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Refereeing: A commentary

Posted: December 14, 2017 by Warren Chow in Competition
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In addition to training in Krav Maga, I am involved in the judo community. For instance, I am a referee for various judo tournaments that are held in the province each year, and I have refereed for matches ranging from white belts to black belts.  In my competition days as a teenager I always took the referee for granted and didn’t appreciate the value that they brought to the match, other than to award points based on actions that the competitors would successfully execute.  However, as I evolved from being a competitor to an adult recreational practitioner, I became interested in becoming a referee and giving back to the community.  I’m unsure about other martial arts, but being a judo referee is an unpaid, volunteer position and, in fact, often involves being hundreds of dollars out of pocket having to travel to the various tournament locations.  So, “giving back” means more than just donating your time.  However, I enjoy refereeing and consider the expenses a cost of having a hobby.  Whether it is judo, or any other sport that requires referees, the role is vital because it allows the athlete to compete to their utmost degree and being in a safe, controlled environment, while being monitored by an objective 3rd party.

When I first started refereeing I was very nervous. Although I was already familiar with the point system and the various calls that the referee would make during the match, and I had taken the two-day seminar that went into much more detail on the duties of the referee before, during, and after the match, I still wasn’t prepared for being out there on the mat trying my best to make the right calls at the right times.  In fact, the first tournament I refereed at was a simple, low stake, “inter-club tournament” for juniors, but I was very nervous and was stalling as long as I could until my daughter threatened to call me out and embarrass me in front of everyone unless I got my butt out there on the mat “right now!”.  I did not have fun that day, but I also knew that it was the first time I refereed matches in real-time, with real winners and losers, and that the experience would (or should) only get better from that day forward.

161203-14.jpgThe referee is responsible for much more than is evident. In judo, the referee ensures that the mat area is clean of debris before the match, the competitors have regulation gis that fit properly, and follow the proper protocols for bowing and being prepared to fight.  During the match the referee controls the flow of the engagement by awarding points or penalties appropriately and pausing the match at the necessary times.  After the fight is over, the proper winner must be announced, and the protocols followed for disengaging from the match.  The top three priorities for a referee are ensuring the match is conducted in a safe manner to prevent injuries, being objective and fair towards both competitors, and keeping the flow of the match moving along.  As with anything with rules, the application of the rules becomes more of an art than a science.

In the referee seminar, one of the points that the instructor stressed was that, in the end, the right person needs to be declared the winner. Anything else is a lower priority.  This may seem obvious, but as the competitors are fighting, time is ticking, and points or penalties are being awarded left and right, and it can be confusing for the scorekeepers to keep up.  Although it is rare, there has been more than one occasion in which a coach on the sidelines is yelling to have the score changed because there was some mix-up, and they are right to be upset.  In the junior matches the stakes are not very high since they are regarded as developmental tournaments and learning opportunities.  However, in the more senior matches it is vital that the correct scoring is applied as the outcome can directly impact and influence the athletes’ candidacy for moving on to higher level tournaments.  Or, in the case of the annual Canadian Judo Nationals, can determine who gets to stand on top of the podium and be declared “The Best in Canada”.  As the instructor constantly repeated, any call can be overruled and corrected before the fight is officially over and the winner is declared.  And with that in mind, it made my learning curve for refereeing much less stressful.

As I’m progressing through my refereeing career it’s becoming easier and easier. With each tournament I attend, I learn a bit more and since I’m less nervous, I can focus more on smoothing out my rough edges and improve on making better judgements.  In the beginning I was stressed because, as the referee, you’re out there on the mat along with both of the competitors, so it’s easy to be self-conscious.  However, as my daughter continued to remind me, “Nobody’s looking at you, they’re watching the athletes.  They don’t care about the ref!”.  The more experience you gain as a referee allows you to progress through the various levels, and you can then be a referee at tournaments in other provinces, or at the national level.  Of course, if one had started refereeing early enough, you can gain enough experience to referee at international competitions in other countries, up to and including the Olympics.  However, for myself I’m content with staying at the provincial level for now, but who knows what will happen in the future.

