I do have music but rhythm? Not so much. Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve even spelt the word right first time. Don’t get me wrong, part of Operation Batman remains learning how to ballroom and/or swng dance, but right now I’m an elephant footed lummox. Not in a bad way. I happen to be rather good at being an elephant footed lummox, but it’s not a destnation, just somewhere I’m passing through on my way somewhere else.
Let’s talk about rhythm for a moment, and yes that’s twice I spelt it right but I cheated this time and could look at the first time. We worked on rhythm (Three for three!) this week a lot, and how you can internalise it and make it work for you. Because when it works right you’re not just working at the right speed, you’re also putting each part of your body in place in the right order, dominoes falling in a straight line between the start of the bout and either victory or walking off the mat with both of you unharmed. Then of course there’s the other way that rhythm works. You keep on rhythm you keep on game plan, you’re not thrown off, you’re not thrown. They’re working to you, you’re not working to them.
Which is why we spent a lot of this lesson falling over. The forward breakfall is one of the two things I’m legitimately gunshy about because it involves falling over. Forwards. Onto your neck. Or at the very least around your neck. I’ve not got a good record with this sort of thing, so the thought of not only surviving the front roll but landing with my legs in a specific position didn’t exact fill me with confidence.
Did it anyway.
Then there was the tempo work. Wes likes to work with rhythm, and he clapped out a tempo whilst we went through a throw up to the actual commitment moment. Now I call that particular moment ‘Going Elvis’, for two reasons. The first is that I remember Space: Above and Beyond and the specific moment in one episode where someone goes past half fuel and keeps going saying ‘Going Elvis. It’s now or never.’ The second is that that moment is pretty much where I live with Judo, especially at the moment.
I’m hurt. I go on about it a lot I know but it colors every moment of exercise I do. I’m rehabbing well, certainly, but it’s going to have been a quarter of a year that I’ve been out of full action and slightly more than that beore I’m over the psychological hurdles. But more on that another time. For now, Going Elvis is what I do every time I get changed, every time I step onto the mat and every time I don’t do randori or have to explain why I’m not. It’s now or never. It’s always going to be now.
So, we worked to rhythm (Yes I am just putting this in now to show you I can spell the word. I didn’t even look this time.) and it was great. It kept things deliberate, kept things precise. We still went too fast, still didn’t quite hit our marks and kept going. You learn by trying. You learn by doing. You learn by going Elvis. You learn by being the training dummy of a US Marine. Or at least I do.
I was pulled out to demonstrate the Kesa Gatame hold and by demonstrate it I of course mean having it demonstrated on me. As Wes pointed out ‘Everyone loves to see the big guy get put down’ and so I laid down whilst Wes jammed my arm around him, hit me very hard in the ribs with his chest and held me very, very tightly in place.
It was great. Kesa Gatame is a great hold and everything he showed us helped. What was particularly fun was the escape from Kesa Gatame, which involves rolling sideways into your opponent, pushing them up your body and rolling them over you. This is simultaneously very effective and weirdly easy to do. The old adage about a lever large enough will turn the world applies to Judo too and it’s fascinating to hit the rhythm of it and watch your opponent go sailing over the top of your head. Simple, elegant, effective and done at the right speed, crushing.
Those four words perfectly sum up the lesson actually. Wes walked us through stuff at speed, made us work, made us focus and made us efficient. Every movement was strong rather than brutish, every secondary movement precise and decisive. Wes ranked 5th in the English championships last year. Having been taught by him for an hour I can see why. He was always moving, always present, always reassuring or encouraging and, like Jamie, always human. The first time he passed us, he made my training partner laugh by pointing out the best way to lift opponents who are taller than you. When he came back around, he made me laugh by saying ‘See, now there’s the other problem. Even worse, she’s a girl and they cheat, they wear their belts higher than they should’ and showed me how to pick up smaller opponents effectively. He also, in the middle of a particularly inane but very enthusiastic attempt to muscle my opponent over my head told me to ‘Relax, hoss.’ Something which I was indecently pleased about.
The lesson rounded out with a little yellow belt prep which again was a very welcome addition. I’m very close to being ready for my yellow belt grading and it was great to get a chance to break off and work through the one thing about the yellow belt which has genuinely been worrying me; landing on my face.
Let’s talk about breakfalls for a moment. Breakfalls are the glue of Judo, the techniques that hold the sport together and keep you safe on the mat. Get thrown backwards? Breakfalling teaches you to land on your shoulders and slap the mat with one hand. Likewise being thrown to either side, you’re taught to roll across the mat and again slap a hand down.
Forward breakfalls are different. Forward breakfalls, when you’re thrown onto your face, require something a little bit more dramatic. Mae Ukemi is a wonderful, flowing name for ‘I jump onto my forearms to stop myself jumping onto my face.’ It’s a faintly ridiculous move that is also, or at least, seems, ridiculously dangerous. After all you’re hitting yourself in the arms with the ground. Or in the face if you miss with your arms. It’s a little frightening, a little intense, something you get right or get hurt doing.
So we grabbed a crash mat and began working on it. Knees bent, legs thrown back and down, the trick being landing palms down and the other trick being not double elbow dropping the ground. Now I’ve actually elbow dropped the ground before, successfully cracking the top of one of the bones in my forearm by essentially delivering a pro wrestling style elbow drop onto the ground. I am very good at beating myself up, as shown by both that incident and the time where, when attempting a forward roll, I managed to slam myself in the top of the head very hard. There are upsides, of course, my neck has two degrees extra mobility on each side now, but still, punching myself in the face with the ground was a very real possibility.
Except it wasn’t. We had a couple of rough moments starting off but what started out as a difficult, potentially ground punching enterprise turned out to be surprisingly easy. We figured it out, we worked out how to do it safely and by the end of the lesson I felt a step closer to yellow belt and a step closer to being all the way back. I had my rhythm back and whilst it’s scrappy and slightly stumbly and could really do with better balance it’s my rhythm and I’m finally starting to learn to dance to it.