Walking Softly

by Jinryu

When I went to judo yesterday, I was told when swiping my membership card that my subscription had expired.  I was surprised, but in counting, I guess it made sense– I’d just not noticed that 6 months of training had already passed.


It was the first time I went to a beginners’ class in a while.  It’s not that I consider myself advanced enough to go to the advanced classes like I normally do nowadays– it’s just that with my work and school schedule, time conflicts don’t let me go to the beginners’ classes anymore.  I’m a yellow belt now, which really, is only one step above white belt.  I’ve never really felt that good at anything– as I mentioned in my last post, about 6 months of training has basically lead to one successful genuine throw during randori, which I feel is a pretty slow rate of return.

But when I went to the beginners’ class, I was surprised.  It’s a much more crowded class now, with twice or thrice the number of people on a typical advanced night.  But most of the people can barely stand after the warmup, which I now find to be a piece of cake (even though it’s almost an hour long).  In retrospect, I remember when I first started judo, I couldn’t survive the full warmup routine either– I always felt a bit sick in the stomach from the cardiovascular exertion and more than a bit dizzy from all the rolls.  I think the more senior students of the evening, a couple of brown belts and blue belts, were appreciative of the fact that I was keeping up with them when it came to at least that part of the routine.


The thing that always surprises me when it comes to meeting new people in an activity is how little substance people have.  Before class started, all the white belts were standing around socializing.  [JJT], one of the other yellows who was promoted at the same time as me, were warming up on the matts for fifteen minutes before class, and a lot of the more senior judokas were also loosening up.


There’s a sort of pack mentality I think– when people start a new event, they don’t have the confidence to look serious about things even though that’s exactly what they should attempt to learn.  I suppose there are a lot of different reasons to do a martial art– but being social has never been one of my aims, and because I gear myself towards other goals, I suppose I look down on the people who just jabber when they could be working hard.


To me, a dojo, a dojang, or a training gym is a scared place– it’s like being at a blacksmith’s.  It’s not supposed to be a comfortable place to be– at best, you get used to the heat and the exertion and you find some calm and manage to focus in the sweat of the forge.  In my book, perhaps occasional laughter is permissible, but this is no sunday picnic– unless you’re on the bench, get the fuck to work.


I have an expectation for everyone, including myself, that there should be no complaining– there will be failure, but there should also be anger and obstination to get better.  I maintain, always, that there should be no embarassment from not doing well, so long as you have genuine want of improvement.  Above all, there should be no whining, no sense of despair, and no giving up– the body should always break before the will.

And I think that’s the difference between a white belt who joined for social reasons versus someone who really wants to learn judo because he wants to learn judo.  One of them has the judo as an means to an end, some sort of auxiliarry or secondary goal– and the other has the judo as a stepping stone to another judo goal, which is another stepping stone to another judo goal, which is a stepping stone for…. you get the idea.  It’s a question of framing.  The former practice lacks substance, which is a word I haven’t been using in a while, but which should probably come back into my posts more often.

Subtance is that special something that, if somone else is adept enough to notice it in you, they’ll either be elated to meet someone who shares a passion with them, or they’ll downright be too scared to fuck with you because you’ve got “that look” and you just have that presence about you that says that you’re not there to dick around.


The amount of substance can clearly be seen in performance.  It’s not necessarily about results, it’s more about method, but eventually good methodology results in good good resuts, so the two aren’t mutually exclusive either.

The easiest way to see who is serious is to see who is working before you need to work, and who only works when they need to.  Warmups are a perfect example.  Who is warming up before the warmup?  Those are the ones who are just powering through the actual routine.  The ones who were chatting around the wattering hole about traffic, the latest movies, and Angry Birds?  They’re the ones who have crawled to the side of the mat because they don’t have the willpower to do spider laps across the room anymore. 

I don’t really feel I should or shouldn’t be annoyed with people for being who they are.  I don’t think it matters, frankly.  But I do sometimes mentally feel like teaching people a lesson when they have no humility.  When someone takes an activity non-seriously, I feel like, to a certain extent, they’re shitting on something that I think is important.  I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I don’t like it when people take lightly the way they behave around the things that I love doing.

One of the white belts, [Bastien] was a pretty good example of that.  Before warmups, he was the centre of a crowd of whitebelts– I guess he’s a decent looking guy, hipster with good charisma and a joking attitude.  Pretty similar to my weight and height, although about ten years younger than me.

Warmup time?  He couldn’t get through any of the exercises, and was constantly making excuses when the seniors were giving him tips.

When a brown takes the time to tell you “use both legs at once,” you do not answer “I know, but it’s really hard! Do we have to do it like that?”  You answer “thanks for the tip, I’ll keep trying.”  Or, if your cardio can’t spare you any energy to form words, you just shut the fuck up, nod, and keep trying.  You don’t whine about how the program is too hard– this isn’t a tea party, this is fucking martial arts.  What did you think we were going to do here, except hurt you?

