What changed your life? (guest post)

[My friend Max Fortun posted the following on Facebook. It's about how much judo has come to mean to him, thanks to Sensei's smiling personality and the nurturing environment Sensei has created at Oishi Judo. I loved what Max wrote and asked if I could copy it here. He kindly agreed.]

I have been learning judo for a few years now. Not very aggressively either. About 2 classes a week when I can make it. A year off here. Half a year off there. I made it to the first brown belt and my rank is sankyu. Here is my layman's understanding of what judo has done for me so far.

When I came to my first class I told sensei Oishi that I was not sure why I was there, I had no endurance, and my soles were very sensitive and even a walk on a sandy beach caused blisters. Sensei Oishi told me that endurance will come with time but as far as my soft soles were concerned, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of that”, he said and smiled. That smile, his continued humour and easy going demeanor is what kept me in the dojo and made me want to learn more.

Before I continue about my current judo here is a little bit about my background. I did do some judo back in the USSR when I was about 6 years old. Only for a few months. That country allowed you to do any sport for free as long as you were olympic material. I was not olympic material for a number of sports that I tried. Judo, water polo, gymnastics, and a few others… Was expelled from all of them due to lack of balance or grace or perseverance, or the party line understanding. I lingered and managed to get ahead in karting racing. But that seemed to be a non starter when I got to the US. So here I found acrobatics and skydiving. Acrobatics lasted until I figured out how to link a back handspring into a back tuck. Skydiving hasn’t really left its hold of me, but that is a weekend thing.

I did need to apply myself to something else and for a few years I was at loss to what. I tried Greco-Roman wrestling, but a young, and as it turned out overzealous, instructor assistant broke my ribs in the intro class so that did not work out too well. I ended up with difficulty breathing and spent 5 months healing.

Then I met Sensei Oishi. Somehow this gentleman managed to take away my fear of the unknown, performance anxiety, and softened the lack of confidence. He took away everything that was blocking the will to learn. There was just acceptance and nurture. Sensei Oishi created such a non-threatening environment in a martial art class that a guy with blistering soles and confidence issues had no chance but to try and stick around long enough to figure out what is what. Sensei accepted every path to learn and nurtured it until it became self sufficient.

I must admit, if it was not for this one specific individual I may have felt too threatened to even start the learning. He took all of the oppression out and created a fun and accepting atmosphere instead. At this point I am surrounded by extremely interesting individuals from his dojo who have so much to share I can’t keep up with them and the knowledge they are offering. Every class is like a drink of water for someone who is very thirsty.

And speaking of thirst. I have always been a bigot about my vices. I had my scotch neat. I had my wine grapes unmixed. And yes, I liked my highs undiluted and pure. And then came judo. As I have learned, after a class of judo I can drink such things as PBR and other light beers. But what did judo actually give me other than acceptance of bad beers?

It gave me a will. A will to push through obstacles. A will to try new things with unknown results. A will not to give up. Judo is a marvelous philosophy that teaches through empirical experience. It teaches to experiment and try and keep going. It also teaches to let things go. If you are pushed into a corner, let it go and see where the things end up. I do not know if judo is unique in its way. But it opened my eyes to a number of ways of facing challenges. It has formed my current outlook on things. And being a rabbi by education, software engineer by day, adrenalin junkie through and through, I have one thing to say: the philosophy of judo is pure and flexible and does open one up to continuing learning. I am glad that my friends and my life circumstance brought me to this point where I can appreciate it and make this type of learning possible.

Oh, and as far as my endurance, it went from 15 minutes to 2 hours. So Sensei was right, it was just a matter of time. And my confidence. It was not small to begin with, but now it has something to plant its roots in. I would definitely classify judo as a life altering and affirming experience. Judo changed my life. What changed yours?

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