The One Where I Train for a Year as Judoka

I was promoted on Feb. 22, 2018.  On Feb. 25, 2018, I completed the item, “Train for One Year as a Judoka.”  Which is very cool.

I probably have no real business doing judo.  It is hard on the body, and let’s be honest, I haven’t done a real good job of taking care of this body over the last 38 years.  Busted up knees, busted up ankleS (yeah, the right one is pretty much garbage now), busted face and head, messed up pinky finger.

Plus it is a sport of repetition.  It really is something you start getting good at after 10,000 hours.  Which is frustrating.  When I am at training sessions, I see these teenage kids… basically toddlers, who are fast and quick and confident and fearless and strong and it’s hard to imagine a world where that could be me.  These kid brownbelts have put in so much time.  Some of them are judo training 5 days a week.  I just really wish that I had picked it up 10 years ago.

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I am not really sure why I decided I wanted to start doing judo.  Other than, that with Dave and Nico doing it, I felt like this would be a good way for us to hang out as a family.  And it has been.  Going to tournaments, while stressful when all of us are competing, is fun.  Like little mini-vacations together.  I am glad that I started doing judo.  I hope, deep down, that my desire to learn new things will help keep me “young”.

So, I had a pretty successful tournament at the end of January, in Milwaukee.  There were four women in my division (three white belts and a black belt).  In my first match, I tried to throw taniotoshi, but my opponent was a bigger than I was, and I ended up pulling her on top of me and she won by ippon.  In my next match, I fought another white belt and went for my osoto.  I ended up with a wazari before ending the match with a pin. I remember getting into osekomi and feeling like I had to switch my legs into kesakatame.  In a rare moment, I heard a coach yelling at me to move my legs and when I did, I could also feel a huge grin come over my face, because it was my first competition win.

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In my final match, I fought a black belt from Chicago.  The match went on for a while, which was new.  Up to that point, most of the matches I had been in, competitive and exhibition, were over in a minute.  But ours kept going.  The thing is, that I felt more and more confident, the longer I was in the match.  I had been looking forward to matches going longer, because I feel like I am a lot stronger on the mat than standing, so I felt like I was going to get a chance to do newaza.  The problem was,  that this blackbelt was good on the mat.  I wasn’t going to turn her.  She played smart defense and basically just let me tire myself out.  Finally, with about a minute left to go in the match, I just yanked her sleeve and drove to the mat.  I don’t remember or understand the physics of how it worked, but all I know is that I had her in a pin and was using every single muscle in my body to keep her there.  She ended up tapping and I am still, a month later, in disbelief. Because three of us ended up going 2-1 in the division, we ended up tied for first, which was awesome.

Because of the result and the time that had passed, our sensei was basically, “It is time.” Dave had been off of training for a couple of weeks, while he rehabbed his pulled groin. At the next session, he was surprised that I was in the mix in terms of taking falls- which I didn’t even realize that I had started doing.

I was nervous about the test- I was going to be tested on techniques I hadn’t done.  So, I had to learn them quick and I actually had to do some book learning.  So, I sat for my yellowbelt test.  And I passed.  Now I am the same rank as Nico.

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So, that is done.  It’s weird though, because I feel like some of my technique, even on the things that I am supposed to know, is garbage.  I feel like it should just always work.  And I still get frustrated- especially when the very few things I know how to do don’t work. Like, on Saturday, in our training session, I got manhandled by pretty much everyone.  Nothing I tried worked.  At all.  But I was also going against black belts and bigger athletes.  Which I have to remember only makes me better, unlike the rare occasions when I get to go against smaller women, who I often just muscle around.

I am looking forward to the next year.  Right now, we have a couple of judo events on the calendar: a tournament in Kentucky in mid-April, and then the Indiana State Championships in late-April.  We’re also planning to do one of the national championships in Grand Rapids in the summer.  I have also decided that when I go to tournaments, I need to be more fit, so that I can do multiple divisions, when they are available.  So, for right now, I am backing off of only weight-lifting and am adding more crossfit style workouts.  I am hoping to also start playing in the field some, when I play soccer.  Not for the teams that I am on now, but for pickups. Jesus take the wheel, JBR playing in the field… like the good old days.

Item Complete: #22 Organize and Play in a North High Alumni Game

In 8th grade I got into the IB program at Ft. Myers High School.

At the time, it was the possibility of getting two years of college done as a HS student that appealed to me.   I wasn’t terribly concerned about being ABLE to do the work. I guess I figured that if I wasn’t able to do the work, I wouldn’t have been admitted to the IB program.

