Intrinsic Motivation

How one woman earned two black belts and a master’s degree — all while past the age of 40.

Stephanie M. Lopez
Aug 9, 2017 · 4 min read
Pagle teaches students Judo at her Nor Cal SBG gym, Berkeley: Photo credits- Hoayang Song

At 60 years old, Lily Pagle had to complete the “Ironman” challenge to earn her black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This means she fought everyone in her exam room that had a higher ranked belt — 12 people, according to the Straight Blast Gym International website.

On most days, Pagle manages the Northern California Straight Blast Gym (SBG) with her husband Alan. She earned her first black belt in Judo at 47 years old and her second black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) at 51 years old. She went back to school to earn her Master’s degree in sports psychology at 48 years old. Today, she is 66 years old. She serves as an inspiration both to her family and to members of her gym.

Pagle speaks with her husband Alan at Nor Cal SGB Gym, Berkeley: Photo Credit- Hoayang Song

“For me, martial arts are not so much,” she said. “I didn’t really [make it feel] like self-defense or fighting so much. I [made it] feel like something fun.”

Pagle credits her accomplishments to her mindset of having fun. She believes that viewing tasks like martial arts and school as work can lead to failure.

“Of course everybody wants to hear praise from coach, which is coming from outside, extrinsic motivation, but sometimes you can’t get it,” she said. “So if you focus too much on extrinsic motivation sometimes you get disappointed, you don’t feel like doing or feel like giving up, so like me too I just try to focus on intrinsic motivation.”

Pagle said she’s always been tomboyish and remembers wrestling with her brothers during her childhood. While her brothers practiced martial arts, women were not allowed to do the same in her hometown in Japan. She later moved to the United States..

She started practicing martial arts at 40 years old after her husband expressed interest in Judo. She walked into a gym and, feeling nostalgic from memories of wrestling her brothers, immediately enrolled her entire family.

She didn’t view her age as a weakness and embraced who she was. She learned to focus on technique when fighting rather than speed or strength.

“As I get older, I train smart,” she said. “When I was doing judo, I made a mistake by sometimes going too hard, but always my husband and I talk before training, ‘okay, let’s not get injured today.’ Just a good reminder.”

She waited until her youngest child graduated from high school before she earned her black belts and went back to school. She has three kids. She has since received a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a certificate in sports psychology.

Family portriat of Pagle with her three kids and husband Alan, Berkely: Photo credit- Hoayang Song

She was always interested on the mental part of martial arts and her lessons in school allowed her strengthen her fighting mindset. Through studying sports psychology, she learned to focus on “intrinsic motivation”, what’s inside, rather than “extrinsic motivation”, what’s outside.

Pagle will continue to challenge herself and push her limits, just as she has in the past.

Students practicing boxing at Nor Cal SBG Gym, Berkeley: photo credit: Hoayang Song
Pagle giving advice to Judo students at Nor Cal SBG Gym, Berkeley: photo credits- Stephanie Lopez

“I’m always a very curious person, so I try and I like challenge,” she said. “If it’s something I can do, [then I] try and if it wasn’t as fun or interesting as I [expected] then okay — I tried.”

Stephanie M. Lopez

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