40 Years and Counting

I’ve been absent for the last three weeks for a good reason.  Last weekend, I celebrated my club’s 40th anniversary, and by extension my 40 years as a Judo coach.  We held a bash at our club for the occasion.  Past and present members showed up for a great reunion that featured a nostalgic slideshow, empowering speeches, renewed friendships, and lots of food.

The slideshow, which was put together by my daughter Valerie and her daughter Breanna, was an eye-opener for my current members. Seeing pictures of our past national champions, team uniforms, training sessions, camping trips, pool parties, and other family outings got the juices flowing.  Time to revive some of these events!

Creating the 13-minute slideshow took about 70 man-hours.  The process of finding old pictures and scanning them pointed out that we need to do a better job at taking pictures more often.  I can’t believe the number of times I said to myself, “Why in the world don’t we have a picture of so-and-so or of such-and-such an event?”  Preserving pictures for posterity in one depository is another issue that needs to be solved.  With digital photography that will be easier for my next 40 years.

As part of our character development and leadership program, I had suggested to my juniors that if they wanted to say something during the celebration, we’d love to have them make a speech.  Much to my surprise, six of them had the courage (one of our three core values) to stand in front of the crowd and talk about the benefits of Judo in their lives. Kids never cease to amaze me.

Waiting for the slideshow to start

The keynote speeches were given by my two most accomplished athletes; Valerie Lafon Gotay (2x Olympian) and Todd Brehe (2x World team member).  Valerie’s speech focused on work ethic, and how Judo has positively affected her life.  Her “hard work is virtuous” resonated with the crowd.  Todd spoke of the fun times as a junior competitor, and that thanks to Judo he has visited some 32 countries throughout his competitive career.  He ended with a call to make Judo a “part of your life.”

I wrapped up the speech part of our celebration by saying that my 40 years as a coach almost didn’t happen but for the hand of providence.  Sure, I had done Judo as a teenager and I loved the sport.  However, with my service in the Marines during the Vietnam War, my Judo had come to an end.  I had given little thought to resuming Judo once I was back safely in the States.  Fortunately, someone had a different story in mind.  Within months of becoming a civilian, I returned to my pre-war studies at San Diego City College.  I spotted a flyer advertising a new campus Judo club.  My interest was piqued.  I attended the first administrative meeting.  It was quickly decided by those in attendance that since I was the senior rank (as an Ikkyu I was senior to even the college advisor) I would be the coach of the new club.  And there you have it.  I became a coach because I was in the right place at the right time.

Todd’s presence gave me an opportunity to touch upon another of our core values; perseverance.  As a junior, Todd’s only medal was a third place in Spokane, Washington where, as he pointed out to us in his speech, there were only eight competitors in his division.  Early on, I was convinced that Todd would eventually be a world-class athlete if only he persevered through the losses and didn’t quit.  He didn’t quit, and eventually became a 5x national champion, and 2x World team member.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years.  Kids have gotten softer and are less motivated to reach for the heights that Todd and Valerie attained.  The “entertainment” generation is fun-driven and work-averse.  Work ethic?  We don’t need no stinkin’ work ethic.  Today’s kids have many options; too many jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none.  More and more kids seem to have problems with time management.  Putting down that iPod, iPad, cell phone or shutting off the computer might help.  Parents, all well-meaning, have gotten more intrusive and just like their kids softer, too.  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was spot on when he said centuries ago, “Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.”

While I long for our glory days of athletic achievement during the 80s and 90s, it still gives me great satisfaction to watch Judo work its transformative magic with our entertainment generation.  While I’m no longer developing future Olympians or even national champions, more importantly, I’m building better citizens armed with our core values of courage, integrity and perseverance.


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