After 22 hours of travel from Japan via two flights, a layover, one upgrade, two trains, and a taxi...we are in Saarbrucken, Germany. While here we will be competing in a EU cup and participating in a training camp. Be Sure
It is beyond difficult to put into words the sadness, gratefulness, love and heart-brokenness that I feel about leaving Japan tomorrow. I can say that this has been time spent that I will always cherish.
For me, this time in Japan has been a lifetime coming - and it amazingly lived up to every ounce of anticipation that I had.
My parents were judokas who had been trained by Japanese powerhouse Ishakawa, so the country and its culture was something that I was raised to look up to. I can still remember a report that I wrote in sixth grade about the history of judo and its roots in Japan. Even after I quit judo as a pre-teen, the fascination remained and in college I was blessed to room with an exchange student from Japan. When I was reintroduced to judo as an adult, I found a greater attachment & deeper rooted intrigue for the culture that had been ingrained in my life for so long.
So why my love for judo???
Whats the big deal?
In judo there are some fundamental concepts that I find incredibly ancillary to life:
⦁ The ideal of mutual welfare. Support your partner. Be there for others. Lift them up and they too can lift you.
⦁ Judo means literally the gentle/flexible way. Judo reflects life in that when challenged you often want to fight it, but sometimes being gentle or maintaining a flexible mindset will provide you with the solution.
⦁ Bowing. This signifies respect and thanks to the club, to your partners and sensei's in thanks for them aiding your improvement.
⦁ The idea of Kaizen - or continually improvement, looking for optimization.
If taken to heart each of these can carry over into our day to day and can aid immensely in making you a better person. It has been a huge part of my personal ideology and has made me a more supportive, thoughtful, thankful, respectful person who is always trying to improve myself. I love that this sport is able to so beautifully make me a better human being.
What I found lovely in Japan was that many of Judo's fundamentals were visible in day to day culture here. People were constantly respectful and thankful to each other. I never left a convenience store without feeling a connection and gratefulness for the workers due to their supportive and genuine nature (something I do not miss about america). The subways, city streets, escalators, construction sites, crosswalks all had a kaizen appeal - being run optimally and efficiently. The culture here was like being in a super friendly, overly productive wonderland.
Then there was the fact that Japan, being the birthplace of judo, is still its mecca. To give this some context most dojos that I have been to in the US have 15-40 judo player on the mat on any given night. (Not all clubs...this is an average based on my experiences in various locales....and is not reflective of membership, just normal numbers in attendance.) In japan I never saw less than 70 people at a practice (close to 200 frequently!). This includes at a community center! And keep in mind, there are 100's of clubs here. So the number of judo players is monumental.
I was lucky to train at a variety of facilities- as mentioned above community centers, the Kodokan (where judo started, so that had me startstruck), Toei High School, KEIO Univerity, Waseda University, Nittaidai Univesity, and Tsukuba University (Alaa also got to go to the Tokyo Police training when I was broken). What amazed me was the gentleness that the old men used when beating up everyone, the respect held for the seseis and each other, and the speed of everyone's feet. There was welcoming support from every partner at every dojo, making me feel a universal love and connected-ness to the sport and to humanity. The idea that despite not sharing a language we could connect, help one another, and support eachother's goals was truly lovely to me.
That being said- judo in japan is insane. I got thrown. Alot. I was out of breathe because the randori never ended. My collarbone injury was excruciating. I struggled. I was pinned and couldn't get out. I got dominated in areas that I had thought were strengths. It was truly challenging.
But at the end of the day, I was able to get up after every fall. I found myself succeeding more and more. Despite struggles, the time here really stretched me mentally and physically - causing me to leave Japan feeling more confident, dominant, and inspired to continue to improve than I ever thought possible.
So here I am, six weeks in the country that I always dreamed of seeing has somehow flown by. I feel like no amount of time here would be satiating enough. We stayed in the city and countryside and both built big sweetspots in my heart.
I think the biggest lesson Japan has taught me, is the importance of breathing in and really FULLY appreciating the NOW. I tried hard to really soak in and appreciate as much as I could while was here. I am not excited for Germany tomorrow, despite the tons of reasons I should be. I am not comparing my lovely experience here with my beautiful time in France. I am just breathing in the fresh air, happy that the typhoon stopped so that I could hear the crickets lull me to sleep.... I am appreciating the moment around me. I tried to do this at each and every practice and it made all of the kindness, connectedness, learnings, and lessons sink in deeply. Thinking ahead and looking back will only deflect from the amazingness that life is offering me in this very moment. And I am so loving it.
Two weeks without a computer and limited access to paper. My brain was literally breaking down in terms of needing to write. I didn't realize how inherent writing was to my being, processing, and sense of self until I was fully locked away from it!
I can recall being in grade school and even then loving to journal. However I never saw myself as a writer. TJ was the writer in class. He had a journal with him at all times - during down time he would create these fantastical worlds on paper. I remember thinking to myself- THAT IS A REAL WRITER. THAT IS WHAT THEY DO. HE HAS SOMETHING SPECIAL. A REAL WRITER has a magic senses of other worlds and a constant influx of ideas to shape. I wasn't creative like that. I didn't have that gift. Because I couldn't associate myself with the definition that I had correlated with "writer", I wrote myself off! I ignored my love for it & sense of calm from it, because I didn't fit the definition of what I had idealized a writer to be.
