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.


I’m gonna be a judo master (once I learn to, uh, roll on the ground)

I’ve always wanted to learn a martial art.

I’m going to admit that it’s partially because of comics. When your first manga (which I read at the tender age of 7) was about badass cyborg hunter-warriors beating the bloody crap out of each other, the ability to fight would seem desirable.

When I was in middle school, in fact, I coerced my parents into signing me up for a karate class. Except it was Tiger Schulmann’s Karate, a large mixed martial arts chain in my region. I soon discovered that the class was more about building little kids’ self-esteem than actually learning karate. Kids advanced belts depending on how long they had been at the dojo and not so much on skill. When I got there, I was already better than many of the kids. (Just because I was older and more coordinated, and they were like, 6 years old.) And, being in my cynical pre-teen years, I quickly tired of my “sensei” preaching the value of believing in myself.

And then I transferred to another dojo that was so hardcore I was scared out of my mind. Thus ended my venture into karate.

But now, I’m a bit more mature.  I understand that martial arts takes commitment. It takes practice and refinement. I’m old enough to understand that I won’t be able to learn it instantly.

And I’m still immature enough to want to beat the crap out of people.

Well, okay, only in self-defense and if they attack me first. But living in a city– I’d like to know how to defend myself, you know?

So this semester, I signed up for one of Northeastern’s instructional programs, for judo. For those who don’t know what judo is, it’s a modern and combative martial art that focuses on grappling rather than striking. It’s been refined into a competitive sport, complete with rules, a scoring system, and an official slot at the Olympics. Northeastern has a team, which appealed to me– I could be able to pursue judo beyond just a basic class!

Granted, of course, that I survive.

I’ve been to a few classes, and it’s hysterically fun. I also suck at it. Our sensei is a large man from Thailand who resembles a giant panda (one that could kill you in an instant, of course)

He’s a hilarious guy, though absolutely serious about his sport. Some of the stories he’s told us…

Cheerful. Then again, it’s entirely true. Judo is a sport of throwing. If you can’t protect yourself when you’re thrown, you could be seriously injured. Our sensei also told us how

So far, then, we’ve primarily been learning how to, well, roll on the ground. Which sounds like it’s easy. Except I suck at it. No kidding– I’m the worst in the class.

Oh, sigh. Sensei even had to defend me:

It matters little, though. I’ve never really had much natural athletic ability– I’m the type who needs lots and lots and lots of practice. So I’ll get better! And I love the class– it’s surprisingly fun! While we spent the first class rolling and learning how to fall, we moved onto something a little different the second class:

Even more awkward was when I was paired up with a guy:

Even more awkward was when we learned our first grapple hold:

But the class is really, really fun! I absolutely love it, even if I do suck. I just wish I had more free time to practice. Because I definitely need to catch up with the rest of the class…

One of these days, I tell you! I will be a JUDO MASTER!