Judo – a writer’s perspective

Most times, I like to write about things I have absolutely no idea about. You see, if I know something, it’s done, boring. So I set up a writting project, which contains many elements that I’m either completely ignorant or have very little idea about. What surprised me in this project turned out to be my own reaction to some casual research.

I had to do research into areas I’m completely ignorant in: being left-handed, being an athlete, tennis, Japanese food and cooking methods, applying learning theory and child psychology, fencing, shougi, Chinese calligraphy, etc. Most are just surface level; to check that I’m using correct terms, equipment, and body posture. With Judo, my early find was “Judo: The Japanese Art of Self Defense By Jigoro Kano” (http://judoinfo.com/kano2.htm). It was such a fascinating read, I just went a little deeper and finding more depths. Before I knew it, I was reading outside my project and more for my personal curiosity. I even caught myself googling for Judo classes! Until I remembered I have BPPV and I’m more nerd than kick-ass kind of person. >_>

I thought I’d share some of my findings and misconceptions about judo from a judo-ignoramus. Hopefully, it would be of some value to someone else from committing similar bloopers. Or just have a good laugh at my expense.

I started on day zero with “Judo”: Four letter word, some kind of sports martial arts, possibly originates from Japan based on the sound of the name.

Overview of my quest goes something like this:
Google -> Wiki -> Judoinfo.com -> kodokan.org -> e-budo.com -> Wiki -> budoseek.net -> Google -> judoforum.com -> youtube -> Google -> sherdog.net … rinse and repeat with minor detours into eudict.com, forumotion.co.uk, etc.

1. The name! Kanji = 柔道, Furigana = じゅうどう, Furigana to Romaji = jyuudou. Common English spelling Judo. So, judo is pronounced jyuudou, or jiu-u-do-o, long u and long o. Not ju!do! with short u and short o. I’m amused that I found out about this quite late, when I detoured into Jujutsu-relationship and getting frustrated with the inconsistent spellings (Jujutsu, Jiujitsu, jujitsu).

For etymological interest, Ju in JUdo and JUjutsu are same character. Romaji for Jujutsu is jyuu-jyutsu. Do in Judo is same character as Dao (Tao) in Daoism (Taoism). Side joke, sometimes, reading what the sensei and long time judoka talk about their learning experience, it reminds me of the Tao Te Ching “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the real Tao”. Depressing thought when you are a writer and trying to convey meaning through written or spoken words.

I did consider finding a judoka to throw me around to figure out what a layman experience – force, tranjectory, position of landing, condition after landing, possible forms of injury – and circumstances to set up a scene. But I’m not that crazy yet. I’ll just apply for artistic license for now.

2. No kicking and punching. I started with the assumption that Judo is like wushu, taekwando and karate. You know, white pajamas, fancy coloured belts, jumping, chopping, kicking and breaking boards. (cue canned laughter) Wrote my first scene with the grandfather telling the kid to ‘punch harder’. I ended up kicking myself in horror when I found out Judo closer to wrestling than kickboxing. He should be teaching the kid how to fall (ukemi). Yeah, not so gloriously heroic and dramatic, but very practical and useful and potentially life-saving.

3. It’s modern. Kano (founder of Judo) introduced the modern gi and its modern obi, and the white and black belt ranks in 1907. You could hear my jaw dropped, followed by squee! So that’s where the white gi comes from. If I ever write a feudal Japan piece, there would be no gi. They would be wearing kimono, haori and hakama. (http://judoinfo.com/obi.htm)

4. It runs in the family. Not! Judo is a relatively modern concept (created 1882). It might be possible to go back 5  generations, but not to the semi-mythical family founder 500 years ago. Better pick judo’s ancestor, jujutsu, or kenjutsu for that purpose. Or make it Chinese, there’s a bunch of wushu schools to choose from.

5. It’s not G-rated. Judo is divided into several modules and sub-modules. Throwing techniques, Grappling techniques and Kata. Two grappling techniques, chokes and armbars, are not taught to young children (below  14) and novices. These techniques could cause harm if applied incorrectly and lacking fine judgement. Chokes can cause blackouts and death if applied to long. Joint locks can cause broken bones.

6. It’s all soft skills. Judo is part of the soft technique schools. It’s based on turning the attacker’s force, momentum and position to his disadvantage, with the defender exerting minimal force. Hard striking techniques (atemi-waza) has been removed from modern judo and judo competitions rules. Another soft technique martial arts taichi (China).

7. Judo in practical applications. Arresting techniques were developed to control, force compliance or move a subject. It’s called renkoho. Not for sports judo, but worth looking at for military and law-enforcement story elements. (Reference http://judoinfo.com/renkoho.htm)

8. Four-eyes not allowed. If the judoka wears glasses, he should change to contact lenses or take them off before starting practice or competition. Same with jewellery and other hard objects. This is important as my little judoka boy wears glasses.

9. Look, mum, no shoes! Judo retains a lot of East Asian customs. One of which is – no shoes on the mat. Practice and competition are done barefoot. So, your judoka should not be doing judo in his spanking new leather boots. However, for dramatic impact, you can get shock/outrage value by having antagonist wearing said boots onto the mat.

10. Good manners and exotica. Well, I’m Asian, so I don’t think these etiquette are exotic. As in (9), judo retains a lot of Japanese customs. One of them is the practice of rei or bowing. There are rei for entering and leaving the dojo, starting or finishing randori, entering and exiting competition bout. Some Japanese dojo goes into seating positions, based on seniority and dojo ranking. Some on how to sit properly, that is in seiza, not in crude positions. In describing a dojo scene, these details add a layer of richness, authenticity and novelty. It wouldn’t do to have a respectable sensei sitting like a rickshaw puller drinking coffee from the saucer.

11. Japanese as second language. Judo terminologies retain their Japanese version, rather than translated to local language. Phrases (rei, hajime, matte, ippon, sensei), technique names (tewaza, ukemi, osoto gari) and general (tatami, randori, shiai, shodan) uses original Japanese words. Judo students and judo competition world wide are expected to use the Japanese terms.

As with any field, there will also be some remaining questions that are not explicitly addressed or easily inferred or searched.

a. In demonstration and tutorials, I see a throw technique demonstrated. After executing the throw, the tori remains upright. In competition, the tori falls down, almost always on top of the uke. Why is that? After executing the throw, the tori is unbalanced by his own action and falls down? If so, why is he unbalanced? Or tori is pulled down by the falling uke? Or something else.

b. Philosophy (ideals) vs competition aka theory vs practice – In competition, to my untutored eyes, it looks like Uke clings to the thrower, dragging him down to the ground. Or try not to land on their back. First, does this action risk injuries to the uke, just to prevent himself from losing? Can uke perform ukemi properly twisting and clinging when he is being thrown? It seems to contradict the theory – proper ukemi for safety, tori to control the throw to prevent injuries to both.

Moral of story: When writting about something I don’t know; research. Then write and research some more. Even when all that effort ends up only one sentence in 30k word prose, it can still be very laughably wrong.

Also, I’ll try to be kinder and more forgiving to the computer-idiots who write hacker stories with keyboard banging, 1s and 0s scrolling madly, and giving computer virus to alien motherships. I have obviously committed worse sins than that. *ouch* Just don’t even get me started on the wrongly used and abused term hacker.


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