The judo way of life

Kano_Jigoro1.jpgThe ju in judo means “gentle” or “giving way,” and do means “way” or “principle.” Professor Kanō Jigorō created judo in 1882 in Japan, based on ancient self-defense methods.

I practiced judo about 20 years ago; an unrelated injury keeps me from fighting today, since a judo match is full-force combat. (Little can equal the thrill of full-force combat.) Though I only studied judo for a few years and was never especially good at it, I learned a lot.

In a judo throw, you help your adversaries fall from their own force by giving way in their path toward the floor. The principle is to obtain maximum efficiency with minimum effort, especially in the use of your spirit and body.

Professor Kanō insisted that judo’s five basic fighting techniques should be applied to life in general.

1. Analyze yourself and your adversary, as well as your surroundings. When you understand the strengths and weaknesses of both of them and yourself, you will know what to do.

2. You must take the lead. Those who play chess, Kanō said, know that their movements influence the movements of the adversary.

3. “Consider fully, act decisively.” This is not the time to hesitate or think twice.

4. “I would now like to advise you on when to stop,” he said. “When a predetermined point has been reached, it is time to cease applying the technique.” Have a goal and use it.

5. “Walk a single path, becoming neither cocky with victory nor broken with defeat, without forgetting caution when all is quiet or becoming frightened when danger threatens.” Know your purpose and be calmly prepared.

“Mental stability and an unbreakable calm are important factors in a judo fight,” Kanō said. “Judo can be considered as the art or philosophy of balance, and as a means to cultivate the sense and state of balance.”

But he adds: “The idea of considering others as enemies can be nothing other than madness and the cause of regression.” To practice maximum efficiency in combat and in life, there must be order and harmony among people. “This can be realized only through mutual aid and concession. The result is progress and mutual benefit.”

The first thing you learn in judo is how to bow, because you will bow a lot during a class or match. It’s the way to express gratitude and respect to your adversary, your teacher, and to your fellow students because they have given you a chance to become a better person.

I learned a lot, though too often I forget to live what I learned. In judo, every fight, win or lose, can lead to improved technique and efficiency.

A beer named Sue

I hesitate to say “I like beer” these days, but I do like it. I spotted a beer named “Sue,” and it seemed worth a try. That’s why I bought some Pseudo Sue Pale Ale for a taste test.

The beer, 6.8% ABV, comes from the Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. in Decorah, Iowa, and features striking artwork, as you can see.

One of the brewery’s co-owners, Clark Lewey, said they named the beer in honor of Sue, the T. rex at the Field Museum in Chicago. His family visited the dinosaur’s exhibit several times when his children were young.

The museum wasn’t sure it wanted a beer named after its prized, trademarked Tyrannosaurus rex, but after a heartfelt chat about the brewers’ enthusiasm for history and science, both parties worked out a cross-promotional marketing agreement. You can now buy the beer on tap at the museum’s Bistro and in four-packs of 16-ounce cans at Chicago-area stores. That’s how I got my sample to take home for a taste test.

The carton says: “This single hop pale ale showcases the citra hop for a well-balanced beer that is delicate in body with a mild bitterness in the finish. Ferocious hop aromas of citrus and mango give a refreshing taste that is bright with just enough bite!”

That’s close to my opinion. The hops are as sharp as dinosaur Sue’s teeth: scary big, close to the too-bitter line, almost resiny — but not quite over it. If you like hoppy beer, you’ll love this. It’s a good thing I like hops. My husband, who is sensitive to bitterness, didn’t care for it so much.

I’ll buy this again, but not all the time. I might dull my palate to its roaring ferocity. Besides, sometimes the moment is right for a tamer beer, and there are lots of other fine Midwest brews to sample.


P.S. I’ve decided that the T. rex is my spirit animal. Because our times call for ferocity.

Fall is here, and trees will demonstrate their power

Autumn officially began on September 22. For some plants, the angle of the sun tells them what season it is. Others rely on the temperature. In any case, at this time of year, deciduous trees drop their leaves to prepare for winter.

