Judo and Japanese

Yesterday, Jus and I ended up stopping for drinks at Sports Café for a little while. She kinda wanted to check out the All Blacks game and we were also to meet a few friends there.

The night was an interesting one to be in a sports bar, since, along with the important rugby game, Judo finals were on in Athens. Judo being one of Japan’s stronger discipline in the olympics, one half of the place was packed with Japanese fans (many of them still wearing yukatas and jimbeis from their evening watching fireworks) cheering for the Japanese competitors, while the other half was occupied by mostly-gaijin rugby fans rooting for the All Blacks (the place was definitely big enough to fit everybody happily).

Since both girls’ Tani Ryoko and guys’ Nomura Tadahiro brought this year’s first crop of gold medals to Japan, the mood was definitely upbeat. And while I usually loathe most sports on TV, Judo can be really entertaining to watch: especially if you compare a mere 5 minutes of intense fighting and people flying all over the place to, say, three full hours of painfully boring commercial-laden graceless ball-pushing by slices of 10 seconds.

Watching Judo here made me realize something really interesting that had completely slipped my mind up to that point: when I first arrived to Japan, I actually spoke much more Japanese than I thought.

My level of Japanese back then was a resounding zero. nada. nil. If you were to exclude the three weeks of rushed crash course readings and the few notions Yutaka had been kind enough to try and impart on me, I had absolutely no knowledge of Japanese whatsoever until I set a foot in Narita for the first time in my life in October 2002. At least that’s what I thought. But yesterday, I realized that, without knowing it, or more exactly, without remembering it, I had known a whole bunch of Japanese ever since childhood.

See, as a kid, I could not be bothered much with sports… particularly the kind that required you to build some form of “team spirit” and where smashing your opponent’s head in the concrete was not considered the principal objective… if said sport involved the use of a ball, then I downright hated it. Don’t ask me why, I just couldn’t stand soccer, basketball, handball, to say nothing of hell-spawn cricket.

My parents, instead of spotting an obvious display of what would later bloom into my current fully asocial psychotic personality, decided I just needed to have some kind of regular physical activity that didn’t involve being nice to my fellow schoolmates and gave me to choose between judo or ballet dancing…

Well, we all know how parents are: just pick one thing and they’ll give you the other. bastards.

[lang_jp]昨日は日本が柔道で二つ金牌を勝った。
日本に来た時、日本語を全然喋れなかったと思った。でも子供時、ヨロッパで日本語を勉強したの!
フランスで柔道をしながらいっぱい日本語の言葉使った:”初め”や ”それまで”、”待って”、”技あり”、”一本”。これは全部柔道の競技で使う。[/lang_jp]Yea, little dr Dave, back in the days, was a proud judoka and happily broke miscellaneous bones and teeth (well, teeth are bones, technically, aren’t they?) under the loving yet strict supervision of some sort of Miyagi-style sensei (except his Japanese probably had a serious mediterranean accent, but otherwise, he had the same deceptively quiet ojiisan look). Overall, I must say it did me much good in many respects and might have been the only time ever in my life where I won some kind of medals that were not filled with milk-chocolate.

Another consequence of this practice is that, unbeknownst to me, I built what I now realize was a fairly consequent Japanese vocabulary. And the weirdest part is that I still remembered all these words (some of them are actually very common in everyday Japanese) but never made the connection when I had to learn them again here… it all dawned on me yesterday.

In Judo, the referee starts every fight by saying hajime, ends with sore made or puts the fight on hold by matte. A skillful move gets awarded a waza ari, two waza-ari becomes a victory (ippon) through an awase-waza (although I do remember hearing a simple waza to waza ari: ippon too). All these words are quite common in everyday Japanese, but there are also the more technical terms such as the ones used for throws: haraigoshi, uchimata or the ever dreaded tomoe-nage (the one that usually ends up with somebody flying teeth first into the ground).

I would never have thought I actually knew more Japanese words than sushi, samurai bukkake and banzai before coming here…

2 comments

  1. See, as a kid, little dr Dave could not be bothered much with sports… particularly the kind that required you to build some form of “team spirit” and where smashing your opponent’s head in the concrete was not considered the principal objective… if said sport involved the use of a ball, then I downright hated it. Don’t ask me why, I just couldn’t stand soccer, basketball, handball, to say nothing of hell-spawn cricket.

    substitute baseball for cricket and that could described me.

  2. Rest assured that, had I grown up in the US, baseball would have easily replaced cricket for me too. Actually, it eventually did when I moved there. As for NFL, well, it managed to make me regret soccer (or football, as the rest of the world likes to call it).

    I am convinced there is a very direct link between unusually bright and intelligent kids and an instinctive hatred and contempt for anything that requires pushing/throwing/catching/running after some kind of ball, especially when done along with a dozen other people…

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