Monday, May 31, 2004

eleven, slightly shorter than past

Good day folks,

I have heard back from a few people that they often don't have time to read through my long long blogmails. I know there are also some people who read them right away and all the way through. Thus, I am once againg going to try a format I adopted for one of the previous emails: I will summarize in a paragraph of one very long sentance, and then fill in the details for some of the major events.

So since the last time I mailed (May 11th), I have: Watched "A Knight's Tale" with my upper level adult eikaiwa class, watched the movie Troy and followed it with 2 hours of uno at the Japanese equivalent of Perkins, played poker-pool at a place called 'Funky Time' and followed it with dinner at a super cheap sushi place, practiced many many times with Tom (once in the rain) for the demonstration portion of the judo black belt test, played Settlers with my lower level adult eikaiwa class, got my car's oil changed, went to the first half of a bachelor party, took part in the judo black belt test, watched "Princess Mononoke" in English in the English Option class, conducted interviews for Greenpeace, bought loads of omiyage, cleaned my whole apartment, went to a bona-fide Otani potters' shop, had lunch at a park that had grass, visited the kincho manju factory, jammed (believe it or not) with 5 other people (bass, mandolin, electric guitar, acoustic, acoustic, and me on acoustic), had Dion and Ayumi over to play settlers/go to the onsen/eat at the onsen too/go see the fireflies, and went to a bible study.

Tonight I need to finish packing my bags and return some videos, and tomorrow I need to finish off the food in my fridge or give away what I can't eat, and then go to bed early. On Wednesday I am off to the three day "Renewer's Conference" in Kobe, which is for JETs going into their second year. Once that's finished, I make my way to Osaka and then fly home. On a plane.

Looking back over the list, the only thing that seems to need much elaboration is the black belt test.

The test had two main parts: a fighting component and a demonstration component. Because there are so few applicants for the black belt test each year, everyone starts in one big group. Also, lots of people start learning judo in elementary. Some start later. In high school, all the guys must study one of judo, kendo, or kyudo (archery). Some schools also offer aikido and karate, but those would be more rare. There are a few people who start studying judo in university. Thus you could group the applicants at the test into four main groups. In descending order by size of group: junior high kids, high school students, university students, two big white foreigner teachers. I think all of the university students were black belts going for their second level, which meant we would not get to fight them. From there, they RANDOMLY divide up the collective into groups of four to six. You only fight the people in your group, but you get to fight four times total. You need to win three of those fights to progress on to the second part of the test.

The night before the test, knowing that I could very well end up pitted against junior high school kids, I asked God to give me only difficult fights, and three victories.

A note on the place: The Tokushima Budokan (martial arts building), on a tatami floor built on springs. the building was pseudo-traditionally built and was very sweet to look at and be in.

We did some of our own warm up, stretching, and fuchikomi (practice throws), and then had the short opening ceremony and explaination. After that, they began separating us into groups. Because there were so few girls, they were all automatically their own group, and so continued to warm up off to the side. I saw Tom get put in a group of junior high school kids. God answered my prayers: I was put in a group of high schoolers who did not look like pushovers. Tom's group had 5, my group had 4.

Tom was in the first match. I didn't watch. I watched the two from my group in their first match. It was a long match, and went for almost all of the four minutes. One of the two was very fast and had an unusual move that he used again and again to decent success; the other of the two appeared to have a sprained ankle, but was solid (read: big). While we were watching, the other guy in my group, the smallest of us four, asked me what high school I was from. I felt bad as I told him I was an assistant teacher at a junior high. The faster guy beat out the big guy.

I was informed that Tom had won his match.

As we stood accross from eachother, I could see in the eyes of my opponent that, teacher or no, he was determined to take the point from me. [Matches are one point or four minutes, whatever comes first.] I had a very hard time with him; at one point, he got me to the ground and were it not for the length of my arms, he may have taken a point right there. It was a long fight also nearly exhausting our four minutes. On getting the warning that time was running near, I gave everything i had into the two most elementary moves, and in the end due to my size I was able to win with an o-soto-gari: hooking his leg from the outside an pushing him back.

Because both fights had been so long, the ref allowed us all to rest before going into the next match. The top of my lungs was burning, and my throat was very dry. It was hard not to let my mind go nuts; like golf, if you want to win, your mind needs to be relaxed. I recited Philippians 4.12b-13 over and over again and tried not to thing about much.

I was in the next match as well. I was up against the big guy. It was a very different kind of fight. He was solid enough that a few things I tried produced litte effect. We ended up doing a slow dance of sorts, each trying to get the other off balance. I don't remember how we got to the ground, but because I was in the advantageous position when we landed, I suspect it was my doing. I was trying for a bare arm choke, but he had his chin down and I coudn't reach his neck. I also could not shift over to do a kesa-gatame (a collar and arm hold). Even though I had nothing, the ref was not telling us to wait (read: let go and stand up again). Perhaps sensing my hesitation, my opponent rolled to attemt a kesa-gatame on me, but in the process of his roll I was able to slip my arm under his chin! I quickly shot up my other hand behind his head and grabbed that forearm with my choking arm, and squeezed. I had him, and shifted to apply more pressure. He tried to get out, but it was too late. Even so, he waited for a long time before tapping out; I suppose that reinforced his dignity. He may be choked, but he would wait until close to passing out before resigning.

