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Uke for Ilias

This whole story starts back in maybe April of 2015. I was sitting with a man I’ve known for 17 years, we regularly meet over coffee and bounce these caffeine-induced schemes off each other. Some hit the chopping block floor and never see the light of day. Others become so real you can hold it in your hands. All are crazy.

Uke for Ilias.

Leading up to this particular meeting I was reading a lot of books by Robert Greene. Mastery, Seduction, 33 Strategies of War, and 48 Laws of Power. In these books are a wealth of knowledge, but one of the concepts that resonated with me was the idea to allow your ideas to be literally, spoken. I made up my mind that I would put my idea out in the universe, “I’m going to bring Ilias Iliadis to Portland after the 2015 Judo World Championships” I said to Roy. His response was one of belief, but I knew this task was to be my own. He gave me a look, “prove it.”

Did I know how? No. Cost? No. Any leads? Not that I knew of. How? When? Where? I was dreaming.

But the universe rewards those who know exactly what to ask for.

Portland Judo 2015.

After reading the books stated above, I found myself gravitated towards the idea of speaking ideas and concepts in to reality. By verbally stating your goals you not only remind yourself of what you seek, but you begin to see existing opportunities to execute on. Once you know what you want, it’s only a matter of time and effort until you possess it.

Fast forward to the three weeks leading up to the event and we were already operating on every cylinder possible. A digital flyer, featuring a hand drawn portrait of the 2004 Athens Olympic Champion, two set locations in one day, official event tees, planned Social Media posts, dojo expanding, logistics, meals, it was an absolute whirlwind of action. The buzz in the Northwest was humming and whispers of the clinic drifted as far as Kentucky. It was going to be huge.

Autographed gi: Check

Autographed gi: Check.

But let me take a step back. I felt I wasn’t ready for this type of stage. I mean, I was honestly starstruck. How did we even get to this point? Is this really happening? Feelings ranged from thrilled to nervous. Thrilled for the opportunity, thrilled for the fact that we turned a spoken dream to reality in less than 6 months of thread pulling and planning. Nervous for the grand stage that we were setting, nervous for plans failing. In the end, it only catapulted me to another level of personal development.

Needless to say, the experience was absolutely stellar. You would have to be there to believe it, but it was a once in a lifetime scenario for me. It not only made me realize what was possible with continuous effort, but it also opened my eyes to dreaming bigger. It was empowering and made me hungry for more experiences at this level.

Overlooking downtown PDX.

Overlooking downtown PDX.

On top of capturing this experience, I wanted to make sure my future self remembers the 3 major steps I took to execute on this dream. I state them below.

1. Verbally state your dreams.
Say your dreams out loud. It is my belief that the world rewards those who are brave enough to stand up and state what they want. Before you go to sleep, repeat your goals out loud or look at yourself in the mirror and state what you want. Get used to sharing your goals with people, but not just anyone. Share your desires with like-minded individuals that you can trust. Form a Mastermind Crew of individuals that you feel connected with and brainstorm ideas with them, don’t hold anything back. No idea is off limits.

2. Form a dominant team.
In order to convert something that only exists in words and thoughts in to tangible items or memorable experiences requires a tremendous amount of individual effort. However, the individual’s effort is dwarfed by the amount of effort required by a solid team. Look to form a synergistic group with people who possess different skill sets than yours. Surround yourself with people who are masters at other crafts or industries. Seek knowledge from others, become a collector of perspectives. Sharpen this in to an insatiable appetite.

“No two minds ever come together without creating a third invisible, intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind itself.” – Napoleon Hill

3. Foster a Patient and Relentless attitude.
It is my belief that when these two characteristics are blended together, they help formulate Success. I feel that Patience is like money, you can never have enough of it and it is extremely valuable to anyone. Patience will allow you to become not only more calculated in your steps, but will also sharpen your eye to details you used to rush past.

Being Relentless will help you push through difficult times, the times where you need to work extra hours to get something done. The times when people doubt you or wish to throw shade on your goal. If criticism is all it takes to shoot your prized idea down, perhaps your idea never meant that much to you. If you wish to execute on a goal, a mindset must be formed that “impossible” is already done.

Here’s the proof.

Iliadis 9

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Do You Still Compete?

In conversations I am regularly asked if I still compete in tournaments. Students, friends, family, and strangers seem to always ask me when my next tournament is or if I’m fighting in X Tournament at Y High School.

My answer has changed over time, but in a way, it never really changed at all.