At that point most of the kids I attended elementary and middle school with ended up at either North Fort Myers High or Fort Myers High.  Because we were a soccer family and my little brother had plans to go to North, we followed their soccer seasons. It was easy, because we knew all the players and families; they drove trucks and hunted on the weekends.  It was closer to our house than Fort Myers was.  Despite the Ft.  Myers soccer program being decent at this time, I couldn’t have told you more than two guys on the boys team. But I could tell you just about every guy that wore a North jersey between 1994-1997.

If I am honest, I wasn’t *really* able to do the work the IB program required. I scraped along for three years, miserable. I was in a class with doctors and lawyers kids, but I was woefully under-prepared in math and science.  Unlike a lot of those kids, I worked a lot. My mom helped a friend deliver newspapers on a commercial route overnight on Saturday Night/Sunday morning. In the winter of my sophomore year that friend spent a couple of months in the hospital. My mom picked up his daily route and my sister, brother, and I helped.  This consisted of leaving our house at 2am with books and lunches in tow, to run papers and then head to school.   The route ended with a stop at a gas station to brush teeth, change clothes, and wash newsprint from our hands.  During those months, several days a week, I showed up at school on only 3-4 hours of sleep.

In the end, I wasn’t smart enough to be in the IB program. I might have been able to outwork my deficiencies, but I just didn’t devote myself to schoolwork like I really needed to, as a consequence my GPA (of a 3.0) landed me in the bottom half of my IB class at Ft. Myers.

As a sophomore, I had started playing soccer and did well, given my lack of experience. My sophomore and junior years were filled with training and I found my way into a lot of training sessions, because no one wants to play goalkeeper. Eventually, the idea of playing college soccer started to become a possibility, which encouraged me to double my efforts. Despite this, I couldn’t make the Varsity squad at Ft. Myers. Undeterred, I continued training like a maniac and eventually ended up at state ODP tryouts. There I learned that to be considered a college prospect, I needed to be on a Varsity team.

Within a week of ODP tryouts, we’d decided to transfer to North. Later that year as a junior, I sat for IB exams whose outcomes I knew didn’t matter. It was liberating.

The following fall, I enrolled at North. Despite knowing all the guys on the soccer team, and many others, I felt pretty alone. It’s hard to transfer your senior year. Cliques and groups had been formed 2-3 years before and I wasn’t the kind of person who’d rule any school.  I didn’t have the confidence to walk into a packed cafeteria and sit down  for lunch with kids I’d known all my life.

But soccer was different.

I was welcomed.

I didn’t feel like people were thinking in their heads that they were better than me.  On that team, I played an important role.  I was mature and steadfast.  I have since coached high school girls and this is what I have come to know:  all it takes is one person, playing one position. On some teams, it might be a “big gun” striker, on others, it might be an enterprising midfielder. You can build a team around one player.  On that team, I think it was me playing in goal.  By being a calming presence in goal, the rest of the team was given the time and space they needed to mature into decent soccer players.

That year, the North girls were just as good as the North boys.  We ended up winning the district championship game and a winter tournament.  Even better, we hung with some crosstown rivals and I posted double digit shutouts.  The best part was that I found a team I really liked.  I felt like I belonged.  I grew up in the country doing chores and fishing.  These kids grew up in the country doing chores and fishing.

Several years ago, several North High Alumni began commiserating on Facebook about how we ought to  revive the old Alumni game.  Back in the day, the game used to be a big deal during winter break.  This was so “back in the day” that the current team would played against a team made up of alumni.  Seriously.  This is akin to thinking about how cars haven’t always had seatbelts and pondering how more people didn’t end up hurt in the aftermath of the Alumni game. In any case, some alumni on Facebook got an Alumni game organized for January 14th.

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It was really fun.  I played well.  Actually, I was brilliant.  Full stop.  No need to qualify that statement.  Only one person got hurt and no one fought with anyone else.

I traveled from Chicago to SW Florida for the game.  Only one other person (a girl from my team) traveled from out of state.  The guy that did the in-town arranging has mostly stayed put (outside of a brief forray to college in the late 90s).  He’s stayed in contact with a lot of people who he has known all of his life.  Which is strange to think about.

A lot of us have kids now.  Other than being parents, I have so very little in common with these people now.  But it didn’t feel that way.  The overarching feeling I had socializing with these people was that we were old friends catching up.

The more disorienting thing to consider is time though.  Several of us have our 20 year high school reunions coming up next year.  In one sense, it feels like it was such a long time ago when we were teenage gladiators, willing to fight for the jersey on our backs.  But in another sense, its hard to believe that that was almost 20 years ago.  I try to remember what my mom and her friends were like at this age, but I am having the hardest time.  You could  make the argument that 20 years out from high school now is different than 20 years out from high school then, which is probably valid.  Regardless, it’s weird to say.

Like, when did I get old enough to talk about anything that happened 20 years ago?  When did that happen?