Monday, December 29, 2014

How to be better at anything

Ronda stopped by today and just talking about life and random people we know, I said,

Too many people in this world wish that it was easier when they should be wishing that they were better.

She said,

That should be your next blog post AND I'm stealing that line, too.

So, kiddo, here you go ...

How to be better #1. Follow the advice in my last post where  I talked about the importance of perseverance.

The quote below is from a post I wrote 6 1/2 years ago on judo blogs.  Maybe those other bloggers were better writers than me, smarter than me. We won't know because only one of those blogs still exists and it hasn't been updated in six months.

Within the next month, my blog will hit 1,000,000 page views. This is not as much as my business/statistics blog, but still, it is a million times someone came and read whatever I had rambled on about that day. Crazy, huh? Perseverance.

How to be better #2: Surround yourself with people who expect more of you.
If you ARE a player, look for someone who tells you that you can be better, who pushes you outside of your comfort zone. Don't settle for an environment where everyone tells you how great you are. Search out people who will push you to be better than you think you could be. Sometimes those people are right on your own mat, but they aren't going to push through the crowd to help you. Lose the idea that anyone owes you anything. You'll be a better player and a better person.

 Whether it is judo, academics or business, I continually see people who get in groups and complain about how there is no place to train, the coach is mean, the professor is boring, there are no opportunities. If you are not winning, whether it be in business or judo, you will find plenty of people who will commiserate with you about how none of it is your fault and you are awesome. Stay away from those people.

People who don't expect more of you can also be well-meaning. When Ronda was 16 years old, she won a silver medal in the U.S. Open. She lost a really close match to Sarah Clark of Great Britain. Near the end of the match, Ronda had Sarah in a pin. She escaped and won the match on points.

Everyone was telling her how amazing it was that she had made the finals of an international tournament at 16.

How to be better #3: Expect more of yourself.

Ronda went outside and threw her silver medal down the stairs. I don't remember if we ever went back and got it.

Some might call that bad sportsmanship. I disagree. It's not like she threw it at somebody. There was no one around. Ronda was disappointed in herself and I thought she had a right to be.

Remembering that day, Ronda said,

"I didn't need anybody to tell me that I could have done better because I already knew it."

She went on to win the U.S. Open several times.

How to be better #4: Quit expecting it to be easy. 

 I work on making better computer games every day. Sometimes life intervenes and I don't get much work done until 9 or 10 pm. If that's the case, I will work until 2 am just to make sure that I got SOMETHING productive done that day. Then, I'll try to put in 10 or 12 hours the next day so it averages out.

When I was competing, I won some matches on sheer determination alone. My body pays for it every day. My knee has been replaced with titanium and plastic. My back hurts. My hands hurt. There is a picture in the hallway of the final match in the world championships. In it, you can see that my right hand is bandaged because I had injured my thumb in France a month or so before. That thumb still hurts and some days I have it bandaged so I don't inadvertently use it. Since I write code for a living, it's pretty inconvenient only having nine fingers, but hey, whatever.

The things for which people pay you a lot of money, the things that change people's lives - really, nothing worth having comes easy.


Shameless plug - games that make you smarter and are fun to play.
This is my company. Buy Spirit Lake today and you'll get 50% off Fish Lake next month.  Runs on Mac or Windows

Shameless plug on matwork:
I wrote Winning on the Ground with Jim Pedro,Sr. It's good. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

1 and 1/2 secrets of Success

Three different people asked me this week what was the secret to my success. I found that peculiar because I'm not feeling particularly successful this week.

They pointed out that I have a Ph.D., teach multivariate statistics, run a couple of companies, have four wonderful daughters, won a world championships.

But, I protested - and this was not being humble but how I really feel


There are so many projects I have under way.

I just this minute downloaded the latest version of Fish Lake, our game set to debut in a few weeks. Maybe sooner.

This week, I started on our first web app, that we are now having daily meetings on design. This is a new direction for us and I am focused on getting everything right from the very beginning, using all that we have learned in the past three years.

I am SUPER-excited because I am getting closer and closer to working full-time on the games. I've gone from 50% time, to 100% most days. I should be to 100% every day by June.

We are also doing our first mobile game, for iPhones and iPads. That started a little while ago but we are ramping up development now, getting the artwork done, dropping in the math challenges.

