Archive for July, 2011

There’s no “I” in judo.

I think a lot of times, practicing judo feels like a truly individual battle. In the context of a match, it’s just me out there against my opponent.  The time I spend training on and off the mat, I’m driving myself to stay focused and engaged so I can learn a little more and get a tiny bit better. I don’t experience great technique epiphanies at every practice, and sometimes I feel like I’m even moving backwards. Occasionally, I have serious things going on with school/work/home that I can’t quite push out of my head. Just listening  and watching 45 seconds of instruction seems like an impossible task because I’m so distracted. Other nights, I’m simply tired. Such times make for grim, frustrating practices. These are also the practices when I need to remind myself that I’m not the only person on the mat facing my own little battles and that it’s easy to take my training partners down with me.

During practice, I might work with the same training partner all night or be paired up with several different people. If my energy level is low or I’m preoccupied with non-judo stuff, I make for a sucky partner. Especially if my partner is also worn out or distracted. It’s our job to rally and get it together so we can help keep each other motivated to work hard. When you and your partner are both giving the night everything you have, you can really feed off of each other’s energy. You can feel it click when you grip up–an electric marriage of ferocity and camaraderie. And that’s when practice becomes really fun.

Those moments with the people you train with–the moments where you can feel you and your partners pushing to keep your practice strong and focused–are part of the reason you fall in love with judo in the first place. Now I think it’s my responsibility to honor that momentum by pushing myself at every practice so my clubmates and I will keep wanting to step on the mat, even when we feel we’re at our worst.

Categories: Challenges, Help, Judo

Models of Communication

July 22, 2011 4 comments

Mr. Latimer’s latest voice message:

“Hey, darlingest. It’s me. Just checking in and saying hi. Just seeing if you’re back in Philly. OK, talk to you later. Whatever.”

I am inclined to believe that in Mr. Latimer’s taciturn mode of human interaction, “whatever” is actually code for “I love you”.  So, you know, whatever, Dad.




Categories: Family

Stepping it up and slowing it down.

July 19, 2011 3 comments

I want to preface this post by informing you that this is strictly about judo and I’m not even going to attempt to tie it into some universal theme. So if reading about judo bores you, feel free to skip. And if you enjoy reading about judo, this post will likely be long, so feel free to skim.

OK, so I am visiting my friend, Kristin, who also practices judo. Since she had practice last night, we thought it would be fun if I went to her club with her. I was really excited because a) I would get a night of training with Kristin, who is not only a friend, but a highly skilled black belt, b) I would have the double bonus of being on vacation while still being able to get in a practice, and c) I would have the chance to experience a new club with new training buddies.  Kristin’s club has an excellent reputation so I was pumped to see what it was all about, but I was also nervous about jumping into a practice that would be different than what I’m used to.

Oh, gosh. I barely know where to begin. I guess I’ll start by saying that Kristin’s dojo is pretty bare bones, indicating that you don’t need a fancy facility to hold great training and make great players. Also, the entire practice was complete role reversal for me. At my club, I’m one of the youngest members there and probably considered  high energy. At Kristin’s club, I played the part of the old, injured judoka lurching on the sidelines. The majority of Kristin’s teammates are high school age or younger, which makes for a completely different atmosphere and a completely different practice.  And there are so many of them! They have a huge membership–last night I think think there were close to 30 students, as opposed to my club’s 8-12.  So a practice full of young athletes felt half like a circus, and half like boot camp. Kristin’s club is gearing up for the Junior Nationals, so maybe that is another reason why the intensity level felt so electric to me.

Seeing a club with so many young students and a club that is focused on competition was amazing for me to watch.  It was so awesome to see how focused the kids are and how the older students serve as role models for the younger ones. Their coach definitely rules with tough love and allows for a lot of independence, which makes the kids step up to their challenges.  For example, when the coach yelled out to the class, “OK, who’s going to run the warm-up tonight?”, it only took a few seconds for a little purple belt to take charge.  And, man, what a feeling to be a part of that warm-up! I felt like I was in an army of judoka. It was great. I did get a little anxious when they started doing front hand springs since I really don’t know if I can do one. Nine year-old me would have jumped right in, but 29 year-old me thought, “Am I going to hurt myself?” Kristin, who is also recovering from an injury, told me it was OK to skip those. Phew. (Although I sort of want to practice them in secret…)