The other two, the two fast guys, fought next. The one with the unusual move used it to great success, but the smaller of the two (who had given me so hard a time) kept breaking out as he went down, preventing any points from being awarded. On one such break, he earned a half a point for a turnaround. At another time, the dude with the strange move had the smaller guy in a kesa-gatame (which is such a great move because it is so hard to break out of), and some how the smaller guy pulled off a corkscrew escape, pulling his head and arm free. Unfortunately, he ultimately conceded a point to the unusual move. The match did not last all that long. I was still feeling out of breath and parched.

I was informed that Tom had won all four of his matches.

After a short reast, it was undefeated vs undefeated. I was worried. He came at me with that move. I let him, because I wanted to feel the move for later reference. But it did not work. He failed to throw me off balance and instead of leaping at me and throwing me to the ground, he lept at me and hung off of me. He was tall for a Japanese, and I suppose he had never had a chance to feel how to position himself against a taller opponent. Every move has a weak spot if you don't pull it off, and as he kept trying the same move over and over, I kept looking for that weakness. I never did find it, but I did whip him around from time to time, though never quite enough to get a point. I must have tried something right at some point (perhaps it was a tai-otoshi [a body drop like a trip]?), or maybe he pulled me down and I moved around him just right, but one way or the other I had him the very move which Tom had used to beat me time and time again: the kesa-gatame. Having seen these guys slip out of this hold like it was nothing, I was careful to put my weight lower on his chest and, to pull his head in and hold his arm tight. He tried to get out, but for once I was in the right place. I also had around 10 kilos of weight advantage. I got my point.

My forearms were very sore. Very sore. I was not relishing the idea of a fourth match, but the pressure was off now that I had three points, and I felt good. Inside. The next match was the little guy from my first match against the big guy from my second. He went at the big guy with everything he had. The big guy was finding him too aggressive to hold off and get a position on just right, just as I had. The little guy won with a kesa-gatame. It would seem he wanted that point really bad. They may have landed funny before the hold, or he may have held the big guy with too much vigor, but one way or the other, when the ref called the point, the small guy got up and the big guy stayed down. He had hurt an arm bad enough to not continue. The ref decided then to pass me, and to pit the other two against guys from other groups. So in the end, I only fought those three matches. The guy with the strange move lost his next fight, as did the little guy.

As for Tom, not understanding as much Japanese as me proved to be a difficulty. He had seen the girls warming up in the corner after they had been grouped, and was expecting his group to do the same. As he tells it, before he knew it he was being beckoned up to fight, and he didn't even have his belt on! He says that he was so out of the frame of mind for fighting that he forgot the matches were only one point apiece, a few times almost letting himself be thrown to take an easy point on the ground. He said the first kid was all over him, but he eventually won. He won both of the next two as well, but not with ease; the juniour high kids just had way more energy than he did. He said that in the last match, he was really just too tired to fight properly, and when he really had nothing left, just to end the match he literally picked the kid up and threw him to the ground. They gave him a point for that.

So on hearing that, and having recently seen the movie Troy, I compared him and I to a pair of Ajaxes, two 'massive' guys winning by size.

Next was the demonstration. Everyone performed their demonstrations at the same time, and the judges chose to put Tom and I right at the very front, immediately in front of the judges bench. All of the demonstrations are done in pairs, but Tom and I were the only pair wherein both members had passed the test. I think Tom was more concerned about this part than I was, so it was good that the judges had him go first. I ended up doing most of mine while the rest of the pairs stood still, waiting and watching. I was glad for all the practice we'd had.

Everyone did the same demonstration: three throws using mainly hands, three throws with the hip as a fulcrum, and three throws done with feet/legs, all done with both the right and left variations: a total of 18 throws.

After everyone (read: I) had finished, one of the judges gathered us together and made comments. He gave corrections on moves that had been poor, or needed adjustment in this way or that way. On one of the comments, the judge noted that Tom and I had done it better than anyone else. On another, he teased us for the bobbing way we had sidestepped. However, overall it seemed that we had done pretty good.

There was one more part, but it was kind of strange. There was a short written test, but because there was no way we could read the kanji, let alone understand the questions, our sensei just came up close and told us what to write. Both Tom and I felt pretty sheepish.

Regardless, we passed, and the Japanese Kodokan Judo Association recognises us as first degree black belts, and that's something. The real challenge will be to see if we can make it up to a second degree before the JET program is over. It seems as though the sho-dan (first level) is seen as easy-ish, but the ni-dan is seen as a big step up in difficulty.

On the way back we all (tom, me, takuya [who didn't pass], koji [previously our class's only black belt], and sensei) stopped at an udon shop and sensei treated us to lunch.


So I guess that will do for now. I wonder, is anyone going to care to hear about my trip back to Canada?

but goodbye for now,



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