Home > Life, Uncategorized > Priorities.


Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how hard everything is all the time. I don’t want to complain because that is annoying. I know that when life gets heavy, I should focus surrounding myself with people I like doing things that I like. I’m not great at reaching that goal. I let my job take over. I let it take over my time, my mood, even my unconscious, as I go through nights peppered with anxiety-filled work dreams. I start to question my priorities.

In order to surround myself with people I like and do the things that I like, I need to go to judo. Yes, judo is hard. It takes up a lot of time. Judo can stress me out sometimes and make cry, but I love it. Judo makes me a smarter, tougher, better person. When things get hard though, usually because of work, judo usually gets shifted lower on the priority totem pole. I don’t like when I let that happen. I become irritable, restless, aimless, and kind of lonely. My friends are at judo and jiu jitsu. If I don’t go to class, I then I won’t see my friends. I don’t like that.

I know I get lost in work, lost in stress, lost in the uncertainty of the future. However, for two little moments in the past two weeks, I had my priorities straight. On April 30th, I went to support my team at the 29th Annual Liberty Bell Judo Classic. Although I wasn’t competing, this tournament was a big deal to me. As little kids, my brother and I competed at Liberty Bell. My dad fought at Liberty Bell. My mom sold t-shirts Liberty Bell. It’s been a part of my family’s history forever. When I go to the Liberty Bell, I see all the people who were a part of my community as a child. Other judo kids like me, all grown up now, along with their parents, and my old coaches are all in attendance. It’s the judo version of a family reunion. I love it.


Our happy family of competitors, coaches, and cheerleaders.

This year, it felt extra special because my little cousin was competing at Liberty Bell for his very first judo tournament. After I spent the morning watching our adult team compete, I stuck around for the kids. Actually, I helped coach the kids. While I’ve helped out in class here and there, I soon learned there is a big difference between helping run the kids’ class and coaching at a tournament. We only had five kids competing, so two coaches distributing among five kids seemed totally reasonable. But there is a lot of orchestrating for the kids that the adults can do themselves, like knowing what mat you’re on on, what match number you, if you’re white or blue, etc, etc. And then the feelings. OMG. The feelings. I mean, I’ve cried plenty at tournaments. I’ve consoled teammates who have cried at tournaments. Competition is an are emotional experience. You are choosing to get into a fight, which is judged and scored, while spectators watch. It’s a little nuts when you think about it.

I was coaching on the mat with our boys. Our other coach was with mostly with the girls, running back and forth between mats to make sure the whole team was OK. Our oldest boy lost both his matches, but he fought hard and smart. I love this kid. He’s always level-headed and patient. He’s a good role model for the littler guys. After was finished, he spent the rest of the day encouraging and consoling his teammates. In a way, he was my unofficial assistant coach in charge of feelings. My little cousin and our other little boy were in the same division of very tiny seven to nine year-olds. They each lost their first match. Now, my cousin has an admirable level of self-esteem. He walked off after his loss at an artic level of chill. His dad asked him how he felt. He replied that he felt fine, since he almost won. (Not how I saw it, but hey, I’m not gonna talk him into tears). Our other little boy, however, walked off the mat breathing heavily and sobbing. “Did I win?” he asked me. “No, buddy,” I replied, “but you fought so good. I am so proud of you. You almost had it.” He did fight a great match, but down came the tears. I gave him some praise and some pointers, and gratefully let his dad take over.

My cousin’s second match came and he won within the first minute or so. He had the tiniest little smile of accomplishment on his face. Our other little guy went out, a full force killer, and won his second match. He walked towards me, again breathing heavily and sobbing. “I’m so tired,” he heaved. I assured him he did great. He would get to keep fighting. It was going to be good day. His teammates hugged him. His dad worked his dad magic. He calmed down. I checked with the table to find out the next match number of both our little guys. “Oh,” said the kid running the brackets, “they’re actually fighting each other,” he said apologetically. I took my cousin and the little boy by the hand, and got down on one knee to be at eye-level with them. “OK, guys,” I said, “so your next match, you’re going to fight each other.” My cousin stared at me with icy resignation. The other little boy bust out crying. “But I don’t want to fight Noah! He’s my friend!” I did the best I could, calmly laying it out. This next match is just for fun. This next match is just like practice. This next match, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. I’ve had to fight my friends at tournaments, too. It’s OK. It happens. But it’s just for fun. Let’s have fun. The little boy walked away to cry in a heap while his father and other tiny judoka tried to encourage him. I asked my cousin how he felt about his next match-up. “Well,” he said, “I don’t want to fight him, but I’ll try it.” Good boy. After a few minutes, my cousin and the little boy talked it out among themselves. They decided to go out there and try it. So they fought. The other little boy won. He was inconsolable. As the referee tried to usher them off the mat, the little boy ran over the my cousin, threw his arms around him in a bear hug, exclaiming, “I love you, Noah!” They walked off the mat. The little boy was crying. My cousin was crying. Was I going to cry? Maybe? I pulled it together. I told them I was proud of them, admired how they handled themselves. Parents and teammates offered support. The little boy’s dad asked me, “Is this normal? All the crying?” Yes. Yes, it is, sir.

We found out that if our tiny emotional warrior won two more matches, he would get third place. Our tiny emotional warrior lost it. No way. He told me he’s done. We encouraged, we rationalized, we hypothesized. He refused again. Now, I’m not this little boy’s parent. I’m not his head coach. I didn’t think it was my place to push him. He loves judo. I’ve seen how happy he is in class. He has potential that I want him to use. So I could have pushed him, and maybe he’d be proud of himself for sticking out the day. Or I could push him, and that would have been the start of him hating judo. I didn’t want to make anyone hate judo. He won two matches. He said that’s good enough for him. OK. Then that had to be good enough for me, too. Tournament over. In the car ride home with my cousins, we talked about the spectrum of emotions throughout the day. We talked about how fun it is to win, but how it’s a good thing just to get out there and fight hard. We talked about how well the kids helped each other during the tournament, probably better than the adults could. I left the Liberty Bell feeling whole and happy, despite all the crying.

I slept until 11:00 the next morning.

As I went through the work week, the feelings of wholeness and happiness began to fade. I


Promotion night: me, Joy with her new green belt, and my kata partner, Josiah.

grew nervous as it crept near Thursday. I’ve been getting ready for the kata demonstration for my ikkyu promotion for a couple of months. While I have not been as diligent getting to judo during the week because of late days at work, I have been consistent with kata so my partner and I can practice. Our demo was schedule for this past Thursday. I felt ready, but I was also scared since I always get sucked into work on Thursdays. I stay way past 5:00, until 6:30 or 7:00, too late to make it to class. What if I do that again? What if I don’t get my act right? What if I let work win? But I didn’t. I let judo win. I made it practice. My partner and I performed our demo. I earned my ikkyu. There have been times when I didn’t want to get promoted. I didn’t think I was ready, didn’t think I deserved it. Really, I don’t fully know what an ikkyu should be. I’m not going to think about it too much though. This promotion, I told myself, is just motivation to stick with judo. It’s the reminder that I love judo and I want it to be in my life until I’m dead. Judo makes me happy. Judo is hard, but it helps me get my priorities straight.

 My kata demonstration for ikkyu. Josiah made us look good.


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