Updated and Reposted in Honor of World Judo Day 2015: Today is World Judo Day 2015 and millions of Judoka world-wide celebrate and pay tribute to Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. I highly recommend that you click the links mentioned in this post to learn more about the extraordinary life of Dr. Kano and the grand story of Judo’s evolution from a combat system to an Olympic sport, it is quite a tale indeed.
In short, it is a story of one mans vision of creating a sport and a way of life that would lead the world to peace and each individual towards a more meaningful existence. Click this link for a great synopsis of the history. Thank you for stopping by and hope you enjoy the rest of this post.
If you’re going to survive and thrive this school year you will need to nourish yourself. You can’t be your best everyday if your well is dry and creative spark a mere ember. Your students and loved ones depend on you to not crash and burn or to fade away. But let’s face it, teaching is demanding and it will drain you of your vitality if you are not proactive and respectful of your own wellbeing.
To stay well this year you will need to have balance in your life. It’s not just me saying this. Google teacher burnout and you will find a bevy of book titles and scholarly articles on the subject that are worth looking into. So how do you find this elusive work-life balance so many seek? In our last post, we looked into the traditional art of Tenkara Fishing as a pathway to a balanced life and how Tenkara can even help in the classroom. In this post we look into another ancient pathway springing from Japan.
Judo: The Gentle Way
Judo, a Japanese word meaning “gentle way,” is a martial art and Olympic sport developed by Dr. Jigoro Kano in 1882. Judo, like most martial arts, is a pathway to physical, spiritual, and moral development. Kano wrote the following regarding the practice of Judo: “A healthy body is a condition not only necessary for existence but as a foundation for mental and spiritual activities.” He also wrote this regarding the purpose of physical exercise, “no matter how healthy a person may be if he does not profit society his existence is vain.”
The history of Judo and the story of its development and eventual inclusion as an Olympic Sport in 1964 is a fascinating one and worth learning about. I recommend clicking the above links to obtain a more thorough history than I could present here in a timely manner. Before I get into why I practice Judo and why you might want to as well, watch this YouTube video. (I know what you just watched didn’t look too gentle, but we will talk about that in a moment.)
Why do I practice Judo?
Like a lot children growing up in the 1980’s, I was drawn to films like Star Wars and The Karate Kid. They demonstrated the value of pursuing a pathway of development under the tutelage of a wise teacher. I yearned for this in my young life, but apparently wasn’t ready for it. I did try judo as a child, but didn’t stick with it. (Wish I did) I resumed my study of judo in college, at the urging of one of my brothers. He believed it would be a great way for me to regain confidence after a violent encounter that left me shaken. I took his advice and after my first class I was hooked.
The moment I stepped through the doors of that first dojo I felt as though I was transported to a sacred space and time. I entered my Dagobah System! The traditions that govern judo and the etiquette of the dojo (place where you practice judo) are what create that transformative atmosphere I found so appealing. Removing ones shoes, changing into your uniform (called a Gi in Japanese), bowing before stepping onto the mat (called tatami in Japanese), bowing to the image of Dr. Kano at the start of class, bowing to your teacher (called Sensei in Japanese), to your fellow students, and bowing at the conclusion of class are but a few examples of what occurs in dojo’s worldwide. What you won’t see in a judo dojo are people bullying or purposely trying to injure one another.
Despite judo being a martial art, with techniques that could injure and even kill another person if intentionally applied, the atmosphere of a dojo is anything but violent. Judo is not MMA (mixed martial arts) although it is used by UFC stars like Rhonda Rousey. Judo is governed by two main concepts ” mutual welfare and respect and maximum efficiency with minimal effort.” The bowing and reverence for the past and for ones teachers mentioned earlier are examples of the respect aspect.
The mutual welfare aspect is expressed in the learning and execution of proper technique in order to prevent injury. This mutual welfare is also expressed in the acceptance of individual abilities and the encouragement of continual growth. Judo students come from all walks of life, are of varied ages from very young to senior citizens, and are of diverse physical abilities. Some of the best judo players and teachers are physically disabled. You might even see Mr. Bean practicing judo. It is also very common to see smaller individuals compete against larger ones and emerge victorious. This is do the second key concept of judo “maximum efficiency with minimal effort.”
Since Dr. Kano was not a large man he based his system on keen observation of human physiology and applied physics. It is about applying philosophical concepts towards physical activity. Maximum efficiency with minimum effort is often demonstrated by saying, “when pushed, pull” and “when pulled, push.” Anger and brute force work against you in judo. Judo is about the efficient use of energy, therefore a small person can defeat a much larger one. Judo is an art you can study your entire life, and still continue to learn and grow as a Judoka (person who studies judo) and as human being.
Dr. Kano believed a Judoka should apply the lessons learned in the dojo to ones everyday life in the world. Therefore judo is more than a sport, it is the Gentle Way, a path towards a more peaceful and abundant life. I highly recommend Dr. Kano’s book “Mind Over Muscle” for a more in-depth study of the philosophy behind the art.
Why Should You Practice Judo?
As I mentioned above, judo is a path for your whole life, not just a sport you occasionally practice to get fit. However, judo is a great way to improve your physical and emotional health. The first thing you learn in judo is how to fall and how to roll. (Saved me on more than one slippery winter sidewalk) This is no small feat for some individuals. Falling can be a scary thing, but learning to fall properly helps you overcome this fear and many others. Once you master those two activities you are ready for learning how to throw, pin, and submit your opponent.
Judo helps you to gain strength and flexibility. It also helps you to calm your mind, face your fears, work towards goals, and deal with adversity. All of those lessons come in handy in the classroom.
Judo In the Classroom
Judo helps you develop a calm and centered mind, which is vital when working with a room full of young people. The etiquette and traditions of the dojo also tend to follow you into your room and influence how you carry yourself and shape the expectations you have for your students. (You just can’t take your shoes off or wear your Gi.) The concept of “when pushed pull & when pulled push” remind you to use your energy efficiently and to avoid power struggles with students, which helps a lot with discipline.
I also had great success introducing some of the physical warm up activities to my students and some of the traditions and vocabulary as well. Remember, most children still want to be Luke Skywalker and desperately want to have a Yoda in their lives. To find a dojo near you and to learn more about the sport check out the following sites: www.usja.net, www.usjf.com, www.teamusa.org/USA-Judo.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.