Wonder Woman: Dr. Ann Maria

If you don’t know who Dr. Ann Maria is, you should. She is a successful business owner, former world champion in Judo AND Sambo. She is a wife and mother to four amazing children, one of which happens to be Ronda Rousey, the UFC 135lbs Women’s Champion. I was fortunate enough to get a little bit of her time and she dropped her knowledge on subjects like parenting, judo, and video game programming.

This interview is NOT to be missed!

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Dr Ann Maria, you are a Judo World Champion, business owner, a wife, a mother of 4 and you contribute and/or run several charities and benefits. Can you take us through a typical week where you mange to fit all that in?  I don’t do mornings. I roll out of bed around 10 or 11, drink coffee, check twitter, read my email, handle anything from clients that needs to be answered right away. I’m usually trying to learn a new programming language or more about one I do know, so I’ll usually read a book on SQL, javascript, PHP or something like that. After a couple of cups of coffee, I’m usually semi-awake by noon so I will return any phone calls and then get down to serious business. I’m usually writing one or more grant proposals as well as working on the computer games we’re developing and doing evaluation or data analysis for a couple of clients. I might take a lunch break around 4 and then go back to work until 8 or 9 when I’ll have another break for dinner. After about 11 I usually do more academic stuff – I teach a class in advanced data analysis or multivariate statistics once or twice a year, so towards the end of the work day I will read academic journal articles, grade papers or prepare lectures. Usually when I teach it will be a class from 7- 10 pm.

I knock off official work around midnight. I usually ride the exercise bike for 45 minutes, and then write my judo blog or statistics blog around 1 am. I usually read a book – something with no socially redeeming value – until 2 or 3 am and then get up the next day and do it all over again.

I have an accountant that does the books, a housekeeper that cleans the house, and an administrative assistant who mails out prizes for free rice, enters data and does a thousand other things.

My youngest daughter attends a boarding school 75 miles away, so I usually trade off with my husband either picking her up on Friday/Saturday or taking her back on Sunday.
Every Friday when school is in session, I teach an after school judo class at Gompers Middle School. On Sundays, I usually teach at the West Coast Judo Training Center from 2-4.

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Most people know your daughter Ronda Rousey, the UFC Women’s 135lbs Champion, can you tell us about your other children?  Since graduating from NYU at age 20, Maria Burns Ortiz has been a sports writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrator and Fox News Latino and adjunct professor in journalism at Tufts University and Emerson College. We recently lured her to 7 Generation Games where she is now our Chief Marketing Officer. She has two perfect children.

Jennifer Rousey is a history teacher at John Leichty Middle School in downtown Los Angeles. She received a history degree from SFSU, then taught as a substitute teacher for two years at different schools, decided she definitely wanted to teach at an urban middle school, got her masters degree and teaching credential from USC – all by the time she was 24.

Julia is a freshman. She received a scholarship to a college preparatory boarding school. We were quite unprepared for our baby to be gone during the week but she said, “I think you people underestimate me.” So far, she has made the honor roll her first three quarters and played varsity soccer as a freshman.

Dr Ann Maria, you have some amazing kids—can you offer some advice to parents out there on how you manage as much as you do and STILL manage to raise confident successful children?  As Erma Bombeck said, mothers are hesitant to give advice because they know that at any moment the principal could call and say their child had ridden a motorcycle through the gymnasium. I have always tried to do what I thought was best for my children, and I give less than a damn about what the neighbors, PTA, other judo instructors or anyone else thinks about me or my parenting. Lots of people say that put their children first but when it would be a bit embarrassing to tell the judo teacher, “Your class is really boring and my child would rather take soccer”, they don’t and they make their child stay in judo because they don’t want to face the judo instructor or the other parents in the club. (The same happens in soccer, or band or dance or any other activity.) I ran into Jim Pedro, Sr. for the first time in probably 20 years when Ronda was a white belt and his son had just won an Olympic bronze medal. I asked him if he had any advice and he said, “Always ask yourself if you are doing this for you or your kid. If you can honestly say you are doing it for your kid you won’t go wrong.” I think the same advice goes to those mothers who have their children studying 12 hours a day from age 6 to 18 so they can get into MIT or Stanford. Who are you really doing it for?

I don’t clean house. I pay someone else to do it. One of my children said the only thing I ever made for dinner was reservations. Some people think less of me for that. Too bad for them. When my husband passed away and I had to work three jobs to pay the bills and have time to take my children to track, soccer, swimming and piano practice, something had to give.

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My priorities were that my children be healthy and well-educated. Having perfectly pressed school uniforms was pretty far down the list. I have always tried to love my children unconditionally while still having high expectations for them. As Robert Frost said, Home is the place that when you go there, they have to let you in. On the other hand, it is also the place where someone is going to ask why the hell you got a B in Geometry and tell you to turn off that damn TV and study.

How often do you currently train in Judo and do you train in any other martial arts?  Usually twice a week – I teach more than train really. I’m old. I don’t do any other martial arts. I was the women’s national sambo champion about 30 years ago (trivial pursuit question).

You work weekly with a Judo club at Gompers Middle School in LA. Fight Chix was thrilled to send out some shirts to the kids and coaches! Can you tell us the difference Judo has made in the lives of the kids?  The difference I can guarantee is that they have a good, healthy Friday afternoon each week. There are four adults (me, plus three staff members from Los Angeles Unified School District), all volunteers, so the student teacher ratio is usually 4 to 1 or less. They get exercise, learn some judo, the school provides healthy snacks – usually, milk, juice, peanut butter and crackers or stuff like that. We have bottled water thanks to Jim Pedro, Sr. who told me to give all the money from advertising on my blog to the program. (He used to write guest blogs for me and I offered to split the ad money with him but he said it’s not much just give it to the kids.)

