In September 1967, I walked into the Phoenixville YMCA where I enrolled in the Judo class. Clearly stated on the brochure was the notice – MINIMUM AGE 12. Technically I was eleven but what’s one month between friends?
The Martial Arts scene in the USA was totally different in 1967 than it is today. Smacking somebody on the back of the neck with the side of your hand was known as Judo chop. Just ask Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble as they took on Dr. Sinister (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlx3ay8dELQ). The opening credits of the detective show Honey West, highlighted her using a Shoulder(Back-Carry) throw (her technique was bad) while Captain Kirk and Secret Agent James West (Wild, Wild West) made frequent use of the Monkey Flip (Tomoe-Nage) .
The class used mats that had a tendency to separate during hard practice and I don’t recall too many easy practices past the sixth week of the beginner’s class. Smacking a hard wood floor with your hand stung like crazy. The expectation was you would liberally soak your training clothes with sweat.
Most classes back then were led by Brown Belt instructors because Black Belt teachers were in short supply. Of course it took about three to five years of hard training to achieve a Brown Belt unless you entered a lot of tournaments. Tournament Brown and Black belts were good fighters but often lacked the ability to teach.
I was fortunate in that my instructors each had many years of training under Takahiko Ishikawa, Eighth Dan. We also were blessed with a third degree Black Belt who came about once a month. He earned his Sandan (3rd Degree Black Belt) in Japan at the Kodokan, the Mother School of Judo. He was in his mid-fourties and still a very skilled fighter. I only ever threw him once in the three years I trained with him (work caused him to move) and it is still a highlight memory for me.
Our Judo Club was initially only about ten regular members but by 1974 when I left for college it had grown to over thirty regular attendees. I was by this time the Assistant Instructor teaching both adults and kids.
Judo was my life. I practiced and taught class six days a week. In school when I was bored (often), I would doodle the names of Judo techniques in the margins of my copybook. Practices on Monday and Thursday night could go five hours long even though we were only scheduled for three hours. My partner (Bill Clarke) and I would show up early and stay late. It kept us out of trouble and definitely got us in the best shape of our lives.
Being thrust into the position of being a teacher as a teenager helped my Judo but also helped me as a person. Seeing another succeed was almost as satisfying as succeeding myself. I began to grasp the two Principles of Judo inside and outside of the Dojo: Best Use of Energy and Mutual Welfare and Benefit. Now, nearly 48 years later, I look for opportunities to apply those Principles. Judo is truly a lifelong pursuit.
Are you or your child considering joining a Martial Arts class?
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- Is your child a Striker or a Grappler
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- Can Special Needs Kids Thrive in a Martial Arts Class
- Get advice from a Dad with over four decades experience in the Martial Arts!