I have been on the fringes of my husband’s passion for judo for years. When we met and married, he had been long retired due to a C-4 injury and was coaching at UC Irvine when his disability rating made it no longer possible for him to coach. After moving to North Carolina, he tried a couple of things. He volunteered at the local universities for a class or two and at the Children Home of North Carolina in Oxford to help the children there. He volunteered at a dojo in Durham before his former coach, Sensei Mayfield reached out and asked him to travel with him to tournaments and camps as an assistant and “coaching liaison”. More recently, he and two friends organized the El Toro Judo Club. El Toro was my husband’s original dojo. The Marine base in California has long since closed and the club in California retired with his original sensei’s passing. Given the opportunity, he wanted to honor his first dojo and first sensei. El Toro Judo Club holds classes at Bushido Karate Shotokan in Raleigh, offering two sports to the interested martial arts community. More importantly, it gave him an outlet to pass his judo along to others, to stay involved and contribute in his way, not just to the students in his classes, but to the community. The club has a fundraiser, El Toro Fall Bash, a golf tournament that I have been involved in organizing for the last three years. Which means, now I no longer live on the “fringes of Judo”.
I remember exactly how it happened, my no longer existing on the fringes. It was Sensei Mayfield’s tournament in Jacksonville, three or four years ago. I had dropped my husband off at the tournament, as was our routine, and went on my way to Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, the base PX, and back to the tournament. I was given a chair on the floor level near one of the mats where the adults were competing. There was one competitor who looked like he might be active duty personnel, who forcefully and smoothly, took his opponent down and next thing I know match was over. I had just witnessed my first choke hold, and I was done. I was a judo fan. I know it should have been more complicated than that, but it was not. It was the not an earth shattering experience, it was not a demonstration of pristine technique, it was just pure strength of one man against another.
So, imagine me, this last weekend, when some kid I don’t even know, was taken down to the floor by his opponent and the match is stopped while the first aid representative looks him over. The match resumes, the kid is taken down again and the referee stops them in their action and raises his voice and asks the kid “how old are you?” Kid yells “Thirteen”. Referee responds telling them to carry on. Kid gets choked, “taps out” and match is over. Kid gets up holding his neck, bows out after the referee signals that his opponent won, and walks to the sidelines where his dad is.
He was visibly shaken, trying to catch his breath. I looked away, because as a mom, seeing kids in distress, no matter if your own son is 36 years old, you are taken back to when he was 13 and trying not to cry after losing a baseball tournament, or your brother when he lost a Pop Warner football game and the kids from the opposing team are in the car in front of you, watching your brother breaking down in the seat next to you. Seeing this judo kid keep his composure until he got off the mat and then start to break down, took me back to those moments in time and I coward that I am, looked away.
Later in the afternoon, he competed again and after what was a long, drawn-out, tough match won. And he knew it. He knew he had won. He jumped up and screamed, fists clenched, at no one and at everyone.
Afterward, when I talked to my husband about him, he told me what had happened when he lost the first match, when I had looked away. He had gone up to the kid and his father, who was trying to calm him, help him catch his breath and regain his composure. “Excuse me, sir” my husband said to the dad, “may I try something”. The dad said “ok” and my husband told the kid, “stop breathing and count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, now breathe. Again, stop and hold your breath. Count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. ” The kid did it a third time, looked at my husband then looked at his dad and said “Ok, I’m good. I’m ready to fight, now.”