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Haikuesday 04.08.15

Cooks got promoted.

Judo shapes our family,

and helps us to grow.

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My first haiku collection, The Art of Service, will be released May 2nd!

Categories: Judo, Life Tags: , , , , ,

Five years.

April 4, 2015 4 comments

March 2015 marked five years since I stepped back onto a judo mat as an adult. Five years. I couldn’t believe I was there already, but at the same time, judo felt like it never left my life despite my seventeen year gap in practice. When I started training with the Philadelphia Judo Club in March 2010, I knew this was it. I knew I was back for good. No doubt, no hesitation. I was not going to be the hot-headed quitter I was in childhood. I was going to love all of judo–the big throws, the breakthroughs, how good it feels to win, and I was also going to learn to love taking falls, working through plateaus, and the growth that comes with losing. No quitting this time. No quitting.

Of course, making a commitment is one thing; carrying out that commitment is another. About a year after I got my brown belt, I started to feel stuck. Looking back, I think my learning got held up because I was overprotecting an injury and I also started comparing my progress to others. While I believe that a little bit of insecurity can sometimes motivate you to do better, I think it can also stop you from taking the risks you need to learn and grow. My solution at the time was to shift my focus from judo to jiu jitsu, where I could enjoy the freedom of being a white belt again. I still went to judo, but with less frequency and less focus. Last year, I was fortunate to have six months with a great training partner who pushed me in judo and made me remember how much I love it. Since she left, our judo program has gained a lot of athletic, enthusiastic, driven judoka who challenge me and create a fun, competitive atmosphere at practice. With this new energy, I felt myself making progress– I was taking risks again, I was using more commitment in throws, and my instincts were getting better. I decided that for my five year judo anniversary, I would compete in the Liberty Bell Judo Classic during the last weekend in March. I hadn’t competed at Liberty Bell since 2012, and since then, only fought in two judo tournaments. It was time to get back out there. I was excited. This was going to be a good day.

But it wasn’t a good day. Maybe judo really wanted to see if I still cared. Maybe judo needed to know if I really loved him or not. Maybe judo was just reminding me that this sport is really hard. I lost. I lost bad. It wasn’t because of my conditioning or my technique. It’s because of my mind. I lost focus and started to have doubts, and you don’t have a chance to win unless you believe that you will win. Leading up to the tournament, I felt overwhelmed by pressure at work. Two weeks before the tournament, my younger cousin died and his funeral was a few days before the competition. The Liberty Bell falls during the  the anniversary of my mom’s suicide. I realized my hurt shoulder was, like, actually injured. I grew more distracted and more and more vulnerable about fighting. My main source of comfort was that my club was bringing nine people to compete, and I felt relieved to be surrounded by my team.

Handing out the Scott Latimer Memorial Award for my brother at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic.

Handing out the Scott Latimer Memorial Award for my brother at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic.

As I write about the all the things on my mind leading up to the tournament, I realize they sound like excuses for why I lost my matches. But I do not view those circumstances as permission for me to lose. I discuss them because I truly believe that I can take those circumstances and turn them into driving forces of empowerment. Our struggles can be challenges to overcome, not weights which bury us. During the opening ceremony at the Liberty Bell, I stood with members of my judo family whom I’ve known for over 25 years. We stood together to hand out the memorial award for my brother. As I looked at all the judoka lined up on the mat, I felt so mixed up. I was happy for the young man receiving the award, I was proud of my brother, and I was proud to be a part of judo. However, I also felt exposed for people to hear my name, see my face, and hear about the loss my family experienced all those years ago. I’ve tried so hard to move past that. I tried to ease my mind and tell myself that most people were probably lost in their own heads, trying to focus on their upcoming matches.  But I let doubt set in, and I missed an opportunity to hold on to that sense of pride, of being a part of something honorable and important. I got scared.

So I lost my matches. I don’t need to go into details. All you need to know is that I lost my matches because I didn’t believe in myself like everyone believes in me. I have not been that disappointed in a long time. I went into an empty room after I was done fighting and cried like a child. Later when I home, I cried so hard my stomach hurt. I didn’t know I cared like that. I didn’t know it meant that much to me. But it did. And it sucked.

