Sunday, September 13, 2009

Leif's Theme About Earning His Black Belt in Judo - Written in 1990 when he was 15 years old

Leif began taking judo at Fort Shafter in Hawaii when he was ten years old. He enjoyed it thoroughly and became profient quickly. When we moved to Fort Sheridan, Illinois in August 1986, we found that a sensei named Andy was teaching a class at Great Lakes Naval Center and Leif signed up.

Andy was an excellent sensei and Leif flourished in his class. Remember that during those four years that we lived at Fort Sheridan, when Leif was eleven to fifteen years old, he grew to be 6' 1" by the time he was only thirteen. He shot up like Jack's beanstalk while he was in Andy's class. A lot of maturity was required of him, because this was not a class of children. Most of the other students were adults and some were quite mature adults. There was no one under the age of thirteen and I can't remember and other kids.

Leif took judo seriously and it was a source of pride and accomplishment for him. On January 6, 1989, just three weeks before his fourteenth birthday, he took the test for his first degree black belt and passed. Later, when he had to write a theme for an English class at Antilles High School in Puerto Rico, he wrote about the experience of taking the test. He wrote it in October 1990. By that time he was fifteen.

Unfortunately, there weren't any classes we could find for Leif to continue judo in Puerto Rico and after two years there, when we moved back to Kansas, he felt so out of practice that he said he would be embarrassed to show up on a mat with a black belt on. I have always felt that if he had gone back to martial arts, it would have done him a world of good, for the physical activity, the companionship, the skills, and the sense of accomplishment. However, he got interested in other things like the SCA and role playing games, and dating, and he never returned to judo.

However, it always meant something special to him. Although he was ruthless about getting rid of clothes that no longer fit him, among his things we found his judo gi and his black belt, and of course the bokken (wooden practice sword) that Andy had given him as a special farewell gift.

The photos were ones I took of him during and after the test, holding his certificate. You can see in the one where he is the fellow "underneath" demonstrating a judo throw, that the other man is considerably older with graying hair. In judo, technique and balance are what's important, not age, gender or even superior strength.

Here is Leif's theme:

"Shodan" by Alex Garretson 10/17/90

As I entered the gym it dawned on me that the time had come to face the challenge. I had been avoiding this event with good reason. For some time my judo sensei had been pestering me to take the test that would allow him to promote me to the rank of Shodan (first degree blackbelt) but I had declined.

The reason for my reluctance was a good one. I was still recovering from a very bad case of influenza that had caused me to miss some twelve days of school and over three weeks of judo. This put me at an incredible disadvantage for the test because I was very out of practice, having participated in only one ron dori (match) since my return. I still hadn't regained my strength, and with some of the competition I had to face I needed all the strength and speed I could get. To help compound the problem there was the fact that to fail a test for an advanced belt is a very embarrassing and degrading experience. But that night I felt like I was as ready as I could be.

The time had come. I approached the mat and informed my sensei that I was ready. He then called the class to attention and began the testing.

The actual test consisted of four basic parts, each very damanding to a certain aspect of judo. The first was the most physically demanding. For this portion I had to fight each of the members of the class (some more than once). These matches are very tiring and left me quite exhausted. For the second I had to perform a kata, a choreographed fight involving one tori, me, and eight yukis (dummies). This tested my style and technique (and my memory, for I was the only one present who had worked on the katas and I hadn't done that in months). The third was simple. I had to take a volunteer and demonstrate ten throws. I did quite well on this since I had been practicing these moves for a year and a half.

The final test was probably the most difficult. It required me to explain to the class what judo means to me both personally and philosophically. After explaining the meaning of judo and martial arts in general I was asked to run laps around the gym while they discussed with the sensei what I had told them and he asked them their opinions of my performance.

When I returned my sensei told me that I had earned my black belt and I was then repeatedly congratulated by my students and fellow classmates. When this was over my sensei lined us up, dismissed us and told us to pick up the mats. I then left exhausted and pondering the fact that this rank of shodan, which I had worked so hard for, in Japanese literally means beginner.

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