When my dad and his siblings were growing up, judo was a huge and important part of their lives. My dad’s stories of his childhood are filled with long family road trips to judo competitions all over the country and judo mishaps with his siblings.
I was six when my dad found out that one of his judo friends was now coaching a kids class in our city and he immediately wanted to enroll his kids to share something that was so important to him. Of the three of us, I was the only one he could convince (or who was old enough) to attend, so my dad and I went to my first ever judo class. All I remember of that first lesson was learning pins, but I do remember my dad asking how I liked it afterwards. I told him the other kids smelled bad, and I hated it. That was my last lesson for several years.
When I was ten or eleven, a judo dojo opened across the street from our house and my dad asked if I would like to try again. I decided I would, and so my dad, my brother (now old enough to learn) and I walked across the street to my second ever judo class. I ended up staying at this dojo for the next two years or so. When I was twelve or thirteen my brother and I switched to a more competitive judo dojo. Less than six months later, I had been moved into the adults class, and attended class five days a week, two hours a day for the next three years. Although I stayed at this club for three years, I didn’t enjoy it. Everyone there was either competing internationally or trying to and were competing against each other for spots.
You know that stereotype about women’s sports being catty and passive aggressive? I have played sports for the last 22 years pretty much nonstop and this dojo was the only experience where that stereotype was even remotely true. Even though most of the other women there were in their late teens or early twenties while I was thirteen, that dojo was the first and only time I have ever been bullied in my life.
One day when I was sixteen, I woke up and realized that not only was I dreading going to that night’s judo practice already, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had enjoyed anything related to judo. The environment in that club had turned judo from something I enjoyed competing in and sharing with my family to something that had me dreading the end of my day. I realized that if I quit, I might never compete internationally like I wanted, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t ever be able to enjoy judo again. So I quit.
I came back to judo about a year later, at a smaller, less competitive club, and I was able to enjoy it again. I began competing in every single tournament in the state, and actually had fun. Unfortunately that ended in my senior year of high school with my first knee surgery but I made sure to pick a college that was nearby a dojo so I could continue judo when I recovered. The closest club to the college I picked was even owned by the friend of my current sensei, and he called her to let her know I was coming and wanted to join.
Two months later I was in Boulder, attending the University of Colorado and had reached out to the sensei multiple times with no response. Finally, she emailed me back and told me the class times and the location. The next class was the very next day, so I got on a bus for 45 minutes to get there. When I arrived, it was an aikido class, and they had never even heard of the woman I had been emailing. At that point I just gave up and joined a rugby team instead, and played rugby for the next five years.
After another knee surgery, I was thinking of going back to judo and started looking for clubs nearby, and found Front Range Judo. Fortunately they responded to me, and so I joined up as soon as I could.
As an adult, judo feels different than as a child. I have more injuries that I have to be careful of, and I’m not in nearly as good of a shape as I was when I was in high school, but I pick up techniques more quickly, and I understand things better. I also always felt like I was on the outside looking in at any other dojo I had attended, but now I feel actually engaged in the community.
A lot of people will say that judo helped them grow as a person, but I feel the opposite. I think I needed to grow as a person separate from judo before I was really able to appreciate the sport and the community.