Monday, September 20, 2010

92-year-old judo teacher tells all: Amy Hertz learns how to flip fearon its back.(body wise).

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Quinn getting the flip., originally uploaded by radscrads. USA, LLC

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WHEN I WAS A KID, I WASN'T AFRAID OF BEING HURT. I walked the dog at midnight. I barreled down slopes that were out of my league. I rode crazy horses and got thrown, stepped on, and kicked. I got mugged at 13 and actually chased after the guy who ripped off my necklace and left a gash in my throat. Back then getting hurt didn't seem like the end of the world. Things changed as I got older. I don't know how or why it happened, but I became afraid of being physically injured and fearful of any kind of confrontation. By my mid-30s, I figured the anxiety was just a function of age. And then I met my neighbor--the oldest working female athlete in the world.

Keiko Fukuda is 92. She's 4' 10", if that. She's got Parkinson's, she's had a triple bypass, and she walks with a cane. She is a ninth-degree black belt and the highest ranking female judo sensei in history. She has a smile like that of a goddess of compassion. "Come see judo," she said in her soft voice. "Very good for woman. Make you strong."

The members of the Soko Joshi Judo Club in San Francisco were the nicest group of women I'd met in a long time. Sensei stood tiny in her gi, quietly releasing orders for running, changing direction, crunching, more running, ankle rolling, stretching, and finally taking position to fight. The women had tape and bandages around various appendages. They were disciplined, but they were smiling and laughing as they hammerlocked and dragged each other to the ground. Sensei, hands trembling, knees wobbly from more than 70 years of judo, was knocking large women off their feet and onto their backs with such light and swift movements that it looked as though she did nothing. Her face didn't change; her emotions didn't rise. There was no fear.

I've been drawn to things Eastern for many years, but only to certain aspects. To me the martial arts are divided into two categories: the graceful, inner kind you do with a bunch of old people in a park and the kind where you come into physical contact--definitely not me--with others. But to the women in the dojo, the martial arts fall into two different categories: the kind where you get kicked in the head and the kind where you don't. They like judo because you don't get kicked in the head.

In my first class, sensei used me as the model to demonstrate falling. "Hold my collar." She grabbed mine, moved me to one side, then to another, and before I knew it, I was on the ground. "Up fast," she said with a smile. And I was on my back again. "Hold head, slap mat. Then you don't hurt." She told us that after one of her students was hit by a car, "she fly 15 feet, but she know how to slap ground and hold head. So she only little bruise. Now up fast." And she started again. "See, not so bad, falling." She was right, especially once you knew how to keep your head from hitting the ground.

Every single muscle in my body ached after these classes, and within a few weeks, my arms were covered with bruises--from blocking punches, having mine blocked, and from slapping the mat after millions of falls. The pain was familiar--it was the pain of my childhood after a long day of jumping a horse, of having been knocked around in a neighborhood football game, of having taken so many dance classes in one week that I was too tired to eat dinner. It brought back the feeling of not being afraid of the hurt.

"Oh, too much bruise," sensei said to me with great concern one day after examining my arms. "Maybe body not right for judo. You come back one more time. I teach you self-defense." She showed me how to break someone's elbow if they grabbed me, and how to twist free in an instant. She taught me how to hit, pound, kick, or knee every vulnerable part of an attacker's body. Then on her advice, I switched to yoga for strength training--so I wouldn't have so many bruises.

"Judo make you strong, brave, and kind," she had said when I first met her. "But most important, make you brave and kind." I didn't realize the effect it had on me until my friend Susanne brought it up. "Don't you remember," she said, "that when you were practicing judo, you decided to do one task every week that scared you, like call someone you were afraid to call?" I hadn't forgotten the promise I'd made to myself, but I'd forgotten the timing. Maybe sensei's judo wisdom had reawakened some youthful fearlessness.

Amy Hertz is publisher of Morgan Road Books, an imprint of Doubleday Broadway. She divides her time between New York and San Francisco.


Yoga may be the best-known Eastern exercise, but some of us get bored at the mere thought of downward-facing dog. Judo and other Asian martial arts provide plenty of mind-body benefits: AIKIDO emphasizes throwing and flipping your partner (there are no opponents in aikido). It helps relieve stress while strengthening and toning your entire body. KARATE is competitive and focuses on striking, kicking, and blocking. It's a great choice if you want to learn self-defense while getting a tough aerobic workout. Increasingly popular, TAE KWON DO is a similar martial art, with Korean origins. TAI CHI combines movement with meditation. Deep breathing and the constant flow of one gentle motion into another improve flexibility and circulation. It's especially beneficial if you suffer from chronic pain, headaches, or sleep disorders.--Rachel Bertsche

Source Citation
Hertz, Amy. "92-year-old judo teacher tells all: Amy Hertz learns how to flip fear on its back." O, The Oprah Magazine Oct. 2005: 221+. InfoTrac Pop Culture eCollection. Web. 20 Sept. 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A137713666

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