When I replay the events that took place in the judo about 2 weeks ago, I’m a bit less angry now, but I am still frustrated.
“If it were up to me, you wouldn’t have gotten that belt,” he said. This was Sensei-R, the instructor who had taught me all my basics when I first started doing judo.
I was taken aback. I think my training partner, who was an orange belt, was also a bit shocked, and there was a moment where he couldn’t decide if he was supposed to pretend that he hadn’t heard or if there was some other thing he should be doing at that very moment, somewhere else. But like me, we just stood there for a moment.
“I don’t disagree with you,” I said, or something like that. I had reverted to my customer service training, agreeing with the fact that Sensei-R felt that way, but in my head, not necessarily that I agreed about whether or not I should actually be wearing a brown belt. It’s hard to turn lawyering off, even at a judo club after work hours.
There were some other words exchanged, and then Sensei-R stalked off. To put this in context, this was because about an hour earlier, he was very vocally getting very upset with me about my lack of competition involvement.
I was graded to brown belt by Sensei-K a few months earlier, and the two instructors have very different views about how people should progress through the ranks, as you might guess. Sensei-K is the higher ranking judoka though, by a handful of dan grades.
People in the club tell me that it’s not up to Sensei-R whether or not I’m qualified– it wasn’t and couldn’t be his decision, since Sensei-K is the ranking coach. They tell me that if Sensei-R thinks I deserved to be tested, and thinks that I passed the test, then that should be good enough for anyone, and nobody has the right to disrespect that.
Despite this, I found myself extremely angry at Sensei-R. I held my tongue in the dojo, and it took me a good 2 days before I could really even think about the situation more. It wasn’t about whether or not I was good enough to be a brown belt or not– it’s that he chose to just pop up his disaprooval publicly rather than speaking to me personally in private.
I’ve always been very low key in the club. Not that I’ve done so purposely– but I’m not as young as the majority of the club members, given that it’s a univeristy run club. That means that my time contraints are pretty high– aside from what little time I can spend actually going to normal training days (which is quite irregular), I almost never go to the social events or competitions anymore. Between work (aside from lawyering 5 days a week, I often also teach on the sides for various university law faculties), personal commitments, and just being exhausted by the time I get to weekends, I’m simply just not that interested in competing anymore.
There are various other reasons why I just don’t feel interested in competing anymore, but that’s another post.
Now, Sensei-R saying what he said, he should know better. Simply.
Despite not being very active socially with the club, when I’m there, I work hard. I help out a lot with the lower belts, because I’m one of the safer partners that they can have. I’m told I’m very patient, have a good analytical eye, explain things well, and make people feel motivated. I’ve never had someone in the club complain about my attitude or behaviour, and I’ve always been a bit old fashioned about formally bowing and the honorifics.
WIth all this in mind, Sensei-R could only have said what he said beacuse he was specifically trying to hurtful, or because he’s an asshole.
Now that I’m a brown belt, I’ve been dragged into club politics which I simply didn’t know about previously. I just want to throw people. I don’t need to be a part of all this.
The colour progression of belts in judo is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown. After those “colored belts”, which are known as kyu grades, you get to black (and it’s various grades of black which are dan grades). Currently, I’ve got a brown belt.
I came from a history of impromptu martial arts clubs. In my early days of practicing Jeet Kune Do and kickboxing, there were no belts. Everyone just sort of knew the pecking order based on ability– every had their own goals.
Since coming into judo, I’ve never really cared much about the belts. When I was a white belt, at some point, Sensei-R paired me up with an orange belt and told me to go through certain techniques with him. I was later awarded a yellow belt. I didn’t even know I was being tested, so that’s probably an indication of how much I cared about it.
Every other time I’ve done a belt exam, it’s been because Sensei-R asked me if I was going to grade to the next colour or not. If he was asking, then I either agreed or disagreed. If I disagreed, I told him that it was on the basis that I didn’t have enough competition points, which were usually his requirement.
I received my orange and green belts with the full compliment of points. But by the time I was a green belt, my life outside of judo was getting more and more busy. I was job hunting, because my visitor visa status meant that if I didn’t get a job after university, I would eventually be from Australia (I wasn’t yet a permanent resident). [CM] was in her final years of med school, which were very stressful. We’d moved apartments a number of times and changed flatmates a number of times.
Since green belt, I just haven’t prioritised competition fighting. It was all I could do to show up for training to begin with. Sensei-R eventually graded me to a blue belt, with some gap in the points on the basis that overall I had the requisite skill and had done some grappling outside of my club. I don’t recall if he asked me to do it, or if I asked him if I could grade. but there I was.
While I was a blue belt, I didn’t get a single competition point. I attended a few as a spectator, but I just didn’t have the drive or interest to do it.
Between my green belt and my blue belt, I went through a number of important life events. I got my first jobs teaching at law schools part time– I’d wanted to be a teacher since I was in undergrad, but it was now only a decade later that the opportunity had come up. I was taking on management training courses to run our small law firm in preparation for my boss’ maternity leave. I got engaged, and CM and I got married. My dad was diagnosed with cancer. He survived. Two of my grandparents passed away.
A hell of a lot happened since over the past couple of years. And now, in my mid thirties, I understand now the other side of that story– when I was in my teens, and just starting off in martial arts, I would always say to people that they should train more. Older friends would simply say “don’t have the time, sorry” and I’d say to them “so make time!”
Easier said than done it seems.
And this is why it’s such a huge achievement for people who actually do dedicate the time and effort into advancing through the martial arts when they’re past 30.
But that’s no longer me. I don’t have the time or the energy to dedicate myself to martial arts the way I once did. It’s a bit sad, but at the same time, it’s a decision I consciously make– because there are other ways that I continue to grow, which I value.
Martial arts still remain an integral part of my life– the life experiences I had throughout the years guide a lot of my problem solving techniques, and they give me confidence and substance in ways that I can’t get anywhere else. Even now, now that I don’t compete, I continue to derive great joy from continuing to learn (although at a slower pace).
I am not saying that I’m better than others who do spend more of their lifetimes on martial arts because I have other things going on. There’s a limited amount of time that we have on this planet, and we need to make decisions about how we spend our time and energy, that’s all.
But what does it mean then, for someone to judge that you’ve made the wrong decision? What does it mean then for someone to judge that you are not good enough?