I can tell you fancy, I can tell you plain/ You give something up for everything you gain/ Since every pleasure’s got an edge of pain/ Pay for your ticket, and don’t complain. –Bob Dylan
Two and a half weeks left until the tournament- how the hell did 8 weeks go by so fast? Current weight: 158 lbs. If you’ve been following this series, recall that 160 lbs. is the hard limit for my weight class. If I reach July 12th any heavier, I will end up as the lightest person in the next weight class up, which would likely be disastrous; if I get much lighter than 155, I’ll lose the advantage of being the heaviest person in my current weight class. Fortunately, my current weight is the “set point” that I hover around in the summer months, and my strength training program has been carefully planned to avoid creating a hypertrophy-friendly environment. It’s also tough to eat the amount of food that significant muscle growth requires; in order to do what I need to do throughout the increasingly hotter days, I tend to adopt a very light eating pattern throughout the day, and then make up the difference with a big, high quality dinner in the evening (digestion increases the thermic effect of metabolism, and I’d rather be hungry than miserable).
I may have to cut the strength component of my conditioning a little shorter than planned, or at least modify the exercises involved, thanks to a well-bruised knee. Our training space is carved out for an hour in the multi-purpose room at the local Y, and like many such places, isn’t all that ideal. Concrete floor with a thin layer of institutional carpet is the surface that we lay our mats on. We have four high quality mats, and several older, broken down mats that offer little cushioning for high amplitude throws. The heavy mats form the core of our training layout, with the older ones as runoff around the edges. With 6 people on the mat, it’s inevitable that randori will end up spilling into these, and even if I can’t see the surface that I’m being thrown on, the landing site is immediately apparent by the quality of the landing. Last week, I hit a drop seoinage on a heavier partner, my knee landing squarely in the fold of one of these old mats, and knew immediately that it was going to be a pain in the ass. And it has been. A nice bruise on the inferior aspect of the patella, with inflammation of the bursa, has been my reward. Some bruised ribs from a very sharp tai otoshi on the same mats joined it on a different night, but as Jane’s Addiction reminds us, so what. Once the tournament is behind me, it may well be time to do some serious work towards gaining 10 pounds or so of extra myofibril padding.
The split between really good nights of Judo and really tough nights of Judo has been about even lately. On the really good nights, I’ve discovered a propensity for kami shiho gatame/the north south hold. Once I get it, I usually keep it. It just feels solid, and so far, there is far less potential for my partners to escape it than there is with the others. If my opponent turtles up, okuri eri jime has been a goal for avoiding prolonged grappling, and the last couple of nights I seem to have rounded a corner with setting it up cleanly. There are, of course exceptions, like one partner’s horribly efficient tani otoshi counters, and another’s far higher efficiency in ground work. Sometimes progress leaps onto the scene, and sometimes it drags itself in by the fingertips, but that’s part of the game. If it were easy every night, everyone would be doing it.
This reminds me of a perennial annoyance about discussing martial arts with non-practitioners, especially when it comes to Judo- people are likely to knowingly say things like “oh, using the opponent’s aggression against them, yeah.” Actually, no. Too often, a cloyingly new-age tinged approach to martial arts, that is not good for much but generating revenue and reinforcing self-important delusions, substitutes for the reality. There is a need to be able to sense an opponent’s physical advance and take advantage of it. You have to learn to relax under decidedly non-relaxing conditions, but this is balanced by a need to be able to catch opponents off guard with your own targeted applications of force. So let me do my best to disabuse the casual reader of this notion right now: “gentle way” is a sorry-ass translation for Judo. Jigoro Kano probably giggled over that one on his death bed. This is not to say that you can’t do it in softer ways; some lighter training has to be included in order to learn, experiment and recover. But- the reality of it is that you also have to spend considerable time getting banged around, and striving to do the same to your partner before he or she does it to you. If self defense skills are your main training motivation, and you are conditioned to reacting instead of acting, then that goal is being undermined. The latter part of that equation has always been a weak point in my own training. I need to develop better technical grappling skills, and be able to couple skill with decisiveness in grappling situations. Getting back into Judo has been as much about improving my grappling skills as it has been about remedying this situation. The tournament is not about proving anything, but about getting past a sticking point. Just doing it (and lasting at least a minute) is enough reward for me.
I had to remind myself of this a few weeks ago, when a recent addition to the group (J) lost his temper after I pinned him in a timed randori match. On the night in question, he got a partial throw on me, I countered it, and we hit the mat. I swam up over his aggressive but loose attempts at control, and locked into kesa gatame. He struggled without any success, and after 30 seconds a senior called the match. J jumped up and slammed his hand against the wall, cursed, then stormed out. For just a moment, I thought that he might take a swing at someone, which would have been interesting, and highly unfortunate. Our coach talked to him afterward and made it clear that this wouldn’t be tolerated. We’re a very relaxed club, and his behavior was completely against our wa. It happened again last week. Another new guy put on a choke (hadaka jime), but J wouldn’t tap, and caused himself a lot of unnecessary discomfort. He lingered on the mat for a few moments after his partner let it go, then jumped up and repeated his outburst. Further intervention probably won’t be necessary, as it looks like he simply won’t come back. That’s probably for the best.
In this year of training, I’ve been submitted, pinned, choked, and slammed into the mat more times than I can count. My coach and seniors are great, patient teachers and partners, but they have decades of grappling experience on me. Unless you are training with people who don’t mind getting hit, karate can be dangerously conceptual; some people will quit after the first moderately hard bump. But if you want to get good at a throwing and grappling art, there is simply no getting around the fact that you will be on the receiving end- a lot- before you start seeing improvements. Maybe this is different for larger, more competitively inclined individuals. But in my experience thus far, every inch of progress has required a mile of drilling, trying, failing, occasionally limping, reading, reflecting, and being countered. Especially with that @#$%^&* tani otoshi.
Two and a half weeks left, and my mantra is set: grab and smash. I’m not worried about losing. That can happen. So what. I’ll be at training the next week either way. I’m worried about staying out of my own way, and meeting the challenge with everything that I have to hit it with. I bought the ticket, and soon it will be time to take the ride- hopefully straight down into kami shiho gatame.