A guest post by
Richard Riehle, PhD
Judo — Why I still Train
People are sometimes surprised that, at 85 years old, I am still in my judogi in the dojo, still enjoying Judo. Of course, my competition days are in the past. My last tournament was a little over ten years ago at 74 competing with guys my own age.
I was never a star competitor. Starting my life in Judo at age 16, I lost far more matches than I ever won, mostly to newaza. I was never an athlete, but I loved learning and participating in Judo.
When I was still a nidan, during one of my many annual visits to the Kodokan, I said to one of the high-dan instructors, “I have been in Judo for many years, but I have never been a champion.” He replied, “I have never been a champion either. That is not the purpose of Judo.”
And there we have it!
I have learned that Judo, at its fundamental level, is not about defeating another person. It is not about scoring an ippon against another person. I also enjoy chess, but have been put in checkmate hundreds of times during my lifetime, just a few weeks ago by one of my three sons.
True, that there is some ego gratification in scoring a win in a Judo, but as we grow older, we score fewer and fewer ippons in competition. With Judo we eventually learn that our training is not about ego gratification. It is more about learning about ourselves in a unique way, even as we learn more about Judo.
Chess is much the same. There is never an end to our learning in either activity
Too many of those I knew when I was younger have “retired” from Judo because they believed they were too old to be good competitors, too old to even have a chance to become champions.
“Why bother to continue now that I can longer have a shot at winning a medal or trophy?” or “My best days are behind me!” or “I’m too out-of-shape.” In reality, it's usually about ego: “I will look ridiculous because I can’t do what I used to be able to do!”
And with that, they acknowledge that they never learned the real lessons of Judo. They have learned only about victory and defeat. There is so much more to learn.
Jigoro Kano once remarked that it was not important that you are better than someone else. It is more important that you are better today than you were yesterday.
This raises the question, “Better in what way?” We each will have our own answer to that question.
For me, “better” means many things. One of them is good physical feeling. Sometimes, better is because I have learned something new. Better might even be because I have been able to help someone else overcome a difficulty of their own. Better will different for each of us.
As an older Judo practitioner, I can work at imposing waza that were not my best during my long ago, and brief, competition days. I am working on sumi-otoshi and some other difficult techniques I could never execute successfully in a shiai. I have experimented with Mifune’s tama-guruma. I know of no one who has ever attempted tama-guruma in a contest.
We can all learn the deeper lessons from the kata. There are a lot of techniques we would not have attempted in a shiai that we can improve when we no longer need to focus on winning.
There is also the fellowship with other “old timers” and the opportunity to share experiences with the youngsters. In the dojo, there is no politics, no religion, no ethnic biases — nothing but improving ourselves through good Judo training. Training, even light randori, after 40, after 50, or even into the 80’s, can be satisfying — even rewarding — when we are no longer worried about earning trinkets for the trophy shelf at home or in the dojo.
Finally, I still train because I can. There are things I cannot do: no kata-guruma, no sitting in seiza, no hard falls. Our lifetime of occasional health issues such as weaker bones, injured knees, slower reflexes are all part of that training, but while we can still don a judogi and still train, there will still be benefits in that training.
Why do I still train? A life in Judo has enriched my life in so many ways, and my continued training continues to enrich my life. I cannot, at my age, defeat anyone, but there is still the chance to be better tomorrow than I am today using my own ideas of what it means to be “better.”