After the warm-up, we moved into moving uchikomis, throwing and moving right into the pin, and some tokui waza. Then it was time for randori. I was glad to see that Kristin’s club has several girls who are all around my size, ensuring I would get some good rounds.  I went with some really, really good players and it was almost as exciting just watch everyone else.  Even the six and seven year- olds had these incredibly fierce game faces! It was unbelievable. But as soon as practice was officially over, the death looks came off and everyone was goofing around and picking on each other, just as they should. I could really tell how much each person in the club meant to one another–so just as they push each other during training, they are there to break the tension afterwords and show support by helping each other wind down. And because judo people are awesome, they wasted no time making fun of me while ending the night with hugs.

Experiencing Kristin’s club was completely eye-opening for me and brought forth a revelation:

I kind of suck.

I’m not saying that in a “Oh, please, tell me how good I really am at judo” kind of way. This is me stepping outside of myself and looking at how I fit in with a club that trains to compete. I don’t really fit in. I could throw out excuses for last night, like my injury or the fact that I have a slight cold and I was not quite tip-top, but I feel certain that even if I was feeling my best physically, my technique still wouldn’t hold up. I also get too wrapped in trying to figure out what the other person is going to do and trying to feel out their game instead of attacking first. And while I expect brown belts to toss me around,  struggling unsuccessfully against orange and yellow belts is forcing me to acknowledge how I’ve felt about my judo over the last few months. I’m missing something, and I think what I’m missing are the basics.  I’ve been making a little list of very specific, very small, very short-term judo goals for me I get back home:

1. Keep my sleeve hand active.

2. Maintain my posture.

3. Keep my balance forward when executing forward techniques.

I left practice last night feeling disappointed in myself, but the overarching sense was pure awe and pure inspiration. I felt like I was seeing judo for the first time. At a club like Kristin’s, natural talent wouldn’t mean anything because the training demands you work your absolute hardest. If you’re not willing to do that, you can’t get anywhere. I felt like I was seeing real commitment and real team spirit last night. I’m going to hold on to that as best I can apply it to my little list.

Oh, and I have one long-term goal:

1. Relax <– –> Be confident.




Birds of a feather.

July 18, 2011 7 comments

Right now, I’m visiting an old friend who actually feels like a new friend in a lot of ways. Kristin and I first met when she was about 4 or 5, and I was maybe 7 or 8. Her dad was my first judo coach, and our families became friends. Our dads even work together now. Anyway, as far as little kids go, I remember Kristin and I being very shy, very quiet and very serious. That’s probably why we got along so well. We spent several years with my brother, her little sister, and all the other judo kids running around empty parking lots, terrorizing caterpillars and playing in traffic while our parents went through the adult class after us kids were done. Sometimes we all went out for pizza afterwords and us kids drank pitchers of caffeinated soda at 10 at night, spilling plenty to both embarrass our parents  and pose a nuisance for a weary wait-staff to clean up in our wake.

It was awesome.

Of course, I ended up quitting, and while Kristin stuck it out a little longer than I did, she ended up quitting,too. We didn’t go to the same schools and I left the Philadelphia area for college. After she finished her undergrad, Kristin took a job in Rhode Island. She and I didn’t really see each other for over a decade. Kristin became one of the many people my dad would mention in passing with little updates that I would file away, but not think about too much.

And just as we both quit, Kristin and I both found ourselves back in judo. My fuzzy memory indicates that Kristin and I reconnected at funerals for each other’s families, but I think what really got us talking again was judo. Kristin started back up before I did, and I think had nervous questions to ask her, which she graciously answered. Maybe about two years ago, she was home visiting her family during Christmas and we met up for lunch. It was not weird at all and also very weird. Not weird because we both felt comfortable around each other due to our families’ history, but I kept thinking how weird it was to be getting along with someone so well that I hadn’t really spent any time with since I was nine or ten. Sure, we talked a little about judo, but also about relationships, our families, school, careers, music, and a bunch of other stuff. We wouldn’t have these conversations as nine and six year-olds, so it was kind of amazing to see that we got excited about the same things, could relate to each other, and that we simply still clicked.

