Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas at the Kaikan

It was your typical holiday scene on December 25th, 2011, at the home of the Bekkasei students of Budo University in Katsuura, Japan. Everyone gathered round the Christmas Cane and peered with wide eyes and wonder at the heaps of food laid out before them. No stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but I do believe there were some slippers left haphazardly by the door. NO one wore a kerchief or a cap, but rather tracksuits and hoodies were quite in vogue. Sugar plumbs did not dance in our heads, but rather high-carb pastas and potatoes rested sanguinely in our stomachs. There did, however, arise such a clatter from the kitchen…. But that just turned out to be a Finish man who had no idea how to cook.

It’s never nice to spend the holidays alone and, let’s face it, plane tickets were just too expensive to afford this year. So the Bekkasei who remained in Japan for the holidays all gathered together on the night of the 25th to share a wonderful meal. The only requirement was that each person makes something to share; no chips or snacks purchased at the convenience store were permitted. If there's one thing all martial artists have in common it’s a love of eating!

The variety of smells emanating from the kitchen was something spectacular. Seven countries were represented around our table, that night, and each person made something unique. From Italy we had spaghetti a la carbonara; way, way too much spaghetti a la carbonara. As an American from Michigan, I made bean soup and a blueberry cake (from scratch, baked in a rice cooker). Another American made clam chowder while our third fellow from New York made stuffing. From Korea we had kimchi and bibimbap, while our Turkish member made chicken and rice. From China we sampled another, much spicier chicken and our Mexicans provided fajitas and tacos. The German PHD student brought gingerbread and… chile con carne? (well, it’s not German, but it’s good). Finally, our Finish friend made… something. There were several attempts at boiling and then frying potatoes. After all was said and done there was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes and a fried potato dish with sausage and eggs. And mustard. Don’t forget the mustard. The mustard really makes this dish, use the damned mustard.

We pushed together four tables in the center of our assembly hall and erected the very traditional “Christmas Cane!” That is to say: my walking stick with red lights and a battery pack mounted on it. There was, in fact, a small Christmas tree in the adjoining room, but we decided that the “Christmas Cane” was far more representative of our gathering and thus should be used in place of any more typical signs of the holidays.

As we all fell into the deep coma provided by consuming sugar and carbs, one last merry little thought filled our heads….
Ohhh hell; I just went up an entire weight-class.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Now…. Do I want the black cotton Weave or the Black Satin?

There are just so many choices when purchasing your black belt; I had no idea! Do I stick with the traditional black cotton…. Or spring for the black satin? Cotton is washer-safe, but who really washes there belt anyway? The satin though…. pretentious?

This past weekend I participated in my second shodan-shinsa shiai or black belt examination tournament. At my first tournament I earned five of the six points I needed to receive my shodan certificate and, since the system in place at the International Budo University awards a point for simply participating, I was guaranteed my shodan on Saturday just for showing up. I wanted to go out—or come in?—with a bang, however, so I decided to win all my matches. Call me sick and twisted, but there is nothing more gratifying than holding an opponent in osaekomi while they struggle feebly to escape.

My first match lasted a total of about 30 seconds…. 25 of which were taken up by me holding my opponent down. When my opponent falls at the beginning he lands on his side, which is worth a quarter-point. In judo, you must hold an opponent pinned for 25 seconds for a full ippon (1-point). Those 25 seconds last a surprisingly long time:
Second Tourni, First Fight

My second opponent actually seemed to have some idea of what he was doing. At least, he knew how to move and he tried to throw me. He tries tomoe-nage twice; a sacrifice throw in which you fall backwards and use your leg to propel your opponent over top. Though it is a really difficult technique, beginners seem to try it often. By the end of the match, something in my head clicked and I decided it was time to end the fight. I noticed that the kid kept trying to pick up his right leg, so I tried to time my soto-gari as he picked up the leg. I’m not sure the timing was perfect, but he went down well enough:
Second Tourni, Second fight

My third and forth fights were both quite short and quite similar. I didn’t have a chance to make a nice technique in either match because, in both cases, my opponents put themselves in bad positions very quickly.
Second Tourni, Third fight

Second Tourni, Forth Fight

It is fun to act a little cocky in Judo, for a change, but in defense of all my opponents, these kids came from a variety of sports clubs. I believe my first opponent practices karate, my second opponent practices rugby, and I’m not sure about the third and forth. The system at Budai is a little unusual; every judoka at the university is a shodan well before coming to Katsuura. Students from other sports can take Judo classes, however, and the shodan shinsa is so that they can also earn their black belts. Regardless of this, I do feel I have earned the shodan after eight months of daily judo training against men (and women) who have been doing Judo most of their lives. I can say for certain that there is at least one third-degree and several second-degree black belts who I frequently beat during practice. The shodan examination was a formality more than a test and, when I return to the United States, I would like to earn my shodan separately within the American system.