Sei-ryoku Zen-you. Ji-ta Kyou-ei.
The strange tale of an American Judoka in the South.
While I talk about politics a bit, I try not to drone on about it. The reason being, there’s enough Politicos that do this job a lot better than I do. I figured out long ago that sometimes, people want to learn what makes a writer tick. Writers are a strange lot, honestly. We’re tempermental about some things. We’re emotional about others. However, I have a different stance. A fighter’s stance.
The reason I take a fighter’s stance towards life is because I am a fighter, by training. Although, I’m not a fierce fighter. My style of fighting is to use the gentle way to misdirect your throws and your punches. A way to turn Mike Tyson’s right hook into Mike Tyson being thrown over my shoulder. The grappling arts.
Judo is something of a mystery to everyone. Yet, it’s something known. “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey comes from this art. We know she had the goods in the art of grounding an opponent. Judo is an art where the takedown is King or Queen. The one thing in Judo that you absolutely want. IPPON.
Judo was developed by Kano Jigoro in the early 19th century. While America was trying to get its feet on the ground, Japan was undergoing the aftereffects of the Meiji Restoration. The Samurai was going away. The businessman was becoming prominent. The Emperor was regaining his standing, as the Shogun was forced into the annals of history.
Kano-sensei was a small man, even by Japanese standards. A man of five feet and two inches. Ninety pounds. Like every other young man, he wished that he was a little bit taller and a little bit stronger. Yes, the concept of Skee-Lo’s song is generations old. WE all wish to be a little bit taller, a little bit stronger… And yet, Kano-sensei decided to try something different.
He went into the dying art of Jiu-jutsu. The art of the Samurai that was fading away. And to be blunt, Japanese Jiu-jutsu and Brazilian Jiu-jutsu are two completely different items. In fact, it’s comparing Pankration to Modern Vale Tudo. Both are dangerous arts, but age and adaptations have made the child different than the mother.
And to be blunt, BJJ is more of a grandchild of Japanese Jiu-jutsu. Because the child of Jiu-jutsu is Judo. The “pliable/gentle way.” And this is the way that I learned…
I was a pretty weak child for my life, honestly. I was a large baby, born to a diabetic mother. However, life had a way of throwing a curve ball at things. Within my first month on earth, I contracted bronchitis from a relative. From there, my lung capacity was forever damaged. I ended up gaining weight from the inability to breathe.
The inhaler was becoming my crutch, honestly. My childhood was taken up by a prescription inhaler or that disgusting Primatine. Both are really not healthy. Having your life taken up by a cortical steroid is not a life at all. The one moment I lost the inhaler, I was staying with my older brother and his wife. That moment was scary, because my lungs had tightened up tremendously.
It was something that worried my brother, who at the time was a young Sergeant in the Army. His field was called ninety-one bravo, a combat medic. Like my father before him, he went into the family line as a medic. His solution was to slowly wean me off the medicine. He kept me in the cool weather to make sure I was able to breathe. His young wife, worried sick, was wondering if this would kill me.
However, I pulled through it. I had lost my crutch as a 8-year-old young boy. And then, he made a call to someone that I had feared for a while. Our small, yet fiery, Japanese aunt. He knew as a young prodigy, that I would end up picked on. Because a sad fact in the South, being smart doesn’t always ensure anything. Our city was a land of the gun-toting farm boy. And Aunt Noboko was going to give me a fighting chance.
My early teenage years were filled with Chankonaba, Sushi and Miso. I was too small to survive, she said. I was too weak mentally, she claimed. Aunt Noboko Uehara was all of four foot, eleven inches. She was a typical Japanese-Korean maiden on the outside. A regular homemaker. But she had another side to her. She had learned the way under Kano’s students. She was a young lady when Kano died during the war…
She had married my uncle, Carl. A former Reconnaissance Marine, who was operating out of Okinawa. They met during the Korean War, when he was going on missions into the unknown. She grew tired of her discriminated life, as well. As a half-Japanese, she was treated as a gaijin. An outsider. Okinawa, however, she was not treated as such. But Okinawa could never be her home. The Ryukyuans were not her people. They never could be.
So, she came to our nation as the wife of a Marine. And developed her iron will, as a woman who knows what life was like as an outsider. She saw a young student who needed to overcome his own obstacles in life. A student who could do better in life. Second by second, and throw by throw, she morphed a much larger student into something she could put her mantle onto. I was her only student…
You won’t find Noboko-sensei in any history books. That’s how she likes it. In her mind, she’s just a simple teacher and a simple cook. Her legacy would be her children. And I was one of them. Not a born child to her, but a child of her learnings. She was a 7th Dan Judoka. A woman who knew how to manipulate the weight of men five times her size. And do it quite well.
I was thrown for a loop most days, as she demonstrated every throw that I would have to learn in practice. And the funniest fact about her, I learned a love of professional wrestling from this dimunitive woman. Various wrestling shows. I was exposed to Shin Nihon Puroresu, or as any fan knows it today… New Japan Professional Wrestling.
She used the connection between the wrestling shows with the flash and her teaching. Because, there are elements of judo in modern wrestling. The kata-guruma aka “the shoulder wheel” is the modern day “Fireman’s carry.” The tsuri-gosh aka “the hip toss” is a common move today. Even the o-soto-gari which is known as the STO (Space Tornado Ogawa) is common today…
The many throws and locks that she demonstrated became hammered into my head over time and repetition. But she also hammered the philosophy of Judo. The way of maximum effort with minium energy. The minium energy didn’t mean that you were lazy. It meant that you learned how to make your point without superflous methodology.
While this article isn’t the shortest one that I’ve written, there’s been a point to it. Much like life strategy, I picked up a philosophy from a demure woman. Learn the most efficient way of attacking life. But sometimes, you don’t even have to attack life. Sometimes, you wait for life to attack you.
It’s a strange thinking, isn’t it? Waiting for life to attack, when our western culture tells you to attack life first. Yet, that’s the way of thinking into the mind of a judoka. Looking for the opportunity that may or may not come. Always in a stance of least resistance. Not because we’re passive, but ready to manipulate the physics of life…
This is the strange way of a judoka in a traditional American city. The gentle way, in a world that is far from from it.