This visit has been pretty fantastic. It’s a unique thing to know someone as a child and then see how you both grow up. I think Kristin and I are significantly less shy and quiet than we used to be, but we still share a common sense of focus and drive when it comes our careers and our training. It’s just been cool to reminisce while learning new things about her, like what her life is like up in Rhode Island, how much she loves books, and how for someone who claims not to know how to cook,  has an incredibly well stocked kitchen.

Also, it’s been really great to have another girl to talk about judo with. My assistant coach is a woman and we’ve had a few intense conversations lately about judo that have been really good for me. Talking with Kristin has been really helpful because she’s significantly more experienced with judo and been back on the mat longer than I have. She can offer me a lot of insight into some of the things I struggle with since she’s struggled with them herself.  I think for all judoka, your commitment to the practice can become intensely personal and grueling, but I do think for women there’s a singular component of adjusting to the reactions of other people, men especially, when they learn that you train for a grappling sport. I’m sure guys who practice judo and BJJ hear plenty of weird comments and questions, but I think a lot of people don’t know what to make of a girl who likes to fight.  Kristin is the perfect person to hash out the ups and downs of judo since she’s extremely logical while remaining incredibly empathetic. And we do share the common experience of having wonderfully blunt fathers who give us the courtesy of not holding back while critiquing our technique. Lucky us, right?

I think what I like about my friendship with Kristin is that it’s not easily definable. Is she a childhood friend? Is she a judo friend? Well, she’s both those things. But during this visit I’ve discovered that we have similar senses of humor, listen to a lot of the same music and have read the same books, like the same kinds of people, and face the same challenges, like hanging up our clothes. The more time I spend with Kristin, the more I admire her and am inspired by her.

Truthfully, I don’t really know how to conclude this post; I’m simply sitting in a coffee shop in Providence, Rhode Island, marveling once again over the incredible people in my life.



Making a list, checking it twice…for perspective.

July 14, 2011 7 comments

One of my favorite things to do is to worry incessantly over things that 1) most likely have an easy solution and 2) are so far in the future that worrying about them is pointless since so many variable can change over time.  Of course, it’s no fun if I’m preoccupied by only one thing; it’s best to have several. Then I can get that real feeling of panicky nervousness.

I suppose since I still have underlying guilt for not working this summer, my brain thinks it’s time for me to feel stressed out. It’s chosen these items to fret over:

1. Packing. And even worse, unpacking.

2. Going to the suburbs to get fitted for a bridesmaid dress without anyone else in the bridal party and accidentally selecting the wrong dress.

3. Missing judo practice most of next week because I’m going to visit friends in New England.

4. Feeling like a jerk for caring that I”m going to miss practice instead of simply being excited to see friends that I haven’t seen in 1-3 years.

5. Realizing that I will be able to go to one practice while I’m visiting a childhood judo pal, but dreading not being able to go a full practice because of my hip and looking like a wuss.

6. The fact that at my follow-up appointment yesterday, the doctor said my hip will need another two months to fully recover.

7.  If my hip is still screwed up for the next two months, can I still make my practices quality enough so I can compete in the fall?

8. Will I actually be able to compete in the fall with school going on?

9. I have four weddings to attend in the fall. Two take place on the same weekend. These are genuinely friends and family that I love a lot, so I would never want to miss out on on their weddings. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if I can really be organized enough to go to these weddings without any impact on my schooling.

10.  Worrying about worrying about school on July 14th when classes don’t even start until maybe September 7th.

So, like my goals, I like to have both short-term and long-term sources of anxiety. Packing and moving? Not even close to being a big deal. Getting a dress ordered? Also really not a big deal. And everything else on that list are all things that require me to calm down for about five seconds. There are certain things in life that we can’t control, but I think most of the other stuff we can. I am in control of how well my hip heals. I am in control of how well I manage my time during the school year. Of course, it’s usually hard for me to prioritize between school, judo, and my personal life. Sometimes I think I’ll use on to distract me from the other two. But I have only one year left of school. While I want to do extremely well and finish with a bang, I also want to feel slightly less manic than last year. I suppose one of my long-term goals will be to establish a perfect triangle so the three major components of my life don’t induce future lists of irrational worries.

Categories: Challenges, Life, School

Just plain lucky.

July 8, 2011 2 comments

I’ve had two conversations in the last two days that reminded me that I really do have it made. Not in terms of material wealth and stability, but regarding the number of tremendous people I have in my life.

