近海る (Kin Kairu)

JET, Japan, Journalism and other J words

A Tale of Endurance

There are two reasons why I haven’t been writing as much on this blog. And we’re going go over one of them today.

I officially have a black belt in Judo!

It’s weird to think that I started just under a year ago and wrote my first experience about starting the sport in October, but the same test I promised I’d take in that initial post is done and over with, and I passed with flying colors.

To give a brief overview how to pass (which I could hardly find in English beforehand?), one has to win three matches against other people competing for a black belt. Easy as that! The most common contender for black belts are junior high students around 14-15 years old, but there were plenty of high schoolers taking the test too. The caption of my school’s team even had to face a university student.

The traditional way of winning a Judo match is throwing the opponent on their back, which is called an Ippon. Luckily, I got two Ippons and a submission hold for a 3-0 record of the day. Yes, while I did have to face middle school students and one high schooler, it wasn’t necessarily a cakewalk. All of my opponents still made me work for it. If I would have underestimated them, they could have easily taken advantage of my weaknesses. The high schooler I ended up being paired with was highly favored amongst our group and was pretty aggressive in all of his other matches. By some stroke of luck, I THREW. HIM. ON. THE. GROUND. within the first ten seconds after he lunged at the beginning of the match.

But when I think back about how I won, it’s honestly kind of a blur. Even though all my teachers watching said “it was a beautiful Ippon,” I can’t really remember how I did it. My body just sort of…moved. I’m really not trying to dress myself as some “all-judo-master” here, but I can’t recall ever thinking “ok, I need to move here/I need to do this,” or anything. When my opponent moved in one direction, I moved the other and took advantage of it, all in one solid motion. Like an extension of Bruce Lee’s “be like water” mantra, my body just sort of “was.” It’s weird, but that’s how it honestly feels.

However, this victory means a lot more to me in other ways. Four or five years ago, I was quite fat. Yeah, yeah, while various friends and family members have tried to dress it nicely, “You were just husky!” or “You were just filled out!” I was fat. I knew I was fat. For the record, I was about 196 lbs when I graduated high school and I’m now just around 160 lbs. While I swam for about six years, but all the pop, candy and fast food didn’t help whatsoever. I could “work out” and practice as much as I wanted, but I never took any initiative outside of the pool to take care of myself. Even then, I never really “tried” when I practiced. In retrospect, I always just sort of got by. But, practicing Judo now is different. It was a rough start, but now I really look forward going to practices. I get excited when I learn a new throw or find out how a technique works best for me. And, man, getting an Ippon is like a drug. I felt on top of the world (there was also a little bit of an immature “I AM THE ALPHA MALE” feeling during my test, I must admit) getting those two throws, especially after my first tournament months before where I lost in the first round. It’s that feeling of progress that keeps me coming back. Since I never really tried in the first place when I swam, I never really encountered that sort of motivation. It’s great to say I think I’ve found something that gives me a reason to improve myself, especially after being a lazy highschooler.

But I still have a long journey ahead. Immediately after the congratulations, all my coaches and other Judoka that helped me said “the real training starts now.” There’s a sort of “mystique” to the black belt in the west, where only spies, rulers of a nation or the truly strong obtain them. In the states, it seems there’s always an initiative to show that you’ve “progressed,” so multiple colored belts are obtained during the training period. But it doesn’t seem so here, at least in what I’ve observed: There is white and there is black. Getting that first grade black belt just shows you know what you’re doing and you’re ready to learn more. Wearing the color now changes how I’m viewed by people inside and outside the sport. I now have to uphold those rules, regulations and teachings. It’s more of a responsibility than a prize, but I couldn’t be any more excited for what lies ahead.

Next, we’ll talk about what else has been keeping me back. Every once in a while, the “third time’s a charm” saying actually applies.

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