In most sports there are various roles available in which a person can participate, whether it’s as an athlete, a coach, or a referee. Of course, as one gets older it becomes more difficult to be a competitor so the natural progression from there is to be a coach or a referee, if the sport requires one.  As you progress through your sporting career I hope that you remain involved even after you can no longer compete, since the experience and knowledge that you’ve gained would be invaluable input for the next generation of athletes.  Let them learn from your experience and give back to the community that helped form you to be the person you are today.  Since I find it exciting to watch competitive judo, refereeing gives me the opportunity to stay involved in the matches at an intimate level.  Also, I get the best seat in the house!

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In addition to being a Krav Maga practitioner, I train in judo and have always been interested in the competitive and tournament side of the sport. While others may love watching a great football pass that leads to a spectacular 50 yard run resulting in a touchdown, I am equally enthralled when I watch a judoka execute a perfect throw on a resisting opponent.  It can be an amazing sight to see.

One thing that I always found interesting was that at the end of a match, several times the judokas would be splayed out on the mat, seemingly exhausted to the point of not being able to move. They would lie there for several seconds until the referee would motion for them to stand up and bow off, thus officially ending the match with a winner declared.  I would think, “How could they be so active and fighting hard just a few seconds ago and now they can’t even move?  They’re young and they’re fit, so how could they be so tired?”.  I spoke to my daughter about this, who is also a judo competitor, and she said she’s experienced that level of exhaustion many times in her tournament matches, or the training camps.  It wasn’t until I experienced the same level of exhaustion in my recent green belt test that I appreciated even a small trace of what my daughter was talking about.

It is difficult for a person to independently push themselves to the point of exhaustion because usually before they get to that stage, they’ll stop and take a break. It’s like trying to hold your breath until you pass out.  There may be some fitness fanatics who do push themselves to that degree on a regular basis, but I believe that for the average person, which I consider myself to be, there are primarily 3 situations which could drive them to the point of exhaustion and beyond.

1) In a test,

2) In competition

3) In a life-threatening situation.

 I heard people shouting “Get up!  Get up!” but it just wasn’t happening.  My spirit was there, I was fully aware of what was going on, but my body was just not responding.

 

In each of these situations, the timing of when the “ordeal” ends is out of your control, so you have no choice but to fight through the pain and keep on going.  Personally, it’s been years since I’ve been at this level of intense situation, if ever, so in retrospect, I found it an interesting experience to be pushed to the point of exhaustion.  During the green belt test, this point occurred when I was sparring one-on-one with someone in the last few minutes of the 3 hour test.  I was already tired, physically and mentally, and I found myself on the ground.  As I was trying to get back up my body, my arms, my legs, and anything else literally felt like 1000 pounds and I could not lift myself up, as much as I was telling myself to continue fighting and get back up.  I heard people shouting “Get up!  Get up!” but it just wasn’t happening.  My spirit was there, I was fully aware of what was going on, but my body was just not responding.  It was like being in a bad dream where you find yourself running through molasses.  I think that was the point that Jon told me later when he thought I wasn’t going to make it and was going to give up.  But slowly, ever so slowly, while trying to punch at the same time, I managed to get up.  I know now that when pushed to your limit, it truly becomes a game of mind over matter.  It would have been so easy to just lie down and think “Who cares.”, but if you’re determined and you refuse to give up, you will overcome things that your body tells you it doesn’t want to do.

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I can’t imagine being in a situation like this again, at least in the near future, but I now better appreciate how competitors will find themselves splayed out on the mat at the end of a match unable to get up. I also appreciate more what my daughter has gone through in her judo training and competitions.  If you get the chance where you will be pushed to this point of exhaustion, you should embrace it and relish the opportunity, because it will likely be in a safe environment where there is minimal risk of injuring yourself, or worse.  It’s an interesting experience and you will be surprised at how much you can tolerate and where you discover the edge of your envelope is.  And then the next time, you can push beyond it.  Push yourself, strive for more, keep going and don’t give up!  You’ll thank yourself later.

