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 forย  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.


17 thoughts on “In which judo sends me into a nervous breakdown

  1. AHHH! Vy, congrats! That’s excellent. I’m so glad you got the belt! Sometimes, it takes the nervous breakdown to finally achieve that kind of thing, though I can totally imagine your humiliation at crying in front of a whole classroom full of people. . .yeah, I would run for the hills. Kudos to you for returning and kicking ass on that final Judo exam! ;D

    • Thank you so much! I was sooooo happy. I’m sure my roommate could tell you– I ran into the room screaming with excitement. I’m definitely glad I gave it one more shot!

  2. Hey Vy! I loved reading about your experience.
    It reminds me of my first 2 years in martial arts, long time back.
    and Keep this blog going!

  3. OMG, Awesome, Vy! Good on you for sticking with it! (I really think I should’ve stuck with Karate, but now I just go to the gym. And I have a Personal Trainer now!)

    Congratulations on your belt.

    PS I love it when you draw your Judo sensei; he looks like such a jolly sort. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you! As long as you’re staying in shape, right? Hahaha and my judo sensei is quite a happy fellow– even when he gets annoyed that we aren’t learning the moves, he’s still smiling. ๐Ÿ˜›

  4. hey, just found your blog randomly but loved the comic and story! Been doing judo for about 2 yrs, but have experienced many of the same things you have! it took me a month just to get a forward roll down, but when you keep with it, you amaze yourself at what you can do. Keep on keeping on and keep blogging about it ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Thank you! It’s a relief to hear that I’m not the only one who’s been through all that. I really really hope to continue with judo once I return to Japan! It’s an amazing sport and extremely fun, though a bit challenging. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • haha, yeah I faced many challenges. Most of them are mental rather than physical. In a way that makes it even more fun for me, because when I break one of those mental barriers I feel I have opened myself a little more and freed myself from unjustified fear. Have a good one and hope to hear more great stories!! ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. Pingback: The trials and tribulations of piercing one’s ears | I think in comics.

  6. AAAAAHHHHHH!!! WWWAAAAAHHHHH!! (sniff, sniff) That was such a touching story!! Probably my favorite post of your’s. The way you overcame fear and challenges and got a yellow belt!! WWWWAAAAAHHHHH! (sniff) YOU GO VY!!! On a more serious note, I always “try” to copy all of the moves from all the anime I watch, especially One Piece. But since I don’t walk around with a 7-foot sword, throw cannon balls like meteors, or stretch like rubber, I simply wanna know how to fight. But not to where I can protect myself. I want to fight like BRUCE LEE, BABY!! Okay, that won’t happen, but I do want to be able to at least keep myself alive in this CRAZY world! AND THIS STORY (sniff) INSPIRES ME EVEN MORE WWWAHHHH! (sniff, sniff)

    • I’m glad you are inspired!! I still really really want to pursue judo, once I find the time! As a kid, I actually signed up for a one-month trial at Tiger Tiger Schulmann’s karate after reading through all of Ranma 1/2 XD However, I found that their kids’ class was more of a self-esteem building course than anything else. I still wish I could fight as awesomely as an anime character, though! Who doesn’t? Anyway, self-defense is really important as well!

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