As one can gather from my previous post, I had a pretty miserable judo week. I was extra miserable at last night’s practice and was not succeeding in hiding it. Our club’s sensei emeritus was in last night, and as many black belts have done for me in terrible practices past, he pulled me aside in the nick of time to do some work and distract me from my dismal frame of mind. After some solid work on the basics, he gently reminded me that judo is pretty rough on the body. Sometimes, we have to protect ourselves from judo even though we love it. He talked about his 44 year relationship with judo and how what he gives and what he gets from his practice has changed throughout the years.  He went on to tell me that he believed that I could be one of those people who will stay on the mat for the next 40 years. My sensei said some other incredible words of encouragement that make me feel a little weepy if I pause to think about them simply because of the sincerity with which they were said, so I won’t go into it. But I will say that our talk was just the thing I needed to clear my head and get me back on track. Judo requires so much self-motivation, but when things aren’t going right, it’s hard to push through. Talking with my sensei last night, I remembered that your club really can be as strong as your family and it’s likely we would not be as determined to be our best if we always had to be on our own.

Then today, I traveled by train up to Boston for my friends’ wedding. Right now I’m staying with friends that I haven’t seen in about three years.  That’s kind of a long time. My buddy picked me up from the train station, and within minutes of starting up the catch-up chit chat, we found ourselves diving into a conversation about human nature, self-reflection, education, and social welfare. I always love talking about these things, but what I loved in that moment was that my buddy and I could dive right in as though we saw each other everyday, but at the same time engaged in an exchange that we’ve never had before. It felt pretty amazing, and I couldn’t help but think that I have some pretty amazing friends.

I really don’t know how I got so lucky, but I know enough not question my good fortune.


Terrible Tuesdays and Weary Wednesdays: When judo breaks your brain and (almost) breaks your spirit.

July 7, 2011 1 comment

Tuesday night Kata class is one of my favorite ways to torture test myself. My club has a Kata requirement for promotions to advanced belts, your browns and your blacks, but I began attending Kata class last summer when I was a mere orange belt because I thought it might improve my form and also make me a more balanced judoka. A big reason that I love judo is that I really love to smash people, so I thought Kata would make me slow down and learn to appreciate judo in its pure, technical form. And I didn’t want to have to cram for my promotional demonstration when it came time because it seems pretty stressful.  I figured if I become familiar with Kata, it won’t seem like a total enemy.

But slowing down is freaking hard. Kata is not aiming for speed and muscle memory. It’s timing, form, give and take, and a lot of ceremony. Since you work with a partner, it also demands that you and your partner develop a silent channel of communication.  I find Kata extremely difficult for a few reasons. Mostly, it’s the concentration that’s required–the balance of engaging your mind to follow each set correctly and demonstrate perfect form while remaining relaxed. Right now, that seems impossible for me. Sometimes, I let my inexperience get the better of me. I can’t stay relaxed enough as I learn new sets and then I have to fight frustration as I screw up the same technique three, four, five times in a row.  Occasionally, I have to leave the mat for a minute to pull myself together. It’s a pretty terrible feeling–going from the start of class, being ready to learn and feeling comfortable about things and then suddenly feeling like I’m either going to cry or punch a wall. Kata isn’t typically physically taxing, but the mental endurance is almost unbearable for me.

So this week, I went to Kata on Tuesday and had my typical night of mental exhaustion. Then on Wednesday, I went to a regular judo practice and went through almost the same thing all over again. This was extra frustrating because I expect leave Kata (and BJJ) feeling relatively terrible about myself, but I absolutely hate feeling that way during regular practice since it’s one of the things I love most in this world. And actually, it was a really good class. My assistant coach ran practice, and she drilled the hell out of us. There was no sitting around. We worked, and we worked hard. The intensity level was really high, and I always love that. However, my hip is not 100% recovered yet, and I was starting to feel it. I was, for the one billionth time, faced with the dilemma of wanting to push myself, because I should be pushing myself, and knowing that I should not exacerbate my injury. Because that is stupid. I can’t quite pinpoint what it was, but I did reach that point last night where I thought I was going to either cry or punch a wall. And judo is not my job, but I don’t consider that reaction very professional. I hate that I continue to struggle with being short-sighted when it comes to judo.

However, I know I will be at practice again tonight. As the big guy says, “It is not important to be better than someone else, but to be better than yesterday.”


Categories: Challenges, Injuries, Judo, Kata