The auditorium was packed to the brim. People watching, supporting their friends, their classmates, their pupils. But that didn't matter once I stepped into the mat. The referee pointed at the line where I should be standing. I know not what to feel at the time. A part of me was saying: "what have you gotten yourself into!" and another: "This is it. This is you. This is real." I bow to the judges, then to the referee, then to my opponent. "Hajime!" The ref yells, and so begins the opening of the University's Judo Tournament...
A senior student, that's what I was. It was regular day at school. I was with the gang. We descended the stairs laughing and just being foolish. At the bottom, the building's gallery caught our attention. There were booths setup. We went in. It was an event for different clubs and everyone was encouraged to join. I was already an inactive member of the mountaineering club, but since some friends are minding the booth,I hung there for a while for nothing else interests me. 10 minutes passed. I met up with my friends assuming they were done looking around. One was missing. Julius. We scanned the area, then saw him.. signing up to become a Judoka(practitioner of judo). "You have got to be kidding!" one said laughingly. "Judo? really?!" says another. But Julius, he was serious about it.
Julius and I had the same route home. Before the end of the class he told me about the judo club and how I could be suitable competitor. He, by the way, was also the one who got me into climbing mountains so he knows the kind of rush I was into. Wednesday 6PM (Training Day): I was invited to watch the training. I knew nothing about the sport of Judo before that day. I mean, the only move I knew was the "Judo chop", which I later on found out was an oxymoron since striking was not permitted in the sport.
The Next Week:
Watching the team train fired me up. Like a bug to a lamp, I was drawn to it. And having learned that they were short on members as tournament nears.. that was the final straw. So I signed up. We only had over a month of preparation. I learned importance of the basics like: proper falling and rolling in order to prevent accidents. I acquired the different throwing and grappling techniques. My favorite move at the time was the "tomonage", and I was doing it to everyone. It is done by holding onto your opponent then backing up, laying down then flipping him using one foot.
New friends were also made in that short span of time. People started calling me "ninja" which only started out as a joke because of the way I did somersaults in warm ups. A lot of new talents had also joined the team but luckily they were not in my weight class. Otherwise, I would have fought teammates for one of the two positions in the tournament.
At 110lbs, I was puny compared to the other competitors even in my division which was 55k(121lbs) weight limit and under(the lightest weight class). The weigh ins marked it official for me. Coach told me that I was in match number two. Matches were fought two at a time (2 mats were setup)meaning I'm up first in Mat number 2. Was I ready? maybe not, but for the team, I would do my best. I told Julius laughingly, "Getting to the finals would be enough for me. "Just getting past one opponent is an achievement itself", he replied then both of us laughed for we both know that the idea was far-fetched.
The ref signalled us to start. I never really felt it as if I was still waiting the real signal. I casually walk towards my opponent without regards to my own safety, just as I was in sparring sessions with friends. My opponent might not have been aware of that kind of approach for I got him to my pace with ease. I attempted a throw but to no avail. Still under my control, My opponent then tried to return the favor. A costly mistake. I did not know what kind of judoka I was, but only then that I realized that I fared well in grappling. I won my first match by pinning my opponent down via Kesa-gatame.
A satisfying win, even my mother would be proud if I told her, and she does not approve of me joining this club. But then I actually thought maybe I could do this. I can beat all my opponents. I could win gold. Then I thought, fool's ambition.
Upon waiting for my next match, I was in the support team for my other teammates. Preparing for their match. Up next was Julius. His opponent: the division's next gold medalist. While our coach was giving my teammate instructions, the other coach was hyping the opponent. Like a fully charged robot about to be unplugged. The match began. They cautiously circle the mat. Fainting attempts of grabs. After a short while, they finally grab each other. Unexpectedly, the overconfident opponent attempts a tomonage. Little did he know that Julius was also my sparring partner, and was fed up being at the other end of my tomonage. So the attempt failed. The match went on. Again, moments passed. Nothing. Until Julius gave the supposed champion a taste of his own medicine, the tomonage. He flipped him then let go. The opponent slammed on the mat and was flat on his back. "Ippon!", Yelled the ref and the match was over. Everyone was shocked then we all stood up and lost control. The whole auditorium exploded like crazy.After that people started calling him "Legend Killer".
It was a good start for all of us after the first round. All my teammates won their matches. after several fights, though, some were eliminated. Julius was eliminated on his second match by a grappler. And I, even though tired from all the grabbing and defending, was still a contender.
Before my fight, I warmed up by practicing throws. I thought, it was quite pointless now because I never had any success with it in that tournament. I only countered any attempts my opponents made then pin them down. Having thought that, I still warmed up with throws. And it was time to fight. My opponent was shorter than me, but wider. The match began, this one's aggressive.He took me down and got half a point and, as icing on the cake, I got pinned. Like a man possessed, I got the
strength to reverse the situation. As time winds down, I heard him say "Oh no!".he knew he was up on points and he knew he would have won. But pinning the opponent and securing it for twenty-five seconds is above any amount of points. I got in the finals.
My captain, the same weight class as me, was in the semis as well. He's fighting someone similar to his build, tall and skinny. So they went at it after the referee signals. They were equally matched. My captain finishes fights via throws but his opponent wasn't giving him any openings. Then the time was up. His opponent's arm was raised. He was outpointed. I'll face the man that beat my captain next.
My team mates, my friends and my classmates. They were all there. Words of me in the finals brought them there. People I don't know was acknowledging my achievement. I was given advice by different people regarding my next opponent. They told me not to grapple with him because it's his forte. To shoot(tackle) wouldn't do any good as well.And so it was time. The match began. Even when the people I know were watching, screaming and cheering for me. I never heard any of them. There was just me and my opponent. We were circling each other for a while, my impatience got the best of me when I went for those legs. He then sprawled on me. An impeccable show of speed and defense. I was unable to make him commit mistakes and he timed mine well. I attempted to grab his legs time and again. The referee suddenly whistles. My opponent and I were stood up. For some mysterious reason the ref began to deduct me of points. Apparently, my attempts were causing my opponent to become inactive. The worst of time to lose points.
Disheartening as it was, I still managed to bring the fight to the mat. But my nimble opponent suddenly was on full guard and would not let go. For the ref to reset our position, I had to stand up. So I did. My opponent hanged for dear life. I raised my arms side ward but but couldn't shake him off. People cheered in amazement. I could have finished the match there if I slammed him on his back but it wouldn't be legal for that particular move could injure the spinal chord.(I found out later on that some competitors win fights with that move). It took long but the ref finally reset and we were back on our feet. Time went on. We were both tired. My hands can barely grip. My opponent was up on points and in my desperation, I resorted to grappling. It was too late when I found out that his skills on the ground was nothing special. I was far stronger. But time was running out, I tried pinning him in anyway I can, I had him with kesa gatame but his foot was slipping to the edge of the mat. The ref would stand us up if at least one goes beyond the playing area. With all the remaining strength I had, I tried to lean on him then held his leg in order to secure the position. 25 seconds were all I needed. The referee whistles the end of the fight. We both stood up and took the position beside the referee. At that point, I already knew, They need not announce it. And my arm wasn't raised. Apparently what I did wasn't in the books. I was told that I shouldn't have held on his leg. I would have lost either way.
The tournament ended. I got the "finals" I asked for. Should I have asked for more? Silver medals still mean I lost. But to a fledgling like me, to be given silver still was glorious. Gold would already have made me extraordinary and I am not extraordinary. Just another face in the crowd. Your seatmate in public transports. A man passing through. Ordinary.
|College of Fine Arts Judo Team|