The idea for this post came from a conversation with a guy who at the time was my boss and also one of my students. This was a few years ago, not long after he got his brown belt, if I remember correctly. He use to come into my office for 30 minutes to an hour just about every day to talk about judo. We often talked about some of the top players and the state of judo in the US and the world, etc. One day we were talking about our club and practices and he told me that he was a judo purist like Jim but Heidi and I were thugs.
Before I get into his explanation let me tell you who Jim is. He was talking about Jim Carmer, a Yodan (4th degree black belt) from Denver Judo, although I believe Jim was Sandan (3rd degree black belt) at the time of this comment. Jim, besides being a super cool guy, is a national level referee and until a few years ago, an active masters player as well. As a matter of fact, he met his now wife, Jessica, at the World Masters Championships in either Ireland, which led him eventually to Denver Judo. Lucky Us! Jim has a very good understanding of the sport and rules of judo, and one of the cagiest guys I have ever done randori with, either ne waza or tachi waza.
Ok, now that you know who Jim is, I’ll get back to my conversation with Dan about why he considered Jim and himself to be purist and Heidi and me to be thugs. This conversation happened about 3-4 years ago when Dan was in his mid 50’s and I believe Jim was in his early 50’s. On any given night, Denver Judo usually has a very tough group of guys and girls on the mat. It is not uncommon for us to have a few nationally ranked players from the US and other countries show up for practice, some on a regular basis. For this reason among others, we can have some pretty intense practices, and our players love it, or at least they act like they do when I am there. One of the things I like most about our club is that everyone, from the local to national and international level players all train really hard. Even those not really into competition come to practice and work just as hard as everyone else. It’s a great atmosphere and we all have a great time on the mat.
Anyway, Dan, being around 180 lbs would often complain about how big and strong a lot of our guys are. Don’t get me wrong, he worked hard. It was not unusual to see him, or at least his hands and feet sticking out from under one of our heavy weight guys. So after he informed me that I was a thug, I said something along the lines of “a thug, excuse me?” He explained that Heidi and I , because we had been international competitors and coached our club with a primary focus on competition that we were thugs. He claimed that he and Jim were more interested in the principals of judo which are maximum efficiency (seiryoku zenyo) and mutual welfare and benefit (jita kyÃ…Âei), rather than just “beating people up”, thus making them purists. I told him that when he put it that way, I guess I am a thug.
I will admit that I am a very competitive person and the primary focus of our practices is to train for competition. I did remind Dan that, while we do train hard, especially when preparing for tournaments, we do back it down and spend more time working on technique when there are not tournaments coming up. We do randori in every practice but we usually teach and spend time working on techniques before randori most of the time. We do also require our students to take a written an a practical test for each rank so when our students go before the state board to test for Shodan (first degree belt) we have no doubt they will pass and represent Denver Judo well. Knowing and understanding judo is very important to me. I remember when I went to my first judo camp, Jim Mastro, who I wrote about in my last article, was talking about a throw and could not tell me the name of the throw. I found out that he didn’t know the names of several techniques so I asked how he got his black belt if he didn’t know the names of the techniques, because I had to taken written and practical tests for all my ranks. Jim told me that he showed up for a camp at what was then the National Judo Institute in Colorado Springs with a white belt and was beating up some of the black belts so he promptly got promoted. Remember from my last article, Sports Camp, What an Experience, that Jim was an alternate on the 1976 US Olympic Greco-Roman Wrestling team. According to Dan’s model, Jim would definitely be considered a thug. It didn’t help his case that Jim is still one of the strongest people I have ever known. By the way, Jim does know the names of all the techniques now, and is a very good teacher.
One the other side of the coin, I have known people that could tell you everything ever written abut judo and the stats of all the top US players. Many of them had very nice technique on the crash pads and had a great understanding of the mechanics of the techniques but in randori or shiai, could not throw anyone. These guys are definitely purists. Back when our club was at the University of Denver we had a student from Japan who’s father was his Sensei. He had the most beautiful technique but it did not translate into randori or shiai. After he had been with us for a year and we had taught him to grip he was much tougher. He complained to me at the end of the first year that his judo had gotten worse. I asked him to compare how many throws he was getting in randori at the beginning of the year to how many he was getting at the end of the year. I finally got that he meant that his technique was not as sharp or as pretty as it had been. I still thought he had beautiful technique but I pointed out that while his techniques may not have been a crisp as they were at the beginning of the year, now they actually worked! He just smiled and agreed that he was doing much better. By the time he graduated and went back to Japan, we had converted from a purist, if not to a total thug, he was at least 50/50.
As for me, I would like to say I am a purist, because I do believe in the principles of judo. It is very important to me that my students not just win matches, but know and understand the sport and martial art of judo. I want my students be a good representative of me and Denver Judo, not just for being a good fighter, but have good technique, being respectful, and a good sport in competition or while visiting other clubs. As I said, I would like to say that I am a purist but I’m not sure I’m good enough, at least in Dan’s model, to be considered a purist, but I’m ok with that. If being serious about competition and winning makes me a thug, I will happily remain a thug. As a matter of fact, I am hoping that as I get older, to transition from being a thug to having “dirty old guy” judo! That will have to be a future article.
I feel I should let you know that Dan knows that I think he is full of it. He is a very smart guy and does read a lot about judo on the internet and books. He would read something online somewhere or in some book then come talk to me about it. I also want you to understand that as I talk about purists and thugs I am doing so from Dan’s model of a purist and a thug. I do not believe that just because you are a great competitor you are necessarily a thug, although by Dan’s standard you probably are. I also believe that it is possible for a purist and thug to coexist in a single judo player. You can be a great fighter and at the same time understand and respect the principles of judo.
I am working on adding polls to some of my posts and maybe having stand alone polls. I have a poll below to find out how many thugs and purists we have. Please vote and if you feel like it, comment below and let us know how you voted or your thoughts on the subject.
Thanks for reading.
Talk to you soon…