After several years on hiatus from training in judo, I recently decided to start training again. If you’re interested, the full background on my decision can be found here. An update to that story is that on June 1st I was promoted from a blue belt to a brown belt, so the end goal of one day earning my black belt is slowly becoming a reality.
The last 3 months has passed fairly quickly and I’m surprised at how fast I was able to progress to a brown belt. Is the judo club I attend then just a belt factory? No, it isn’t. I was already close to getting my brown belt years ago but never graded for it before I stopped training, so essentially I just needed to get my timing and speed back up to par and dust off some of the techniques. I’m still not where I want to be, but in the instructors’ eyes I must be good enough to rate my brown belt.
It was not easy to get back into judo. It is a very physical sport that requires you to get thrown a lot, and when you’re doing randori (sparring) your partner is providing full resistance, and so the techniques you execute have to be proficient enough to catch them off guard. Not an easy thing to do when they’re trying to do the same thing to you. Many nights I didn’t feel like going to class but I knew that if I allowed myself not to, it was a slippery slope and there would be nothing to prevent me from not attending the next class, and the one following that. So I went, and afterwards I would feel very good about myself not just physically but also mentally.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with training. I know some people love it and that’s all they want to spend their spare time doing. Not me. I work full-time, have the regular demands put on me from my wife and two young girls, and train in Krav Maga twice a week. Throw in the judo classes (no pun intended) and my week is pretty well full up and there’s not much time to relax. Then it’s just rinse-repeat the cycle each week, and maybe every so often a holiday breaks up the pattern. So while I know that staying in shape is important and healthy, most nights when I get home from work I just want to kick back for the evening and relax watching TV or reading. That’s when it’s most difficult to get myself up off the couch and go to the dojo, or to Krav Maga class on a Sunday afternoon. However, forcing yourself to do something when it’s the most mentally difficult is what will define you as someone who is determined and perseveres, as opposed to someone who doesn’t succeed at something and thinks the world is against them.
Jimmy Pedro is an American judo competitor and coach, 3 time World medalist and 2 time Olympic bronze medalist. One of his famous quotes is “Every champion wants to quit… At 19, I lost at the Kano Cup, went 0-2. I remember sitting on the steps of the Budokan, thinking to myself: I hate this sport, I just want to quit, this stinks. People see champions as winners, but they don’t see those dark days, the days when they struggled or they lost or they failed or the day in training when they got their butt whooped or those tournaments where they fought miserably. We all go through it. Nobody goes undefeated.” So if even a world class champion can get discouraged in trying to attain a goal, then it’s completely understandable that for us common folk it can be even harder.
Before my daughter Christine joined judo it was inconceivable to me that I would re-join judo and continue progressing towards a black belt. It was absolutely out of the question, especially given my age (51). But now that I’ve been training for a few months and have my brown belt, it’s not only conceivable but also inevitable given I put in enough time. And while I’m happy that I got my brown belt I now think that it’s “no big deal”. My point is that from the outside it can seem like a real achievement to somebody looking in, because if they were in the same position I was in, they would probably think “I could never do it”, but being on the inside it’s truly not a big deal. Now multiply that by 100 fold throughout a person’s lifetime where many people face major challenges, but put their heads down and grind through it anyway, and soon you have a huge gap between the people who have achieved things throughout their life (and think it’s no big deal) and those who feel they could never do it and think they’ll never amount to much (but only because they’ve never tried). “Fear” is a great inhibitor and it gets less and less scary the more you do things out of your comfort zone and more and more scary to those who give up even before they try, just because they think they can’t do it. Challenges are incremental and are less intimidating when you take them small bites at a time.
If you have doubts about whether you can do something, then the greatest mistake is that you don’t try anyway. Yes, you have to weigh the pros/cons, benefits/risks, etc., but if it’s only fear holding you back then that’s the perfect opportunity to face it and know that you’ve tried your very best. In the end, trying something and failing at it is better than not trying at all. In my case if, for some reason, I don’t earn my black belt in judo then I won’t have any regrets because I’m now much further ahead than I thought I would ever be. So think about something that you’ve wanted to do but have just been held back because of fear, acknowledge it, and then go ahead and do it anyway. In the end, you’ll be proud of yourself, the next challenge will come along, and you’ll overcome that as well.
And if you ever feel like quitting, think about another one of Jimmy Pedro’s quotes: “I’ve never been broken in a judo match. I’ve never quit. I’ve fought some guys who were tough as nails. I’ve had to fight for my life. But I’ve never backed down. I might’ve been beaten, but I went out fighting.”
By: Warren Chow