Later on, Bastien got a black eye, which was further threw his morale in the gutter– because he got the black eye while doing a cartwheel.  He lost strength in his arms, and basically collapsed in mid motion, and somehow managed to knee himself in the face.

Later in the night, the seniors told us to newaza randori.  This means groundwork sparring, or basically, wrestling from grounded position, usually on your knees (as oppose to standing up and trying to throw someone down).  Every white belt was attached to a higher ranking belt, and I just happened to be assigned Bastien.  Despite that I didn’t like him, I was being a great partner, frankly.  We were similar sizes, but from a few seconds of tugging I realized that the guy was basically a “skinny-fat person.”  He was about the same volume as my body, but pound for pound, his muscles and cardiovascular system could produce maybe half the output that mine could.  Anyway, we were rolling, and I resisted realistically by matching his power, while leaving particular openings for him so that he could apply the techniques that we were learning in class that day.

Eventually, this lead to him getting me with a strangle choke that we’d been practicing.  After I tapped out, I told him he’d done a good job, and gave him some pointers about how he could make it better with certain angles and leverage here or there, etc.

And he actually said “what rank is yellow?  It doesn’t like you’re any tougher than a white belt.”

And something inside of me snapped– I was thinking to myself… jeezus, kid. I might not be the strongest guy in the room, but I’m certainly shitloads stronger than you– and if you can’t even recognise how weak you are…


The next roll was him basically driving straight at me.  I sprawled, caught him in a headlock sprawl.  He just kept driving forward.  I butterfly guarded, then transitioned to normal guard when he just kept insisting on driving forward.  Note that by now I had established a tight lock on his neck,  a textbook guillotine choke, and with my legs around his waiste and loocked at the feet.   And I don’t know what he was thinking, but he trapped my arm against him just kept on driving forward, trying to stack me.  Maybe he learned how to stack from watching UFC on television or something, but that’s completely the wrong time to do it. 

To put it simply, the basic result was that he basically put himself into a headlock and was forcing me to break his neck with his own weight.  I was actually a bit alarmed by this so I struggled to push him away, because of our positions, and the fact that he wouldn’t let me take my arms away, he was basically choking himself.  He pretty much tapped himself out.

“Wow, that really hurt,” he said afterwards.   “That’s never happend to me before.  Is that technique even legal?”

And I thought to myself, yeah, that’s never happened to me before either.  You are one dangerous fucking moron.  I’m actually not sure if a neck crank is a legal judo move (I learned it from jiu-jitsu), and I wasn’t exactly aiming for it– I was using it only to deter him from his drive.  He just kind of went full force into my deterance, making it a full fledged counter somehow. Which is why I suppose they pair white belts with higher grades, so that the white belts don’t just naturally select themselves out of the genepool.  If I hadn’t fought to get him off of me, he probably would have probably hurt his neck really badly before he even felt the strangle or the choke, because of the way he was driving his weight into me.  If I was better, I could probably have transitioned this into something a bit more gentle– and, I must guiltily admit, if I had a bit more mental toughness, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered by his earlier comments, and it would have made me more likely to not subconsciously want to choke the shit out of the little bugger.


I should say it again– There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner– I myself am still one.  But there is something wrong with having no substance, and really thinking you’re the king of the world.  It is, frankly, not only annoying, but in martial arts, it can be dangerous.  What a beginner needs, and indeed, what anyone needs, is the willpower and humility to learn.  That means not scapegoating people for your failures– it means biting down on defeats, and finding ways to learn from anything and everyone.  You cannot be dismissive of any expereinces.  There are certainly some experiences that will teach you more than others, but if you’re too quick to think you’ve covered all your bases, you miss the details that will lead to lousy foundations.


Personally, and this is a life lesson that I’m working on, I think I need to take it less personally when people have attitudes I don’t like.  I’ve always kind of tried to associate with people of “substance” who I feel have something in them, beyond who they try to show off to be in crowds.  But I think the prolem with this is that it makes me a bit of a sociopath– I’ve gotten so focused on only trying to associate with people based on how we work together well (either at school, work, or activities) that I’ve cut out a lot of the social small talking skills that I used to have.  I find lots of topics boring and trite, because people are talking about them without really caring about what they’re talking about– so what’s the point?


Why not tell me about something you’re passionate about?  Something that truly dissaopinted you? Something that really made you feel good?  Not just the “lols” and the “OMGs” and the “like, kill me now!” situations– I mean the stuff that you have really thought about and lived with?


Social media nowadays makes things all about friendship and shared experiences– look at the average Coke commercial.  But what are these experiences about?  What is the substance that even makes these experiences worth remembering?  Is it enough to just have fun?  Or are real experiences characterised by the trust we place to suffer together?