Sunday, February 08, 2009

My brief fling with Judo

This could be considered a continuation of my first post about another way my father has influenced my life. I could definitely make a theme out of that, but probably not the entire 25 items.

Let's start with the highlight of my judo career: some time around 1992 I competed in the judo junior nationals (one of three such tournaments -- the usa judo governance was confused, and for all I know still is) as a green belt and won my first match with an arm lock.

I was probably the only green belt in the tournament; most competitors were black belts, or at least brown. But I was an accidental tournament goer; Grant was planning to go, but in our last practice before the tournament, I threw him with taio toshi. He tried to avoid landing on his back, but broke his collarbone instead. Oops. Since we already had the plane ticket, I got to go instead.

That was as far as my judo career went, and it's really more of a testament to how obscure judo is in the USA than how good I was. I spent a lot more time on table tennis, and later raquetball, but I was never close to being able to win a match at a national event in those sports. (I did once beat one of the guys in this video in a mini-game to 7.)

I stopped practicing judo after leaving New Jersey. Grant and Christine kept playing recreationally. Telitha and David were more serious. Both trained in Japan with the best; Telitha was on the US national team (i.e., the best in the country in her weight class) and played in international tournaments including the Pan Am games. (The USA judo jacket I have comes from her time on the team -- they gave her one several sizes too large.) David repeatedly placed in the top 3 in national tournaments but never quite made the national team.

Dad never got on the mat himself, citing (with some justification) bad knees, but after years watching his kids fight feels himself fully qualified to second-guess international referree calls. I think he's actually reffed some local tournaments himself.

All this from a little ad Dad saw years ago in the paper: "free judo lessons at Princeton University." Free was always a good word; and we were trying to cut expenses at the time, dropping piano lessons. (A sacrifice I was elated to make.) A black belt -- and PhD -- named Mike Pontecorvo started a club for kids on Saturdays. Pretty soon I, and then Grant and David, who took to judo like a duck to water, were practicing with the university students. "He's like a puppy pit bull; he won't give up!" one of the students remarked, as David tried with all his 70-lb might to take his leg out from under him.


abby said...

I've seen your dad ref. Judo tourneys are fun to watch. I bet there will be some judo-ka's in the next generation of the Ellis clan too to make your dad really happy.

David said...

which guy in the video?

Jonathan Ellis said...

The one facing the camera.