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A few days ago my brother sent me an email in which he wrote, among other things, the following:

“On Broadway I just passed a big 1st nations guy who was shifting back ‘n forth on sidewalk blocking a young Chinese women from passing. 1st of all I thought it was just play, even thought perhaps they knew each other.  I simply walked past them, looked back and realized he was harassing her.  Just at this moment her Chinese guy friend caught up with her, didn’t say anything, and the 1st nations guy continued on his way. I heard her say to her friend (in Chinese), “that was really scary”.  It was over in less than 10 seconds.

If he kept harassing her, I would’ve gone back and said something like “is this guy bothering you”, but I would’ve kept a distance. I would never get into physical confrontation, except for immediate family.  You often wonder how you would react.”

It started me thinking about his statement of “You often wonder how you would react.” How would I have handled the situation?  In spite of the years of self-defense training I’ve had, I know that nothing will prepare me for actually being in a situation like that in which a wrong decision can have potentially disastrous results, and not just for myself.

I decided that since it’s impossible to know exactly what I’d do, I would break down some key actions that, knowing myself, I am positive would happen and then go from there.

  • I’m positive that I would have helped out. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to just walk away and ignore the situation, knowing that someone needed help. Would I have been scared? Absolutely. But the adrenalin would have started flowing and my senses would be up.
  • I’m positive I would have stayed with the woman until other help came, or I was able to get her out of the situation.
  • I’m positive I would have tried to defuse the situation as much as possible, and getting into a physical confrontation would have been the last resort.

Now for the parts I hope would happen:

  • I would hope that my training would have kicked in and I would have watched for friends of his, and watched for a weapon.
  • I would hope that I would keep my hands up in a semi-passive stance, while starting to put myself between the guy and the woman, and slowly distance us away from him.
  • I would hope that I would think about weapons of opportunity, be aware of the limitations on me that would constrain my movement, and look for exit points.

The problem with facing unknown situations in real life is that you have no idea that it’s going to have a happy ending. It’s not like a commercial break is going to start in 30 seconds that will break up the tension so you have time to go for a bathroom break.  It’s real life and it’s happening at that moment.

Think about your own training, your own temperament, and your own ability to assess unknown situations. In my case, I hope that at a certain point my training would have taken over and I would have made the best of a bad situation.

In your case, what would you have done?

On September 30th I tested for my green belt and, as with most important things in life, while the test itself was only 3 hours, the culmination of events leading up to the test was far more involved.

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Firstly, a bit of background on myself. I joined UTKM when the school first opened, and while I was just one of several students in the first class, I’m pretty sure that I’m now the only one from that day who is still taking Krav Maga with UTKM.  It’s understandable because circumstances constantly change and life throws curve balls, and for whatever reason people move on.  In my case I’m fortunate because I’m at the stage of life where it’s generally predictable, e.g. job, family, home, so I’ve been able to continue learning Krav Maga fairly consistently for the past few years.

In the beginning, I was diligently attending classes twice a week and attending the occasional seminar, took the yellow belt and orange belt tests within the first couple of years, and even earned my PAL license as a requirement for eventually taking the green belt test. However, as time passed and I was feeling more familiar with the curriculum and life became busy with the judo activities for both my daughter and myself, I cut back to just once a week.  Then once a week became once every two weeks, and soon there were occasions in which I didn’t go to class for over a month.  I had plateaued and I knew it.  Interest was down, and I felt like I was just going through a rinse-repeat cycle in the classes.  One instructor understood what I was going through and he advised me to “Finish the mission.”, i.e. get my green belt.  Although the belt levels progress beyond green, attaining the green belt is a significant milestone because it meant that I had passed the physical and technical curriculum of Krav Maga and would then move into the more advanced strategies and techniques. There would be less emphasis on the physical requirements, and sparring would be optional and not mandatory.  Still, I had lost motivation to progress and, truth be told, I was thinking of stopping altogether.

