Archive for the ‘competition’ Category

Gym bag full of guilt.

November 6, 2011 2 comments

My gym bag has been sitting patiently in a corner of my apartment for over a week. This morning, I went to grab something out of there and carelessly didn’t zip it back up. A few minutes later, I realized my judo belt was peeking out over the edge, having been knocked askew my by my fumbling hands moments earlier. I immediately felt terrible as my belt stared at me, alternately glaring at me with the disappointment of a scornful parent and then giving me the imploring gaze of a hurt, neglected puppy. I couldn’t get out of my apartment fast enough.

Since I got my brown belt, I really want to step it up, even more so than before. I got promoted a little less than a month ago, but with mid-terms and then getting pretty sick this week, I’ve only been getting on the mat once or twice a week. Once is probably more accurate. I hate this. I know, I know–judo is not going anywhere. There’s no rush. Still, it’s hard for me now to be away from the mat so much because I love judo more than most things. When it’s not in my life regularly, I just don’t feel like myself. Also, I think I’m starting to feel OK with my promotion, so I just want to get to work. I want to compete. With the amount of training time I’m getting in now, I feel like a fraud.

There’s a tournament next weekend that I potentially could compete in. Historically for me, this tournament has not really had any girls for me to fight, but it could be worth it to go out there. However,  at this moment I have zero confidence about fighting. One of the black belts at my club basically told me it didn’t matter if I haven’t gone to class much; I still remember judo. But I don’t feel strong right now at all. I’m not sure what I can do this week to change that. And now, I feel like what I’ve just written is an excuse because I don’t want to compete and lose a bunch. There’s no real consequence, though, if I lose all my matches. As long as I can learn something and fix my mistakes, it’s probably OK. Ideally, I would love to go to a tournament feeling prepared, but how often do we get the luxury of experiencing our ideal?

Life’s no fun if you’re always afraid to jump in with both feet.  For me, judo is a part of life. I should probably go ahead and jump.






“Stop trying to win!”

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

I am addicted to achieving. I don’t what triggered this addiction or how I can learn to cope with it, but recently my friend gave me a verbal slap in the face: “Stop trying to win!” It made me pause. Now, her telling me this is completely hypocritical, since she is probably just as, if not more, competitive and addicted to achieving. (See But she has a point. I decided over the summer that I wanted to be more involved at school. So I began volunteering for student panels to answer questions for accepted and incoming students. I volunteered to be a peer mentor for a first year MSW student. I’m trying to work with other students in my program to address racism at Penn. I’m doing my best to get to Penn’s judo club as often as I can.

Recently, I decided to run for a position for our school’s student government. Now that I’ve actually won the position (one of two school reps for Penn’s Graduate and Professional Student Association), I can’t help but hear my friend’s warning ringing in my ears. She knows how my day goes already, which is something like this:

Get up

Work out

Go to field/class

Go to practice/work out

Do course work until a stupid hour at night

Pass out

My weekends are not very different, except sometimes I squeeze in time with buddies or family, maybe do laundry, and probably clean my cave. So why the hell would I try to cram in one more commitment? Well, in short, I do want to win. I mean, how many times do we get to attend an internationally renowned academic institution? For most people, never. While I’m here, I want to take advantage of every opportunity and resource that I can. Maybe I will drink too much coffee and Cherry Coke Zero in the process. Perhaps my doctor will not be happy with the amount of sleep I get each week. But it’s only for this last year. I can sleep after May 2012.

But I won’t stop drinking so much coffee, and I probably won’t stop trying to win.

Categories: competition, Friends, Life, School

Same page.

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, I was fretting over earning my brown belt, mainly because I am terrified of wearing a belt that speaks more highly of my skill level than it should.  Thankfully, I’ve had separate conversations with my coach and assistant coach and discovered that they agree with my thoughts on my promotion. Since going from green to brown is a big leap, I really want to compete a couple more times so I can see where I stand at my current level before putting on an “advanced” belt.  I was glad to hear that my coaches thought that was a good game plan for me. I was especially grateful for the talk I had with my assistant coach because she gave me some solid points to work on to improve my fighting. It eases my mind to have some focus as I prepare for the upcoming fall tournaments.

So now we’re aiming to have me demonstrate my Kata sets in December for my promotion rather than September. I can live with that, and I am happy to say that I’m considerably less afraid of wearing a brown belt now.

Categories: competition, Judo, Promotions

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.




I came here to WIN. But why?

