Martial arts training has never been something that particularly interested me. I view myself as a relatively peaceful person (I did join the Peace Corps after all!) But when I found out Vau Dejes was home to the original Judo gym in Albania, I was intrigued. After being well fed by an Albanian host family for two months, training in the art of Judo seemed like a good way to make friends and get back into shape. Besides, there really isn’t much else to do in Vau Dejes and one can only spend some many hours laying by the lake (or can one?). So the Monday of my first full week in site, I showed up for Judo and announced my intentions to join the class.
My first week of Judo was incredibly tough, mentally and physically. Keep in mind that no one in my class speaks English and I barely spoke Shqip. Everyday when we would pair up to practice techniques, my partner would give me a blank stare, shrug his shoulders and call over somebody else to work with me. There was one guy in my class who used to pretend he couldn’t speak Shqip so that he wouldn’t have to talk to me! Luckily, Angelin, one of the better Judists, didn’t mind helping me out and we worked together as I slowly picked up the techniques. The challenges of assimilating into the class wouldn’t have been so bad if I could have actually finished one.
The physically activity wasn’t unreasonably vigorous, I just was so out of shape from consuming so much olive oil and cheese. Actually, I wasn’t really in shape to begin with but being well fed for two months didn’t help. Before working on techniques, we warm up with a short jog, some exercises and stretching. Usually these 15 long minutes of exercise would be enough to leave me drenched in sweat and panting like a St. Bernard. It was embarrassing. It isn’t easy to earn the respect of your class mates when you can’t even make it through a single class.
But I kept going back, mainly because I knew everyone was talking about me and I certainly didn’t want them talking about how the fat American tried to learn Judo and gave up. Luckily, things got better. The tav kosi slowly melted away, my endurance began to improve, and we slowly began to overcome the language barrier. I began to teach English before class and before long every started to warm up to me a little bit.
Now I look forward to going to Judo every day. The guys that show up regularly are pretty solid people and I enjoy being around them. The only embarrassing thing now is that some of the high school students kick my butt whenever we spare but my time will come as I slowly work my way up the ranks.
Here is a picture from my yellow belt ceremony.