I remember when I was nine, putting on my first judogi, thick and weird smelling; granted it was not expensive at all. Having that judogi on made me feel different, it immediately made me feel that I was part of something special, something that was apart from what other kids would take on as a sport or after school activity, which was usually soccer.

Over the next ten years of my life I went to the same dojo, every Monday and Thursday, at different times, depending on my level. During the first of those ten years, sensei Namba and sensei Osawa were guiding the class. These two Japanese judokas brought the judo they had learned in Japan to this dojo; I was lucky to have had them as my senseis. The way I learned judo with them was very traditional, we would always start class in seiza, the formal kneeling, followed by a good warmup, ukemi, uchikomi and randori. Then, we would talk about the specific technique that we were going to practice for that day. From those days I mostly remember o soto gari, uki goshi, ippon seoi nage, morote seoi nage, tai otoshi, and my favorite to this day, deashi harai. We would practice ne waza, all basic pins, and later, some chokes and arm bars, but the focus was on the throwing and pins. Sensei Osawa focused a lot on our posture and the subtleties of all throws, and also the timing at which movements should happen to use your opponent’s momentum to your advantage, which is very important. One day, to demonstrate a point, he stood at one end of the dojo and told me to run at him as if I were to attack him, well, I did and as soon as I reached the spot where he was standing, he just moved as if he were opening a door, I went past him and almost slammed the wall. He had proven a point!

Sensei Namba, came to class one time and let us know that he was going back to Japan and would not be able to teach us any more, so, sensei Osawa was our only sensei for a while. Years later, maybe into my sixth year, a new sensei took over the class, sensei Charteris. Sensei Charteris was a different type of judoka, more dynamic and competitive. He had practiced and taught at the Mexican Olympic Committee’s training facilities; he brought this style to our dojo. I remember liking the change, it made the class and practice rawer and more competitive.

From those first years, I learned discipline and technique, together with understanding the movement of our opponents. Later, with the new sensei we explored the different style of learning and focusing more on Judo as a sport. These teachings from my senseis, made me a very strong and centered teenager. When I say strong, I mean it in a physical way. Judo made me very strong, probably among the strongest of my peers at school. Just as an example of my “extraordinary” strength (ha ha), four of my friends were trying to throw me into the pool but were unable. At one point during our battle, I was holding onto a post with my toes as the four (maybe three as I had managed to throw one of them into the water) pulled and pulled my body without results. But going back to the things I learned in Judo, being strong also meant being responsible about my strength and only using it when necessary. Judo and the way it is learned has the power of making us understand how capable we can be of inflicting damage and to only use it in the dojo. Judo is the least aggressive contact sports (or martial arts) that I know of.

Yes, Judo shaped me in those teenage years and left a seed in me. When I was nineteen, for one reason or excuse to another, I stopped practicing it, but everything I learned did not stop me from always keeping it in my mind. Every action of every year that followed, until now, has had “The gentle way” in it. It has helped me a better person, maintain discipline in what I do, and most importantly, has given me all the tools to be a good teacher in every way, as a father, brother, son, etc.