What finally made me start thinking about taking the green belt test was that I was noticing how many more yellow belt and orange belt tests were being scheduled. Soon the “yellow and orange belt class” started growing from just a couple of students to then a handful, and there were more frequent announcements of students progressing through the belt levels.  On one hand I was realistic enough to know that my prime objective in taking Krav Maga was to learn how to protect myself and my family, so officially attaining the green belt didn’t mean much to me, but on the other hand I wanted to be recognized for my experience and the knowledge that I had acquired over the years.  Another (scary) thought that crossed my mind was that I was getting older, and while age shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to achieve anything, it is a reality that physical activity becomes more challenging with age.  I turned 54 at the end of October, so the window of opportunity was starting to shrink and I knew that if I didn’t take the physically-challenging green belt test soon, it would likely never happen.  Plus, Jon wouldn’t stop hassling me to get it, so I finally relented and scheduled a testing date.

Warren Green Belt RunningI had 6 weeks to train for the test, and come hell or high water, I was going to be ready for it. Jon told me one time that one of his biggest annoyances is when people don’t follow through on what they say they’re going to do, so once I put out the date I was committed to meeting the challenge and not letting him down.  Since I was already confident that I knew the techniques and the curriculum and would only require a refresher, I was aware that the physical requirement of the test would be the bigger challenge.  The warm-up for the test is 75 push-ups, 85 sit-ups and a 2 km run, and that’s even before the technical part of the test begins.  I usually commute to work by bike, and even though it’s only 6 km each way and it gives me a bit of a workout, I knew it wouldn’t be enough.  I despise running so for me, it was a very big psychological barrier to hit the track and start training for the test.  The first time I ran 5 times around the 400 meter track I was tired, but not exhausted, so I knew if I kept it up it would only get easier once the test day came.  I also began doing push-ups and sit-ups at night, and while in the beginning, I couldn’t reach the required number, after a couple of weeks I was doing 90 push-ups and 90 sit-ups.  I also began eating healthier and cut out the junk food, sugary drinks, snacks, and over-eating.  The results began to show, and I dropped 6 lbs while I was training for the test.

My training regimen seemed to be going well, and then a snag happened. During a class another student puts my head in a guillotine choke and wrenched back on it, and after that my right arm started throbbing and hurting.  This also meant that I couldn’t ride to work anymore so I was afraid that my cardio would drop like a rock.  I went to a physio and he diagnosed that I had pulled a muscle in my neck which resulted in a pinched nerve in my arm, and that’s why I was feeling the pain.  With only two weeks to go before the test, I started seeing the physio as often as I could to try and fix the problem.  After 4 sessions I was still feeling pain, plus I wasn’t sleeping at night where I often wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until past 4 AM, but was still having to get up at 7 AM for work.  The last week before the test I was still seeing the physio, and while the pain had somewhat abated, I knew I wasn’t going to be fully healthy come the testing day.  Still, I diligently continued to keep up the push-ups and sit-ups regimen and also hit the track whenever I could.  The main thing that kept me going was knowing that once I passed the test, I could stop training and wouldn’t have to run around the track anymore, hopefully for the rest of my life.

Test day came, and I did the push-ups, sit-ups and 2 km run with relative ease. However, in retrospect from watching the videos that my daughter took, it was apparent that my sit-ups suck and look more like crunches than full sit-ups.  So one takeaway from the test is that I’m now going to do sit-ups on a regular basis and ensure that they’re proper full ones, instead of the sucky ones that Jon graciously allowed as acceptable on test day.  What came as an unpleasant surprise was that going through the techniques took much longer, and tired me out much, much more, than I had expected.  I thought I was going to whiz through those and get quickly to the sparring part of the test but Jon asked me on many occasions to repeat a technique again, and again.  It became very tiring and by the time the sparring section came, I was both relieved because I knew we were getting to the end of the test, but also dreading it because I knew I didn’t have many physical reserves remaining.  In short, I was very tired.

The last part of the test consists of sparring components which add up to 20 min, with a few minutes rest between each of the 3 sections. In regards to physical activity, one thing I noticed about getting older is that the recovery time takes much longer than when you are in your 20s. While a 20-something person may need only 3 minutes to recover from a strenuous physical activity, in your 50s you may not be able to recover to the same degree unless you had 10 minutes or more.  Still, if that was the test requirement, I was determined to abide by the rules and not ask for any special allowances just because of my age.

