Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Judo

Judo is a sport that is recognized worldwide as quintessentially Japanese. It has been an Olympic sport starting with the Tokyo 1965 games, and is practiced in many countries all over the world. It is also commonly taught in schools in Japan as an extracurricular sport. So it’s no surprise that some local Fukushima JETs have taken up the practice.

Jesse Anderson, a second-year JET in Shirakawa City, has been practicing judo for almost two years. “I enjoy any exercise that helps me gain a skill, so things like martial arts are perfect, and I also was looking to make some new Japanese friends,” he explains.

David in his judo gi.

David in his judo gi.

Similarly, David Tacoronte in Minamisoma City started practicing judo soon after he arrived two years ago when invited to join by other JETs in the area. “I thought it’d be cool to get into a traditional sport, and also get fit.”

While at first judo may seem to be two wrestlers randomly grappling with each other, in fact there are many techniques, both physical and mental, that judoka use to throw their opponents. “I enjoy the technical side of it a lot,” says Jesse. “Now I notice the tiny things like foot positioning, proper rotations, etc.”

“It’s almost like a physical chess match,” explains David. “When I’m in a match, I always have to think about my body and foot position, my opponents’ body and position, what moves are possible and how can I bait and defend at the same time, etc. I really enjoy that aspect and how it makes me think. For me, the most difficult thing is getting your opponent into the right position to execute a possible move.”

David's judo dojo in Minamisoma City.

David’s judo dojo in Minamisoma City.

Of course, judo is a still a physical sport that takes a lot of time and effort to practice. “The endurance needed sometimes is pretty nuts,” says David. Unfortunately, as with any martial art, injuries can be quite common too, particularly with grappling and throwing aspects of judo. “I’ve dislocated both shoulders so you have to be ready for that possibility also,” jokes Jesse.

The time commitment required is also pretty heavy, as without frequent practice it is difficult to improve. Jesse explains, “Everyone who does judo around me is either in a judo club at school (training minimum five times a week) or has done so already and has been doing judo for twenty plus years, so coming in and learning from scratch twice a week can be a bit rough. Getting floored by a fifteen year old boy and a woman half my size were both big eye openers,” he jokes. That’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it can be disheartening if you can’t commit enough time to training. Similarly, David says, “Not only do you have to commit yourself to a judo throw within a match if you want to successfully execute it, the amount of time you need to commit to actually become good at the sport is pretty demanding.”

A Shoumen which  tells where the front of the dojo is. It is also a small Shinto shrine that contains some artifacts of worship. Usually comes from, or is blessed at, a shrine.

A shoumen which tells where the front of the dojo is. It is also a small Shinto shrine that contains some artifacts of worship. Usually comes from, or is blessed at, a shrine.

That being said, judo can be a truly rewarding practice to take up. David says, “I’ve seen many of my students go above and beyond what they thought they could do to try and become better than they once were. It’s very inspiring for me and makes me proud of them.”

Judo has also benefited Jesse in other ways. “If I had to sum it up, it would be learning how to be strict and lenient at the same time. Obviously in a straightforward sense that can mean physically, but also in an everyday sense, judo helped me learn how to deal with problems in a more efficient and stress-free way.”

Jesse had this advice to give JETs who are interested in taking up judo: “Just jump in! Don’t worry if your Japanese isn’t that great or you aren’t the most athletic person. You’ll make great friends and get fit while having some fun along the way. It’s a humbling and rewarding experience.”

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