Monday, May 23, 2005

judo testing grounds

judo testing grounds
Originally uploaded by irodoramatic burnorama.

Words I may or may not use in this post:

judo- the way of gentleness
budokan- martial arts building (not grape building)
shodan- 1st level black belt
nidan- 2nd level black belt
sandan- 3rd level black belt
shinban- judo judge/referee
bouzu- buddhist monk/bonze
ippon- one point
wazari- half point
yukoh- third of a point
hikiwake- draw

So we had the judo test on Sunday.

Having learned my lesson about heavy meals before activity last year when I was on the verge of vomiting for a whole 10 km run, I started my day with a light breakfast and was on time getting to the budokan, just a little after my classmate, Tom.

Last year it was weird walking in and having everyone stare at me, but this year it was nice, because I was one of the few black belts present. If you recall, I had come to the January grading and though I couldn't participate then, I did get to watch the black belts a bunch. So this time there were few surprises.

Best of all, I was in a good state of mind. I had prayed and given all the stress over to Christ and was free to just have fun. Warming up was cool, especially when all 50 participants were doing ukemi (falling) on the bouncy floor. This was cool because 1.) there were 50 participants: my class in Katsuura ranges from one to four students plus teacher; and 2.) because the floor was bouncy. The budokan has a proper judo floor where the tatami (straw mats, but these were more padded than your average household flooring) are supported on a slightly springy floor. So when 50 people drop and hit it all at once it makes a great noise and feels awesome: it psyches you up. Last year we came 30 minutes too late and missed the whole warm up because we were registering.

First up are the white and brown belts who are shooting for their shodan. If they get three points all in one day, they pass. If it takes them two test days (a couple months apart) they need four points. They are separated into groups of five to seven or so, and each person fights about four matches. The people shooting for higher level black belts start after all the shodan applicants are done.

For those who are unfamiliar with judo, a quick explanation of how its played:
A match is three minutes long (four minutes in national and olympic levels, two minutes for elementary kids).
A match is won by earning one point. A full point is given for a perfect or clean throw where the uke (thrown person) lands on their back or in a totally vulnerable position. Half and third points are given for less well executed throws. Aside from throwing, there are also holds which earn a point if they are maintained for thirty seconds, or half a point if they are held for twenty. If they already have a half point, they are granted the win at twenty seconds. Lastly there are submission holds, which mostly end in a tap-out, but can end with a pass-out in the case of an untapped-out of choke hold.

We watched all the fights, taking note of a few of the more frightening guys, one of whom Tom dubbed "the car-crusher" because he was fat and tall, and his fat was the kind which suggested a lot of muscle beneath. Another we both agreed was "the monster" because he was significantly tall and posessed more muscle than I can ever hope for, and was a junior high school student. They never hold kids back in this country, either.

The saddest match to watch was the tiny little junior high school kid against the car-crusher. At least the crusher was kind enough to not finish the fight in the first move and let the kid dance around a bit first. The monster had no such compassion and finished all his fights in one move or so. Two of the most interesting fights were the car-crusher against another sumo-sized guy in his group. they had to fight eachother twice, and each got one victory.

Black belts present at the grading: four: Tom, myself, Endo the monk, and the old guy.

The monk had to be in his late twenties, and the old guy was in his thirties. I call him the old guy because he looked tough and was always yelling stuff at the younger guys who were from the same club. Endo the monk and the old guy were both going for their san-dan. Tom and I, the only two going for our ni-dan were in a little trepidation at the thought of maybe having to fight these two.

Endo. Bouzu. He was an interesting character. I got to talking with him while we were watching the white belts fight. I asked him what his work was, and he was like "I'm a monk." (except in Japanese)
"No, really, what do you do?"
"I'm a monk. Buddhism. A monk."
"No, really."
"Yeah, really." (digs through his cell phone to show me a pic of his friend in full monk form, shaved head and all)
"...And you like Judo."
"Did you like, do it in high school?"
"Yeah, straight through. I've also studied boxing, jujitsu, aikido, karate..."
"Really. You really like martial arts. Do monks DO martial arts?"
"Sure, and I like Marylin Manson."
"Marylin Manson?"
"And Korn and slipknot and..." He listed a bunch of bands which I don't clearly recall. All metal bands. He proceeded to show me photos related to these various bands and WWE wrestlers on his cell phone.
"Do you understand the words in the songs?"
"Yeah. Vaguely." Pause. "Well, not really but sort of."
"Huh." Pause. "So why not the shaved head?"
"That's not necessary in the [sect?] of Buddhism I subscribe to. It's the heart that matters."
"I see. I'm a Christian."
"Oh yeah? I've gone to church. Catholic, you know. Sunday and all that. My wife's a Christian."
"Really, were you like that, a Buddhist and a Christian, when you got married?"
"Sure. But we both believe in the same God, anyway. Different religions but they are still pointing in the same direction."
"I cannot believe in that."
He was about to go on; the conversation could have gotten really heated maybe, but my judo teacher at that moment summoned me away. It was time to fight.

