June 04, 2009

SINDELFINGEN—Sindelfingen is a suburb of Stuttgart, and is known as the German Detroit, except that Sindelfingen is a vibrantly green and leafy town of 60,000 people, half of whom are employed by Mercedes, whereas Detroit is a dying, crime-ridden city of burnt-out blocks and empty lots where angels fear to tread in case they’re mugged and their wings ripped off and sold to second hand repair dumps.

Sindelfingen was founded in 1263, when both Judo and I were in our infancy. Last week I flew in from the Big Bagel for the world Judo championships held in the “Glaspalast” from 28th to 31st of May. If last year’s championships were a success with 29 countries taking part in Brussels, this year was a triumph for the Fatherland as 50 nations send in teams comprised of one thousand competitors.

Mind you, I knew I was in trouble the moment I saw some of the types at the weigh-in. The bulging muscles, the cauliflower ears, the bullet-heads attached to chests without a neck, these were signs that I was out of my depth, an effete Sebastian Flyte figure among fierce savages. One thing that struck me was how many of these gorillas had shaved heads. In my time only one man did that, Yul Brynner, and he parlayed his baldness to fame and fortune. Now a shaved pate is almost de riguer for gays and martial artists, a strange coincidence as I know many gays who don’t practice martial arts, and even more martial artists who are not gay.

Never mind. Wednesday night went more or less sleepless, as I restlessly tossed and turned until it was 7 am, with my first match scheduled for nine. The prelims are simply hell. One never knows who is the new kid on the block (70 and over, that is) and who might spring a bad surprise out of the blue. Luckily I got through to the medal round without any major injury, and then it was Deutschland-Über- Alles time.Up against a German in the quarters, I got a taste of what it must have been like for the French and other assorted Europeans back in 1940. Hearing them roar in unison against me was a humbling experience. But it inspired me (pissed me off, actually), and we went at it until the end and flag time. Flag time means no points were scored so the central referee and the two judges are given a blue and a white flag each, and at a certain moment lift one of them. I was blue that day, wearing a blue gi, and fighting out of the blue corner. My opponent was white. I saw the central ref lift blue and one judge white. Turning quickly I saw the lady judge had lifted blue. I was through to the semis. The lady who gave blue had salt and pepper hair, high cheekbones and hooded eyes. She must have been a beauty when young. She again was judging when I met my Japanese opponent ten minutes later.This one was a nasty piece of work. Loud and extremely aggressive, he had been recruited to fight for Japan in view of last year’s debacle for the Land of the Rising Sun.

This fight was the toughest I’ve ever had. I did all the attacking, he the countering. His foot sweeps were more low round kicks to my ankles than sweeps, and I returned them in kind. Yet the ref warned only me for stalling. When time ran out there were no points scored. Flag time and I made the mistake to look at the lady judge first and she had raised blue. I had it. Alas, not quite. The ref and the other judge had gone white. I had lost on a split decision to the winner, who had won all his matches by ippon, the judo version of a knockout. It was the first time in three years I had lost a match, and although losers tend to do this, I truly thought I had been screwed by the Jap’s reputation. I did all the attacking and should have got the benefit of this. When I spoke to the lady judge afterwards she was very diplomatic about her colleagues but admitted that reputations do count. As in real life.  At the end I got the bronze medal and the podium as a German fighter had scored more points than me in the medal round and finished up with the silver. My coach, Teimoc Ono-Johnston was the only other American (I was representing Uncle Sam, as Greece is to Judo what Monte Carlo is to the nuclear club) to get to the podium. Teimoc won all his matches but one by ippon, but the one lapse cost him the gold.

So, I am no longer world champion, only a bronze medallist, the equivalent of a hedge fund manager during the go-go days. I have a dislocated left thumb and very sore ankles, but I promise loyal readers that solipsism time is finally over. You will not read about my judo and karate exploits until next year, when hopefully I will have regained my title and my self respect. Down with Judo referees—except for one lady.       


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