Although some people may know that my husband, James Grady, writes novels, very few know that he is also a martial artist with nearly 40 years of study and practice. After watching the Olympics competition for Judo Thursday he could not stop raving about the extraordinary skills of the 22-year-old American from Ohio, Kayla Harrison, and kept urging me to write for She the People about her oh so amazing “o-soto-gari.” Instead, I asked him to:
America’s first-ever gold medal in Judo this week draped a woman from our heartland, blonde 22-year-old Kayla Harrison who grappled with sexual abuse and loneliness and one of earth’s most brutal, difficult sports in an era where the dignity and rights of women are under attack worldwide.
Don’t call it glory. Call it guts. Call it justice.
You can translate the word Judo as “gentle way” but believe that only if you’ve never put on the heavy canvas jacket & pants called a gi with a looped the belt around your waist. Its color tells the world exactly what you know while providing a grip for your opponent to smash you into a mat as soft as concrete, then pin or choke you into submission usually — usually — before you black out.
Martial arts train you to visualize that your opponent is yourself. Weight classes in Judo reinforce that concept, though when you step onto that mat or into the ring, as you bow, you know in your breakable bones that someone else is about to charge.
Judo came from Japan’s martial art of Jujutsu, a modification of the simple art of murder to a refereed sport with 50 recognized major “throws” to rocket your opponent off his feet including grappling and choking techniques. Next to Judo’s 1882 founder Jigaro Kano, the most famous judoka (Judo “player”) is Russian President Vladimir Putin a sixth dan (six degree black belt) who was in the stands for Kayla’s London victory, as was British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Kayla stood on that London judo mat shaped by thousands of Judo falls (defeats) that taught her as much as her multitude of throws (victories). Shaped too by having the courage to confront sexual abuse from an early Judo coach, the man she trusted to teach her an art she’d embraced. She then had the guts to reclaim Judo from nightmares it had brought her, to find a great new coach in Jimmy Pedro’s Judo Center in Wakefield, Mass., and to face the globe’s toughest competition from countries where Judo dojos are more than shopping mall curiosities.
Judo experts can analyze Kayla’s use of two hip throws to score points against her terrific 25-year-old British opponent Gemma Gibbons, along with Kayla’s mat technique and her counters of Gibbons’ attacks.
But Kayla earned gold from our hearts in the last five seconds of her match. Ahead 2 to 0, all but assured a victory, Kayla refused complacency: She attacked, affirming I am worth it, I will not give up, and in so doing honored her art, her opponent, us.
Watch her afterward thanking her coach, watch her joyous leap into the stands to embrace her fiancé and then with shining eyes carry America’s flag.
In the background, a loudspeaker plays David Bowie’s searing “We could Be Heroes.” “Just for one day,” says the song. We all yearn for that.
Bonnie Goldstein is on Twitter @KickedByAnAngel. James Grady is a writer of fiction whose work includes 'Six Days of the Condor' and 'Mad Dogs'