Yes. Yes, I still compete. In fact, I fight in 365 tournaments and 52 Championships a year. The arena has changed from losing in loud coliseums in Germany to winning in a storage space less than 400 sq. feet. It’s changed from fighting for a taste of International success, to fighting the economy of the world. It’s changed from losing first round in London to calculating how to write an email to a customer. I’m keen to the strength of the Euro and Yen to the Dollar, but I travel a lot less. It changed from cutting weight for my category to making sure I have enough weight in my pocket to run two businesses. I still study the competition and can name all the names in my category. It’s changed from making a National point roster to writing down business expenses and tallying receipts. Forget what an Olympic caliber opponent will do to you, you know how hard the IRS hits?

Where I currently sit in my life, my thought process is, what is any tournament compared to what I’m facing in life? At the same time, my life mirrors a competition, one that has higher stakes than what color medal hangs around my neck.

I’d be lying if I said that when I’m asked this question that it doesn’t bother me. Having been a mild competitor, I know how much effort it takes to actually compete. Ask any serious competitor, it requires your utmost attention, strict discipline, and sacrifice. At the highest level, any time spent not trying to advance towards victory is time that should be called in to question. I know what competitors do with their time, the intensity in which they train, and I can answer honestly that I am no longer able to, both physically and mentally, get near to training at that level anymore. Nor do I have the desire to.

No podium place can make me feel the way I feel when a child executes a technique I shared with them.
No amount of medals can take the place of the feeling I get when I train with my students.
My purpose of training has shifted from being selfishly centered to asking what more can I give to others?

I spent the majority of my life chasing podium Gold, only to find that it was so close in front of me that I was blind to it.

Despite all of these realizations, people still ask me if I compete.

All I can do is laugh and reply, “You’re standing in the competition.”

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Marinade. Usually a term reserved for cooking. However, I look at this word differently. When you think about it, it’s actually a term to describe time. I may be wrong, but I never heard of a 30 second marinade, unless a vacuum is involved or something. Marination takes time.

I have been back from Japan for just about a month now and I have allowed the experience to soak in my mind. Thoughts have been broken down and new ideas have emerged. Staying true to the reason I started this blog, I look to write them down so that Future Andy can learn from and remember the past.

1. I’ve fallen in love with judo again.
You’d think that owning and operating a judo dojo and merging my life with Dojo Outfitters would prove my love for judo enough. I thought so too. But my relationship with judo has been a line graph of many ups and downs. Success, medals, trips, and friends. Injuries, both physical and mental, and the mileage on my body weighs me down more and more each year. I feel like an arthritic time bomb, I feel 40.

However, the good outweigh the bad, and this trip to Japan has injected me with a new found appreciation for what judo means to me. Perhaps it was just being back to Japan, the country where judo was created. Perhaps it was training with Budo University judoka, who cleaned my clock, but proved to me that my technique can still land true. Perhaps it was seeing my brother’s dedication to judo, moving to the country in April to pursue and advance his dream. Whatever it is, I feel like I have sunk to another depth of understanding.

I watch whole matches now, no longer fast forwarding just to see the quick ippon. I look for gripping patterns, I look for fatal mistakes, I look for displays of dominance, down to the way the judoka arrives to the tatami. The level of detail that has emerged before my eyes is sometimes overwhelming.

I do uchikomi again, not just to sharpen technique, but to simply just do judo. I feel like I’m 13 again, mentally, not physically.

2. Memories of Japanese culture.
The cleanliness of the county is beyond impressive. I spent many minutes walking around train stations searching for a place to throw away my Pocari Sweat bottle, only to have to carry it all the way home. No one litters.

Children playing at Shinjuku Station. Why did this strike me so deeply? The culture and society embraces the innocence and ALLOWS children to be able to do this seemingly simple task. I do not believe parents in Los Angeles or New York City would allow, or even WANT, their children to catch subways alone. It amazed me, but struck me with a tone of sadness. Sad because this sight is becoming rarer and rarer in the world we live in.

Full-sleeve tattoos will get you looks, but no conversations. People side eye and looked at my tattoos in awe, but once I made eye contact with them, they would look away. At first there was a charm to it, after a week it was exhausting. I get it, I’m tattooed, but I’m not from this country. I was only in the Yakuza for 7 years…

3. I’m fortunate. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by the people I am.

My girlfriend, Danielle, planned and executed the trip flawlessly. We never took a wrong train and we had a place to stay everywhere we went. Without her, my experience would have been incredibly dull and limited. I am glad she took me along her journey.

Tokyo Station 2015
My brother, Louie. To see him finally execute on what he has been dreaming of for years instills in me a new definition of dedication. It’s not a vacation for him. It’s a grueling training schedule in a foreign country, adapting to a new culture with a new set of rules. Spending a day in his cleanly, organized dorm room and watching Bloodsport with him will be a memory I cherish forever.

