Thursday, April 21, 2011

Every Silver Lining Has Its Cloud

Today marks two full weeks of training here at the International Budo Daigaku. Apart from Sundays, when the dojo is closed, I have attended every possible practice including the running and weight-lifting at 7:00 in the morning. Half of my cuticles have been peeled back from grabbing stiff dogis with dry hands, the joint at the base of my right thumb feels jammed, my right eye is black and blue from someone kneeing me in the face and one toe is slightly swollen from where I kicked a man while attempting a leg-sweep. (For the record, he fell down.) All in all, I haven’t been overly impressed with the skill level of these judoka.

The last two days have seen a marked improvement in the behavior of some of the Japanese students, however. I am averaging about five rounds of randori (sparring) out of a possible fifteen per day and, although Koshino Sensei still must order some of the students to go with me, a few of the boys have come of their own volition. It’s not perfect, but its four rounds of randori more than what I was getting last week.
It seems I have been relegated to a corner of the dojo, though, as I am not allowed to spar with anyone in the center of the room. The obvious answer for this is: “Oh, you can’t see the other groups sparring, so they put you in the corner where there are fewer people.” Unfortunately, this hypothesis is completely negated when you notice that the Japanese students seem totally unaware of their surroundings during randori. I could talk for hours about the importance of awareness in budo… one of the fundamental principals in my opinion. The fact that I have had three pairs of people slam into me while I stood against the wall at the edge of the tatami-mat leads me to wonder if maybe everyone here is blind.

Yesterday, I finally managed to communicate to one judoka that he should actually fight me if he didn’t want to end up on his back with my knee in his groin. I communicated this by throwing him on his back and putting my knee in his groin. It was like a light came on in his head. He jumped up, said, “Onegaishimasu!” and started sparring seriously and not just making half-hearted attempts to kick my ankles.
Since then, most of the judoka I’ve sparred with have made legitimate attempts to throw me. They might only be playing at 75%, but that is 75% better than before.

But every silver lining has its cloud. As the five of us foreigners stood to the side while the Japanese began class today, Koshino Sensei walked up to us and said “There’s a tournament coming up. Sorry. Try to make friends.”
This was meant to excuse the behavior of students who refused our requests to practice. They only want “serious” training now while preparing for the tournament. So, it’s not only me who has been having difficulties in finding acceptance. But I think the IBU will find it has a very stubborn group of gaikokujin—foreigners—this year.

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