While students or other young people are asking me how to get to where I am, I am thinking about how to get to where I want to be next.

I don't feel like I'm a success yet.  I was going to quote Lanny Clark, yet again, that "Life goes to the slowest winner", and I searched this blog for that quote.

I came across a post I wrote 6 1/2 years ago.

His point is that it matters far less who is the high school football hero at 17 or who won the junior nationals at 11 or who got the highest score on the AP Chemistry test than who is president of Microsoft at 40, who wins the Olympics at 21 or who receives the Nobel Prize for Medicine at 62.

Where were we then vs now?

Jenn, at 22, had "a college degree and a job but not quite a career yet..."
-- She has her masters from USC now, and has been a history teacher for several years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Ronda, at 21, had a bad day and it was one of the rare times she did not place in a competition...
-- She went on to win several more international tournaments, an Olympic medal and is now UFC world champion

Maria, at 26,  was  a sportswriter, and had just moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Connecticut
-- She now lives in Santa Monica, is co-founder of 7 Generation Games and just finished writing a book with Ronda that is coming out in a few months.

As for me, I am gradually winding down the consulting and teaching to focus on making games. The job that I had six years ago that paid less than I was accustomed also offered free tuition for my kids and covered my knee replacement. In the ensuing years, I have published conference papers, another article in a scientific journal, written a book on judo and grants funded for over $3 million.

The secret is exactly what I said then

.... it is best not to make yourself too crazy worrying, because the odds are, if you work really hard and do the right thing, it will work out.You'll make yourself less crazy if you take a long-term view. Life changes from day to day.

Persevere. That's it. Just keep working. Every day, you get a little better until one day your book is finished, your game is on the market, you are champion of the world.

If today you don't win, your program crashes, you don't get the job you want, your editor hates what you wrote, well, you try again tomorrow.

The other half a secret is this - persevere at the right thing. Ronda did not go to a third Olympics. Jenn went back to school and got a masters degree. I'm no longer working at USC. Maria isn't working for ESPN any more.

All of the things we were working on in 2008 led to where we are now.

So, that is the secret. Keep working to improve but don't be so focused on one goal that you refuse to recognize opportunities that may be even better for you.

Don't stop - and be willing to go in any direction but backward.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sometimes the best time to make a difference is now

Maybe it is running a start-up gaming company, which can feel like it is consuming my life, but I often find myself feeling like I am wasting time when I am not working - coding, marketing, meeting with artists, preparing pitches for funding, testing.

This weekend I spent two days with the students from Gompers Middle School judo program, from south Los Angeles. Yesterday, Ronda was on the mat teaching, along with Richard Elizalde from New Breed Jiujitsu and UCLA Judo, Josh Rodriguez from Mojica Judo and Mark Hidalgo.
Today, Victor Ortiz (the judo one, not the boxing one) and I were teaching.

When I start thinking I don't have time for this, I ask myself why I am so committed to making 7 Generation Games a success. I suppose venture capitalists want to hear that we want to make A LOT of money. (Our Chief Marketing Officer tells me, yes, we want to make A LOT of money.) Why, though? I'm not that into stuff.

For me, making a lot of money is necessary so that we can make more games, better games, that help people learn, and not just little kids, either. Millions of people are held back in this country because they are not good enough at math, reading or writing to get a job, or get a better job. You can't affect millions of people around the country on $312.86 .

Still, it's worth stopping some days and looking at the people right in front of me. Weekends like these, which we try to do two or three times a year, are an advantage for our Gompers kids, whether they realize it or not.

They get to just be kids for a few days and not worry about anything.

They get to meet people from lots of different clubs from all over Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, or, at some events, from all over the U.S.

We keep the program purposely small - currently 17 of 16 available spots are filled. Yes, the math does not work out, but José Gonzalez, our teacher supervisor from the school is a social studies teacher (-;  Thank you to generous support from Dollamur Mats and Universal Studios, we have just been able to buy 10 more mats, which will let us expand to 22 of 20 spots.

Often, the "good kids" that are quiet, do their school work and stay out of trouble are overlooked while teachers deal with the students who are disruptive or failing.  With a program like our judo class, there are usually four adults on the mat, giving us a ratio of 4 teachers to each student. Similarly, at the away events, we have a chaperone for every 3-4 students.

