News: The Secret Way

The path from judo to GEDs and jobs

Jymi Bolden

Sensei (or teacher) Eugene Fields bows to students.

I am bringing my gi with me to the old firehouse turned judo academy, just in case. Behind the red brick façade, the judokas chant ichi, ni, san, shi — one, two, three, four — as they pound the mat with the blades of their feet. Roko, shichi, hachi, ku: I count in my head as I did when I used to be a judoka.

Sensei Eugene Fields is dignified but relaxed in his movements and immediately puts a visitor at ease.

"I'm small in stature," he says, "and at 72 I'm still doing judo, so it must be just right for me."

Fields learned judo in 1952, when he was in the Air Force in Fukuoka, Japan. Now he is a teacher and has his own judo academy, which he calls "Bushido." Bushi is Japanese for warrior, do means way. Bushido loosely translates as "way of the warrior."

The academy offers a unique internship for young adults, mixing martial arts and career development skills. Rather than students paying for classes, the academy pays its interns.

The funding comes through the Empowerment Zone.

"In Japan, I realized judo is truly a way of life," Fields says. "The original judokas were like the knights in Europe, only what they practiced had a peaceful side. They had tea ceremonies, wrote haiku and arranged flowers. Judo is a better activity than all others. In our school, when you practice falling your whole body is stimulated."

That's not all that is stimulated. At the Bushido Academy, teachers integrate physical training with computer learning. Every Saturday the interns learn to assemble and install software on computers. Some evenings a guest visits to discuss writing a resume, interviewing for a job and earning a GED.

Exchanging energies
Angel Cobb, an intern at Bushido for a year, is making fliers to send to women's organizations to spread the word about free self-defense courses at the academy.

Jon Harris has never competed in a tournament. He practices judo for self-empowerment.

"I can get self-esteem, stay physically and emotionally fit and make friends," he says. "I've done stuff I didn't think I'd be able to do."

The "stuff" is a high impact game of exchanging energies.

"Kiyotsuke!" says Nick, one of the senior students, giving the call for the deshis, or students, to stand at attention. "Rei," he commands in a calmer voice, and the deshis bow. Ritsu rei is a standing bow, which we have just performed in a line standing shoulder to shoulder.

Fields leads the warm up by counting as he demonstrates the movements. The deshis follow, reciting, "Ichi, ni, san, shi, go." We hold our hands to our hips and roll our heads around our shoulders. We count faster a second time and I become dizzy. I fear I might whip my neck out of socket and I'm not sure I will survive the class. We bounce vigorously turning our feet side to side. We chop away imaginary fists prepared to strike us.

When we hit the mat, stomachs down, I really begin to sweat. My partner is holding my knees a foot from the ground while I do sets of 10 push-ups. We switch and I hold his knees, propped up on my hips while he, with less effort, does 10 push-ups. After 50 of these I am sweating at an embarrassing rate.

Fields instructs us to sit in anza, or crossed legs, with our backs to our partners. He calls, "Hijime," and we turn on all fours to face our partners. I look into the eyes of 14-year-old Alex, whom I am trying to put in osaekomi or a pinned position.

"Look your opponent in the face," Fields tells me.

I can try hikite by grabbing the sleeve of his gi to put him off balance in kuzushi. This doesn't work; he is firmly planted on his knees. He grabs my shoulders and twists me so that I could flip over onto my back, given enough force.

I remember a technique I learned as an intern. I reach between his arms and grab his thigh. If I pull his leg out from under him, he is supposed to roll onto his back. But I realize I'm in the wrong position. Facing his side, I could reach under him, grabbing both his outer leg and arm, and pull them toward me thus flipping him over.

"Matte," Fields calls, and we stop. We rotate partners and begin again. My partner is bigger than I, so when I succeed in pinning him, it is clearly sutemiwaza, or a sacrifice. Of course, a smaller judoka can over-power a larger opponent by having zanshin, or awareness. By understanding the body's centers of gravity — seika tanden — the tori, or attacker, can throw her opponent off center putting the uke, receiver, at her mercy. But uke can become tori by turning from the line of attack, tai sabaki, and using the attacker's strike against him.

The less experienced students assume the role of uke to practice ukemi, falling ways. We kneel with right foot and left knee to the mat. The toris come one by one to throw us. Nick grips the left collar and right sleeve of my gi. He steps his left foot out and to the side. The blade of his right foot touches my left knee as he pushes me back by the collar and forward by the sleeve. This throw is called hiza (knee) garuma (wheel).

My body turns counter clockwise and I fall onto my back. Ukemi is a break fall in which I bring my arm out and smack the mat to soften the fall. After each tori has thrown me three times, the fall is anything but soft. But judo is the gentle, flexible way and so Fields calls for us to switch. The newer students practice throwing the senior students.

"I've heard this phrase, 'Okuden,' which I think means 'secret teachings,' " I tell Fields. "Can you tell me any secret teachings of judo?"

"Well, in 1964 I went to the Olympic trials," he says. "I ended up placing fourth. I was upset but my teacher just laughed and said, 'If you win over yourself, you have the rest of the world beat.' "

That is the secret. ©