I have competed in my first judo tournament. Actually, I have competed in two.
To recap- I started doing judo back in February. If you remember, it is one of my life list/bucket list/ apocalypse list items, to do judo for a year (by husband and son both do the judo).
It’s really fun. And it’s a ridiculous workout. Seriously, sometimes, sweat is just dripping off of me. But, I also like it because a lot of it just makes sense. And there are a ton of good analogies for thinking about life. Explaining these would require their own blog post, which will happen at some point, just not today. Because today, we are going to talk about competitions.
Before we talk about competitions, it first merits discussing weight. First, in judo, we talk about weight in terms of kilograms and weight classes. The two heaviest weights for women are under 78kg and 78kg+ (spoiler: 78 kgs is 171.6 lbs). The way I see it, I have to “realistic” options, given my height and proclivity for not being weak AF: stay in the 78kg+ weight class or attempt to get into the under 78kg weight class. There are pros and cons to either of these. But the long story short version is: the 78kg+ weight class is open ended, so it is possible for a person who is 172lbs to fight someone who is 250lbs or 260. Or 300lbs. But, also, there aren’t many women to fight in this weight class (not that many women+judoka+that weight class). Some might read this as like, “scoreboard! less competition!” Which is true. But it also means less competition- because generally, people like to try to compete against players that are the same size.
In judo, they try to keep more advanced players going against more advanced players, and novices going against novices. But in the 78kg+ weight class, there aren’t enough judoka, so you might, as a precious baby white belt, end up fighting against a black belt (more on that later). Even in the under 78kg weightclass doesn’t necessarily mean there a lot of judoka to compete against, but there tends to be more.
It is no secret- but I am in the 78kg+ weightclass. I think about what it would be like to be in the under 78 kg weight class. Like, obviously, I would have to drop a lot of fat for that to happen. But what about my ass? Also, what about my muscles? Would I have to get rid of those?
So, being in this weight class meant that when we went to Cleveland for the Rock and Roll tournament, there wasn’t anyone for me to fight. No big surprise there (it was quite a small tournament). In the Cohen tournament a couple of weeks ago, there were ladies for me to fight (a green belt from texas. And a black belt former World Youth Champion. NBD.)
Now here is where it gets real: When I showed up for the Cohen tournament, I hadn’t ever practice fought with anyone (we call it “rondori”). There are a lot of reasons for this, but they are all kinda boring. But that did not stop me. Keep in mind that I am not expecting that I am going to make an Olympic team in my first match. I was just looking forward to working with other ladies my size(ish).
Nico was also competing in the Cohen tournament and the whole morning was just a practice in hurry up and wait. And also, make sure you’re paying attention so you know when you’re up. Finally they call my division and I get suited up. They call us onto the mat. And my opponent (the former world youth champion doesn’t show up). WHAT?
I am dying. I win by disqualification- but am highly annoyed. Turns out, my opponent was five mats away (she didn’t speak English and didn’t realize it was party time). I mean, its cool that I get points for that “win”, but I really just want my first match. My next match up, I am fighting the green belt from Texas.
She throws me in about 30 seconds- after I pick up a penalty for being too defensive (spoiler alert, I wasn’t being defensive, I was just watching our feet, since watching my feet is pretty much how I walk everywhere). It was incredibly frustrating.
So, after a short break, I step up and get ready to fight the former world champion, who is from Cuba. For those of you who don’t know, Cuban judo is legit.
Now, here is where I should explain what happens when you have to fight in the elite division when you are a novice. Basically, the elite divisions has some extra requirements. Like, you have to wear a plain white shirt under your gi. And you have to have a blue gi and a white gi. Well, why in the hell would I know any of that? I am just a little baby white belt novice. So, I get on the mat to fight the former world champion and she has to deal with her gi and shit and we’re ready to go when the referee says, “You need a blue gi.” And I say, “Yeah, I know. This one is reversible. I just dont have my blue pants with me. I’ll get it under control for next time.” To which he replies, “No, you need a blue gi now.”
So, long story short, Dave grabs the texas girl, who strips down and lets me borrow her pants, because she is a goddamn angel, while I turn my gi around (remember, its reversible). All of this is happening while there are about 100 people in the vicinity, watching what is going on. Here is the thing…. in a gymnasium full of movement and action and activity, with five mats going on, no one would have noticed if we were fighting. But since we weren’t I just felt like all the attention was on us. And if you know me at all, you know how good I am with undue attention on me (spoiler: I am not). In all, it seemed like it took 49579 minutes to get into a blue gi- so much anxiety. Which was great, when the match started and former world champ threw me and pinned me in 40 seconds. Like, if I had another 10 seconds I *might* have busted out of the pin. But probably not- because she wasn’t even trying hard to keep me there.
So, when I come off the mat, I am fairly annoyed (read: upset- like trying to keep it together, but not understanding why I am so upset trying to do a sport for what is damn near the first time and not being good at it- but if you know me, I don’t like it when I practice and try to do things and that doesn’t work out for me). Also, in total at this point, I have had less than two minutes of competition judo. Which, to me, is really annoying to pay as much $$ and spend as much time doing the tournament, to have such a short amount of time (maybe next time, don’t get thrown so quickly? Just a suggestion). But, apparently, that is how judo is.
Ultimately, I took 3rd out of 3 people. The former world champ beat the Texas girl, so at least I was in good company. The tournament director got me an exhibition match against another girl (KW), who is lighter than me, just so we could get some matches in.
With my knickers sufficiently twisted, I stepped on the mat against this KW girl, outweighing her by a solid 40-50 lbs, but totally outclassed belt wise (she is a green belt). So, the match starts and I am trying to not look at my feet, not get thrown, and not violate any of the other rules I don’t really know. She gets in close and is on the verge of throwing me. Like, I feel like I am about to be thrown onto my face and I start to panic a little.
Here is the problem for me: all the things that I know intellectually how to do work very differently in practice. Like, I have been working on a couple of throws, that should work, if I could just think through it (read: they require require that your brain is not in panic mode).
Narrator: JBR’s brain was in panic mode.
Now, there is a move in judo called an ura nage. It is a pick up, where you just wrap your arms around the person and pick them off the mat, and throw them over your shoulder. For those of you familiar with wrestling, it is very similar to a souffle. It’s a strong man’s move- because it doesn’t really require timing or skill, just being strong AF.
So, my brain, which is in panic mode, just thought, “Just pick her up and throw her over your shoulder and maybe that will be a thing.”
Yeah, I literally thought, “maybe that will be a thing,”.
Narrator: It was a thing. In her third match ever, JBR thrown ura nage for ippon.
Ippon is “match ending point”. It’s when a throw is so good that there is no need for the match to continue. This can also be achieved by pinning opponent for 20 seconds or forcing their submission through a choke or an armbar.
There are a lot of times in a judo match when the referee will restart the match- like if someone is breaking some of the rules or there is a failure to progress in grappling on the mat. So, when the referee stood us up in our starting spaces, I thought we were going to keep going- I didn’t realize that I had won. Which was cool.
The lesson: there is almost always a way, as long as you’re in the fight. So the trick is to be in the fight.
I was really glad to get the exhibition.
Ultimately, KW talked me into fighting in the Halloween tournament in Minooka last week, where she beat me twice. One of these was me not understanding how physics works.
But, I played better judo (apparently). We’re going up to Wisconsin in December and I hope to get some more matches in.