Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hilo Days: Taking a Fall

Watching my grandson go through the paces of his Taekwondo class brought back memories of my own martial arts experience. It was a long time ago, and I wrote about it in my now-defunct Hilo Days website.

I thought I'd share it with you here.

Hilo Days: Judo Lessons

A bunch of us kids took judo lessons in the fourth grade. Now there was an experience. Our judo teacher was a bonsan who had just arrived from Japan. He was a black belt and an accomplished judo expert – relatively young too. I would guess that he was about 30 or so.

That first judo class we attended gave us an opportunity to test out this guy, so we peppered him with questions about where he had been, what he had done, and how he liked Hilo. More than anything else, we liked his Japanese accent and the way he murdered the English language.

"I rike Hawaii," he told us. "I was pirot in Japan." A pirate?
Really? So did he fight during the war? "Yesu."
Did he help bomb Pearl Harbor? "Yesu."

Yesu? I reported this to my parents that evening and I remember Dad shaking his head and saying the sensei better not go around telling people that or he'd get into trouble. Personally, I think he was just trying to position himself and impress his young charges. He never mentioned Pearl Harbor after that.

We'd meet for judo class every Wednesday afternoon for an hour after Japanese school ended. And at every practice for the first three weeks, all he'd do was make us practice falling on our backs ("Justo fawru bahku – pa-TAH! Riku dat! Andu slappu yo hamuzu on gloundu!")

Actually, it was kind of fun. There were some older boys in the class – some toughies, in fact – and that was the only chance we got to push them to the ground. They loved it. In fact, everybody was going around practicing how to fall.

Eventually, we got around to the part where the sensei taught us how to do the basic leg sweeps and throws. "Yuzu hizu momentum. Yuzu hizu momentum." I remember going home with some pretty sore ankles and bruised hips week after week after being swept by an opponent. My only consolation was that everyone else's ankles were probably just as sore.

Then, we progressed to the part where you actually competed, and wrestled with your opponent once he (or you) hit the ground. That's where things got serious. That's where learning how to fall really paid off.

If you failed to counter a move and didn't "yuzu hizu momentum," and got thrown over your opponent's shoulder flat on your back, you could get the wind knocked out of you as he moved in quickly to apply a suffocating headlock. We were taught that – move in quick on our opponent as soon as he hit the ground, and pin him to submission. Real macho stuff. Unless you were the one on the ground – then it was not a manly situation to be in, and no fun at all.

"You clying!?!" "NO, SENSEI!" Hell no. If sensei caught you crying, you were chastised, crucified and mortified. We didn't cry. We were tough men. We were masters of the martial arts. Well, okay, so we were 10-year-old cry-babies.

I competed in a couple of tournaments. I always won my first two or three matches, but then would blow it to the older guys. Not so good, not quite the samurai I thought I was. Most of us didn't return for the second year – but it was fun while it lasted.

And it impressed the girls –  not that I cared about girls anyway.

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