A Bit of Judo

This is the second throw I learned out of the book–O-Soto-Gari, “major outer reaping.” You get the other guy’s weight all on one foot, the leg that’s “outside,” closest to you, and then you sweep that foot out from under him. The result will be a very gratifying “Thud!”

I don’t think I ever won a judo match with this throw. Everybody knows it, and is on guard against it. But it’s a fun throw to practice.

The Ol’ Major Hip Throw

This is the first judo throw I ever learned, O-Goshi. This irresistible name means “Major Hip Throw.” I learned it from a book, “Combat Judo” by Claude St. Denis. That summer, it launched me and my friends on a judo kick.

Wouldn’t you know it? The very first time I tried to use judo in a friendly wrestling match, I pulled off an O-Goshi–and it never, ever happened again, in several hundred judo matches. I guess that’s because everybody knows this throw and they’d be embarrassed to fall victim to it.

I have a feeling that despite an interval of several decades, I could still do this throw. Can’t say that for a lot of the others. But learning O-Goshi is like learning how to ride a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget.

My Judo Career

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.