SSJ Judo Supports Barack Obama

As a very late child of the boomer generation, I was too young to understand and appreciate the 60’s. I remember the 70’s vaguely, and the national politics of that era not at all.

But I do remember growing up as one of the only Asian kids in an all-white suburb of Chicago, and learning very deeply the lessons of being the Other. Even though my family was very fortunate and strong, even though my parents were the hardest working people I knew, and provided my brothers and me with every advantage and comfort they could, while instilling in us an appreciation for hard work, intelligence, reason, compassion, and joy in life, the simple fact was they could not protect me from the consequences of being half-Korean in a culture that had no room and very little tolerance for difference.

School was the place where I learned many, many wonderful things, but it was also where I learned in 4th grade that when four 5th graders beat me until I couldn’t stand, and then kicked me as I lay in the snow, calling me “gook”, and “nip”, and “chink”, that the beating was nothing compared to the shame of looking up and seeing a crowd of other kids watch and do nothing to help me. The alienation of that moment was a lesson I will never forget.

It was a lesson to be repeated and reinforced in a thousand ways, which I will not recount here, but thankfully my children have never known one day when they were derided, or ignored, or abused because of their heritage. I truly believed this lesson of my childhood has become weaker over time; that the politics of hatred have faded from the national discourse, and we were truly emerging from the long, angry night.

Until now.

This presidential campaign has been the most exciting political event I have ever seen, and I feel deeply fortunate to have been able to witness it. I was impressed by Obama from the very beginning, and I was even excited by the best candidates from both parties. They offered a clear hope for changing the disastrous course the Bush Administration has taken the country.

I had already decided that Barack Obama was by far the best candidate for president, for reasons other, far better writers than I have expressed, but, despite the closeness of the race, I felt there was little I could add to the conversation. However, since John McCain has chosen to revitalize his campain through demagoguery, anger, and specious, hateful, lies, I now have something to say.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.” But I have found that the mind can all too easily relax into familar patterns of thought. America has matured and learned many things, but the lessons of compassion and understanding must be continually learned. I may not have understood the larger political issues of my childhood, but I know what I lived through. America has grown, but as a nation we have learned through great pain that fear, anger, and hate remain powerful forces in the world, both abroad and sadly, as the past few days of Republican campaigning have shown, at home. Out of desperation, McCain is grasping at the darkest elements of our nature, and thereby threatens to erase not only Obama’s chance to be President, but decades of national growth towards the idea that we are all created equal.

Through condescending and cynical tactics, McCain and Palin have shamelessly tried to manipulate the “Joe Six-Packs” and the “Hockey Mom’s” of the nation, to say that they understand “Main Street” America. But as this speech by former United Mine Workers President Richard Trumka, who is now secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO shows, this only serves to draw a false distinction between the “elite” and the “common”, to exacerbate and antagonize, and create divisions.

The tactics of fear and hate must not be allowed to regain their sway. We have a chance to take a brilliant step forward as a nation, and given the current political and financial crises we face, we must call upon our highest ideals, our bravest virtues to meet them. I believe one candidate represents our best hope for leading our continued growth as a nation and a society. Please join me, and help elect Barack Obama as our next President.


Latest Olympics News Video and Photos

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Exclusive Summer Olympics news & widgets at NBC!

If you watch the Top Ippon highlights from the Aug 9th Mens -60 Kg division, take a good look at the Korean coach when his player wins the gold; he’s an old friend of mine, Ahn Byung Keun, who taught me a lot about shime waza. “I’m going to send you to see your father!”

Well, we had an interesting evening…

I apologize for being absent from class last night. Many thanks to Brian for filling in. He let me know that everything went well, and I certainly hope that was your experience.

Just to let you know, I was absent for two reasons.

First, I came home from work feeling quite ill, with a severe headache and nausea. After being sick in the bathroom I called Brian and asked him if would be able to run the kids and the adult classes.

I was sitting outside in the sunshine recuperating when I heard a terrible thump and Pilot howling in pain and fear. Asa and Noah were also screaming. I dashed around the side of the house saw that both boys were in the front yard, staring in horror as Pilot was staggering in circles in the road, howling and clenched in a tight half circle. Katy had come home early and was about to pull in the driveway and Pilot ran into the road to greet her, and was hit by a second oncoming car. Both boys were unhurt, but terrified by what had just happened. Pilot was bleeding slightly from a scape on his muzzle, and was holding his left hind leg very stiffly.

The driver never stopped.

