Thursday, July 31, 2008

Judo, death and life

"You'll be bothered from time to time by storms, fog, snow. When you are, think of those who went through it before you, and say to yourself, 'What they could do, I can do.'" - Antoine Saint-Exupery

Sadly, a lot of the people who went before me have passed on, have gone before me in the most metaphysical sense now. Isao Wada passed away this week. Services will be held on Monday at the Gardena Buddhist Church at 7:30 p.m. Wada-sensei was the real deal. With all of those people walking around with inflated ranks who want to be called sensei, he stood out, head and shoulders above. I have never known him to be anything but gracious and dignified, even on the rare occasions that he was angry. He was president of Nanka Yudanshakai and probably on every committee at one time or another. There is a lot of talk of judo politics, about how you "have to understand politics" to explain a lot of unethical behavior. I never knew Sensei Wada to speak a false word. He was the Head Instructor of Gardena Dojo, one of the oldest and largest judo clubs in the country. No matter who you were, no matter what race, gender, whether you were on the Olympic team or visiting from a small club in a small town, you were welcome at Gardena Dojo and he made you feel like it was their honor that you had trained there, rather than the other way around.

People call me a judo leader in the sport, but I have never been like Isao Wada, or Kenso Kiyohiro, who was the head instructor of Venice Dojo, and passed away a few years ago, or John Ogden, of Ogden Dojo, who died last year, or Frank Fullerton, the PJU Sport Director and former president of USJI, who died this month. Every single one of them, when they died there was no one who was anything but sincerely grieved. None of them were perfect - who is - but they were models for all of us in ways to be better people. Both Isao Wada and John Ogden had a terrific uchimata, something I could never do very well. Kenso Kiyohiro had a good seoi nage, which he passed on to his sons, Tracy and Marshall. Frank wasn't a great judo player, but he was a good referee, an honest one and he was a completely by the rules person. On the other hand, if there wasn't a rule specifically forbidding something he would do anything to help you out if you were an American and he thought you could bring home gold medals for the U.S. He was the most patriotic person I ever met.

Not only have many of my mentors and role models in judo passed away, but so have those in other areas of life. My doctoral advisor, my mentor in statistics, Dr. Richard Eyman, was another brilliant and scrupulously honest person. He passed away several years ago. Ironically, the university where he received his Ph.D. is now where I am the senior statistical consultant.

Lots of days, I feel that I am not ready to be the person people turn to. I am happy to have people like Wada, Ogden, Kiyohiro and Fullerton there. When I was young, of course, I thought I knew everything, was ten feet tall, bullet-proof and ready to take over the world. Now, every time we lose one of our elder statesmen and women (like Elizabeth Lee), I think, "Wait a minute! We still need you here."

Isao Wada's life was a lesson for a lot of people. He carried judo, grew judo and embodied judo for many decades. Now the people my age need to stand up to the challenge and try to be better people. It's up to us now. We have to be up to it, because soon, we are all that will be left.

Once a week or so, I teach a class at our Health Sciences Campus. To get to the classroom, I have to pass through the cancer hospital. Each day, I walk outside into another beautiful sunny day in southern California, see daughters escorting their mothers who are leaning on their arms for support, wives pushing their husbands in wheelchairs. So, maybe your child did not win the Junior Olympics, maybe the other coach made a rude remark to you, maybe you're mad at the judo club down the street.

Today would be a good day to get over it. We're alive. What a precious gift that is.

Sneakerdoodle Zebra Judo:Matwork tip, no one's head ever pops off
, the video blog, will be posted tomorrow. The fact that Sensei Wada died was about a billion times more important.

If anyone has an article or photo of Sensei Wada for the August issue of Growing Judo, I would love to receive it. The July issue can be found here


Anonymous said...

And now it’s your turn to be giving the much needed advice and direction to the upcoming generation, and to be admired for your accomplishments in judo, career and life. What your mentors did, your now do… and the world is a better place.

- AW

Anonymous said...

As an old English friend of mine would say,"Dead Bang On!" Never been a world champion or any of that, but the things I learned in Judo have got me thru some really tough times. Its about the perfection of character and you nailed it. Thanks for a really inspiring message.

Victor Anderson
Sacramento Judo Club

Bob C. said...

Those kinds of people could always bring out the best in there students- They had the gift to teach -were a small shadow of our great teachers, at least I am.

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