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.

No comments:

Post a Comment