I still had a good judo anniversary though. My team freaking dominated at the Liberty Bell. We had a bunch of medals and five of them were golds. I loved seeing my team’s hard work come through for them. That was awesome. Then the following day, a few of us went to the New York Athletic Club to see the New York Open, and international judo team tournament. The US, France, Germany, Poland, and for the first time, Cuba, were all there to compete. There were world champions, Olympians, and Olympic medalists. The US, France, and Cuba had women’s teams. Seeing those elite athletes fight was electrifying, especially the women. It was the most dynamic judo I’ve ever seen, and it changed the way I see the sport. The passion, the poise, the skill–it was breath-taking. I was in awe for six hours straight. It’s a day I will keep with me for a long time, since it was just what I needed to see after feeling so crushed. Judo can be brutal, but it can also be beautiful. We saw numerous gorgeous techniques, but one of my favorite moments was during Kayla Harrison’s first match with the French team. Her opponent got injured at the end of the match and had difficulty standing up. Harrison helped her opponent stand, bow out, and walk off the mat.

I won’t forget last weekend. I still have all that disappointment clinging to me, but I am determined to work through this. I am injured now, but I actually made a doctor’s appointment for this week. I know that I will have to rest it for a while, I’m still going to practice even though my participation is limited. I won’t stay away and let some lost matches and a dumb shoulder turn my back on a sport that gives me so much. I continue to feel gratitude for coaches, teammates, and the friends that I’ve made at my club. I don’t always feel strong, but they give me strength. I’m ready for the next five years.

My team, the Philadelphia Judo Club, at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic. Love them 4-eva.

My team, the Philadelphia Judo Club, at the 2015 Liberty Bell Judo Classic. Love them 4-eva.

Rekindled.

March 1, 2015 1 comment

I have no idea how to say this, so I’ll just say it:

I’m in love with judo.

Again.

In the past year and half, jiu jitsu took precedent over judo. This wasn’t because I loved judo less. Our relationship was changing. Scheduling and failing body parts were factors, but I won’t use them as an excuse.I lost some great training partners. I let my motivation drift awy and I hit a plateau. Jiu jitsu fit in my life a little better and there seemed an abundance of enthusiastic mat buddies each practice. So I jumped in and it felt really good. I missed judo, but I didn’t believe I could break through that plateau. I was still going to practice once a week, but I wasn’t giving judo the risk and focus it deserved.

Briefly, I found another great training partner, and with her she brought the motivation I let go. During September 2013 through March 2014, we had a visiting teammate at our club. Charlotte is from Switzerland and was going to be in Philadelphia for just six months. She trains in jiu jitsu, but is a judo black belt. She’s also a mat rat. As a teammate, Charlotte demonstrates commitment and focus, but is relaxed and always fun. On top of her many fantastic qualities, Charlotte is a patient teacher. She taught me technique and by introducing new ideas, she made judo fun again. I didn’t feel self-conscious about all my judo problem areas; rather, I wanted to work through them. But Charlotte couldn’t stay in the US forever, no matter how badly my club wanted her to. After Charlotte left, I felt alone on the judo mat. I still went to practice of course, but the electricity of training crackled and fell away.

Over the past few months, something has changed in the atmosphere at our judo club. I can feel the electricity in the room again. I noticed that a lot of the folks who were finishing the fundamentals program were going to judo class. There are men and women close to my size. The mat is full. The energy makes me feel eager and brave. In January, my little six year-old cousin started coming to the kids’ judo program regularly. Since he is there, I started helping out class. While a room of 6-10 years-olds can be overwhelming for me, it’s so much fun. We have a great bunch of kids, really. While they may turn into space cadets at times or fall victim giggling spells, they are kind to each other. The big kids watch out for the little kids, and little kids watch out for the littler little kids. Helping them has centered me in a lot of ways. As we teach the kids basic judo principles, it both refreshes my memory and gives me way to articulate what feels like second nature. More than anything, it’s been so important to me to share judo with my little cousin. Families can bond in all sorts of ways, and I love that he and I can experience judo together.

These days, I walk around with my head up. I feel confident and strong. I want challenges. This is why I need judo in my life. Just as it shows me the parts of myself I don’t like, it always offers me the chance to change. I know judo makes me a better person. It’s given me more than it’s ever taken. That’s why I’ll love judo forever.

In the moment.