This gives each student a load of time to talk about what is going on in school, get nagged by me about any grade less than an A, get advised on charter or magnet high schools where they can apply, complain about anything that is on their minds.

While the budget is always being supplemented by me personally (that is where my book royalties are going) and by Ronda, between that and generous donations we are able to provide each student good experiences like a team dinner at Rainforest Cafe, a plane ticket to Kansas City. Of course, not every student can participate in everything, but keeping the program small provides more resources for each student.

It's like with parenting. You can talk all you want about quality time but what kids really benefit from is great, big heaps of quantity time. If a student goes to every practice and event during the year, they will spend over 200 hours with us.

As I have said before, the purpose of the Gompers Judo program is not to run through hundreds of kids so we can find one or two with a shot at the Olympic team. It is to give every kid in the room a better shot at life.

Speaking of games, if you are in a giving or learning spirit, for every game you buy this month, 7 Generation Games will donate one to a school. Or, you can donate two if you are feeling particularly generous. I'd suggest you download and play the game yourself, though. It's fun. It will give you a taste for what our next game coming out next month is like - it's three times as cool.

Or, if you want to buy Winning on the Ground, not only do the royalties go toward our team dinner every year, but you can also learn some matwork and get some good training ideas.
The photo above is from one of our first drafts of Winning on the Ground when our models were goofing off. If you look closely you can see how hard Crystal is trying not to bust out laughing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why I Don't "Just Ask My Daughter"

I run a company that makes games to teach math. They are also really fun. You can try a demo here, but trust me, the ones that are in the works are even better in every way.

Whenever we are doing a Kickstarter campaign, looking for people to donate games for schools (or food for the world food programme, for that matter), or

 just running a Christmas special on our site, it doesn't matter, someone is sure to ask, whether sneering or seriously,

Why don't you just ask your daughter for money? Isn't she making lots of money?

Here are two cautionary tales for you:

Tyron Smith, a football player, reportedly had over $1 million taken by his family  through a financial advisor they recommended. That is in dispute. What is not disputed is that he bought his mom a Range Rover, paid off all of his parents debts and was in the process of buying them a house when he finally said, "Enough".

Then, there is Jack Johnson, the hockey player whose parents shockingly not only spent all of his millions he earned but also borrowed against his future earning.

I don't know what the hell these families were thinking. Maybe they were too greedy or stupid to realize that professional athletes usually make that money for a very short window of time.

Maybe they don't realize that over a third of that money goes out the door in taxes as soon as it comes in.

People who ask me that question seriously either don't have children or just asked without giving it much thought. As a parent, you don't want to use your children for your own benefit, you want to guide them in the direction that benefits them.

Ronda gets pitched to invest every time she turns around. Because I do have a business background, her accountant and I team up to nag her to pay her taxes early, put money in a retirement account and don't go crazy spending money. She lives in a nice, two-bedroom house. Because both professional sports and acting are uncertain professions, she's much better off being conservative.

Maria, the oldest daughter, spent a decade reporting on sports. She's written enough stories about bankrupt athletes to add her own note of caution. It doesn't last forever.

As for the family, we all pay our own debts and the only car anyone has gotten is the 2005 Honda Accord that Ronda gave Julia for her 16th birthday this year. We all know that was because Ronda was too sentimental to sell it, but Julia is pleased to have a car to terrorize the Santa Monica residents as she practices driving. I even pay my own way to the fights (although I do get a free ticket).

I think 7 Generation Games is a good company with potential to be amazingly successful in the next few years and who knows, maybe Ronda will be so rich down the line that a few hundred thousand will be pocket change and we'll take an investment from her.

I rather doubt it, though, and here is the main reason why ... because if is ever necessary I can say with a clear conscience,

"You shouldn't buy that $5 million house."


"Don't give money to your friend Luigi to invest in a Mario Brothers themed porn shop. It's a bad idea."

without having her come back with,

"Oh, but it was okay when I gave money for YOUR company."

My point, which you no doubt have despaired of me having, is that it's important for there to be at least one person without an ulterior motive to call it as she sees it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to work.

----------Shameless Plug --------
Great Christmas Gift - Winning on the Ground

Also on Amazon