The friends I have made along this life. I’m grateful.

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A Theory on Getting Caught

I’ve recently been reading The Art of Self Cultivation, which is a potent book of Chinese wisdom and quotations. The quotes challenge thought process and a certain experience erupts, I liken it to pulling a thread on a giant ball of yarn. Armed with an iced americano and some time, who knows where the thought process will lead me.

This quote, while seemingly unrelated to this post, was the spark in which my idea flamed. Take what you will from it.

“In study and in affairs avoid the desire for easy victory or quick results. To seek them is to circumscribe oneself and prevents attainment of the origins of things.” – Huang Zongxi

The idea unravels. I copy the idea from my notebook.

A new perspective of mine is the idea of extremes. Heavy vs. Light, Far vs. Near, Visible vs. Invisible. Almost everywhere I look I see this to be true. Only in very rare occurrences does going to the extreme, maximum or minimum, actually produce results which can be deemed “good”. A usual “balance point” is constantly looked for. As martial arts mirrors my life, you can see these contrasts quite plainly. I refer to these contrast positions in judo or jiu jitsu as “Grey Areas” or “Sweet Spots”. In these areas, the vast majority of exchanges take place, this is where you catch others. This is where you get caught.

Getting caught usually occurs when a new pattern or route, that which has never been followed or previously known, is inflicted upon you. In theory, if you had known the pattern, route, or technique, defenses could have been prepared. Because the route has never been discovered or is foreign to you, or perhaps you were simply tricked or out maneuvered, the defenses prepared were inadequate, and have failed you, which leads to your capture. The tap. The ippon.

The tangent grows.

In life, I feel it is dangerous to deal in absolutes. I have to agree with Obi Wan on this one. This is due to the scale in which extremes are viewed. Scales differ between individuals and are as unique and different as our very own fingerprints. Because of this, what I deem “extreme” is of the norm for another, and vice versa. Having this knowledge is crucial in both social interaction, filtering actions of others, and judging your response.

When focusing solely on training, extremes are easy to spot. Do not overcompensate movement. Do not lean to one side. Do not become too predictable. Do not under or over train. But when we zoom out and attempt to apply this concept to life, it becomes complex and difficult. A relentless amount of factors become present and seeking balance becomes a challenge.

The positive I take away is that awareness can trigger change.

“Knowledge follows realization of ignorance.” – Zhuang Zhou

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My Favorite Judoka

A month or two ago I had a great conversation with my judo sensei over some iced coffee. We discussed his recent trip to Japan and the judo experiences he had there. It was great to hear his stories. Eventually we stumbled upon the question, “Who’s your favorite judoka, past of present?” Such a tough question! Do you go for technicians or champions? Asia or Europe? It’s this question that inspired me to share my current top 5 favorite judoka. The cool thing is, this list has changed and will continue to change over the course of my life. Enjoy.

5 (Tie). Name: Mike Swain. Country: USA. Weight: 71kg.

Mike Swain is a staple in American judo and I have had the honor to have him actually shape my judo. He was a San Jose State judo legend and coach by the time I enrolled in school there. I remember when I was still in high school, my brother was a freshman on the SJSU judo team, and he came home for Summer and brought his Blue Mike Swain Century judo gi with him. I stole it and attended practice in it, I remember feeling as if I was Superman.

Swain’s technical ability was unparalleled on the World stage, a 1987 Gold medal at the World Championships proves this point. He literally wrote the book on Ashiwaza and his Tai-otoshi was a notorious technique among international competitors, a pure technician. For this, Mike Swain starts off this list.

5 (Tie). Name: Shohei Ono. Country: JPN. Weight: 73kg.

Shohei caught my eye after winning the 2013 World Championships in style and is one of my newest favorites. His aggressiveness comes through his techniques as he often seems to plant his opponents through the tatami. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder and steps on the mat with a certain swagger. He has had numerous set backs in his young career and is currently not even ranked in the top #10 in the world. Despite this, he’s still a favorite of mine due to his punishing style. He was recently passed on for the 2015 World Championships and I’m curious to see where his career goes from here.

4. Name: Takashi Ono. Country: JPN. Weight: 81kg/90kg/100kg.

You may or may not have ever heard of Takashi Ono, but he’s a favorite of mine for several reasons. He never won a World Title and he never placed in the Olympics, but that’s the exact reason why I look up to him so much. He has fought and placed in tournaments all over the World, spanning 3 weight categories, and is still currently fighting. I recently checked out the draw for the 2015 All-Japan Judo Championships and spotted his name among the Japanese elite. While some may consider him past his prime, I admire the fact that he is still competing which makes me believe his love of judo goes well beyond glory, he simply loves to fight.

