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.
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