After some frantic discussion we bundled Pilot in the car and took off for the vet. At first, we headed for our own, but upon calling his office on my cell phone, learned that he was gone for the day, and his technician said we should go to emergency pet services in Charlottesville. So we turned around and Katy started driving as fast as she could in the other direction. Many of you know that we live on Garth road, and that it is quite winding in places. Taking those curves at high speed was doing my stomach no good at all, but it’s truly amazing what adrenaline does for minor things like that.

Even more amazing was to see Pilot improve clearly with each passing minute. By the time we got to the vet, he was walking on his own, with his ears up and tail wagging, and clearly quite happy to have this unusual treat of a car ride on a Thursday evening. The vet said he looked ok, and gave us some pain medication for him (I’ll talk another time about side effects!), and sent us on our way.

Today, Pilot is doing fine, and I am feeling much better. I would much rather have been at judo, though. Oh, and avoid the egg rolls at the Chinese restaurant downtown.

Brian Milchak’s Reflections on the Yamashita Clinic

It is interesting to watch champions behaving under normal conditions. I sometimes ask myself if I think they do something vastly unordinary in their everyday mannerisms. Do they walk and talk differently? Do they use a certain brand of toothpaste? Can I afford it? Maybe they have some eccentricity that gives them an edge over the competition. Therefore, when fellow members of Ssal Shin Jo Judo and I attended the judo clinic at Georgetown University featuring Olympic Champion and multiple World Championship winner Yasuhiro Yamashita, I found myself keeping a close eye on him.

I must say, his entrance was intimidating. He entered the gymnasium, well-dressed in a button-down shirt and a long pea coat, surrounded by a considerable posse of equally well-dressed Japanese judoka who opened the doors for him. I recognized his translator as the featured Japanese National Collegiate Champion on a television show called “Human Weapon”. They were obviously going to work; their work being to throw people. Once they were inside, however, I did not see what I thought I might see. Yasuhiro Yamashita had a very unassuming presence; he is soft-spoken and humble. Although he has a very strong jaw, his face is friendly and eyes are kind. He broke the intimidating entrance when he and his group stopped to fish for change so he could get some Dasani water. And with that they entered the locker room. That was the last I saw of the judo champion before the clinic began.

The material of the clinic itself was as modest as the man. We examined five throws: osoto gari, ouchi gari, ippon seoinage, tai otoshi and what looked like a variation of sumi gaeshi, I think. The emphasis for all of the throws was kuzushi. Sensei Yamashita demonstrated several nuances of throws that were very helpful in improving my uchikomi. Each throw was explained and demonstrated in fine detail. I felt that this was a great lesson. Many people seem to rush through the first sets of the Gokyu no Waza, believing that they have these techniques down. Here there were Shodans being corrected on their technique for throws from the Dai Ikkyu. Many martial arts seem to have become so competition oriented that practitioners try to learn many techniques as fast as they can. I do not find this focus appealing and I felt affirmed in that sentiment when Sensei Yamashita emphasized the importance of continual uchikomi for these early throws. His technique was amazing. Each repetition was exactly the same, from where his hands were positioned to the point of his toe. His intensity during uchikomi was exemplary. The strain and focus showed in his face as he gave demonstrations. This is how one should practice if one is serious about improving technique; thinking only about position and directing all effort towards keeping it perfect. This is important in the development of muscle memory for correct technique.

Yamashita showed one newaza technique; okuri eri jime. Here he emphasized using your knuckle to “skewer” through the neck to make the opponent uncomfortable and to reach deep to the opposite lapel. Although some may think this seems brutal, I enjoyed it because I often try not to be too mean on the ground, as I am larger than most judoka that I train with. As a result, to avoid hurting anyone, I often do not hit many techniques with much force. It was nice to feel like I can be just a little bit mean, even if just for this one technique. I suppose when one gets into higher levels of competition, some ruthlessness may be in order to offset the fact that many competitors are so canny on the mat.

At the end of the day, we engaged in standing randori. Sensei Yamashita’s Tokai students were the stars. I had the privilege of moving with two of them, including the “Human Weapon”, Yasutaka Okawa. I could not off-balance either of them for the life of me. They were deceptively strong and had solid bases. However, they were not in an obvious jigotai position; they stood straight up. Their defensiveness seemed to be based on discreet steps and movements that can only come from experience. When I compared their style to those of other Westerners that I sparred with during the day, they were calmer and their movements were not as wild. I watched other players move with them; the players appeared harried and desperate to make them move. The Japanese judoka kept their calm demeanor and continued to smoothly throw challengers. Yamashita himself did not participate in randori, but his students represented him well.