Warren Green Belt technique.jpgThe first component of the sparring was to fight 5 different opponents for 1 minute each, with body and leg shots only. At one point Jon tagged my daughter as one of my opponents, and unfortunately, my gross motor movements took over and I threw a couple of punches to her ribs that slightly winded her. She told me later that it got her angry so she started swinging back at me as hard as she could, while I regained my senses and purposely held back.  Nothing like a good father-daughter brawl to strengthen the paternal relationship!  I managed to survive with most of my limbs intact, however, the last round was with Jon and he kicked so *hard* that I still felt the after-effects of his kicks for days.

The next component of the sparring I knew would be my biggest challenge, and that was to survive 10 minutes of attack after attack after attack. It would be relentless and I knew that if I could get past it and have enough energy for the last component, I would be home free.  For some reason, perhaps because I was already in a dream state since I was so tired and I was acting purely on adrenaline, I have no idea where the first 5 minutes went.  All I remember was the countdown for 3 minutes left.  However, I was so exhausted and physically drained by that time that whenever I was down on the ground, and people were shouting at me to get up, my body felt like a thousand pounds and I could hardly move.  Jon told me after that he thought I was going to give up but in the end, I fought through the pain and struggled slowly to my feet while throwing feeble punches at my attacker.  I remembered that Jon had told me that the purpose of that part of the test was not to demonstrate clean techniques but to survive.  Keeping that thought in my mind, I was determined to survive while the clock counted down the last few seconds.

The last component of the sparring was to have 5 rounds of 1 minute each with each attacker. One minute went by, and then another, and I knew that I was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.  While I had zero energy left and nothing more to give, the thought that went through my head was that I was going to dig deep for additional reserves in the last couple of rounds and try to finish strong.  It must have worked because my daughter told me after that I looked stronger in the last two rounds, and my last attacker also said he was surprised that I was still getting some punches through to him even though I was clearly exhausted.  If this was a real-life scenario I still would have been beaten, but I would have had some solace in knowing that I was beaten by a stronger, more rested opponent, and it wouldn’t have been because I gave up and beat myself.

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So that’s the story of my not-so-pretty journey to attain my green belt. I did it, and while I have no doubt that my fellow green belters, and future ones, will be more successful candidates, I faced my limitations honestly, gave no excuses, asked for no allowances, and did what was asked of me.  And knowing that allows me to be content with myself and feel that yes, I earned it.

And in the end, I guess that’s what’s most important.

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Over a period of 4 days, from May 12 – 15, the Canadian National Judo Championships were held in the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta.  Hundreds of athletes from across the country and most provinces traveled to Alberta and converged to compete in the highest level judo tournament of the year to decide who would be the 2016 Canadian National Champion for their respective divisions.  My 14-year old daughter Christine, who only began taking judo just two years ago, came in first place in her division and won a gold medal.  This is how she did it.

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Christine – right

From Krav Maga to Judo

Before Christine started judo, she wasn’t new to martial arts.  She was in the kid’s Krav Maga class for a couple of years so she was already fit and used to having the commitment that martial artists need in order to be successful.  The strong message from her Krav Maga instructor to stay off the ground resonated with her, and one day she asked if she could try judo so she could learn some techniques to use if she should find herself in a ground fight one day.  She discovered that she liked the elegance of judo and immediately wanted to test her skills in a competition when the tournaments started up again in the Fall.  Because Christine is rather light for her age, she has always been in divisions where there aren’t many other girls so her first real tournament had just two other competitors.  She came in first place, was bitten by the competition bug, and has been competing in the local tournaments ever since.

