Above: What Judo can be!
Some of you may be aware that I am currently in the final stages of being graded to my black belt in judo. I first started judo several decades (!) ago when I was 10 years old, and then I had to stop at a blue belt level once I entered university. I was never that enthused about judo when I was younger so when I had the time after I finished school I went onto other things and left judo behind. Fast forward 30 years and my then 12-year old daughter started taking it, and surprisingly enough she started doing so well in competitions that it inspired me to get back on the road to getting my black belt. I should mention that I’ll be 55 at the end of the month so it’s never too late to accomplish something!
The first step was to get my brown belt so I started attending the adult classes and slowly, ever so slowly, dusted off the techniques and began to get my timing back. I was promoted to brown belt within 3 months of my return and then the official clock started on the path to a black belt. In judo there are very specific requirements as a brown belt in order to be graded to black. You need a total of 120 points, accumulated through a combination of competitions, time in training, attendance at seminars, volunteering at tournaments, etc. For older judokas such as myself, you aren’t required to compete and you can gain 30 points per year just by attending regular classes. However, I wanted to speed up the process so I trained to be a referee and began reffing at tournaments several times a year. The points gained by being a referee probably knocked off at least a year from just attending classes to gain points. Also, I wanted to give back to the competition community since I fought in tournaments when I was younger. Although refereeing can be very stressful, it can also be quite enjoyable. The highlight of my career to date was when I reffed at the BC Winter Games this past February.
Once a brown belt accumulates enough points then there’s one more hoop to jump through before being graded, and that’s having to attend a 10 week kata clinic where you learn 9 specific throwing techniques. Although it’s not mandatory to attend, it’s highly recommended and serves to make grading that much easier. You also need your club’s sensei to write the grading board a recommendation letter on your behalf, so if you pull off the attitude that you won’t be attending the clinic then you likely won’t get your recommendation. So not wanting to leave anything to chance, I signed up.
The kata clinic is held in Steveston every Monday night from 8:45 to 10:15 PM. I live in Burnaby close to New West, so Steveston is not close and it takes me about 40 min to get there and back. Plus, it’s at a time when it’s prime time for kicking back and winding down for the day. Needless to say, I find it a struggle to get my butt to the class. The clinic started in September, will end in November, and I have 3 more classes to go. Learning kata isn’t difficult because it’s just a prescribed set of moves, like choreographed dancing, however, if you’ve never done it before then it can be very confusing. While you’re trying to remember exactly how to pull properly for the throw, you forget that your foot needs to be planted and pivoting instead of moving. And since there are kata competitions, it’s very important to get it right because it’s well known how good the kata can actually look. However, the reality is that, like many things in life, it just comes down to practice, practice, practice. The instructors know the moves like the back of their hands and have been doing the kata for literally decades, so it’s easy for them to demonstrate it. However, for newbies like myself, we’re doing well if we can replicate the moves without looking like complete idiots. Learning the kata will also improve my general judo as well, since I’m now being shown more accurately what makes the throws effective.
If all goes according to plan, I will finish the kata clinic on November 5th and be graded
to shodan (black belt) on November 18th. It will have then been a 3 year long journey from my brown belt, and a 45 year journey since I first started judo, and it will be very rewarding once I can put it on for the first time. And as proud as I should be, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that my 16-year old daughter got her brown belt in only 3 years and is already on her own journey to get her black belt. Kids!