March Air Reserve Base, Calif. --
As I waited for the signal to begin, I was starting to question my decision to join the March ARB Judo club. Originally, I wanted to learn a practical set of self-defense skills, but now my fore arms were tight and sore from the first hour of practice. Despite lifting weights since high school, I, regrettably in this moment, never focused on forearms. I was always more concerned with more important muscles groups such as biceps and abs. Consequently, my forearms, one of the predominate muscles utilized in Judo, are very weak. On top of my forearm issue, my lungs were wheezing and sputtering. Despite, needing a medic, my sensei, a former national and international Judo medalist, Michael Dorsey yells “Hajime”, Japanese for start, and my second round of Judo sparring began.
During this match, I am fighting Dustin Clocherty. Dustin is a former competitive wrestler who recently took 1st in a national Judo competition. As the 2-minute round begins, Dustin moves steadily and confidently towards me. As Dustin approaches, I back away nervously. We continue this for about 10 seconds. The cat and mouse game ends when my sensei reminds me that I have to engage or I’ll be disqualified. Realizing that I cannot hide forever, I instead freeze and wait for the inevitable: defeat.
In slow motion, I’m sure Dustin’s next few moves look very similar to a National Geographic Documentary. The seasoned predator stalking an anxious and unprepared prey. The prey is a novice or a specifically a white belt.
Dustin grabs my collar firmly and grins menacingly. His devilish smile reminds me when you’re hearing a familiar joke and get excited anticipating the punchline. The joke is my inexperience and fear. The punchline is me getting thrown to the ground.
Dustin moves artfully. He pulls my collar and my sleeve in the right places, places his body into position, and flings me to floor. The fall to the ground doesn’t immediately hurt, but it forces the remaining air from my lungs.
As I pick myself up from the ground, my sensei yells “Ippon” or English for full point. He also reminds me, that Judo is about balance, form, positioning, and practice. He tells me to conserve my energy. I went too aggressive in my first round and now I was too tired to thwart Dustin’s attacks and maneuvers.
After fighting Dustin, I have to fight Michael Idris. He’s also a former wrestler and very proficient in Judo. During our fight, I recognize that I am fatigued from trying to throw my opponents through brute force. My sensei was right.
Mike sees my weakness. There is a blur of movements and again I am on my back. I yelp in a high pitch that surprises even myself. When I come to on the ground, I realize I am exhausted, but I think I am starting to see what I did wrong. I don’t fall in the next round.
When practice is over, we come to the middle of the room. Everyone shakes hands and compliments are exchanged for good moves. We discuss the plan for the next week and we depart.
As I’m driving home, I accept that I have a long way go, but I think I am getting better. Surprisingly, my sensei and the other players say that I have enough potential to compete in June. I’m on the fence about this, but I hope to gain a practical set of self-defense skills by the fall. Until that time comes, I’ll try to avoid fights the old fashioned way, good manners and a quick apology.
My sensei tells me that Judo has a long history with the United States Air Force and March ARB. General Lemay, one of the founding fathers of the United States Air Force, discovered the usefulness of Judo when he served in Japan during WWII. He encouraged the implementation of the martial art across the armed forces. Additionally, March ARB has had an active Judo club since 1960s. Today, club meets four times a week at March ARB and the sport is practiced at the USAF Academy, continuing the tradition set forth by General Lemay so many years ago.