JJ gets her black belt!
Just over 3 years ago, I did a demo at Plymstock school and it went very well. As I recall Cordelia threw me around, after seeing how well recieved it was, I decided I would start an after school club there.
The first session had 5 people turn up... two of which were already experienced Judo players (Ellie and Bogdan), however, one of the newbies was Jessica.
''I know you'' she said to me
''I dont think so'' I replied
''Yeah, yeah you used to coach my brother Jack, I went climbing while he trained'' she said very proudly.
''Err yeah, I guess'' I said back whilst thinking that this session was going to be very long with such a low number of players.
''Watch what I can do'' she then said.
After which she proceeded to do the splits and looked very pleased with herself.
What I didnt realise after this brief introduction was that not only would Jessica become one of our most regular members but, at 13 years old, she would reach black belt in 3 short years.
I have always affectionately called Jessica 'JJ' for obvious reasons and from that moment she has become a staple of our sessions.
JJ is an emotional person with lots of energy, one thing that took me by surprise and subsequent coaches is that she will cry when she has been working very hard, this made her initial competitions 'interesting'!
JJ was fast tracked through her grades, this was down to her hard work ethic, other players her age were already at Green Belt and she was starting from 1st Mon, however through results at those early competitions and randori it became clear that she needed to be on a level playing field as her contemparies.
One of the main reasons JJ has had a lot of success in such a quick time is that she was always willing to sign up to pretty much everything, training sessions, excursions, social events, I have spent many a very early morning pulling up outside her house in Plymstock for some trip hours up the M5.
In November our blue belts were all graded to Brown Belt, which is a grade that nobody really wants to be, you become a target for all grades under you who are looking to take a scalp and Black belts will not give you an easy time, therefore once you have reached this grade you are normally very keen to move to the top step.
When we arrived at High Wycombe JJ had already earned 50 black belt points, therefore the option was either win her Dan grade through lineup or have to bag as many points as possible and move on to the next grading.
As she started her first contest, Gavin and I who were watching closely were not hopeful, her first opponent was bigger and taller and seemed to have a pretty good array of techniques. The contest was a pretty long one, but JJ had what my old coach used to refer to as testicular fortitude (a nice way of saying big balls) the contest went to the ground and one armlock later the first win was on the board. Next up was a familar face as she was matched against Lottie, another close contest with a similar result as this finished with an armlock.
This now meant a lineup, which I have described in previous articles but is essentially 3 fights one after another with no break and each must be won by ippon. If this is done then it doesn't matter how many points you have (or may not have) you are given your dan grade, the idea is that you have to get through them as quickly as possible otherwise you will run out of energy.
JJ's first contest was tough and lasted longer than I would have liked but ended in a win by throwing for ippon. Second up was teammate Maria, if anyone thought Maria would roll over they were mistaken, this contest went on and on and I really thought it might end in a draw, in the end JJ managed to throw and hold for the 2nd ippon win. At this point she had not followed the generally agreed formula that you need to finish the first two opponents quickly, giving away some 25 kilos in body weight, this would not be an easy last fight and sure enough its started out very tough, including a failed throw which resulted in JJ taking a knee to her stomach, this resulted in a quick medical, I broke protocol by shouting she was fine, JJ too, through shouts of pain and crying(remember) she kept saying she was ok. The fight was re-started and a scream of kiai and a ko-soto-gake resulted in the ippon win - Line up completed.
This was an emotional moment for me, a girl whom I had met only 3 years previously as a novice had just achieved her Dan grade, through hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
The following Wednesday we held our now familiar Dan grade presentation with Head Coach Mike presenting JJ with her belt, afterwards she fought her 3 man lineup of Dan grades which consisted of Kate, Bondy and myself.
JJ is our first female Junior to go from novice to Dan Grade(she certainly wont be the last) this is a milestone that cannot be taken from her and one I hope she will be very proud of in the future.