Saturday, April 16, 2011

Training Continues...As Does the Frustration

After several days of training, we finally began to understand how the system works. Twenty-five red belts are given to the sempai—students with the longest time in the club—and these twenty-five students stand to one side of the room and will participate in every round of sparring. The rest of the judoka not wearing a red sash come forward each round and ask to do randori with one of these sempai. This explains why, when I asked a person standing on our half of the room if he would spar, he refused and mentioned the belt. Of course, he didn’t have the red sash!
The sempai will do anywhere from eight to ten six-minute rounds of randori. After that, the red belts are given to lower ranking members of the dojo who will go on to do five to seven rounds of randori. This randori is part of “tachi- waza” or “standing technique”. When tachi-waza has finished, we have a five minute break before beginning “ne-waza” or ground technique. Everyone participates in five rounds of ne-waza and there is no silly red sash system.

Despite our greater understanding of the dojo, the first week of training we were rarely picked for sparring. My sighted friends have had somewhat more success—though by no means a warm welcome—but I have only had limited chances to train and, these, only when Koshino sensei has directly ordered someone to practice with me. Even when two dojo members were ordered to act as my “support staff,” their aid lasted for one day.

Despite this, I walk into the center of the room between every round and hope someone will pick me. Mostly, people avoid looking at me. It’s ironic that I cannot see the Japanese students… and they pretend they can’t see me!

I knew that acceptance in Japan would be very difficult. The best I can do, for the moment, is put myself out there and be seen. Visually impaired people are very much *not* seen in Japan. Many of the dojo members think I will be a passing novelty and doubt my abilities to take a fall. Koshino Sensei, at least, is very encouraging. Despite being the man in charge, he cannot force people to understand me.

While walking back from the dojo today Koshino sensei snuck up and grabbed my arm, saying “If I were you, I could not do this.”
“I think you could.” I answered him.
“No,” he said, “I would be too afraid.”

I’ll just keep walking out into the center of that room, even if it feels like I’m all alone in the dojo.

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