The strong message from her Krav Maga instructor to stay off the ground resonated with her, and one day she asked if she could try judo…

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Over the next year and a half, Christine competed in several tournaments–mostly local and travelling only as far away as Seattle.  Her first tournament in Seattle pitted her against green and blue belts when she herself was only a yellow belt, and although Christine didn’t win a single match, she looked at the situation objectively and didn’t let the loss get her down.  Christine knew she would likely lose but she decided that she would make those other girls earn their wins and she wasn’t going to give them anything.  Her spirit and self-esteem were strong, and she walked away from that tournament determined to one day come back and beat those girls in a future competition. She continued to compete in tournaments, both winning and losing, but always learning from her matches and taking that experience to the next one.  Her goal was to participate in the 2016 BC Winter Games and represent the zone for her division, and by this time she had earned her green belt.

Road to the Judo Nationals

1The BC Winter Games and the Judo Nationals were only 3 months apart, and Christine wanted to go to Nationals just so she could experience the environment of a high level tournament.  In order to qualify, one must attend training camps, specific selection tournaments, and a minimum number of BC Team practices.  The camps and team practices are grueling and tough, and it takes a certain level of will and commitment to be able to not let them get you down.  After the first team practice where Christine was tossed around like a rag doll, I sensed that she was at a low point and I asked her, “I bet you want to quit judo now, don’t you?”  She just nodded, “Yeah.”  It was a quiet ride home.  However, the additional training was not only helping her qualify for Nationals, but was also good preparation for the upcoming BC Winter Games.  She toughed it out and continued to fulfill the qualifications so she could attend Nationals after the BC Winter Games were out of the way.

She was at a low point and I asked her, “I bet you want to quit judo now, don’t you?” She just nodded, “Yeah.”

The BC Winter Games is a good multi-disciplinary sports event, but is not considered a very prestigious tournament in the judo world, primarily because the competitors are limited to BC residents only so the pool is not very large.  Even though there are eight zones in BC, there were only two other competitors in Christine’s division and unfortunately, just 3 weeks earlier Christine fractured her thumb in a Kamloops tournament and was advised by her doctor to not compete in the Games. In spite of her injury, Christine’s coach taped up her thumb and she competed regardless, eventually losing to a blue belt in overtime and winning silver.  Now her goal was to get healthy so she could be competitive at Nationals only 3 months later.

Christine’s goal going into Nationals was three-fold: (1) to experience the environment of competing in the highest level judo tournament of the year, (2) to win one match, if possible, and (3) if she didn’t win a match, then she’d give the other girls the fight of their lives.  Her first match was with the blue belt to whom she lost against in the BC Winter Games, and to whom160514-23 she’d lost twice before in overtime.  As the scoreless match was winding down, it looked like history was going to repeat itself for a fourth time when, with 8 seconds left, Christine forced a penalty on her opponent and she won the match.  She was ecstatic, and with tears in her eyes she walked off the mat into the arms of her colleagues who surrounded her and congratulated Christine on her win.

With that psychological monkey off her back, Christine couldn’t be stopped and ended up beating a green belt from Saskatchewan, another blue belt from Ontario, and a brown belt from Quebec to secure her first place win.  During the match with the green belt the other girl accidentally punched Christine as she was going in for a throw, and in the video you can clearly see Christine’s head thrown back.  The girl started to say “Oh, I’m sorry…” when Christine shook it off and threw her to win the match.

So what does it take to be a champion?

With every victory, there are usually several aspects that contribute to the win.  In Christine’s case, there were many factors: she had great coaching, strong camaraderie from her teammates, access to excellent training, she had the will to win and perseverance even when the going got tough.  She even reached out to a fitness instructor from UTKM to have him put together a personalized strength and conditioning program for her.  Christine doubts that she would have gotten as far without the proper support system in place, and is grateful to everyone who helped her progress.  In the next season Christine will be in a new division with older and heavier opponents, but she will be bigger and stronger as well, so who knows what will happen at next year’s Nationals.  If she keeps focused and continues to receive the support that’s in place, she should continue to do well.

She had the will to win and perseverance even when the going got tough.

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Christine – centre stage

 

Never Give Up

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.

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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.”

Warrens Brown Bet Cert

By: Warren Chow

My Daughter and I decided to have a little Krav Maga fun on our recent trip to California.

