|Learning to Fall|
|Written by Natalie Liverant|
|Saturday, 18 October 2008 18:01|
Like returning home after a long journey, stepping onto the tatami at the dojo is one of the most relaxing moments I look forward to after a long day of work. A wave of excitement builds as I change into my gi, enter the dojo, slip off my zori (flip flops), step onto the mat, and bow as I enter. At this moment, it’s as if all the troubles of the day disappear and what is left is a mind that is clear, calm, and ready to learn. As we begin warm ups, a surge of energy pulses through my veins and my body prepares for uchi komi (repetition of practice without throwing). Usually, this part of practice exerts so much energy that I’m breathless when it comes time for randori (free practice), but the three minute rounds fly by and before I know it, practice is over. We line up facing the sensei (instructor(s)) and the commands are given, “Seiza. Mokuso. Ya-mei. Sensei ni rei. Shomen. Rei.” (Kneel. Meditation. Break meditation. Bow to instructor. Face (a picture of) Jigoro Kano. Bow.) As I break from the kneeling position and leave the mat, I feel a mixture of exhaustion and rejuvenation. I’m glad to be home.
Growing up, judo was my salvation. Here, I escaped the bullies, bad grades and chores. I loved being on the mat and picked up judo pretty quickly. Mimicking the techniques taught by my sensei was easy. The challenge was executing that technique during randori or a tournament. Just like any other competitive sport, losing a match is never fun but there are two ways to lose. You can leave feeling sour and frustrated at not winning or learn from your mistakes and practice to improve. There is a story my friend, Jarrod, used to tell. For several years in a row during his youth, Jarrod’s dad attended lots of tournaments throughout the year and lost every match. While some would see this as grounds to quit, his dad continued to compete and soon began to win his matches. I see two lessons to this story. The first: Never give up. The second: It’s not about the winning or losing, it’s about what you take away from the match for the next time. Lessons like this also helped me deal with the bullies and bad grades, although I still don’t like to do chores.
My mom and her Judo buddies
Judo also kept me connected to my Japanese heritage. On the mat, I learned how to count and some vocabulary. Off the mat, there were celebrations and demonstrations at various events throughout Chicago. I have fond memories of pounding mochi at the annual Kagami Biraki (opening ceremony for the first practice of the New Year) and demonstrations at the Botanical Gardens. Being a part of a judo club made making friends a lot easier, too. I think this is because no one on the mat excels at everything. Each of us has particular strengths and weaknesses and we rely on each other for our own improvement. Because judo is this constant give and take situation, the friendships between judoka can become very close and I find that some of my most trusted and longest friendships are with those who I have met through judo.
Me and my Judo buddies
Tenri Judo Club
Natalie Ume Liverant, a third generation Japanese American, received her bachelors of arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Illinois in 2007. She currently works for the University's non-profit company, the Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program, as a field and lab technician. Natalie started judo when she was eight years old and currently holds the rank of shodan (first degree blackbelt). She currently resides in Schaumburg, IL with her mother and sister.
Published in July of 2008
Read Natalie's story on Discover Nikkei in Portuguese.
© Chicago Japanese American Historical Society 2008. To be used/published/quoted only with the Society’s permission.