Monday, February 20, 2012

Judo and the Middle-aged Woman

with Fukuda Shihan

I started learning judo shortly before I turned 41. I didn’t even know the sport existed before my friend Lori brought a DVD to bunco one night. Her husband and family were opening a dojo (judo school) in downtown San Jose. I had just lost a bunch of baby weight and was looking for a way to get back in shape. I thought it looked fun so decided to give it a try. Lori decided to take the judo classes with me. I wanted my oldest son Miles to start judo in the kids class. At 3 ½, he was unwilling to wear the gi jacket. By age 4 though, he was ready to give it a try.

I’ve never been very athletic or graceful. My sister Cathy can tell you I was a lousy softball player, basketball player, soccer player etc. She tried to help me and spent a lot of time working with me. Cathy was the athletic one and did well at softball and soccer. I guess I didn’t get that gene. Dance and step aerobic classes were a nightmare. If the instructor called to go left, I’d go right. My sense of direction has much to be desired. I call it being directionally impaired. I have arthritis in my right knee. Some of the throws and drills are tough for me. Our sensei has been great showing me how to modify things so that I’m able to do them without being in pain. He’s helped many of his students work around injuries and weaknesses to reach their personal potentials. Sensei Lorne has also encouraged his students to help each other, which has made our dojo a comfortable place for anyone to learn judo at their own pace.  I have a great doctor who helps me manage the knee pain.

Lori and me

I’ve been the oldest female practicing at our dojo. For a while, I thought I must be crazy to be learning this at my age. Most of the other students in my class have been much younger. Then I went to a Kata tournament. Kata is a demonstration of the formal techniques in judo. There were many older women there, women who were black belts. Maybe I wasn’t so crazy for wanting to practice judo. I learned about Fukuda Sensei, who was in her mid-nineties then. She was the highest ranking woman in judo, 9th degree at the time. (She’s now 10th dan). Fukuda was a pioneer in women’s judo and had a women’s dojo in San Francisco. She has sponsored the annual Kata tournaments for many years as well as an annual judo camp for women.

Our friend John had started going up to Soko Joshi to learn kata, as he recovered from knee surgery. He told us about the kata clinics that were held there once a month. A group of us went up for a clinic one Saturday to learn Goshin Jutsu, a self-defense kata. Men and women were allowed to attend these clinics. We got to meet Fukuda Sensei which was such an honor. She’s also the only living student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. The instructors at Soko Joshi are all high-ranking black belt women. Those women have inspired me and encouraged me to do better and keep at it. We have attended many clinics at Soko Joshi over the past few years. My partner Andrew and I received direct instruction from Fukuda Sensei during a recent Ju-no-kata clinic. Fukuda wrote the book on Ju-no-kata. We happily repeated our technique for her, until it was the way she wanted it to be. I was so nervous, but so grateful for her invaluable critiquing.

Learning the different katas has helped me see judo in a different way. It’s not just a sport or exercise. It’s a way of using another person’s motion to help you throw them. It’s a series of actions and reactions. It’s flowing, and efficient. It’s helped my balance, my posture, and of course strengthened many muscles. I feel lucky to be getting such excellent instruction and support from Silicon Valley Judo in San Jose, and Soko Joshi in San Francisco. We’ve also had Sensei Elaine, from another dojo, graciously come to our dojo every Tuesday night to work with us on kata techniques.

I would like to join the ranks of those black-belt women and someday have my black belt. It would be fun to teach kids and to encourage others to give judo a try. I hope to continue practicing judo for many years to come.  Just like the ladies at Soko Joshi.

*Update* In the summer of 2012, two American women judo players won medals!  Kayla Harrison of Ohio won gold and Marti Malloy from San Jose State took the bronze.  Kayla is the first American female to win a gold in judo.  Our dojo was fortunate to have Marti give a judo clinic there a few years back. 
Bronze medalist Marti Malloy and me
*Update*  Sadly, on February 9, 2013 Fukuda Sensei passed away.  She was two months shy of her 100th birthday.  Her kata expertise and her beautiful smile will be missed.  Her motto was: Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful.  She was indeed all of those things.
Keiko Fukuda 1913-2013


*Update*  Lori and I, and four others were promoted to Shodan in December 2013.  I am thrilled to join the ranks of first degree black belt.  There is still a lot more to learn about judo.  It truly is a life-long pursuit.  I am almost fifty now.  I am inspired by those judoka who are older than me and still practicing.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Battle of Fire-Breathing Dragons

There’s a whole lot of name-calling going on, or “flaming“ taking place. What happened to respectful conversation between two people or groups? Did it ever exist? From what we see today, politicians throwing mud and insults at each other, angry people taking to the streets destroying property over who knows what anymore, baseball, soccer and football fans being assaulted or killed for supporting the “wrong“ team, it’s hard to imagine anything different. It’s hard to imagine a friendly debate or discussion of current events anymore. Our elected leaders insult and degrade other leaders as well as mock those who put them in office for disagreeing with their policies or simply being a member of the other party. This is what we see. This is what our young people see as examples of leadership.

Money talks, more than it should. We all know the saying “The love of money is the root of all types of evil.“ The more you have, the more you can control those politicians, media, industries etc. that you want to control. Money can give a lot of power to a few who get to use wisely or squander a nation’s supply of tax money. Those powers can pit different socio-economic groups against each other by making one out to be the bad guy and planting seeds of resentment in the other. A company or organization who refuses to donate to certain special interest groups will pay dearly once the name-calling and boycotts start up and sponsorships are yanked away. Now, the individual has the right to go to a certain store or restaurant that they like. If that store supports an organization the individual disagrees with, that individual has the right to stop going there. But hey, someone else might like what that store supports and keeps going there. Or perhaps they really just like the food there. We live in America. We have choices and the freedom to exercise those choices. Those stores, restaurants and businesses can do what they wish with the money that they make. That’s the great part of living here. You can support them or boycott them. It’s your choice. The trouble though starts when certain groups or individuals think that everyone should have the same opinion as them, and they start hurling insults or snubbing those who have a different opinion. Group A doesn’t support or donate to Cause D so they are labeled bigots, haters, xenophobes, ostrophobes, nanophobes, right-wingers, left-wingers, idiots, etc. Many people don’t like being called names, so often times it shuts them up right quick. It certainly doesn’t help that some groups think that public embarrassment, harassment, nasty phone calls, grafitti, and video postings of getting right up in your face to challenge you are great ways to let the disagreeing party know their opinion is WRONG. These practices, unfortunately are not really classified under today’s catch phrase of “bullying”. Yes, bullying is wrong, but bullying in order to change someone else’s belief system or values is also wrong. I respect your opinion. I like hearing your opinion. I may not agree with your opinion, but I respect your right to have it. Shouldn’t that work both ways? Can we discuss things in a civilized manner?

How does a parent teach a child that it’s okay to have his own opinion, that he should stand up for his beliefs, even though those beliefs could get him ostracized, beat up or even killed. Does a parent teach a child to follow the crowd and just agree with whichever opinion is the most popular or politically correct so he isn’t called a hater, narrow-minded, ignorant, etc. or made an “example of” at school by administrators because someone cried foul? Or should he be told that he should just keep his mouth shut when it comes to certain controversial issues. Will he risk losing friends and being excluded by some groups of people by having a different opinion or belief, one that is faith-based? Will I? Probably. Why are some opinions and beliefs today okay to have while others are not? I really don’t know the answer to that, but I do know who I have to answer to in the end in regard to myself and my children.