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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

 

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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