In which judo sends me into a nervous breakdown

I mentioned before that I was taking judo. Judo is definitely a challenging sport, and our sensei is tough on us as well. He actually wants to teach his students the basics of judo and help them master it rather than run some casual, half-baked class.

Which meant, for instance, that he asked everyone to buy a gi, the uniform used in judo. A gi can run you anywhere from $50 and up. Having two part-time jobs, I ran out and bought one– but some other students were less willing.

And no disrespect for that. Not everyone has cash to spare.

Sensei also started to teach us higher-level moves, and expected us to pick up on them. One class, to everyone’s surprise, he introduced us to throwing:

I, along with many of the students, were probably thinking something along the lines of whoa. Slow down. Regardless, we practiced getting each other off balance, getting in the right spot for leverage, and then…

We actually threw each other! It was pretty crazy, that class. We were all very meek about throwing each other, especially since we didn’t want to hurt the other person.

So a lot of the students felt that it was becoming a little too much. As displayed in our declining attendance from class to class…

I started having trouble as well. As previously stated, I was the worst person in the class. And then the more casual class-goers stopped showing up. That left the serious kids, the ones who could pick up the moves right away, the ones who could execute everything perfectly, and… me.

I still couldn’t do the most basic roll, the front ukemi:

I still couldn’t do a backwards roll:

And I simply couldn’t master the techniques as quickly as everyone else. Sensei and the other judo assistants were on my case constantly.

The second to last class was the worst. We learned a new throw that day, one that looks kind of like this:

Now, people have a natural fear of falling. I mean, I’m naturally going to tense up when someone tries to hurl me to the ground. And this throw takes your head over the person’s shoulder, giving you a good look at the lonnnnng distance your body has to go before it hits the hard ground.

And because I tensed up, I couldn’t fall properly. Instead, I landed rather painfully on my hip:

Sensei, baffled that I couldn’t land when I was able to every other time, had me thrown again.

And the same thing happened.

Twice as painfully as before:

I’m not very good with physical pain. In fact, I’m kind of a pansy. I can’t handle it. Thus, I, Vy Nguyen, a legal adult, a college student, burst out crying in the middle of the classroom. And I couldn’t stop. And I more or less embarrassed myself in front of everyone.

The leg I had landed on was extremely sore for  a few days, but otherwise, I was fine. But I had besmirched myself. And I feared getting thrown again. Do I return for the last class?

On the last class, too, sensei had promised that he would test us on everything he had taught. Those who did well enough could receive a yellow belt. But I knew, with the way I had been performing, that that was impossible. I couldn’t roll. Couldn’t throw properly. Couldn’t even land, the most basic and essential judo skill. Do I go back?

I took this moment to draw inspiration from Scott Pilgrim, who, throughout the whole series, just wanted

…and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t return. So I went to the last class. And sensei tested us, first on rolling.

And then throws…

And finally, a surprise round: he made us actually fight. Like a practice match. Against the more experienced assistants.

The test ended there. We all sat down and waiting for him to announce the results.

Well, okay, there was actually one guy who wasn't allowed to get one. He had skipped a class too many.

But although there were five people who could get the belt, he had only two to give out. He decided to give them to his two “top students.”

The first belt, as I expected, was given to the only other girl who had stuck to the class. This girl is a natural. She could pick up the techniques nearly instantly and execute them perfectly.

And as for the second one…


I was totally and utterly shocked. I knew I had gotten better since that first class, but to get a belt? Whoa. That day I ran back to my dorm in complete ecstasy to show my friends:

And I can’t shake the feeling that I want to continue. Though I struggled with judo, I also had a ton of fun learning it. Nothing can beat the feeling of a well-executed throw, or a smoothly done ukemi. I miss the competitive outlet of tennis, and judo seems to provide it. And the judo assistants– the ones who have been doing judo for years– you could sense the love they had for their sport. I wanted more. I still want more. Unfortunately, the nearest dojo is about an hour’s commute away. It could be doable. Perhaps, next semester, I’ll have to see.

But for now? One small achievement for a crybaby girl.