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Women’s Judo Class


I was watching one of the regular classes at the East Bay
Judo Institute. It was fascinating the way that very very
big people and very very small people were able to train
together without anyone busting a gut or getting
completely squished. The training I saw was vigorous. It
looked as though there was barely enough resting time for
people to catch their breath – and these were people who
were in shape!! I liked the intensity and vigor of the
class that I saw, but I wondered if I could jump into a
class that pace. I was mulling this over in my mind when
one of the smaller people on the mat came over to talk
with me. Sayaka was upbeat and energetic, despite the
intense workout she had just finished. Then, as though
she had read my mind, she told me about a new women’s
class that I might be interested in. It was a way to
start Judo without having to jump right into the "killer
class" (my characterization). So last October I
enrolled in the women’s Judo class at the East Bay Judo
Institute. It turned out to be the right thing to do.
There were 6 of us in the class and everybody on the mat
was my size or smaller – except Sensei, of course. I soon
found out that Sensei is Sayaka’s dad. I guess the big/small
thing is somewhat of a family dynamic. Matsumoto Sensei
is the kind of teacher that makes you work harder than
you ever thought you could. There is always a little
smile on his face that simultaneously lets you know you
are doing great and that you could be doing better. I can’t
vouch for the effect that his smile had on the other
students in the class, but what it did for me was to
somehow egg me on to the point that I was often pushing
the edge of my ability.

For the first few weeks it felt like the classes began
with about two hours of conditioning exercises – the
result of which made me stronger, and also gave me the
ability to order different types of sushi with greater
ease. That’s because we did "ebi", the shrimp;
"unagi", the eel and a few other things I can’t
remember. Unfortunately we didn’t do "hamachi",
the yellowtail tuna, since that’s my favorite sushi.
After that we practiced ukemi for what seemed like an
hour; slapping the mat this way and that. Then we
practiced uchikomi for another hour. This is when we
worked with a partner; setting ourselves up for a throw
but not actually throwing.

After several weeks of this we started doing randori (another
hour?) Now we were allowed to apply any technique to try
and throw or pin our partners. When the physical practice
was over and we were cooling down, Sensei would give us a
lecture on Judo etiquette or the philosophy and history
of Judo. Obviously my perception of the time did not add
up to the actual length of the one and a half hour long
class. But it was truly a full ninety minute workout!

All in all, I enjoyed the pace of the class, and I liked
working with other women who were also learning the
basics of Judo. It was great to have Sayaka and Lily in
the class because they are both skilled judoka and I
could try to model their movements in a way that fit my
body. After many years of working and playing in this
world, I feel it is important to acknowledge that
different body sizes have advantages and disadvantages in
any sport or martial art. I liked starting Judo with
other women because it allowed me the space and time to
do just that, acknowledge the differences. I learned
aspects of my physicality that I wouldn’t have been able
to explore fully if I was training with people (i.e. men)
stronger and larger than me.