The Pyjama Game

by Jinryu

Monday evening, I went to judo.  First time in about 4 days.  During the day, I had gone out at around 1 in the afternoon to shop for a new physiotherapist and buy some groceries– I probably shouldn’t have gone out at that time, because recently the Australian summer has been upon us.  For a Montrealer at the core, I don’t think I’m used to that much sun.  I went to judo probably a bit dehydrated and maybe with some minor heat exhaustion.  Didn’t have much gas at all, and felt like I was constantly out of breath… I had difficulty getting through the warmups even.


The Return of [Will]

[Will] was at judo, practicing for his yellow belt grading.  Yellow belt is basically the second belt you get.  You start off as a white without having to do anything to earn it.  Like most people going for their yellow belt, Will was having about as much trouble with the japanese terminology as he was with the techniques, so he asked me to help him.  Given that I was tired and my shoulder still isn’t in tip top shape, I spent most of the sparring time just reviewing with him since it was lighter work.

Several months ago, Will just dropped off the face of the planet.  I’m not close to him, but he just stopped coming to judo.  I actually wrote a whole post about him, but it was around the time when I was still getting used to wordpress, and unfortunately, the post got eaten somehow when I trashed a draft that seemed empty.  The basic jist of that post back then was that Will was a coward– and I was glad that he’d quit.

That might seem like a pretty harsh thing to say, but at the time, it was certainly what I felt.  I may have to reevaluate what I think of him now that he’s back in the class and still trying.

The main reason why I thought he was a coward was that he was constnatly just apologising for everything.  He was afraid of hurting his opponents, he was afraid of being hurt.  As a result, he injured others and himself more frequently because of his lack of trust, and technical lack of follow through.

Although we started training together and were often paired together because he’s around my weight (he’s about 8 kilos heavier than me), Will’s complete lack of willpower and talent meant that I pulled ahead of him quite quickly.  And I started to resent the fact that he wasn’t keeping up– but not only that, but because we were always paired together, that he was holding me back.

I also hated that he always let [Cobain] walk all over him– literally.  A blue belt at the time, Cobain used to try and get a rise out of Will by taunting him.  Eventually, Will’s lack of resistence got to the point where Cobain would literally step on him before and after classes when Will was lying around.

To a lot of people, the use of the word “coward” is really a big thing.  I don’t think it’s any different from the magnitude or significance of calling someone an idiot, a jerk, or a shithead though.  When I use the word, I don’t use it lightly– Will might have reasons for doing judo, and he might be a generally nice person, but his complete lack of fighting spirit makes him unreliable.

I’ve never been able to trust people like that, or truly befriend people like that.

I have plenty of friends who don’t do martial arts, but I do not keep any friends who have zero fighting spirit.  Those who don’t have enough basic ability to stand up for themselves and assert their identities and rights in a first world country are the kinds of people who potentially are turncoats.  It’s not that I hate them, but it’s that much harder for people like that to earn my trust, because their is no consistency to their character.

The fact that he was trying to memorise all of the japanese names to throwing techniques, and asked my help, was a particular situation.  On one hand, I could just tell him to go stuff himself.  His belt grading exam didn’t end up happening that day, but he thought it was supposed to happen, so that’s all that matters.

If you have to be asking someone on the day of an exam what a technique’s name is, it’s too late.  If not only you’re asking what a technique’s name is, but for me to show you how to do the technique and break it down for you… what the fuck?  Are you serious?  Are you even taking this seriously?  Why do you want to be a yellow belt if you can’t demonstrate what few techniques are required to earn it?  What makes you think you deserve it?

I realise that I might sound high and mighty, and I’m only an orange belt myself (which is two grades higher than the basic white belt only).  But I take the heirarchy seriously.

Knowing my place

Which is why, conflicted as I was, I did my best to help him learn the techniques.  Because as his “senior” in the dojo, that’s what you’re supposed to do– take care of your “juniors.” Irrespective of whether or not I think he deserves it, it’s not my call to make.  [KingBear] and [KingTiger] will decide that.


It’s not that I’ve mastered the throws that he has to do, but I think I’m pretty good at breaking down complex techniques and explaining theory, and even correcting peoples’ techniques inasmuch as I know of the correct technique.  As in, if I’m taught something, I tend to analyse the body mechanics of it pretty well.  Unlike with schoolwork, I often review techniques I learn in class on YouTube to see other variations, and get the idea of the main essence of a technique pretty easily. I can tell when someone is doing it on me properly or not in most cases, even if I can’t actually do the technique perfectly myself.


It takes two

The real limitation for me to doing the technique myself is my own body.  First of all, there are the physical weaknesses– as in, not enough flexibility like this, not enough strength like this, or just an injury that makes this particular motion bad for me.   But the other dimension is the muscle memory– being that my body is just not accustomed to some techniques to the point where I could pull it off just like that. Really, this second issue is just experience.

The interesting thing about judo compared to striking arts is how drastically the game changes when you match up with a different opponent.  In kickboxing, there are differences as well.  However, fundamentally, you are still going to punch and kick the same way to rock your opponent– whether your opponent is heavy or light, you’re still going to hit the chin the same way essentially.  Factors such as the reach, speed and pure muscle might alter the tactics you use to fight your opponent, but fundamentally, the body mechanics that you’re using for both your offensive and deffensive techniques should be the same, even if that means that you will find some techniques are more effective than others.

In judo, however, the difficulty of learning a technique at its basis is compounded by the fact that your attacking techniques are half thanks to the contribution of your opponent.  When you punch someone in the face, you don’t care what the other person is doing.   If you get him, you get him and that’s it.  The opponent’s only contribution to the situation is if they dodge, block or parry– but fundamentally, you deal damage through your own effort alone.

