My mom is 78 and a little bit rickety, so judo just seems like the obvious thing for her. She has never tried judo before, but she started today, and it worked out well.
We practiced safe falls — we started out lying flat on our backs, which considerably reduced the risk of falls. You learn to slap the mat properly while lying there, and then you move on to slapping while rolling backwards from a sitting position. If you haven’t done this recently, you might be surprised at what a good work out this is for your abs and heart. Sometimes, it is almost as tough as standing up again.
We did “squats.” These used to be called “deep knee bends” when dinosaurs roamed the earth. My daughter does these by holding a bar bell behind her shoulders (I don’t think the kids call it a “bar bell” any longer, but you know what I mean.) and lowering herself almost to the floor. The amazing thing is that she can get up again, too! I never use a weight, and I don’t go down nearly that far, but I’ve been getting stronger from this exercise. My mom went only a small distance, and that’s fine, too.
We started by working on throws. We didn’t do the full version with people flying through the air. We simply used our toes to trace patterns on the mat, while standing on one foot. That is the first step in many throws and it is also a good balance exercise. We won’t ever actually throw each other — her bones are too brittle for that— but we will work up to a point where she can do all the movements of the throw while keeping her balance.
We played a balance game, did some stretches, and practiced walking the judo way. I showed her how the throws would work if I were actually throwing somebody, so she could see what we were aiming for eventually.
Working with an elderly lady with a diminished killer instinct was novel for me. I have often worked with strong young men as beginning students. Their strength can hinder their learning. The beauty of judo is that you don’t need strength, but you use balance and momentum instead. However, if you haven’t yet developed any skill, but you have plenty of brute strength, then it is really hard to refrain from using your strength, especially if you also don’t yet have the experience or insight to understand what’s wrong with that. So strong men, especially those who are enthusiastic about winning, tend to begin judo by muscling their partners down to the mat, and missing the point about balance and momentum.
Old ladies, however, don’t have that problem. Brute strength is not an option for them. If they are going to do judo at all, they are going to learn to do it with balance and momentum. As a teacher, that is a pleasure, because I can focus on the essence of true judo.
Most of my students are kids. I love working with kids! I love their perspective and their energy, and I just enjoy being with them. But I like older people as well. It is a fun to have a student with a long attention span, who is old enough to find her way to the bathroom alone, and who doesn’t get distracted by the mirrors and hula hoops in the room. My mother was very well behaved.