mat.   I do enjoy going to the beginning class but it has been a few months since I have been to one.   Last week the instructor for our Tuesday class had to move to Dallas to fulfill a new work obligation and will be gone for a year.   While we find someone else to teach that class, Heidi and I will be teaching the beginning class.   Last night was the first one that we had to cover and boy was it exciting.   I was telling the aunt of one of our members that I am going to expect this level excitement every week, but actually I hope this will be the most exciting one, for a while, at least.

Mad Mx just after catching our would be burglars at Denver Judo!

Mad Mx just after catching our would be burglars at Denver Judo!

We have an apartment above the dojo that Jim, who I wrote about last week, and his wife Jessica use to live in, but now one of our other black belts, Ryan, lives there.   He moved in about a week and a half ago.   The apartment can be accessed through a door from just inside the dojo lobby or through a door that leads directly to the outside.   Ryan usually comes in through the dojo then goes through the inside door, so when he comes down from judo he doesn’t lock that door.   The door to the outside is always locked.

So last night, we are about 5 minutes into our warm-up for practice and a kid comes in and finds Bandi, whose daughter is in the class, sitting on the couch in the lobby.   Bandi is one of the best judo players to ever walk into our dojo.   He moved her from Mongolia in 2005 after taking 2nd at the Korean Open, which was a very tough tournament.   Bandi has been out of judo for a while due to work, but he is one of those guys who doesn’t practice for 6 or more months then shows up the week before the Denver Classic and walks through the 90kg division full of elite players.   Anyway, his English is not all that good so he calls down to the mat asking for someone to come talk to this kid who he assumes is interested in learning more about judo.   So, Nikki, a brown belt goes up to talk to him.   She invites him to take off his shoes and sit on the balcony to watch the class to see what judo is all about.       We often have kids from the neighborhood surrounding the dojo come in to watch.

We carried on with our warm-ups and after about 5 minutes, the kids who Nikki later told me she found out was 15 years old, gets up and leaves.   I remarked to Ryan and some of the others, that I guess we were too boring for him.   As soon as he left, another kid appears on the balcony.   One of our other instructors, Max, notices this exchange and after a few minutes becomes suspicious and goes upstairs to the lobby to see what is going on.   Max is a black belt who has been with us for several years and has been in judo on and off for about 45 years and is one tough dude!   Max was there to help me with the beginning class because he is going to cover the class next Tuesday when I am out of town attending the training camp following the US International Visually Impaired Judo Championships.

When Max gets to the dojo lobby he finds the second kid and a third kid but does not see the first kid.   Feeling that something is amiss, Max starts questioning the kids as to why they are there and not at home.   I could hear him talking to them but couldn’t hear what he was saying.   I had started teaching the first technique of the night.   All of a sudden I hear Max getting louder so I start going toward the stairs up to the lobby when I hear Max shout for someone to come up and call 911.      Of course, being that Denver Judo is my club, my first thought is that something happened and someone got hurt.   I ran up to the lobby to find Max with the first kid’s face pressed to the wall and his arm pinned behind his back.   I ask something along the lines of “What the hell is going on?”   Max yells that he caught this kid trying to rob us.   He then yells to Bandi to come hold the kid so he can get the others.   I go back down and ask Nikki to watch the class and when I go back up I can hear Max outside yelling at the kids to sit down.

Denver Police Department BadgeAt this point, Max, Bandi, and Ryan seem to have everything under control so I went back down to the mat to check on the class.   After getting them going on a new technique I see Bandi come out on the balcony so I assumed the police were there and did not need him to hold the first kid’s face against the wall.   I went back up and find that the police are not yet there but Jesse, who had called 911 earlier, is taking his turn holding the kid against the wall.   I few minutes later the police arrived and got the story from Max who had seen the kid coming down the stairs with Ryan’s Xbox stuffed in his shorts.   They talked to Ryan whose apartment was burglarized and took the older kid, I assume, to the station.

It was a very exciting practice and over all the only real damage that was done was that Ryan had to pay $140 to have a lock smith come open the door to his apartment because his keys were up stairs and the kid locked the doors when he went up to load his shirt and pants with Ryan’s possessions.   The other damage that was done is that this kid is now in the system, if he wasn’t already.

The whole thing was more annoying than anything, especially to Ryan.   The thing I am so perplexed about is the mentality of these kids.   I can only imagine the scheming that went into this one.   The older kids comes in, scopes out the place and upon finding 4 or 5 black belts a few brown belts and some yellow and white belts, tells the smaller kids, hey, go keep an eye on all those trained fighters so I can steal all their stuff.   Let’s not forget the extremely skilled fighter on the couch.   Granted Bandi was not in his gi, but he was sitting right there when the kid snuck up the stairs.      It sucks that it happened but it’s a shame it didn’t happen when one of the many police officers in our club were not there.   Of course if there had been a cop there, the other guys would not all have had the opportunity to hold the kid against the wall.   I kinda wish I would have taken a turn myself.     I also should have gotten pictures of all the guys and myself holding the kid.   His face was obscured by the wall it was smashed against, so it would have been ok to get pictures, right?

So my question stands, do dumb juvenile delinquents grow up to be stupid criminals or do they learn from their mistakes?   Going to jail is a hard way to learn but I guess if it doesn’t make you chose the straight and narrow, I would think it would at least give you incentive to do a better job so you don’t end up there again.   I would love to hear any comments you have no this situation..

I’m making light of this situation but the fact is, it is just stuff that he was trying to steal.   Don’t get me wrong, I abhor stealing and people that, rather than working hard, take from others, but I also hate the road this kid is going down and hope this experience will not be the start of something that will lead him down the wrong path for the rest of his life.   He is still young, so my hope is that he learns from this experience.   Maybe being taken in a police car to the station will scare the hell out of him and if not, his parents will put the fear of God in him.   However it happens, I truly hope he learns something from this, even if it is nothing more than he is not smart enough to be a successful criminal!

Please share your thoughts below.

As always, thanks for reading.

Talk to you soon…