By: Drew Schroeder
Martial arts and ultimate fighting are coming to the main stage nowadays with events like UFC, Bellator, and other fighting championships. Fighters come from all over the world bringing a variety of martial arts. I was always interested in various martial arts like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and others but never participated because at the time, I was an athlete in another sport and didn’t want to risk getting hurt. Now that my competitive career in that sport has come to an end, I thought it was the perfect time to get into a martial art. The martial art I chose was Judo.
Judo is a Japanese martial art which translates to mean “The Gentle Way”, which any Judoka (one who practices Judo) can tell you, it is not a gentle art. The creator of Judo, Kanō Jigorō, wanted people to focus on being able to throw their opponent with maximum force but also with minimum energy exertion. You are putting your opponent in a position where they are off balance, allowing you to easily throw them onto their back. Judo competitions offer a few different ways to win, but this article isn’t about competition. It is about a 22 year old guy picking up the martial art.
My friend brought me to her dojo, a term which I hate the sound of and hate using because I feel like I’m going to a little kid’s karate school. I wrestled a bit in high school, so I held the firm belief that my wrestling background would help me be good at Judo. I was wrong. Dead wrong. The “lead with your head” wrestling mentality did nothing for me but show me how easy it was to get choked out by someone who knows what they’re doing. One key difference between Judo and wrestling: Judo has submissions. If you cannot throw your opponent you can choke them, put them in an armbar, joint-lock, or even choke them using the Judo uniform, the Gi, which looks a lot like the karate uniform but is much much heavier. I had to unlearn leading with my head but and learn to stand up, which felt inherently awkward given that I was trying not to get taken down to the ground. But once on the ground, Judo doesn’t stop. That is where Japanese JuJitsu comes in, or the groundwork for Judo. This consists of the chokes, joint-locks, and the infamous Rousey armbars.
When you start in Judo, you are a white belt, the bottom of the totem pole. You are a beginner and everyone knows it because you wear your belt during practice and it’s there for all to see. After white, there is blue, green, purple, brown, and black, each more refined in their skill and execution than the last. As a larger white belt with a wrestling background, I was able to wrestle with some of the green and purple belts to start. The beginning of Judo or BJJ, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, is the same for everyone: you are constantly getting your ass kicked. You’re not going to beat anyone that isn’t a white belt. You’re going to be choked, have your joints over-extended, hear your elbow make a popping sound that it’s not supposed to, and endure hours and hours of having your ego get destroyed because it turns out that your inner badass just got his ass handed to him by a 18 year old female purple belt who was half his size. Yeah, that will happen. But seeing that someone half my size, with proper technique and leverage, can manhandle someone twice their size was amazing to me. I wanted to learn everything. I wanted to grow in the art. I found myself watching countless YouTube videos with new throws and techniques. I was hooked. I couldn’t stop thinking about Judo.
I’m not going to lie and say I was great at Judo from the moment I started. I sucked. My friend and a few of the coaches said I was good, but I knew I sucked. I couldn’t throw anyone, I got tapped out by everyone, and my conditioning was so bad I couldn’t keep up with people twice my age. The only thing I had to start was muscle with no real idea on how to use it. I would muscle up and try to get my throws like that, but I would tire myself out and either get thrown or find myself tapping out when I grew too weak to fight back. You can talk tough all you want, but once your vision begins fading to black due to your brain’s lack of oxygen, you’re going to tap out.
Martial arts are not for everyone, otherwise everyone would be doing them. It takes a special kind of person to get their ass kicked day in and day out and keep coming back for more. Most people can’t handle getting their ego shot to hell by constantly being beaten, even if they are learning more in the process. Judo has taught me that if you push yourself hard enough and truly want to better yourself as a person in a way that will benefit you in every aspect of your life, you can do it if you set your mind to it. I started out a crappy white belt a little over a year ago. Now, I am a blue belt on his way to a green belt. I’m not amazing now by any means, but I am much better than I was when I started and Judo has given me confidence that I never knew I had. Just because I was a little late to the party doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy what it has to offer. One of the best things about Judo, BJJ, and other martial arts: you can do them for as long as you are willing to show up to practice.
Drew Schroeder is a freelance contributor to Let Me B-Frank in addition to serving as the editor-in-chief of Rise Literary Magazine, an online publication focused on providing a platform for the next generation of creative minds to voice their thoughts and opinions.