Judo

Whilst it probably feels, to those of you still reading, like this silly project has lasted a lifetime, I’m still not quite half-way through my insanely long list of sports. Despite this, as London Marathon training has started to ramp up, I’m now pretty much physically falling apart.

With 7 weeks to go, I’ve already trained almost 4000% more than I bothered training for the 2009 marathon, but unfortunately, that’s where the differences end. Youth was on my side back then, and despite training more, being generally healthier and no longer having a relationship with Marlboro Lights that would make Dot Cotton wheeze, running still hates me. Not only this, but a recurring ankle-ish injury (not Basketball related) has come back to haunt me at exactly the same point that it surfaced during my training in 2009. I used to wear this injury as a badge of honour, but now, it’s just annoying.

Still, with age may come feeble limbs, but also wisdom – this time, I actually sought some advice from an expert. As I explain the familiarity of this particular ache, during my first meeting with Paulo at Europe’s leading (and very reasonably priced) osteopathic clinic, the British School of Osteopathy, he asks me “And what happened to your injury after you ran on it in your last marathon?”. It’s hard to describe the look on his face when I respond by telling him that I walked with a limp for three months afterwards, but I’d say it was somewhere between amusement and horror. The good news is, it’s probably not a stress fracture, the bad news is, it’s probably something else.

Earlier on in the week, as I was continuing to ignore aforementioned injury, hot on the heels of Gemma Gibbons’ instruction to visit Metro Judo club, I quickly organised a trip to my spiritual home of South East London, to do exactly that.

In the run up to my GCSEs, a “motivational” slide show was wheeled out in an attempt to get us to revise, during which we were told in glorious over-head-projector technicolour: “failing to plan is planning to fail”. As I recall, one-time legendary cricketer and aggressive Shredded Wheat pusher, Ian Botham, was the man to whom this particular quote was attributed. In the years that followed, whilst I’ve questioned the accuracy of this referencing, I understand the sentiment. My trip to Metro Judo Club was, in fact, organised so quickly that I once again neglected to carry out any rudimentary research of my sport of the week.

Ian Botham, just casually being a wordsmith, allegedly

Ian Botham, just casually being a wordsmith, allegedly

I didn’t really know what Judo was other than a martial art, and I had liked Taekwondo so how hard could it be? My knowledge of Judo is some vague recollection of my mate Stef repeatedly shouting “IPPON!” in my face during a night out last summer. Stef thinks all sports should stop mucking around and introduce the Ippon. “Just imagine if all sports had an Ippon?” He had enthused, “When you do something so good that it’s all over, regardless of what’s happened already – because it was so good, what’s the point after that?? IPPON!”.

In an email exchange with Mick Murphy, Gemma’s coach, he suggests I visit on a Monday evening when there is a women-only class. Monday isn’t very convenient, however, and whatever, I’m not scared of a couple of men – I’m Sasha Fierce, remember? No, no, Friday will be fine, I assure him. When I arrive on Friday, I’m greeted by a woman on the door who also mentions Monday’s women-only class. Local girl and former student of Mick’s, Gemma, had won the silver medal in last year’s Olympics, becoming an iconic image of the entire games, for goodness’ sake. Before her, the suffragettes were busting some Jujitsu moves on the po-po, as they tried to curb their enthusiasm for minor acts of vandalism. Why does everyone want me to go to a women-only class, I wonder, with some indignation.

Gemma Gibbons, just casually being amazing and making us cry

Gemma Gibbons, just casually being amazing and making us cry

As is customary, we start with some stretches, but these aren’t just any stretches, they’re forward rolls and cartwheels across the length of the Dojo and back, followed by standing on your head. This has me a little worried about what’s to come, though nothing could’ve prepared me for this.

I had pretty much assumed that Judo would be like Taekwondo, you know, kicking things that aren’t people until you get good enough to be trusted to kick people. Apparently, as the teacher demonstrates the first practice move, which is taking it in turns to pin your partner down, grab hold of their clothing and see if they can get away, it’s basically wrestling, but with less spandex. Beefy’s words about preparation have never seemed so pertinent and suddenly, the repeated suggestions that I attend the Monday night women-only class starts to make sense.

As the group, a mixture of mostly children and some adults, who’ve come prepared with other adults, starts to pair off it transpires that fellow white belt, Su, is going to be left with me. We exchange some pleasantries: Hi Su, nice to meet you, how long have you been doing this, and, crucially “how old are you?”. Su is sixteen.