Warren and Christine Chow with a wax terminator Terminator ain't got nothing on this  Christine and Goofy

hasta la vista baby

In addition to Krav Maga I now train in judo.  Truth be told, I first started training in judo in my youth and reached blue belt level before I took a hiatus for years.  A couple of months ago I decided to start training again with the objective of one day earning my brown belt, then eventually my black belt.  I attend at least two 1.5 hr classes a week and slowly I’ve been getting my speed and timing back up to par, and have been scraping the rust off my techniques.  After being away from judo for so long it’s interesting to get back into it and see how the body holds up, because my mind knows what it wants to do, but the body doesn’t want to cooperate.  All in good time.

The dojo I train at is at a community center so the training is less intense than at a dedicated judo club, and this suits me just fine because I’m not looking to enter any tournaments for the foreseeable future.  Not many of the other people who train there are competitive, and in general it’s a good group of people.  However, there’s one person in specific who’s worth mentioning because lessons can be learned from his actions.  He is a green belt, early 20s, and average height and weight for a Caucasian, although he weighs about 35 lbs more than me.

Judo Randori

The other week I was doing randori (judo sparring) with him and it became clear that my technique was better than his.  I’m more controlled and fluid as opposed to his judo being tainted by the assumption that being younger and stronger equates to domination over his opponent.  The judo rules have changed over the years and one can no longer grab the leg of the opponent, because it was being noticed that many judokas with a wrestling background would immediately dive in for a leg takedown and the fight would be over.  So the international judo federation decided that instead of adapting to this move, they would just ban it outright.  Not that I agree with this approach but I don’t sit on that panel.

While we were doing randori his leg came up and I inadvertently grabbed it, because back in my judo youth days I could do that and habits are hard to break.  It was an instinctive reaction but as soon as I grabbed it, I knew it was no longer allowed so I began to release it.  He, however, immediately shouted out “Hey, that’s not allowed!”.  I apologized and said I realized that and it came out of habit, but inside I was thinking that he was too quick to pull the foul card.  Alternatively, he could have used it as an opportunity to test his judo techniques to see if he could counter it and then tell me about the rule change afterwards.

Another time we did randori I was able to trip him up several times and performed a sloppy throw on him, but in his mind he wanted to dominate me.  After all, I’m much older and much lighter than him.  However, when he tried a throw my experience took over and I was able to shift my weight enough to make him collapse on his stomach, with me landing on his back.  I started to throw an arm around his neck to apply a rear naked choke but stopped because we were only doing stand-up randori.  There were a couple of students sitting on the side watching us and they complimented my counter.  For some reason this made the guy angry, and after we got up to start again he completely lost control and charged at me. He had completely forgotten his technique and was just trying to overpower me with his strength and energy, but in judo that doesn’t work.  I defended against his aggression and after he saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere he settled down, to which I then said with a slight smile, “What was that?”.  I talked with my daughter about him because he helps teach the kids class, and she says he’s very annoying.  He will strut around the room watching the kids and then when he tries to show them what they’re doing wrong, he’ll get confused and then ask the instructor to come over and clarify the move.

In my opinion, this person is not a martial artist, and I highly doubt he would be able to protect himself in a real-life fighting scenario.  In the first instance, I performed an action (grabbing his leg) that not only went against his expectations, but also against his ability to defend against it.  Yes, I was not supposed to do that and I was in the process of letting his leg go, but his only defense against it was to protest.  In the street you can’t say “That’s not fair.”  You deal with it first, then you put the pieces together after.  In the second instance, he clearly lost control.  By doing so, his technique fell by the wayside and he became clouded by his anger and frustration.  In the street, losing your cool will get you killed.  And his attitude in teaching my daughter’s class demonstrates to me his overconfidence and arrogance in his technical knowledge which, again, can have disastrous consequences on the street.  I’m sure he loves judo and that’s why he was frustrated that his skill, when put to the test against someone who, in his mind he should dominate, failed miserably.  However, he should use his learnings to decide if he wants to be a judoka, or an effective martial artist who can adapt to the unexpected and survive on the street if the situation arose.

Ask yourself this: Do you want to survive on the street?  Then expect the unexpected and learn to adapt.

Written by: Warren Chow