There are certain nights when I leave judo and jiu jitsu and my body is peppered with finger print bruises. I’ll turn my wrist, glance at my ankle, and there they sit. I can usually tell which of my training partners left each mark. On a few occasions when I’ve remarked on my bruises, nurturing individuals in my life express their concern, uncomfortable with the proof of pain. Their discomfort always confuses me. I think, “No! The bruises are good! I love them.”

Tonight, as I showered after one of those electric nights of training that left me covered in bruises, I spent time thinking how to explain my satisfaction with those little black and blue marks. My bruises are the physical proof of time well spent. They are symbols of hard work and getting lost in the moment. Bruises to practitioners of judo and jiu jitsu are like smudges of paint on the face and hands of an artist–a sign of blissful, possessed consumption.In moments off the mat, when I feel frustrated, discouraged, or trapped, one glance at my bruises reminds me of the joy and passion that awaits me.

Commit.

May 1, 2014 1 comment

It was one of those days when I didn’t want to go. I wanted to leave work when work was done. I wanted to leave with nowhere else to go. I wanted to be free and spontaneous. I didn’t want to go to judo practice. Another job. Another responsibility. Another commitment. I didn’t want that. But habits are strong. I knew what would happen if I went back home. For a moment, I’d feel relief. For a moment. Then I’d feel all the stress, all the anger, all the day’s indignation and frustration build in each muscle fiber. Habits soothe, but they can also enslave. I can’t break the habit. It’s too hard. I can’t enjoy a Thursday evening of spring weather because of habit. Angry with myself, I got on the bus. I got on the bus to judo practice. I breathed and resigned, helpless and resentful.

Slowly, the work clothes came off. Slowly I changed into my gear, but I did not put on my gi. When I put my gi on, I’d feel the weight of routine. But when I put the gi and and when I tied my belt, I was different. I was a student. I was a quiet warrior. When it came time for randori, I thought of my judo goal. My judo goal is to commit when I throw. Even if I fall on my face. Commit to my throw. Create the opportunity and commit.

It was one of those days when I didn’t want to go. I wanted to leave work when work was done.  I didn’t want to go to judo practice. I didn’t want another commitment. But with each explosive movement, each muscle fiber released the day’s indignation and frustration. I just thought about commitment. Commit to the throw. Commit to judo. Commit to my practice. Commit to myself. Even if I fall on my face.

 

This is me.

March 25, 2014 Leave a comment

It first happened after breakfast. Then several hours later, it happened again. The gagging. The nausea. My insides felt like they were wrapped in barbed wire and I felt hands on my neck from behind, choking me. I wanted to cry. But at this point, I was waiting for the bus to go to jiu jitsu. This is what I wanted to do. I was away from judo and jiu jitsu for four days while I visited my best friend. Away in the mountains with my childhood friend and her family, I was softly wrapped in hope and contentment. I was excited to get back to my world on the mat. However, I felt scared to go back to rest of my life. My job is in the midst of a big transition. I have decisions to make and I don’t know what path I’m supposed to take. The uncertainty is starting to get to me. During this inopportune moment while I waited for the bus, my anxiety began to corrode my spirit from stomach to throat. As I tried to slow my breathing and blink away the tears, the bus came. I got on and twenty minutes I was at my club. I all but ran into the women’s changing room so I could close the door behind me and hide before class.

After I got into my gi and stepped onto the mat, I still felt shaky. I tried to keep my face blank, but my mind was disjointed. I felt like my skin was on fire. We started our warm-up jog. I breathed. We started to drill. I breathed. I felt calm. Then I felt curious. Soon enough, I was laughing. When we rolled at the end of class, I felt light and free. I was ecstatic as fireworks. As I walked back to the women’s changing room at the end of class, I wanted to cry again, but this time is was from relief and joy.

Tonight was another time where judo and jiu jitsu saved me. When I am on the mat, I am most myself and all parts of myself. I’m the student and the teacher. I am a fighter and a mediator. I am the victor and the defeated. I’m a teammate. I’m a friend. I’m a clown. I am one girl diving head first into my fears just to see if I can make it back to the surface for air.

I am not a great athlete. The world will not remember my name for judo and jiu jitsu. But I don’t care about that. At this point,  I can’t separate what I learn from judo and jiu jitsu and the rest of my life. I cherish what these practices have given me, and with time and experience, I hope I can give back to judo and jiu jitsu all they have given to  me.

Haikuesday 01.14.14

January 14, 2014 Leave a comment

January Tuesdays

I’ll face my fear my three hours.

Kata guruma.