Su, just casually being Sasha Fierce

Su, just casually being Sasha Fierce

“Do you want to go first?” she asks me. So, I’m to pin down a sixteen year old girl, it seems, and see if she escapes my clutches. Not being someone who’s ever featured in a News of the World-related “list”, naturally, I’m very uncomfortable with this turn of events. “I’m quite a bit bigger than you” I start to protest, but Su assures me it’s fine, so I half-heartedly hold her in one place, and she quite easily rolls away.

We swap places and Su has me pinned to the ground. I casually move as if to rollaway and realise that it’s not happening. Slightly more forcefully I twist my body, but I literally cannot move. Now my arms are flailing, but I can’t escape Su’s vice-like grip

On the second practice move, a kindly fellow adult offers to assist. “What you’re trying to do is to knock the other person down onto the floor, by tripping them over. If they fall flat on their back and the stay there – that’s the Ippon. If they fall but they’re not flat on their back, that’s the Waza-ari, and you need to pin them down for 30 seconds before you win” he explains, “so now, I’m going to trip you over – ok?”. I whisper “I’m scared” and he responds in the only way you can to such a statement, which is by laughing at me as I fall on my arse. After this demonstration, Su is, again, pinning me down, but this time, she’s supposed to sort of move around me, which I’m supposed to resist by trapping her legs. But there’s no stopping her.

Now it’s my turn, and Su has my legs well and truly trapped. Apparently the thing to do in this situation is to dig one’s knuckles into the opponent’s inner thigh thus causing them sufficient pain to stop them from trapping you, but I can’t do this to a child. I just can’t shake Su off and our instructor commands me to kick her. “Not like that!” he exclaims, exasperated, “kick her harder!” and to my horror, I find myself even whilst kicking a 16 year old, unable to escape.

Georgia, just casually throwing Acelya

Georgia, just casually throwing Acelya

It’s quite hard work, fighting with children, so I take a minute to step back and observe.

“How are you finding it?” one of the parents asks me. “Well,” I tell her, “I just got my arse kicked by a child”.

“It wasn’t my child, was it?” She points at a girl who is holding her own against a fully grown man, almost twice her height.

It turns out, that only thing more exciting than training with ACTUAL OLYMPIANS is training with possible future Olympians. This particular child is a national champion, Acelya Toprak. She’s been practising Judo since she was 3 and has moved through the ranks from pre-cadet to cadet and at 14, she’s ranked 3rd in her weight group, beating off competition from kids several years older than her. Her coach is confident that Acelya will top this group as the other girls move into the next weight group.

She’s hungry for it, her mum tells me, and despite the other pressing commitments in a teenager’s social calendar (like hanging out with boys in whatever passes for Woolworths, these days) she remains completely committed. Not least because she’s recently been invited to train with the elite squad. But it doesn’t come cheap, this elite business, with frequent training camps that can cost up to £1000 a pop. During the Olympics, quite a big deal was made of the prevalence of privately educated athletes, and it’s easy to imagine how this might have come about when you consider costs like those. It makes you wonder how much talent might be, up and down the country, wasted because families can’t foot such hefty bills.

I’m completely mesmerised by Acelya, in the way that one is when they witness someone so obviously talented, and she makes Judo look like ballet as she continues to dance around her opponent. Her mum calls her over for a photo with me and she asks, “Do you want me to pick you up as if I’m going to throw you? I won’t actually throw you”. Before I know what is going on, a 14 year old girl has hoisted me over her shoulder –most of the fully grown men I know would probably struggle to do this for the length of time it takes to get a decent photo.

Acelya, just casually throwing me

Acelya, just casually throwing me

I have a feeling that Acelya isn’t going to need a medal from me, which is the only reason why she’s not getting one and I’m instead awarding this week’s gold to Su, because she did pretty much beat me up, and I am Sasha Fierce, after all.

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Jen

7

10

1

18

Jade

2

1

3

Gemma

2

2

Nick

2

2

Harriet

1

1

          2

Chloe Rogers

1

1

Dalston Dunkers

1

1

GB Handball

1

1

John

1

1

Naomi

1

1

Otter Water Polo

1

1

Romford HC

1

1

Ruislip Eagles

1

1

Steve

1

1

Su

1

1

Simon

2

2

Uncle Becky

2

2

Ali

1

1

James

1

1

My Mum

1

1

Nic

1

1

Pete

1

1

 

© Inspire a Jen, 2013.

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