Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Adult Beginners' Course - first session

by Jon Cronshaw

My friend Colin and I have decided to take up Judo. I’m visually impaired and have been looking for a martial art that I can partake in that does not require peripheral vision. This was no easy task; over the years I’ve looked at Karate, Aikido, Kick Boxing and Wing Chun – all of them require peripheral vision and all of them I have eventually given up on. Looking around the martial arts landscape of Leeds, I decided that Judo might just work: it’s a martial art about movement and feeling, and doesn’t seem to be about dodging kicks or ducking punches.

We decided to start going to the Judo class run by Pudsey Judo Club on a Tuesday evening. In the class they took us through some basic throws and grappling techniques, and I’ve really enjoyed myself so far. I was impressed by the fact that some of the tutors at the club have had experience with the visually impaired, with one having worked with the Japanese Paralympic team. They have made me feel welcome and confident, and this can often be the first, and deciding factor as to whether to continue.

I’ve found over the years that there can be a lot of machismo and ego involved in martial arts classes – I’ve always ended up getting paired with a guy who thinks he’s in a fight, whose there to prove how much of a bad-ass he is rather than wanting to learn the techniques. This is why Colin is such a good training partner: we trust each other, and we are both there to learn and become technicians of the sport. And the people at Pudsey Judo are all very friendly and encouraging – there doesn’t seem to be this ego thing, but rather a commitment to improvement.

After four weeks of attending these sessions, we enrolled on the British Judo Association’s Adult Beginners’ Course (ABC) at a bargain price of £60 for ten lessons, a Judo-gi (a Judo suit), a log-book, first grading and membership to the BJA, and last night we had our first session.

After a warm-up with stretches and some cardio exercises to get the heart rate going, the session was very much back-to-basics, and gave us the opportunity to hone our technique before moving onto more advanced moves. We went over back break-falls and back rolling break-falls. I’m quite confident with break-falls, and feel happy taking bumps on the mat. There was one exercise where we had to take a back rolling break-fall from a sitting position, tipping backwards over someone else’s back. Colin did one of these and didn’t manage to curl his neck in or use his arms to spread the force of the impact: it looked quite painful, and I think that’s an area to focus on before anything else. I don’t want him tapping out too soon!

We then went over the basic collar and sleeve grip, and spent a while moving around with a partner controlling their movement and trying to make them step on a plastic cone. We swapped partners a few times, and it was pretty knackering after about 10-15 minutes of doing this. If I don’t manage to pick up the technical aspects of the sport as well as I’d like to, I think that the benefits to my fitness and conditioning will make it worthwhile.

We then did some basic exercises which were about reaction and balance. In the first we had to face a partner, and as they side-stepped left and right, we had to keep in line with them. In the second, we had to stand side-by-side with a partner with a wide stance, facing opposite directions. We then had to shake hands, and try to make the other person move their feet by only pulling at their hands– this gave us a real sense of our bodies’ centre of balance, and how we can use direction rather than strength to take someone off balance.

Finally, we learnt the technique to perform an outer-leg sweep take down, whereby you move to your opponent’s side and take them down by kneeling into the back of their knee. It’s very simple and very effective. We had learnt this move a few weeks prior, and so felt confident with the sweep action, as well the step into the move (the other beginners just did the final part).

At the end of the session, we were shown a demonstration of some of the showier moves in Judo by some of the black belts such as a Tominagi, which I recognised as one of Ken’s throws from Street Fighter II. It was good to see how fluid and fast the moves can be when not done by beginners.

After the session was over, the Chairman of the club came and spoke to me. He asked me my age, then added four years to it: “hmm – that’s not so bad”. I wondered what he was calculating and lo and behold, he brought up the 2016 Paralympics, saying that he thought it was a perfectly reasonable time frame. Madness!

Can I really become an elite athlete in four years? We shall see.

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