Throwing Myself Into Judo

Date: 28 October 2022   Author: Energise Me

Life works in mysterious ways; when Bethany stumbled onto Judo, she never would have predicted the adventures that followed. Now, she wants to help break stereotypes for women in sport.

As A Child

When I was younger, it wasn’t a case of not liking PE. Rather, I felt constantly intimidated by the “sporty” people. I loved team sports but was always disheartened when I wasn’t picked. There was always something freeing about pushing my body to its limits, but I never pursued anything outside of school in the long-term. Simply, I didn’t have the confidence to join a club alone, so I never bothered looking for one. But looking back, there was a constant ache for something I could call mine.

I tried Judo because I made a promise, I returned because I found a passion.

When Things Changed

Coming up to university, I was determined to indulge in every aspect of the experience including joining a society. If there was ever a time to try something new, it was when everyone else was too. My first corner of exploration was with the social swimming team in the first semester. Growing up, I shadowed my dad in the sea whenever he was swimming to a buoy so thought that was a good place to start. In the end, that just didn’t feel right.

One afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas break, my friend started talking about his sport, Judo. My knowledge of which was very limited apart from the fact my older sister took a few lessons when she was a child. He showed me some of the movements and explained a few of the mechanics. Apparently, I caught on quickly. Before leaving he encouraged me to attend a free taster session in January. Flippantly, I agreed but didn’t really have any intention of going.

After some extra nudging though, I did make it into the dojo. It helped I walked down in a small group of people. With the fear of opening the wrong door or being stared at or not knowing anyone in the room, I probably would never have stepped foot in the building in the first place. The coach immediately smiled, introduced himself and explained what the session would look like. As did some of the other members. When I’d put on what felt like oversized pajamas, I was ready to get on the mats.

Judo reminded me that women can be strong as well as graceful, fierce as well as peaceful, controlled as well as chaotic.

A Growing Passion

I tried Judo because I made a promise, I returned because I found a passion. I can’t explain the feeling, but something inside me just clicked. That same evening, I paid for my membership for the rest of the year.

There was an incredible sense of achievement when I could finally link all the elements of a technique together. It wasn’t too long before I graded to my red belt (which was a whole other internal battle!). In my second year, I became the Social Secretary for the club. I wanted everyone to experience the joy and empowerment that Judo had granted me. My specific aim was to increase female participation.

Judo reminded me that women can be strong as well as graceful, fierce as well as peaceful, controlled as well as chaotic. At University, I had the chance to partake in their This Girl Can video which further fuelled my passion to discredit stereotypes for women in sport and share this new love I’d developed.

Where It All Lead

Surprisingly, in that same year I was encouraged to compete. That was definitely never a direction I had considered for myself. The thought of that type of environment was enough to make me crumple like a tin can under a sturdy foot.

If you asked me how I willed myself to go, I couldn’t tell you. But I went. The women’s weights were up first. Thankfully, I wasn’t the first fight. But I was the second.

I stepped onto the mat; my opponent was two belts higher than I. I bowed and took a deep breath, listening intently for the voice of the referee who was to my left. And then it began.

It didn’t last too long, I lost. However, I got up, shook her hand and went back to wait for my next fight. Having officially done it once, the jitters and that anxiety of unknowing filtered out of me. Then I found that I could enjoy the experience for what it was. I won the following fights.

Before the pandemic emerged, I competed a few more times. And at the end of the year, found that I’d been nominated for the University’s Sports Woman of The Year. Me… me of all people! The girl that had never been on a team or in a club or had any prior experience. Me!? Madness.

Ability is like a nurtured plant. It grows with consistent tenderness. It cannot be forced.

Returning After The Pandemic

What became so apparent after stepping back onto the mats, was my fitness levels had dropped. Truthfully, I hadn’t noticed them go up. Which I think is another reason I gravitate to this sport. It doesn’t feel like exercise, but you use every part of your body. This became such a reminder for me that it’s the little steps that get you to the bigger places. Ability is like a nurtured plant. It grows with consistent tenderness. It cannot be forced.

Life Lessons

Recently, I achieved my orange belt. Another milestone I never would have associated with me. That’s the power of physical activity. It unlocks the cage your mind has put around your body. You are capable of much more than you allow yourself to try.

Additionally, every mistake I’ve made on the mat has taught me how to avoid and escape certain situations next time. Failure is no longer a bad word. It’s a synonym for learning. So, I’m trying to adopt this mentality in other aspects of my life.

Everyone’s circumstances and tribulations are different. But I’m learning that physical activity is malleable to it all. I know of Judo competitors who are blind, others with learning disabilities and others who have had a limb amputated. There are Judo players still on the mats at eighty-six. Once you overcome the personal, mental barriers we all know too well, physical activity is a world you never regret entering. It’s a world for everyone. Even if you think it’s not for you, it is.

I’m never going to be an athlete (I certainly don’t look like one) and I don’t treat Judo as if I am. It’s a place for me to learn, to move, to be social, to escape life’s stresses, to better my physical health, to boost my mood and to push myself. The best part? Physical activity isn’t just sports. It’s walking to the shops, choosing the stairs, vacuuming, gardening, washing the dishes, folding the laundry. It’s everywhere for everyone.

So, on #WorldJudoDay 2022, I want to say that if I’ve learnt anything on this journey, it’s that you need more self-belief than ability.

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