Hi there, i am going to tell you how judo classes made me a better person, at least a story from my point of view. Judo one of the most watched Olympic sports. But to me judo was and still is something much more.
It is probably single greatest influence in process of forming my personality. From first day my father brought me to our local dojo in a small town in eastern Europe, and placed my toddler feet on the tatami for the first time to this day i strongly believe that there never was and probably never will be so large part of my life that has so many ripples in pond that is my life.
I learned about respect and humility
For all judokas that has a sensei that has at the least smallest respect for judo and tradition and rules of conduct in a judo dojo the first thing that is taught is respect and humility.
There are many written and unwritten rules in a dojo respect for your surroundings, your fellow judoka and your sensei are the most enforced, at least in my dojo.
You must respect your equipment judo-gi and Obi, your belt. You never ever ever, just throw away your belt or put it on the floor as it represents what you have accomplished in a way of learning judo. Keep your judo-gi clean as it is a part of you just as your knee is, not to mention that is up against your skin.
You must bow to the tatami before stepping on it.
Correct me if i am wrong but this act represents exactly humility and respect and it does not have any religious meaning strapped to it. In the end Kodokan standard for proper Judo etiquette is that “Judo starts with a bow and ends with a bow”. Every ”randori” (Japanese word for sparing) starts with bow and ends with bow, approaching sensei or any of your peers on tatami also starts and ends with a bow.
This might look weird and a bit silly for someone on the side but it is actually really soothing. It sets this specific mood. It is a bit of a trip for someone older than 6, but for a kids this comes naturally really fast.
I learned that opponent is not an enemy
People that are into a martial arts quite often mistake opponent for an enemy. Now this is probably the most important part in how judo classes made me a better person. Big part of judo practice is a randori.
Randori is a simulated match, a sparing of sorts. In a judo class randori can be done in many setups. For example a rotation randori, It is done in way that one judoka stands his or hers ground and more than one opponents are rotating in segments of 30 seconds and coming in fresh to judoka, and you can imagine for example 5 or 6 minutes of 30 second changes in pace you grow more and more tired and opponent is always fresh and he or her changes style every 30 seconds.
Or any other situation you actually can find yourself in a judo competition.
Now it is kind of obvious that those 10 people who a judoka finds himself or herself facing are there to help judoka with stamina and versatility, and they are not an enemy.
But it is easy to confuse an opponent on a competition tatami for an enemy, and i get it i have made that mistake one to many times myself.
But actually People across me were actually helping me, in a way, to overcome my fears, my anxieties. And at one moment it struck me people who i am fighting are teaching me and i am teaching from them!
Hence, they are not my enemies. They are my friends, in a way, and sort of we are each others teachers.
In addition to this, a smart person once told me:
One can learn from everyone, the smartest and most well-educated person or the greatest fool and an idiot. If not what to do then, what not to do.
I learned about dealing with failure
If I am to talk about how judo classes made me a better person i must talk about how i learned to deal with failure.
I am 11 – 12 years old, and my sensei is telling me that next Saturday in town near mine there is a judo competition for children my age. This means that i am going. And i am like:
“I am going to crush this!”
That Saturday came and i was there. Most of the day is in a bit of a blur for me and I do not remember a lot, but a few moments i remember really clear. The day was gloomy, almost dark. I remember last few steps going towards tatami.
I remember vividly This big huge person, with this Frank Zappa style mustache, than a blur, and he said “Ipon!”
“The match is over, i lost.”
And that large man kinda leaned towards me as i was getting up and told me: “Your dad was better at judo than you.”
Ouch, that stings,my father was and still is a kind of judo legend, here and i really wanted to be my father’s son. And that sentence referee told me hit me hard.
I do not remember the road back home. I do not remember the next day. All i remember is that next Monday and kids at school asking me how did i do last Saturday. Of Course that i told EVERYONE about my “Entering this competitive era of my sportsmanship”. And the embarrassment i felt and those words
“Your dad was better at judo than you.”
and my short reply
I was thinking quitting, but that did not. Few more debacles like this and feeling of pointlessness stepped in. So i quit. My father was like full of understanding, and support, and said something in line of “You can quit judo but if I see something less than an A in a report card…” Of Course that he did not mean that.
So couple years later when i started training judo again, and this time i meant business I am going to be European champion or something maybe a national champion. And i trained and trained hard as fu..
I spent between 4 and 6 hours a day training, lots of running, and a lot of judo. At this point my father became sensei in our dojo and it was hard for me in a way that judo classes now are family time, but i liked it, it was actually one of rare occasions that i had the opportunity to spend some quality time with my old man.
And competing in judo started once again. I won a match or two here and there.
This time i was better than myself before but still not my perception of “my father’s son”, this it was a failure.
So i trained more and started running like i was training for athletics championship, really running short and long distances daily, and started lifting some weights, and did a lot of judo. Randori was the key.
And finally i started making actual progress. Winning a few small tournaments, but often found myself in situation where i came in third or second, always losing to this one guy. We were the same age, same height, for all i know i was actually training more than he did. But he was beating me with this annoying regularity. He was just better, but at this point i just kept coming for more. When i say i kept coming for more, i mean really going for it, but at this point something about me changed, i was not thinking of quitting i was focused on a goal, winning that one match that i kept losing over and over again. And to make myself clear, this strange and completely new thing was born inside of me, it wasn’t there before.
And this kept going on for years. And somehow i found myself being a friend with this person. It was a bit weird, he helped me win 20+ silver medals and in many tournaments he helped me be 3rd.
But i kept failing, and failing and as i said it was going on for years. I was this forever vice champion and I continued on.