In judo, it’s really quite difficult to “force” your attack on someone, and this is especially apparent if your opponent is even slightly heavier than you.  You really need to use a direct technique to make him shift his weight, and then you have to capitalise on that weight shift.

So compare the simplicity of these two situations:

1. punching someone in the face when your opponent’s guard is down

2. using your opponent’s momentum

Although both situations depend on your opponent in effect letting his guard down, a punch to the face is a lot “cleaner” than the amount of effort it takes to harness someone’s momentum.  If you fail at punching someone, well, try try again.  Punch high, punch low, then punch high again.  Throwing, on the other hand, takes seconds longer than a single punch, most of which is spent doing a full body movement to match your opponent’s.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying that one method is better than the other.  Just that, from the perspective of a former kickboxer, throwing just seems a lot more involved.


The New Physiotherapist

Yesterday, I went to see a new physiotherapist for my shoulder injury.  Turned out this physio is way more competent than the last one.  He explained things a lot better and didn’t just attempt to sugar coat things for me.  He was as technical about shoulder anatomy as I was able to understand, and I appreciated that.  Every step of the way, he explained what he was doing as he manipulated my arm at various angle.  So this one is a keeper.  After leaving his office, I actually felt that my shoulder had loosened up a fair amount.

The rehab exercises feel stupidly easy– it’s nothing like pumping iron.  But the pathetic thing is that the extent of my rotator cuff tear is such that at certain angles, my left (non-dominant) arm is literally 20 times stronger than my right (dominant) arm.  To put it in perspective, sometimes it’s hard for me to lift my arm to push a lightswitch, or to use chopsticks for extended periods of time.

But I think I like physio, because the rehabilitation exercises give me some sense of control over my injuries.  I know how to wait, and I know how to take the time to do what’s necessary– but I’m an impatient person, and it doesn’t mean that even if i put up with it, I like it.  Having rehab exercises to do really helps me feel like I’m working towards something, and helping my body get closer to the goal.  I don’t like leaving things on their own.


I went to judo tuesday evening as well.  Because the vast majority of the class is away in Queensland for UniGames (a major university versus university competition in all sorts of sporting events) the class was almost a private class.  There were only about 7-8 students in total, so like on Monday, I got a fair amount of technical attention from [KingTiger].  I’ve decided to call one of my instructors by this nickname, because he recently participated, at over 60 years of age, in a Masters judo competition at the Kokodan.  Kokodan is the headquarters of judo in japan.  He took a gold home– stealing the medal “from the tiger’s mouth” as he puts it.

KingTiger is an amazing person.  I don’t always like his teaching methods because he simply doesn’t always explain things very well (language barrier maybe), but his body movements, if you can mimic them, tell the whole story: for someone of his size (he’s more than twice my weight) and age (he’s more than twice my age), he’s an absolute beast.  I have had the privilege of sparring with him once.  I may as well have been a chimpanzee trying to throw down a gorilla.

Aside from the fact that he’s one of the physically strongest fighters in the class, KingTiger is also super flexible and technically amazing.  When demonstrating techniques, he puts no power into anything and sends people flying just through technical leverage, balance and timing.  When he does demonstrate “with power” it’s absolutely frightening.  The misconception that there are padded floors and judokas know how to break their falls so nobody really takes any damage is totally wrong– KingTiger could turn any throw into a bodyslam that could not only ensure you were stunned, but I’m sure if he decided to use his body weight to go down with it he could break bones and knock people outright unconscious with them.

The best compliment I’ve ever gotten from him was yesterday, while doing a throwing exercise.  One person would stand at the front of the room and throw anyone who came up to him, left or right handed, with the throw of his choice. The compliment was that while I was throwing, he didn’t say anythingI suppose that sounds strange, but KingTiger is a really a critical guy.  It’s not to say that my throw technique is perfect (in that case it was for ippon seoi nage, the one armed shoulder throw, and o soto gari, the major outer reap).  It’s just that as far as he was trying to teach the class a certain part of these throws, I was doing it well enough to just continue as I was.

I think I owe a lot to his harshness as a teacher.  He’s a good partner to [KingBear], who is the other instructor, who is also really technically good but is mostly important to me because he answers all my questions by breaking down techniques.  KingBear is a lot more of a teacher, in the sense that he lays things out very understsandably.  He’s also a lot more dipolomatic, in that unlike KingTiger, he won’t say something like “that throw was total shit.  This is no what I teach. I no teach shit like this– you call this throw?”


Learning to be the Bully

Yesterday, I was sparring with [BJJT].  We both started judo at the same time, but he started in a background of Krav Maga (which had adopted some elements of brazilian jiu jitsu) so he has a pretty damn strong ground game.  I’ve been doing judo for almost  year, and despite the fact that he’s almost 10kilograms lighter than me, I’ve never been able to pin or submit him for a win.  I can beat him in standup fighting with throws with about a 50% rate, but on the ground, I’ve never won against him.

Until last night.

Normally, in the span of a 5-10 minute sparring session, he’ll submit me multiple times.  Lately he hasn’t been able to pin me as much (because of the weight difference).   The last time we sparred, he might get me in 5-6 submissions within the space of a single sparring round.

Last night, I got him once, and he got me once.  I don’t think my attacks are necessarily better, but I’ve learned a better deffensive game and I have more a gameplan in general.  I have BearKing to thank for that– he’s been showing me techniques and has entertained all my stupid questions.  BearKing has been great to me– whenever there’s free time, he’s always happy to roll with me.  I have never come close to beating him on the ground or even unbalancing him in standup, but basically surviving a round with him as long as I can has made me way more technically adept by reducing the number of openings that I give my opponent.

And now, it’s all added up– I finally have my first win against BJJT.


Yes, I know that basically my acheivement so far is that I can beat most of the people who are smaller than me. But that’s a start.