Today was a bit rough... I had worked a double overnight shift under rainy conditions, so I wasn't in the best of moods in the early morning. I drove home, took a brief nap, texted my coaching colleagues to tell them that I'd be running late, and hopped into a shower as hot as I could stand. Then it was get on a 1 train to midtown Manhattan, and a quick walk to the dojo. During the walk, I repeated a mantra that has served me well in my years of working odd, long hours: "Get through the next two hours, rest and rally, and repeat as necessary." Today, it would be getting through two hours of class, taking a brief nap on the tatamis, then getting through the post-class holiday luncheon and the train ride home.
I knew that things would be interesting when the first words out of my friend Frenchy's mouth were: "I am so tired..." Big Al had built a little fort out of crash pads to keep his beautiful judo baby from crawling all over a mat full of fighting, falling kids... and was sitting in the fort himself, looking tired as well.
There's a strategy we use for times like this, times when we are very tired and kinda cranky, classes of kids five through nine (hopped up on holiday season excitement) are expected, and we are on the verge of a two-week hiatus during which the kids will forget anything we taught them. This strategy is to line the kids up from smallest to largest, mark out a ring with unused obis, and have the kids play a stripped-down 'judo/sumo' blend. The idea is to either move your opponent out of the ring, or to force your opponent to touch the mat with a body part other than the soles of the feet. It's a neat 'out' for us- it keeps the kids engaged while helping us to gauge their abilities (who is strong, who is crafty, who is nimble). Will a kid use main strength or will a kid realize that technique can be used, a throw or a shifting of position that takes advantage of an opponent's momentum?
It's also a neat out for us because two coaches can run the tournament while allowing one coach to nap in shifts. The kids are happy, the coaches can recoup their energy. Besides, can you really teach de-ashi-barai to a six year old who is daydreaming about the radio-controlled car he's expecting for Christmas?
Our simple plan set in motion, we were treated to some interesting matches. What started out as a standard 'king of the hill' situation ended up, as every kid had an opportunity to compete, with a bunch of matches in which little guys challenged big guys and handled themselves credibly. The two toughest kids had a friendly rivalry going as they happily fought rematches (Jimmy was ahead at the last, with a 3-2 record). We were able to make points about leverage, balance, and momentum, and everybody seemed to have fun, even us formerly cranky coaches.
After another hot-as-you-can-stand shower, I put on my suit and proceeded to the room in which the luncheon was held. Due to a mix-up, some guy ended up in my seat at a coaches' table, and I had to sit with the teenage counselors who shepherd the kids from class to class (the head honcho of the program described the coaches as the 'heart and soul' of the program, I joked to my table companions that they were the brains of the operation, which I heartily believe). Some of the counselors were former students, and at my right hand sat a young woman who I've known since she was peanut-sized. It was nice to hear from her about her college application process, the work she was furiously engaged in before deadlines approached. I learned that our newest counselor, who is an eighth-grader also stressing out about applications, to elite high schools in this case, was a neighbor of mine, living just over the border from my beloved Yonkers, in the Woodlawn Heights section of the Bronx. We commiserated over the closing of Artuso's Pastry Shop (formerly owned by a high school classmate of mine, now retired to Florida) and the vagaries of the local bus service. It was a nice opportunity to talk to them about things more substantial than, "Hey, can you give us a two-minute warning so we can get the kids out on a timely basis?"
The post-luncheon coffee came just in time to keep me from falling asleep in my dessert and adding a discordant snore to the sound of the smaller kids singing carols. My second two-hour period would be drawing to a close. I rallied, and dragged my ass to the subway station and did my best to keep from nodding off on the 1 train. I have to confess that I just woke up to write this post before heading back to work the graveyard shift. I think I've gotten past the 'be cognizant for two hours' stage.