Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mama Always Told Me to Play Nice With the Girls

Mama always told me to play nice with the girls.

…but apparently no one told the girls to play nice with me.

I was pulled aside yesterday during training by two of the Japanese judoka. They wanted to explain, with much regret, that there are two tournaments in the following couple weeks. That being said, they will not have time to train with us foreigners. So…. We decided to train with the girls.

I am not in the least ashamed to admit that I was thoroughly and completely beaten by a girl weighing 10-kilos less than I do. I am only slightly chagrinned to confess that I was beaten thoroughly and completely by several girls weighing 10-kilos less than I do.

For anyone who has seen a women’s judo club, however, this might not come as a surprise. Women in Japan train hard. Where many men will stand around and watch their fellow judoka spar, the women have no such opportunity. Due to the relatively small number of women judoka—around 25 in this club—every person is on the mat training for the entire two hour session. class began with several minutes of uchikomi [technique drills] followed by more uchikomi while running across the length of the dojo. After 25 minutes of 1-point randori (spar until someone scores a point and then switch partners) there were six six-minute rounds of randori while keeping the same partner during the entire round. Finally, we finished with 20 minutes of ne-waza (ground fighting) and another several minutes of technique drills.

There is one major difference in the way men and women do judo: women depend completely upon skill. Some men take advantage of greater size and strength to overpower their opponents. The women, on the other hand, rely more heavily on their ability to drop below an opponent’s center of gravity while using the opponent’s momentum and motion to throw. I was very surprised at the number of women who successfully leg-swept me to the mat; few men I have trained with here have the timing to catch me so precisely off balance. Although none of the women judoka attempted to throw me using the hips—haraigoshi, uchimata—I was extremely impressed with their ability to generate momentum by twisting. Twisting inside an opponent’s guard is absolutely crucial for hip techniques, but the women leaned more heavily toward throws that took advantage of their shorter stature.

Another noteworthy difference with the women judoka was there immediate acceptance of the foreigners, including myself. Perhaps this is due to the fact that women must struggle to find respect in Japan. Whatever the case may be, they did not hesitate to toss me on the ground at the first opportunity.

Ironically, during the two five-minute breaks between randori sets, the women served us iced lemonade… some aspects of Japanese culture run very deep.

This was a great chance to spar against judoka with very different skills and styles of play. My only frustration came during ne-waza after a girl very quickly put a choke on me. The sensei shouted, “Niko, she beat you in thirty seconds.” My immediate instinct was to reply, “Yes, I’ve been here a month and a half and this is the first time I’ve done judo!” Instead, I made sure to twist the next girl’s arm until she tapped out.

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