My six year old son Jason took a Gold Medal this last weekend, at his first “real” Judo tournament on Sunday.On Saturday he couldn’t get to sleep—too excited, too hyped…too scared.
“Were you ever scared?”He asked me, curled up in his blankets at bed time.“When you did tournaments, were you ever scared.”
“All the time,” I said.“Fear is just your body and mind getting ready for action.The problem is being afraid of your fear. Ashamed of your fear,” I said.“It’s like fire.Understand it, and you can use it to cook your food.Don’t understand it, and it can burn down your house.”
I snuggled up next to him, holding him in my arms.“Jason, this is why I have you in Judo. So that you can learn about your emotions.Fear is like an ocean of lava.You have to learn to surf on it.Let it power you.Carry you.It will make you stronger, more focused…but you need to be clear on what you fear, and what you love.”I paused.He was looking up at me, his eyes shining, and I prayed I could be strong and clear enough to convey what was in my heart.
“Jason, you said you wanted a black belt.Do you want it?”
“Well, a black belt isn’t about being able to do throw and holds…although that is a part of it.It is about learning about dealing with fear, loss, pain, disappointment…and victory.It is about becoming a Man, Jason.I swore to God that I would help you become a man, and this is one of the tools I’m using.”I kissed the cool, smooth skin on his forehead.His little hands gripped at me for dear life.
“This is what I want.You think of a single technique.Your best technique.And you just try to get that.You can fake another technique to set him up, make him move, but just concentrate on one, all right?”
He nodded, mutely.
“And aside from that, I want you to pay attention.I want you to be a good sportsman.Win or lose, if you will do the best you can, then we’re going for ice cream. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a winner.That’s all I want: be focused, fight hard, fight fair, be a good sport.Can you do that?”
He nodded.And kissed me good night. “I love you, Daddy,” he said.
Meaning: I trust you, Daddy.
So Sunday morning, we got up and dressed.Jason said to me: “I’m going to be like a scorpion.I’ll be still until I pounce.”
Sounded good to me.
We arrived at the gymnasium at 9:25, five minutes before the tournament began.In a crowded lot, we found a parking space near the door, and walked in.The gym was packed wall-to-wall.We barely entered before his name was called, and he went to sit at Mat #1 with the other kids in his age group.I repeated to him: “good sportsmanship.Choose one technique.Do your best.”
He nodded.They called his name, and he walked to his side of the mat.His opponent faced him.The judge called “Hajime! (Begin)”
With his face perfectly calm, Jason walked across the mat, closed with his opponent, drove him back with a perfect Kuzushi (unbalancing) and took his leg with a perfect Osotogari.Boom.Full point.Match over.
Ten minutes later, he had his second match.He did EXACTLY the same thing.Boom.Match over.First place.
I’d never seen him with such focus.For the rest of the day, he was just a kid, running, playing with his buddies, whining…my Jason.But for those minutes, he had it.He got it.For just those moments, I saw the man he will one day be.I was beyond pride.It wasn’t about me.
Jason doesn’t belong to me.But it is my job to deliver him safely to his future.And on Sunday, he took one giant step.
For the last thirty years or so I’ve been a lecturer, coach, novelist and television writer. For the last forty years I’ve been involved variously in the martial arts, and for all my life I’ve studied and enjoyed yoga. Not that I worked at it as hard and honestly as I should have—I’d be a combination of BKS Iyengar and Bruce Lee if I had.
After publishing about three million words of science fiction (including the New York Times bestsellers The Legacy of Heorot and The Cestus Deception) and having about twenty hours of produced television shows (including The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Andromeda, and Stargate, as well as four episodes of the immortal Baywatch), I’ve got opinions on the writing life.
After earning black belts in Judo and Karate, and practicing the Indonesian art of Pentjak Silat Serak for the last fifteen, well, I have some opinions there, as well. And having struggled to live consciously since childhood...well, those opinions are probably strongest of all.