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Judo: Learning to Respect Strength on Many Different Levels

The interior of my wrist pressed into the neck of my opponent cutting off her air supply.  I was not permitted to let go until she signaled surrender with three rapid taps on the mat.  Thirty minutes prior I had walked into Kokushikai Judo Academy in Fair Lawn, New Jersey with only a rudimentary understanding of the sport.  Wearing a borrowed judo-gi from the school, I walked through the impeccably clean dojo and asked instructor, and three time Olympian, Celita Schutz to help me tie my belt because I had no idea how.  Under her strict supervision, less than an hour later, I was entrusted with the safety of another student in my grip. I was practicing judo.

Judo is an Olympic sport developed from the fighting art jujutsu. Translated as the gentle way, in judo, grappling, throwing and holding techniques are used with an emphasis on efficiency of movement rather than brute strength.  From beginning to end my first class at Kokushikai helped me understand what that really meant.

Warm up was a series of familiar strength and stretching exercises; I felt entirely confident keeping up.  But as the uchikomi, or standing throwing drills began, I had my first encounter with the academy principle sei i, best summed up in the word trust. Paired with a more experienced student, I allowed her to practice wrapping her leg behind my knee to take me down; then it was my turn.  As I gripped the front of her judo-gi, I was reminded how much trust students must have in one another to practice these techniques over and over.  It was difficult for me to share this trust, but my partner treated me with the patience of someone who knew what it felt like to be a beginner.

Moments later, lying on my back, adrenaline pumped through me.  Newaza uchikomi, ground fighting with partners, had begun and I was instructed to get out of the hold that kept me down and I could not do it.  My primal fear began to subside when Schutz Sensei showed me how to throw my opponent by lifting my hips as I pulled her judo-gi in the same direction.  In one move I went from scared to powerful.

The last portion of the class was dedicated to tachiwaza – sparring.  Only half of the class spars so the other can observe and learn.  The extreme diversity in level and age was impressive.  There were children as young as eight and adults past fifty.  One student, Cindy, is a sight-impaired paralympian who competed in the London games.  I would later learn that this class was intentionally mixed and contained many family members.  Schutz Sensei explained that diversity is important in judo because we should seek to learn from our opponent rather than beat them. Judo is for those desiring strength of mind and body. The class ended with us all on the same level kneeling on the floor and bowing.

———- Reported by Devon Brown

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Kokushikai Judo Academy
24-28 Fair Lawn Ave.  Fair Lawn, NJ 07410
TEL: 201-797-8988 / www.kokushikai.com

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Eighth degree black belt and technical advisor, Matsumura Sensei uses his knowledge to refine and perfect.

The writer engaging in her first technical hold with Schutz Sensei’s guidance.

Schutz Sensei demonstrates the proper execution of a choke hold.  The opponent must tap to be released.

The Sunday class I attended is mixed adult and children allowing families to practice together.