Toughening Buddy up

A month ago, my husband said to me, "Buddy has to learn judo!" It turned out Buddy was bullied again by a classmate who is taller and bigger than him.

Buddy asked the boy if he could play with his spider man toy at the playground. In response, the bully said no and hit Buddy on the chest. Needless to say, Buddy wailed.

I had mentioned "again", because the bully had previously pushed Buddy's head against a metal railing, and even attempted to trip him at the playground. We had complained to the teachers and daycare supervisor, and even told the boy's parents about the incidents. The boy had been warned and told not to touch Buddy. Still, even though we protect Buddy as much as we can now, we also realized he has to toughen up and learn to protect himself for the future.

My husband had mull of sending Buddy to judo class for quite some time, and this incident cemented his decision. To him, judo is the most practical martial art, compared to Tae Kwon Do or Karate, because the practitioner or judoka learns how to fall without serious injury, and to grapple with his/her opponent and sweep the person off the feet. In contrast, kicking or punching is not as practical as what is depicted in movies or TV since during a fight, the close contact wouldn't give you the chance to do so. Besides, in Singapore, when you kick or punch another person (even in self defence), you are also liable under the law. (By the way, this is pertaining to the Singapore context where possession of guns is illegal and the punishment is mandatory death sentence. And anyone caught possessing a weapon like a knife also faces serious consequence, especially if another person is injured or killed as a result.)

My husband also feels that Buddy lacks situational awareness, and practising judo will improve that. He will learn to be alert of the people or kids around him and know how to avoid any possible malicious contact.

We signed Buddy up with a Judo dojo near our home, which offers classes for children aged 4 to 12. The instructor, known as Sensei, is a young lady who is very firm. There is no soft touch here, and you might even find her fierce. But I don't blame her because teaching kids is like herding cats. It can drive anyone up the wall, especially when you have to handle different types of kids.

It's been a month since Buddy started and as expected, there were a couple of crying incidents. Like when the instructor told him firmly that when he falls, he should get up immediately. (Very practical advice because you don't want anyone to fall on top of you.) Buddy didn't take it well as he thought it was a scolding from the instructor, and he got upset. And last Saturday, he suffered his first sport injury when, during a grappling session, he hurt his foot, and later he forgot to do break-fall and knocked his head against the hard tatami floor.

Thank God, despite the teary episodes, Buddy remains enthusiastic about Judo and enjoys the lessons. He knows that he has to build up his strength and learns to face up to bullies. As we comforted him, we also told him to be mindful of his opponents and not be deterred by the pain because he will get stronger. Indeed, even for the kids, they get to practice grappling with each other, which is very good exercise for them.

Observing the kids in class has been a pretty entertaining experience for us as well. There are a couple of kids who stand out from the rest in particular, not because of their skills but for their non-Judo antics. There is a young boy, either sane age or a year older than Buddy, who seems to live in a different zone. He fidgets a lot, likes to look at himself at the mirrors, and basically does his own things. He first caught our attention at Buddy's first lesson, when he told Sensei that his intestines hurt as he was looking for a way out of the practice. My husband couldn't help but snickered, while I was "amazed" he could pinpoint the exact area of the pain. My husband then gave him the nickname "Mr Intestines".

Mr I is also rather hyperactive. Before the start of the lesson a couple of weeks ago, we found him running round and round the dojo like a dog chasing its tail. He kicked aside a water bottle on the tatami mat as he ran like it was a piece of garbage. An older girl in yellow belt asked the Sensei, "Did he have too much sugar this morning?" Well, I wasn't sure what he had, but if he did, it looked like he had a barrel of it. During the last lesson, he was given time-out a couple of times because he was so lost in his own world.

The other notable kid is the exact opposite of Mr I in terms of behaviour. He mozzie around like he has all the time in the world, so much so that my husband nicknamed him "slow loris" or just "loris". But, like Mr I, he also likes to gaze at himself in the mirrors. (There must be something fascinating about looking at your reflection!) Not to say Buddy is fully attentive, because at the end of the 1-hour lesson, his attention will start to waver.

We learned that Loris has been learning Judo for 6 months, after Sensei told him off for not knowing a basic move. Maybe that is why he is still a white belt judoka. So is Mr I, whose judogi looks pretty well-worn. The rest of the kids have colored belts, with 2 French brothers leading the pack with green belts. They do look pretty serious when they spar and grapple. Despite their skinny frames, they have the "don't mess with me" air about them.

There are quite a number of girls learning Judo in both children and adult classes. I think the skills are very handy for the fairer sex, because even though girls are generally weaker than guys, the practicality of Judo allows some form of level playing field unless the guy is also a judoka.

Hopefully, Buddy will continue his interest in Judo and improve on the techniques. Meanwhile, I am still considering when to send him for swimming class, which he is now interested in.

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