I’m not a tough guy. I’ve been walking this earth for the past two decades and I’ve never been in a fight. I’m used to talking, or lying, or crying my way out of situation . Sometimes tears just aren’t enough. What am I supposed to do if a blonde 80’s bully pushes me into a locker or kicks sand in my face and steals my girl?
To help me train I sought help from the UAA Judo and Jui Jitsu Club. I was in a class with white, yellow, green, and brown belts all taught by the second degree black belt Jacob Dempsey. Sensei Dempsey welcomed me to the dojo with open arms, lent me my first judogi (the white jacket from every martial arts movie) and helped me tie my very own white belt.
Before you can run, you must learn how to walk, and before you learn awesome judo throws, you must learn to fall. Judo is, at its core, a defensive art. Judo (柔道) — meaning the “gentle way” — focuses on learning a series of grabs, throws and submissions aimed at subduing an opponent, rather than scissor-kicking them through a wall.
Fittingly, we first learned how to fall safely. I was surprised. Isn’t falling something that you can let gravity take care of? Well, I learned that the difference between a clean fall and a sloppy one is the difference between jumping immediately back to your feet, and spending a minute on the floor waiting for your head to stop ringing.
Back break falls, for example, are about landing flat on one’s back, and slapping the ground with the bottoms of our arms and exhaling right before impact, as to not hit your head on the ground.
“The goal of the break fall is to get as much surface area on the ground as possible to minimize the force of your fall, the exhale is to keep you from getting the wind knocked out of you,” Tommy Nguyen, pre-nursing major, said.
This has even helped him outside of the dojo.
“If I slip on a patch of ice, I slap the ground, exhale and tuck my chin in,” said Nguyen.
Sensei Dempsey explained the need to keep your head safe. The head is the most important part of the body to protect in a fight, both in terms of long term risk and ability to act in a a dangerous situation.
“[Ronda] Rousey got sloppy in her last fight, she took a couple of shots to the head, got shook up and began to let her guard down, and left herself open to Holmes’ kick,” said Dempsey.
Unlike most armchair UFC fans, Dempsey actually sparred with Ronda Rousey in the past.
“She was 16, just getting ready to go to the Olympics for the first time, and it was at a training camp at the Junior Nationals,” said Dempsey. “I was in my late 20’s and getting towards the end of my competitions. Whenever I have a chance to work out with an Olympian, I always take the opportunity to spar. When I got up there, it was a foregone conclusion I was going to lose. I lasted a couple of minutes,” said Dempsey.
A couple of minutes with Rousey is not something most can claim and here I was rather nervous before my first bout against my fellow white belt Sandra Gibson, even though she assured me she had only done judo for about a month and a half.
However, when Sensei gave the command to start, a deep, primal and unknown part of my nature took over. Grabbing her by the collar and sleeve, I managed to leverage my substantial height and weight advantage into an extremely sloppy pin, surprising Gibson, Sensei Dempsey and myself.
While I struggled to stay on top, Gibson took advantage of my Achilles heel — my complete and utter lack of Judo training — to free herself and get me on my back within seconds.
“It’s called shrimping, you’re using your hips trying to wriggle out of there, and as soon a you get a little bit of room to work with, you can grab the other person,” said Gibson after the match.
I then had a chance to spar with green belt Nguyen, who spent the next 15 minutes creatively displaying the ways my frame could fly through the air and into the mat, all whilst giving me advice and encouragement. At the end of the hour, I was sore, out of wind and completely ready to keep going.
What did an hour of Judo teach me about survival on the streets? Confidence for one, I now have a 0-2 fight record. I fall in a far safer fashion than I once did. Now, any fight I get in will end in two hits — you hit me and I safely hit the ground.
UAA’s Judo and Jui Jitsu Club meets at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at Greatland Martial Arts (520 W. 58th Ave. Suite G).