I was hooked, i loved judo too much to stop for sheer frustration of lack of golden medals.
And I kept failing.
I learned value of hard work in Judo Classes
Failing and training more, and failing and training again. That become my routine and i loved it.
And it is there at that moment that i realized, I learned that:
Defeat is not a bad thing.
Not if you learn a thing or two out of every defeat. And i learned how to do and how not to do.
And one sunny day, this contest came along and an all too familiar setting, elimination rounds cleared, quarter-final match i won, semi final match and i won.
And the “grand” finale is here. All over again. Me and him. This finale was different. It was over sooner than it started. It was over in 20 seconds. Usually all of those finale matches before, dragged on and on sometimes i would lose at the and of a regular time, sometimes we would go on in golden score, and I would lose then. But this time I scored Waza-ari upon first contact and then another one few seconds later.
I won, i actually won
Jigoro Kano once said:
If there is effort there is always accomplishment
And accomplishment was there, and judo classes felt empty, i reached my goal. Now i needed next goal.
I learned what does it mean to be persistent in spite to all of the failures and finally succeed (sort of).
And the goal was set winning national championship, and going to the European championship.
So i trained some more, i sweated and kept ignoring all the small injuries that kept piling up. And left them untreated. Some ice on that knee, some more tape to bandage that finger.
I was winning tournament after tournament and national championship was just over two weeks away. And there was this international tournament in the neighboring country. I was advised against it, but i insisted to go. And so i did, now organisation of this tournament was actually good but they just did not expect that many judokas there. And it was a four hours drive from where i live so we sat in the car at about 3 AM and driven there just in time for weigh-in at about 7:30 AM.
There was so many competitors. It was the biggest tournament held there. And my first match started at 8 PM. Yup, i warmed up for like seven times just to realize that my category was pushed back and won’t yet start. I did not sleep well, i did not, eat well i did everything wrong i was not supposed to be there at all.
8 and something PM, they call my name, and they call this Italian dude to come out on the tatami. I measured my opponent up before stepping on tatami, and remember thinking to myself “This is going to be easy”. Referee said Hajime! And the match started. I grabbed his right sleeve with my left hand, i got my right hand over his left shoulder, and i had full control. I was stronger, I was faster, he could not stand up to me. Waza-ari! “Damn, it should have been Ippon. Newer mind this will be a nice warm up round to get my blood pumping.” I thought to myself.
Let’s do it one more time left hand, I control his right hand, my right hand over his shoulder and close of his left hand a few steps around him and, my bloody right shoulder pops up?!?!?
I kid you not this actually happened. I was actually just standing there and my goddamn shoulder popped out of socket completely. As i was rushed to the hospital for an emergency re-positioning or my goddamn right hand all i was thinking about was how this must be fixed ASAP it needs to work as expected in two weeks from now, i got national championship coming…
And then finally I learned how to let go (sort of)
Doctors actual conversation in hospital:
-We have another shoulder.
-God hates us…
And i kid you not this was an actual conversation between two members of medical staff at the hospital, there is something about sports and muscles cramping hard so they need to anestesize you totally for some medical reason for example they not being able to reset shoulder because of the tension in the muscles.
Long story short, first thing doctor asked me after getting out of anesthetics was, and i am paraphrasing here it has been a while, so doctor slammed “before x ray” of my shoulder to that white light board took a good look at it and:
-You are going to college, right?
-You should really stick to it…
Not actual footage of my shoulder. But disturbingly similar.
Now at first i was thinking something in line of
Fu*k this person in particular .
It was a long drive home, and all i could think at the backseat was that this is not going to fix it self in two weeks before national championship, is it?
After 3 weeks of bandages for keeping my shoulder in place, well i pretty much didn’t have any muscle on my arm national championship was over and i was working on getting my arm moving again.
After a while it was better, a few months i could use my arm but no competing was waiting for me in future. I guess i got lazy or i was just sick of all of it, i don’t really know i just could not step on tatami again. And slowly i learned how to let go of those big dreams, like European championship, world championship, Olympics… I know those were only dreams but those dreams kept me going and enduring all the defeat and left me focused on the good stuff.
So i let my dreams remain unfulfilled and started waiting tables in this local drinking bar.
And after couple of years of waiting tables and bar-tending i decided to do my own thing and opened my own bar and failed spectacularly, i mean it was crash and burn on a biblical levels.
This is actual footage of me in my bar…
Guess why it failed 🙂
And i have fallen in debt and me and my family almost lost everything.
O and did i mentioned that i dropped out of school?
Yeah, i did that too well i had no money and could not pay the scholarship so i just stopped going. It was before bar-tending career / bar owning career.
It was a rough patch, but I never got to upset actually, i was pretty chill about it.
It seems crazy to many people.
But i knew that me at that point was product of the work i did on myself, and that i need to do some more work to be better.
Bar-tending was of the table for me, for simple reason of it would be a step down so i changed my way. I got into the software testing, so i started working on that from scratch, and though my self about software development and software testing, got the first freelance job, and second one, and i got myself employed.
I sucked at first. I was awful and often criticized. And i got better, and better.
And now a few years later i am pretty good at what i do. And i strive to be better.
How did i get here?
Well it started more than, 25 years ago i stepped in a tatami on a for the first time.
And to summarize all of this how judo helped me become a better person?
It gave me a specific set of tools for dealing with failure, gave me this a bit overzealous tenacity for finishing tasks ahead, and finally a tool that allows me to drop a lost cause when i see it.
Kudos for enduring me and this long story of me saying praises about me i hope that it was therapeutic and fun to read as it was for me to write.