The modesty of the Japanese judoka was as stunning as their technique. After I played each one, they bowed profusely and appeared very grateful, even though I am nowhere near their skill level. The power that they have does not seem to have affected their humbleness. Sensei Yamashita displayed this as well. During instruction, I was trying to sit in the formal seiza position for long periods of time (for me) because I thought it was more respectful. I am not sure if he noticed that I looked uncomfortable or if he just felt that it was unnecessary, but he told me to go ahead and sit in the informal position. Now that I think about it, maybe I was just in somebody else’s way, but for now I will go with my former interpretation. Either way, I was particularly impressed with the respect and modesty shown by him and his judoka.

As I was heading home, it was the concepts and character that stuck with me more than specific technical points. I remembered the effort that Sensei Yamashita showed in his osoto gari. At times, the idea of continuous repetition of uchikomi can seem very tedious. However, if you are working on improving the minute, sometimes seemingly picayune details of position, you may find that you did not know a throw as well as you thought. The monotony will give way to discovery, and all of a sudden, a throw is no longer banal. This way of humbly working on each move in order to get to the point at which one can hit a throw without thought, and to do it as smoothly as Yamashita and his Tokai students did, is the way I want to study a martial art. I believe that the modesty that I saw in these men also contributes to their work ethic and success. I think the moment that you become complacent with where you are, in technique, fitness, or anything else in life, you start to slip. If you are humble, you may never be pleased enough with yourself to say, “Okay, I’ve got that down.” And you will get better every day for it.

Sandy’s Thoughts on the Yamashita Clinic

Here are some of Sandy’s impressions and insights from the Yamahita Clinic:

Undefeated Olympic judo champions can be terrifying.

They can also be quite pleasant and approachable. Yamashita-Sensei and his students gave an excellent technical analysis of practical judo moves and were always appeared happy to teach or give a few pointers. I found their breakdown of throw-execution versus their uchikomi very enlightening. Their emphasis on the finer points of uchikomi speaks to their belief in correct practice as the foundation of skillful play. That being said, their genuinely pleasant attitude didn’t retract from the sheer intimidation factor of their technique. I’ve seen plenty of good seoi-nages, both in person and on World Championship DVDs, but when one of the Japanese players demonstrated his favorite ippon-seoi-nage I was taken aback. My first thought was “I’ve never seen that much power in that throw before.”

My second thought was, “I’m pretty sure he just killed his uke.”

Of course everybody was fine, but you couldn’t ignore the effectiveness of the judo they were practicing. When Yamashita-Sensei demonstrated his choking techinques on one of his students, the message was written all over his uke’s face. The message was, “I wish I was dead right now.”

The clinic was also a great opportunity to play with other skilled players who I’ve only seen or faced through competition. It was wonderful to play without the burden of competition: winning the match or competitive egos. Everybody was just there to have fun and learn. Unfortunately, I reinjured my side during the early randori sessions and missed my opportunity to play with the Japanese students, but it was still very enjoyable just to watch them. They were living examples of the judo our dojo strives for: upright stance, emphasis on techinque, and smart, skillful play.

It’s a nice confirmation that we’re on the right path, and we’ve only got a few million more uchikomi’s to go.

Yamashita Clinic at Georgetown-some general thoughts.

This was a fantastic experience! Seeing Yamashita demonstrate exactly the kind of judo we have been striving to practice was truly inspirational and invigorating. Even though Yamashita is in his fifties, his judo is the graceful personification of technical precision and powerful, unhurried speed. He throws like a waterfall, fluid inevitability, and yet his control is such that his uke’s always fall perfectly.

Furthermore, his explanation of nage waza parallel what I teach in the dojo almost exactly. Although his technique far outshines my own, there could be no better proof that we practice very classical judo. That validation confirmed that we are on the right track, but, watching him and his students move, I was reminded how such extraordinary ability is only possible when based on a deep, technical foundation, and that foundation is only achieved through countless uchikomi. It was both exhilarating and daunting!

I have been developing training material from the video recording, and will make them available for all via the internet in installments. But in the meantime we will be increasing the depth and extent of our uchikomi. Every adult practice will begin by doing 100 uchikomi of a throw in common, and then each person will do another 100 uchikomi of the throw of his or her choice. This way, we will continue to build basic instruction while giving everyone space to develop independent study.

Here is the first of five videos now available on Youtube:

I’m convinced that we have everything we need at SSJ Judo to develop truly great judo; we have a world-class mat, we have the technical knowledge, we have talent. All that’s needed is time and effort.

What a terrific lesson: to see that we have right here everything we need to be world-class. All we have to do is do it!