This is a harsh lesson that I have learned in many capacities of my life.
LESSON 1: There is NO pure definition for ANYthing!
Do not let your preconception of what something is (or should be) discount yourself from doing it! Do not let your ideas, definition, or projection of what should be, stop you.
⦁ With the Olympics just ending there are tons of "underdog" tales on all of our minds- the boy who beat his idol Phelps, the 42 year old gymnast, Sakshi Malik- the Indian female wrestler who won a medal, the non-placement of unstoppable Jordan Burroughs, Simone Manuel- the first black american women to swim away with a gold, .... All of these underdog stories remind me that someone believed in themselves despite the critics and pre-concieved ideas about who belonged and what an athlete in their sport is.
Be Inspired by this!
Do not be defined by the cookie cutter molds. REDEFINE THE MOLD. BE YOUR OWN. Be better than the mold. Be special. Stand out. Break the barriers.
LESSON 2: Just because you aren't naturally gifted or talented in the craft that you love, does NOT mean that you are not destined to excel in it.
Yes, some people are naturally bestowed with talents but the best in the world are the people who contain passion and accept a "growth" mentality. This means acknowledging what you lack in skill but truly believing that with effort, dedication and hard work you will obtain those skills. Do NOT quit on yourself. Put in the work and the talent will come.
LESSON 3: Be True To YOU
You can try to silence a skill, a love, a passion- but your heart will break and your livelihood will suffer. If your day lights up by filling it with something that sings to your soul- give into it! Allow yourself to be expressed fully and embrace the things in you that light up your heart!
So here I am, 20 years out of grade school, finally accepting that I am a writer. It is in my soul. TJ was gifted in so many fantastical was that I wasn't. But I have a voice also! I own that mine may not be a natural talent, as his was. Mine is a truly different voice with an unimaginative, un-enchanted, but full valid, semi-inspiring voice. It has taken me living with hippies for 2 weeks, filled with lots of downtime (and no internet) to contemplate life and realize what sparks my days. It has taken this reprieve for me to embrace how huge writing has been in my entire life. From childhood journaling, to epic note writing in high school, as an outlet for abusive relationships- it has always been an outlet and sanctuary for me. I have lots of growth ahead of me to improve my writing, however I am really happy that my brain is finally listening to my heart about what makes it sing.
What activities perk you up?
What does your soul crave when it is void from your day-to-day?
What is holding you back from believing in your abilities?
Who are you at your core?
Take a listen....and give into it!
Tokyo is a magical place. Here are my most memorable thoughts:
Tokyo is one of the most enjoyable cities that I have visited- highly recommend!
Because SIGNAGE deserves its own photo gallery....
As I travel I am trying to capture some of my insights in terms of ways that USA Judo could grow the sport based on what I see in other countries...here is my long overdue insights based on my venture to Africa.
While in Morocco I was welcomed to train with the cadet and junior national teams. Each summer the country gathers the top cadets (think top 3-4 per weight class) for a two week training session where they all stay and train together. Here they are paired with the top coaches in the country to provide feedback and strong partners for one another. They do the same thing with the junior team. They also have a few practices where they allow both groups to work together so that the cadets have something to aspire to. Coming out of these camps, the Moroccans headed to the Junior African Championships where the cadets and juniors left with a huge percentage of the medals.
As USA judo tries to grow there are not often opportunities for the best up and coming junior athletes to train together and to get insights from international level coaches on what they need to work on to succeed at the next level. Some clubs do a great job of holding fantastic camps which provide these experiences. It would be wonderful in the future to see USA judo investing in the future talent and pay for them to train together for an extended period of time.
If I were really to dream, these camps would happen more than 1 time a year and the coaches from the High Performance Committee would then be better in touch with the areas of growth that the up-and-comers need to focus on. This could supply encouragement for these age groups to not quit the sport as they would find pride in this attention and support system. Perhaps at the end of these camps the kids could head to some of the international junior tournaments as a team, so that they begin to see the gap in their games that need focused on if they want to excel as adults.
The other huge thing that was prevalent in Morocco were dojos in community centers. You could be in a very poor area, jogging on an unfinished track made of sand instead of tar- but there was a community center building next to it with mats where judo was practiced multiple days a week. Many parks and communities in the US have sport complexes for the neighborhood kids but how many offer mats with karate/bjj/wrestling/judo programs and classes? If we were able to grow awareness of the sport in the poorer areas, give kids the opportunity to practice and stay of the street, this could down the road lead to an increase in membership of the sport. I know this involves hurdles- such as affording mats and finding enough coaches...but imagine if you were able to pull a few coaches of a variety of mat- based sports in the area all willing to commit one night a week to the community center- this may enable to city to invest in a mat area. The mats in Morocco centers are used for other sports as well but the facilities existence growth the awareness and visibility to the sport, which I thought was pretty magical. Frequently when training kids that were playing soccer or basketball would come into the center to see what was going on and ask questions about what judo was. To me that was huge.
Just one person's thoughts but figured I would share in case it sparked a bigger idea with others!
Believer that everyone is special.