3. Name: Ilias Iliadis. Country: GRC. Weight: 73kg/81kg/90kg.

3x World Champion. 2x European Champion. Olympic Champion. The results speak for themselves. But judging how the international community rallies behind Ilias, it seems safe to assume that he is not only a world class competitor, but he is a world class human being. I place him on this list not only because of his competition records, but I truly enjoy watching his style judo. It’s blunt, straight forward, and he’s always shooting for the ippon. I’m currently working on getting my hands on an autographed gi of his for my shop.

2. Name: Flavio Canto. Country: BRA. Weight: 73kg/81kg.

Flavio has been a long time favorite of mine. The way he effortlessly combines his tachiwaza with his newaza is something I can only dream of doing. He’s a jiu jitsu Black belt as well and is one of the main reasons why I began jiu jitsu in the first place. His career spans many high points, with an Olympic Bronze medal being it’s cornerstone. More importantly, he’s another individual, based on how the community treats him, who seems to be a phenomenal human being. I follow him on Instagram and he is constantly seen giving back to judo in Brazil’s poorest communities.

1. Name: Isao Okano. Country: JPN. Weight: 80kg.

There’s a reason why I chose Isao Okano to adorn the mural in my shop, it’s because I consider him a judo legend. World Champion and Olympic Champion, his competition record is stellar. I had the opportunity to train with Isao Okano on several occasions, both at SJSU and at his Ryutsu Keizai University judo program. His son, Tetsu Okano, was also my team mate at SJSU, so the personal connection just adds to my adoration.

Okano Mural

This mural is of Isao Okano choking Yukio Maeda in the 1969 All-Japan Judo Championships. Can be found in Dojo Outfitters, in Portland, OR.

As I stated above, it will be interesting to look at this list 5-10 years from now to see who my favorite judoka were at this time. Due to restrictions, I could not fit all of my favorites, but some names I would include would be Kirill Denisov of Russia, Nyam-Ochir Sainjargal of Mongolia, and Varlam Lipartiliani of Georgia.

Who are some of your favorites?

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A few months ago I was perusing Oregon’s famous Powell’s Books and stumbled upon a book entitled Mastery, it’s written by Robert Greene. The title itself resonated with me and upon a quick glance at a few paragraphs, I knew I had to have the book. $20 bucks never got me so much.

The book basically covers the lives and circumstances of historical and modern masters. Masters in a sense that they are seen by the majority of people as a specialist in whatever field of study or industry they chose to settle in. Names like Charles Darwin, Freddie Roach, Mozart, and other historical figures litter the pages. The chapters are easily digestible and the stories are incredibly inspiring.

The book goes in to various details about the life and times of these masters and what I appreciated was that the difficulties faced along the path to mastery were highlighted. In most cases, it wasn’t all glory, money, success, and respect. It was testing and riddled with strife. It was a goddamn fight. Upon finishing, I took away the thought that everything has a price and my Understanding of Reality stat increased by +2. Nothing is free.

In some cases, the master was naturally gifted. From a young age, they showed promise and surrounded themselves with people that assured their success. In other cases, nothing but grit, determination, and hard work got them to their mastery level. It was informative to see the different avenues. Me? I’m not willing to label myself in a category, but what I do know is that my path seems to be similar in that it’s littered with difficulties, successes, and contains a certain amount of youthful obliviousness that allows me to roll the dice and let the cards fall as they may, something that ran in almost every master mentioned in the book. Not that I’m a Mozart or Darwin or anything, but those dudes rolled the dice hard.

Another thought I took away from the book was that these people submerged themselves to the point where they literally mastered whatever it is they chose. Nothing was done half way, no “maybe”, no “almost”. In most cases their lives seemed to be dealt in extremes, all or nothing, win or lose, life or death. What I took away was that a certain level of mastery requires you to pay. You pay with your focus, time, mental study, physical application, finances, relationships, and, basically, your life. It seems that your life has to revolve around whatever you wish to master, there are no known shortcuts.

Upon digestion, I questioned if true mastery is even possible. Perhaps it’s the pursuit of mastery that brings upon what some deem as success or mastery. Can one actually achieve a level that they are deemed to be a true master? Wouldn’t it depend on the definition of mastery in which we are judging on? Who crowns what?

To end, I make no claims to be a master in anything. I know enough to know I know nothing. But to read about mastery and to see what was paid, overcome, and conquered inspires me to draw my bow, choose the longest, truest arrow, close my eyes, and take my shot.

Scoop a copy, Mastery


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