June 10, 2011 1 comment

This morning, I accompanied my buddy to yoga class. The instructor for this particular class is not playing around. She puts you to work.  My buddy used to practice yoga regularly, but like me has taken a long time off. She found herself getting frustrated during class. She was irritated that her body was not easing into poses that used to come pretty naturally to her. She had come to class with the attitude that she was going to tear it up. She was going to win at yoga. However, her body was not getting with the program.

As she was telling me her frustrations with the class, I confessed to her that when I started going to yoga regularly a couple of years ago, I wanted to win at chanting “Om”. I wanted to get really good at taking in enough breath to be able to chant as long, if not longer, than the instructor. In the context of yoga, this thinking is completely ridiculous. Yoga is not a competitive sport.  Chanting is extra not a competitive sport. Really, yoga is not even a sport at all. In yoga, you are allowed–in  fact–you are encouraged to take rests when you’re tired during class. You’re not supposed to strain yourself, as opposed to sports where you’re supposed to push yourself until you puke or pass out. But do I take rests during yoga when I feel like my shoulder muscles are gone and my biceps are jellyfish? No. Never. Because that’s quitting, like that girl on the mat next me is doing. Wuss.

I have always been hyper competitive. That’s why I had to quit judo when I was a kid. I had to win, and if I did not win, I felt like I committed the deepest kind of failure–that losing that one tournament, or one match even, meant that I was nothing and worthy of nothing. That one loss defined me. But if I won, I was a monster. (Actually, when I lost I was a monster, too. I was a terrible sportsman). If I beat you, I felt like you deserved it and both loathed and pitied you.  However, I ended up cracking under the pressure and switched to team sports when I was in middle school and early high school. I was never into them, though. There’s something about playing a sport where you chase a ball around that makes me feel like I’m not much different than a dog. I’ve always been more drawn to sports where you really have to rely on yourself, like combat sports as well as track/cross country and swimming.  As I realized that I was not really cut out for athletics, I focused all my competitive ferocity on academics. This was especially out of control when I was an undergrad, where I’d pick a secret nemesis in each class. The goal was that I was going to beat this person at the class, aka get better grades and gain more respect from the professor. My secret nemesis was usually the biggest loudmouth in the class. Of course, I would never have a way of knowing if I actually got better grades than my unwitting opponent, but I’d like to think I always won.

My friend and I were trying to figure out why we always have to be so competitive, particularly in situations where that mindset is irrelevant, if not destructive. Instead of going to a yoga class to learn and enjoy yourself, you go there to be better than everyone else? Why do we do this? We can’t figure it out. I used to think that this attitude might lead me to end up friendless and alone, but now that my buddy and I know we have the same disease, I’ll at least have her in the end. As long as we can stay out of competition with each other.

“You’re literally fighting.”

June 7, 2011 2 comments

I am currently fascinated with this song and video, “I’ll Take Care of You” by Gil Scott-Heron with Jamie xx. The song and video are certainly not new. They are not even “new to me”, since I stumbled upon the video a few months ago.  But I keep coming back to it all the same. I keep thinking about her words in the beginning of the video as she talks about her training: “Who wants to fight all the time? Unless there’s something wrong with you.”

I think her story illustrates the big and small battles in life. Her big battle is being a 17 year-old mother. In comparison, preparing for her first Golden Glove tournament seems like the smaller fight. However, I think for her, they are intertwined. Raising a child and following her passion, boxing, are difficult and daunting pursuits, but both clearly bring her joy. She probably wouldn’t want one without the other. Her son motivates her to try her hardest in training, and her training helps her to have the dedication needed to be a good mom.

Of course, I don’t know anything about being a mom, especially one so young. And she probably trains for boxing a billion times harder than I do for judo. But again, her question, “Who wants to fight all the time?” makes me pause. There are periods when I feel like I want to fight all the time. I love judo for a lot of reasons, and for certain, one of them is because I love to fight. Sometimes, I think I need to fight. This is also why I’ve thrown myself into social work, which is a different kind of fight. With social work, I’m fighting for change, equality, and justice. For me, judo and social work are uphill battles, ones where I don’t often feel great moments of success. Nonetheless, I think it’s so interesting that the things that we end up loving the most are often the very same things that bring us the most heartache.


This is what it looks like

May 29, 2011 1 comment

For my non-judo buddies, this is what it looks like when I’m competing in judo. This is from the Liberty Bell Developmental Tournament on May 21, 2011. I lost this match, but I lost to a really awesome player so I can’t be mad.

Categories: competition, Judo