It was like something out of a comic book. What we were told, Tom and I, was approximately this:
"Well, there aren't enough black belts, and we won't have you fight eachother, so what we're going to do is make you fight five of the shodans who just passed today, and you have to fight them back-to-back with no rest. If you can drop three of them, we'll award you a second level black belt."

Poor Tom was called to go first. They lined up against him five new shodans, one of whom was the car-crusher, and made them bow to eachother. One of the judges called out a name and that guy stepped up and the rest stood back, standing just at the edge of the square. It was really intimidating.

I was lucky to go second. Watching Tom fight, I could see that if he would just hurry a little less he would have an easier time throwing his opponent. Tom won his first fight, but it was a long fight, and in the course of the next three fights, won one, was annihilated by the car-crusher, and lost another. They didn't make/let him fight the fifth. Tom figured it was out of pity.

They didn't make me line up against five guys, I just bowed to each challenger. If you have ever done fencing, you know that a left-handed person sometimes has an advantage because most people are stronger on their right. So as I am strong on the left I try for that first. I threw my first opponent really quickly. I got him with a ko-uchi-gari: a small inner reaping: I hooked his right leg with my left and pushed him down. It was smooth. IPPON! The next guy felt like he was super tall, but in reality was probably an inch or two shorter than me. He took a little longer, tried some stuff on me, but I got him in the end with a tai-otoshi, I think. Tai-otoshi means "body drop" and is kind of like a trip with pull. IPPON! If it hadn't been a full point, it landed perfectly for a timed hold, and I would have got the point anyhow.

I guess the next guy learned from watching the others. He was biggish, kinda muscley-chubby (which they say is the ideal judo body), but he had shortish legs and looked throwable. He stuffed me in my first couple of chances and pulled out a surprise move I had never even seen before: he dropped his hips, grabbed both my legs by the cloth from behind, and lifted me. I tried to get a leg down, or to position myself to land standing. I tried to read his motions to know which way I was to be thrown. I had no clue. I guess when I hit the ground I must have hit my back, because it was to the sound of IPPON! If that ever happens again I'll think more about my hands and choking, and about twisting to land on my stomache. And I want to learn that move!

Seeing as how they only gave Tom four fights after all, I wondered if the next could be my last. I saw the monster standing at hand. The judge called a name, and it wasn't Azuma. (meaning east: the monster's name) That was a relief.

The guy I DID fight next was really good. He was small, but his muscle was dense and he knew what he was doing. He was well prepared for me to use my left hand, and I didn't get anything. He evaded one of my attempts at a throw, and turned around the wresling on the ground into a collar hold. I had a hand on his collar as well, and tried to apply a strangle hold to get him to release, but his chest was placed too well and I didn't have good leverage. I tried to flip him, but it was too little too late; my time was up. IPPON!

They didn't let me have a fifth fight either. One of the judges said something like, "If you could drop them BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, we'd give it to you, but they are a level lower and giving you too much trouble." He also said something about fighting spirit, I think. I guess I was just too relaxed.

Anyway, watching the old guy and then the monk go to work was a privilege. Endo the monk was especially smooth, and watching him annihilate the car-crusher was so so so satisfying.

Somewhere in the last fight's struggle against pressure and time I hurt my left hand. That's been really frustrating for the last day or so, and all this typing kinda hurts. Ah well, it ought to be okay by the time we start class again a week from tomorrow.

One of the most satisfying sounds I have heard in the last while is when standing in the middle of a judo ring with the ref shouting IPPON!

I don't feel like I am at a 2-dan black belt level yet, so I'm glad I didn't pass: it restores faith in the system. But come July, and the next test, I plan on dropping all five guys.


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