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I think it has let them know in TANGIBLE terms that people care about them and believe they are important, talented and worth spending time and money on. The major differences I have seen is in how much better shape they are and how they treat one another and, from what I can see, their parents, with respect and consideration. I think children learn what they see modeled. They are also required to keep their grades up as a condition of staying in the program. No grade below a C and no disciplinary problems at school. There have been a couple of students whose grades slipped and came right back up when Mr. Gonzales, the school teacher who coordinates the program, telling them that they could not come back the next week if their grades were not back up.

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You have been developing a really great teaching tool for Math (my worst subject) called Spirit Lake. Can you tell us a bit about the game and what inspired it?

Spirit Lake is one in a series of 7 games we are going to create. My idea for a math game came following meeting my partner (Dr. Erich Longie) and I attended in Washington, D.C. to analyze the National Indian Education Study. The results showed that the more time students spent studying their culture, the worse they did in math. The hours have to come out of the school day somewhere and in many schools they seemed to come out of the math instruction. Erich was president of the school board on his reservation at the time and he told me, “We need to come up with a way to incorporate math and culture because I’m not willing to give up either one in my grandkids’ education.”. Our team designed and developed a game that is a 3-D virtual world where kids are attacked by wolves, hunt buffalo, escape from enemies and have to use math at every turn. The villain says, “I dug a pit every 3 feet. It’s 33 feet to the lake, moo-ha ha (evil villain laugh). How many pits are there? If the player gets the answer correct, they continue, jumping over the pits and escaping. If not, they are routed to a page or video where they study and then have to pass a quiz to get back into the game.

Who has inspired and taught you?  Every math teacher I ever had. I have actually INCREASED in sweetness, light and tact over the years. If it wasn’t for doing so well in math and programming – two skills that were in big demand – I would DEFINITELY have spent a good bit of my life unemployed and in prison. Because there was a high demand for those skills, employers were willing to overlook some of my faults until I grew up a bit and universities were willing to give me scholarships. I’ve been immensely fortunate to be surrounded by people who were both brilliant and good – my doctoral advisor, Dr. Richard Eyman, Dr. Yolanda Venegas who badgered me to finish my dissertation and then hired me as a statistical consultant for the next ten years.

“Every talent you have is a gift from God and since you don’t have anything God needs all you can do in return is show him it wasn’t a mistake to give that talent to you.”

Margot Sathay, who taught me judo at the Kodokan in Japan was a great inspiration. Margot had to overcome a lot of prejudice both because she was a woman and not Japanese. She taught me mat work, she encouraged me to value education over judo, insisting that I return to the US to finish my degree. Diane Pierce Tudela was a huge inspiration in judo because she taught me arm bars. I’ve learned judo from a LOT of people – Hayward Nishioka, Blinky Elizalde, Jimmy Martin, Steve Seck, Steve Scott, Becky Scott, my first judo coach, Bill Shelton. I’ve learned a lot about coaching and teaching judo from Jim Pedro, Sr.

One of my biggest influences was my grandmother, Emilia Maria – my daughter, Maria is named for her, as is my granddaughter, Emilia. Ronda always talks about “momisms”. My grandmother had a lot of what she called “dichos” , Spanish for sayings or proverbs but I never found them in any book of Spanish proverbs (I looked). I think she made them up.
One of them was “God knows what he’s doing even when you don’t.” She had more unshakable faith than anyone I ever met. No matter what happened she was convinced it was part of God’s plan and that God meant well for us. Another was, “Every talent you have is a gift from God and since you don’t have anything God needs all you can do in return is show him it wasn’t a mistake to give that talent to you.”

Interestingly, no one in my family growing up had any real interest in sports. When I told my grandmother I was going out running (I was on the track team in college), she asked me where I was running TO. When I explained I wasn’t running to anywhere, that I was just going to run in a giant circle and come home she said, “That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. What kind of thing is that they are teaching you at college, running to nowhere?”

One of your latest blog posts includes a video, offering some great advice about maintaining perspective and remember that each day is a new day. Do you have a personal philosophy that you live by and teach that you could share with Fight Chix?  Success is the best revenge. Not only does it make your life and those you care about better, but as an added perk, it annoys the people who don’t like you with no extra effort required.

Having Ronda in the spotlight must be challenging as a parent. Both you and Ronda are refreshingly honest—-has the new found attention to the family been difficult? For example have you had to talk to Ronda about being seen as a role model or are family outings way more difficult? The only thing that is more difficult is scheduling time because she has a really full schedule now and so do I and all of her sisters. I tell her all of the time that she does not ever have to make any compromises in her career, if she ever feels like she is being asked to do anything that is not the best for her physically or ethically, she can tell them all to shove it and come home and join the family business, live by the beach and be a video game designer – which is not a bad fall back plan. Her sister, Jennifer, said it best at the after-party after her UFC fight when everyone was asking for her autograph and we were trying to eat, “Nice you’re famous. Pass the salt.”

I want to thank you for taking the time, and I have one really selfish question as the designer of all the Fight Chix apparel…what is your favorite item on the site?You even had to ask? I think it would have to be the Keep Calm and Break Arms shirt.

Find out more about Dr. Ann Maria by visiting her blog and following her on Twitter

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