All I knew about judo until a few weeks ago was what I had seen on television—a demonstration showing a couple of little girls (like me) throwing men built like Anton Geesink right into the next studio.
"Anybody can do it," said the announcer, while I sat in my living room, eating potato chips. "Isn't that right, honey?" He put his arm around one of the little girls and she smiled as if she had a deep, dark secret that was giving her raptures and said yes, anybody could do it.
"Just a matter of proper training, isn't it, honey?" said the announcer. Yes, answered the girl, just a matter of proper training (she wouldn't have won any prizes for dialogue). The announcer thereupon offered a brief history of judo, the earliest form of which was called jujitsu, saying that it had apparently started simultaneously in China, Tibet and Japan, but that it had been the Japanese who developed it, calling it "the gentle art," a nonviolent method of dealing with bandits who were trying to run off with their rice. As years went by, jujitsu became more and more refined until it was considered a sport as well as a method of self-defense. The program ended with the girls coming back to toss a few more men around the studio to show how easy it is for a little girl to take care of herself.
Interesting. I turned off the TV and picked up the evening paper, which was full of the usual cheerless news about people clobbering each other. Things hadn't changed much. Burglars, muggers, purse snatchers, all running loose in the streets, plucking off victims as if they were grapes hanging in a cluster. Then, all too frequently, there would be that ever-popular story about some little Miss Muffet who got stuffed down a drainpipe while the whole police force happened to be on the other side of town. The newspaper stories implied that such girls couldn't take care of themselves. Now, if they had known judo.... It got me to thinking.
Once I make up my mind about something, I don't sit around swatting flies. I get out my telephone directory and make a list of places to call. This time I eliminated some likely spots because they were too far from where I lived. I didn't want to knock myself out just getting there. Others I crossed off the list because I didn't like the sound of the names. I didn't care to learn my self-defense at Sigward Sports Academy, for example. I was sure that the girl on TV hadn't learned her judo at any academy. Finally I put in a call to the New York Karate Club.
"We don't take women," the man said curtly. Too bad about him. A man at the second karate place I phoned said, "If you want judo why are you calling us?"
"Aren't they the same thing?" I asked. He hung up.
I crossed off all the karate schools and dialed a number that ran an advertisement under it saying, "If you live in the city, you ought to know judo."
"How old are you?" asked the man who answered the telephone. Already we were off on the wrong foot. I'm not that old, but it's not my favorite question.
The next number I dialed got me a sweet-voiced Oriental from Korea, who said he painted during the day and taught "technique" at night—up in his loft in Greenwich Village. I'm sure he was all right, but just his voice left me weak, never mind the technique.