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Lovingly Torture, Respectfully Play

I have been teaching judo long enough to see the students I’ve trained grow from little kids to amazing adults. Some of my students are now sensei themselves and run Honolulu Judo Club. As I reflect back on when my students were in high school, I remember “lovingly torturing” them in newaza (matwork). The word “torture” is an exaggeration, but it makes for a dramatic sounding title. Basically, I did to my students what one of my sensei did to me when I was young. He would say in a matter-of-fact way, “I’m going to beat you up today.” Then he would systematically take me apart and inflict pain by smashing my head with his stomach, ribs, armpit or any other part of his body that would make me cringe. Of course, I would never give him the satisfaction of giving up. He would just get tired of holding me down then let me up to start the pain again.

When I worked out with my high school students I shared the same love that I received from my sensei. I did it for their own welfare and benefit.

As the years went by and my students have become adults, the roles have reversed. Now when I train with the head coach of our Open Mat practices, I try my old tactics on him but to no avail. Even when I try to blindside him from behind when he is not ready he flicks me off like an annoying fly.

When he gets on top of me and presses down on me in a grape vine position, I know he can simply finish me off just from the sheer weight and body pressure on me. He is confident that he can beat me and level the same “loving torture” that I gave him 15 years ago. Instead, he chooses to “respectfully play” with me and gives me a chance to retain my dignity.

Of course, he will show the same judo love to his students that my sensei gave to me and I gave to him. At the end of our workout he tells me how strong I still am. Yeah, right! Actually, it is my joy as sensei to see my students surpass my abilities. That means two things. 1. I’m getting old and 2. They are getting better. The circle of life continues, and we are all the better for it.


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