My Thoughts on Judo, Black Belts, Coaches, & Parents
Sensei Gary in Growing Judo
Sensei Gary's USA Dojo Profile
Sensei Gary Throughout the Years Video
Sensei Gary's Highway Patrol 1955 Buick
Sensei Gary's Business Development Group
Judo brings people together by neutralizing differences of race, gender, religion, nationality, language, politics, wealth, education, professions, etc. In a judogi we are all equal. Our love of this sport is a common denominator to build upon friendships, mutual respect, and develop real self-confidence. In judo one learns that in order to complete a throw one must risk being thrown. This is a terrific metaphor for life, knowing that doing the right thing can sometimes result in being hurt, rejected, criticized, embarrassed, or unpopular. However, with proper preparation and training the risks can be significantly reduced yielding many terrific rewards.
Over the years, I've come to the realize that luck is the ability to recognize opportunity and to take advantage of it. My dad told me to always tell the truth then you don't have to remember anything and to always make the calls. Judo provides one a perfect lab to hone these essential life skills. From rich to poor, from featherweight to heavyweight, from victims to bullies, from aggressive to passive, I have watched students of all levels including top competitors to those with conditions such as autism, visually impaired, even gang members walk through the doors of our dojo in Claremont. Here are some of my observations based on first hand experiences I've had over the last 60 years in judo.
Many times it is the parents that are at their wits end looking for a sport for their children, who are either performing poorly in school, struggling with behavioral challenges such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or do not enjoy traditional organized sports. There are two things I explain to parents. The first is that judo is not a miracle drug. It is a sport designed to shape young minds over a period of time. Through hard work, dedication, passion and pride they will develop character traits that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Instilling self-confidence, self-control, and the ability to learn combined the humility to lose with dignity, while still having the determination to keep trying in students, is far more important to me than wining trophies!
Like so many things in our society, parents often assume that after enrolling their child into our program they will see an overnight change in their child's behavior. I cannot reiterate enough to those concerned parents that judo is an activity that requires an investment and commitment from both the children and their parents. I often use the example of farming to explain the growth process to parents. The hard work day after day for months and maybe even years leading up to the harvest will determine how successful the crop will be.
The second thing I talk to parents about is how a student progresses within judo and the role of parents, coaches, and senseis during the participation of organized competition. The competition gives students an opportunity to test their skills, which measures their progress both personally and technically. I remind parents that participating in a tournament is a privilege and should be a reward for their child's dedication to their daily household chores, school work, and proper behavior including how they conduct themselves during their judo training.
The most important thing to remember is that whether a kid wins or loses, tournaments are a demonstration of the student's integrity, self-control and courage that they learn from their training and their role models. Senseis and coaches all want their students to win as much as their parents do, however not every student will win first place. The way we respond to adversity during competition is as important as the competition itself.
Do you as a parent and/or coach blame the referees when your child or student doesn't win or do you adhere to the same code of conduct that we try to instilled in our students? Being a positive example to your children or students and rising up to meet the next challenge will have a greater positive impact on the student's progression within judo than losing self-control, getting angry, and loudly placing blame.
In our club a black belt should mean you have the skill to hold your own against other black belts. You workout on a regular basis. You go to tournaments to compete. If you are too old to compete you go to tournaments to help by refereeing, coaching, working a table, security, etc. You can do the nage no kata and other katas if you are a higher level black belt. If you are too old to do them due to physical limitations then other areas will weigh more heavily. You should be helping at the club by teaching, supporting club events, and volunteering on a regular basis.
Giving back is important part of judo. You must be current on your dues, have a clean record with a background check, Safe Sport and Heads-up certifications. All of these things together get reviewed in the decision process. Some factors like being a local, state or national champion, running your own dojo, contributing above and beyond may move things faster but this is not always the case.
Consistency is the key. People who show up prior to a promotion then disappear until the next one are remembered too. Loyalty and integrity and a sound character are tantamount. All black belts are not automatically referred to as Sensei. It usually refers to yodan (4th degree black belt) and above but sometimes it varies by age, experience in judo and in life, as well as the level of involvement in the club. Lower level black belts are still required to sign up including their kids. If you are unsure, please ask me.
Please understand that when a coach goes to a tournament they are doing this on their own time as a volunteer. We encourage our coaches to make it to many tournaments, however it's not always possible to guarantee we will have someone at every event. More importantly I want to underscore that having a coach at a tournament is not a given. In fact until the last couple decades it was never the case.
When I was growing up there was no such thing as mat side coaches. Mr. Kim (my Late Sensei) if he was at the tournament would be either refereeing or talking with his many friends and colleagues. I never expected him to drop what he was doing and focus 100% on me and my matches. Afterwards, sometimes he would tell me his opinion on how I did but not always. I also rarely had my parents at judo tournaments and they never came to watch me practice. I'm not saying that was necessarily a good thing but none the less it taught me to stand on my own even in terms of getting to and from the tournament.
So what is my point? Students should go these events to improve their judo, have fun, and grow. Whether a coach is present or not should be irrelevant and be viewed as a value added not an expectation. There are many clubs out there where the coach is present at all events, screams and yells at all his or her players, takes copious notes on a clip board and then obsesses on what the student did wrong, sometimes what they need to improve. I've even have seen in private clubs where coaches get paid by the parents for being there. I can tell you all unequivocally that's not my approach.
Once upon a time back when our club was new I got caught up in this way of thinking. In fact my daughter went on to become a Triple Crown Junior National Champion but most of you never saw her. The reason, she got burnt out on judo. I was in many ways the one responsible for this development and promised myself to learn from my mistake. Today I see tournaments as part of the overall training in judo to develop both skill and confidence. Learning to face your fears, to stand up after a loss and keep trying is what's important. In judo we learn to appreciate the transcendence of victory and defeat. We understand this connection as summed up in this Zen Proverb used often by one of Kano's top students, Kyuzo Mifune; fall down 7 times and get up 8!
So if you want a place where they are obsessed with winning and coaches treat all players even the little kids like a Pop Warner Football Team, I can refer you to clubs like that. My late mentor and good friend Hal Sharp called dojos like this ego judo clubs. At Goltz Judo we focus (instead) on developing fine people who are the real champions in life and will hopefully go forward to help to build a better community for all of us. This is what judo's founder Jigoro Kano had in mind, I'm quite sure of it.
There is no secret to judo. It is a wonderful and fun sport that requires hard work, dedication, passion and pride. It can be a very positive answer to parents reaching out for help as long each of us sets an example and adheres to the high fundamental personal values and standards of behavior of this tremendous Olympic Sport that is enjoyed by so many all over the world. The positive character traits learned in judo translate directly into leadership as describe in my Judo & Leadership Growing Judo article. I also recommend the following books for a further understanding of the philosophy of judo; Mind over Muscle by Naoki Murata, The Art of Peace by George Ohsawa, Judo Heart and Soul by Hayward Nishioka, Three Budo Masters & The Way of Judo by John Stevens, The Second Life of Judo by Alan Rafkind, Judo Memoirs of Jigoro Kano by Brian Watson, which give deep insights on the meaning and the benefits of judo.
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