I got picked on a lot, once upon a time. But one day, when I was 13 or 14, I bought a paperback called Combat Judo Made Easy by Claude St. Denise, and was immediately intrigued by a throw called O-Goshi (“major hip throw”), I think because I really dug the name: as in “Oh, gosh!”
I studied this for a while, and when my friend Jimmy came back from a summer vacation in Florida, I suggested, “Let’s wrestle.” And, wonder of wonders, I tried an O-Goshi and it worked like a charm. Jimmy was impressed. With all my friends, we practiced a lot of other throws out of the book: Hiza-Garuma (“knee wheel,” “as if you were turning the steering wheel of a car”), Seoi-Nage (“shoulder throw”), and all the other basics.
My father got interested and signed me up for lessons at Judo-Kai, with great instructors who had trained in Japan. I took to it, and halfway through high school, I won the only trophy I ever won in my life–the Judo-Kai school championship, with three schools competing. Meanwhile, I got great prestige in high school by throwing guys around. One former enemy thought it was so cool, he had me throw him several times.
In college I joined the Rutgers judo team and, in a state tournament, had my proudest moment. Our team was going to win a third-place trophy, if only we could beat a very tough team from Menlo Park–anchored by one Dr. G., a 5th-degree black belt. We were half a point ahead, and it was my lot to go up against the doctor. If I could manage a draw against him, our team would win the match–and probably the only trophy that any Rutgers team would win that year (we got clobbered in the NIT basketball tournament). I did it, and Rutgers won the trophy.
But I got soured on the whole business by a special brown belt promotional tournament, sponsored by judo’s regional governing body. It was set up so that all I had to do, to win the right to take the brown belt test–which I would have easily passed–was to win three matches in a row against guys who knew as much judo as I did and were as big as dinosaurs. This, I thought, was a very raw deal. The dinosaurs won, and I dropped out of organized judo.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve thrown anybody, and I’d probably do myself a mischief if I tried it now. But I do think I’ve still got a few O-Goshi’s left in my bag of tricks. You don’t forget the basics.
It was fun while it lasted, and it did get the bullies off my back.