The 2018 Fall Foliage Prediction Map at has a week-by-week interactive map showing regional peak colors for the United States. (See photo above, which is for October 8.) The web page also explains the science behind falling leaves and has downloadable coloring sheets for children.

When the time comes, trees cut off the flow of nutrients to leaves, which lose their chlorophyll, and beautiful underlying colors are revealed. (This season is typically called “fall” in the United States versus “autumn” in Britain for historical reasons.)

Years ago, I witnessed something that showed me the power of trees — not their strength but their autonomy.

The air could not have been more still that autumn morning, yet a tree near my back door was losing its leaves. One by one, they fell of their own weight as the tree let go. Leaves dropped steadily and eerily through the becalmed air.

Usually we think the wind sweeps the autumn leaves from the trees, and maybe it provides an extra tug. But trees decide to shed their leaves at the moment they deem best. Though they seem almost inert, buffeted by wind, soaked by rain, baked by sunshine, and parched by drought, they control their fates as much as any of us. We, too, can be uprooted by disasters, attacked by illness, cut down by predators, and suffer wilting thirst. Being mobile does not make us less vulnerable. Or more willful.

So on that cool morning, I watched a tree prove that it was the master of its destiny. One by one, it clipped its bonds to its leaves, and they dropped off. The tree was taking action, and no one and nothing could stop it.

International Translation Day: A little poetry to celebrate

Sunday, September 30, is International Translation Day. To celebrate, here are three poems I translated with Christian Law. “Twilight in Poley” is my favorite.

These poems are by Vicente Núñez (1926-2002), one of the most daring and important poets of Andalusia, Spain, in the 20th century. These translations will appear in a bilingual anthology of his work to be published later this year by the Vicente Núñez Foundation.

La Mentira
En la breve estancia
de una melodía,
la sospecha tuve
de que me mentía.

Como ya era tarde
y el ciprés gemía,
salí a la terraza
sola, oscura y fría.

Sonaron las doce…
La música hería
el último adagio.
Pero no venía.

Al besar el mármol
en la celosía
mudéjar el viento,
mentía, mentía.

The Lie

In the time that it took
for a song or a sigh,
I had the suspicion
he had told me a lie.

But by then it was late
and the cypresses whined.
On the balcony cold
and abandoned stood I.

“It’s midnight,” the bells tolled,
and the sad lullaby
reached its final strain.
But he did not arrive.

The wind brushed the marble
with a whispered reply
on old ornate carvings.
He did lie, he did lie.


A Santaella

Como en un mar de pájaros reales
tras la ventana de una antigua estrella,
sueña en su torre eterna Santaella,
canta, suspira y vaga en medievales

noches como rubíes. ¿De qué males
de amor se duele la gentil doncella
si ella es la bella porque sólo es Ella
junto a los muros de su casa, iguales

a quien sostiene ausencia y ronda y gime
sumiso al seno que en el Valle mora?
¿Qué llamarada te derrama en ala?

¿Qué vuela en ti, desnuda y alta, dime?
¿Donde me has puesto el corazón, señora?
Campo, capilla, esquila, cumbre, escala.

To Santaella [a village near Córdoba, Spain]

As if in a sea of birdsong, regal
flight through the window of an ancient star,
Santaella dreams in her eternal tower,
sings, sighs, and wanders in medieval

nights like rubies. Of what infirmity
of love does the gentle damsel sustain
if hers is beauty that can only reign
standing at the walls of her home as she

suffers along with song and laments there,
subject to her dwelling in the valley?
What impassioned flame spills you to take wing?

Tell me, what flies up in you, tall and bare?
Where have you put my heart, my lady?
Field, chapel, belfry, summit, quartering.


Ocaso en Poley

Si la tarde no altera la divina hermosura
de tus oscuros ojos fijos en el declive
de la luz que sucumbe. Si no empaña mi alma
la secreta delicia de tus rocas hundidas.
Si nadie nos advierte. Si en nosotros se apaga
toda estéril memoria que amengüe o que diluya
este amor que nos salva más allá de los astros,
no hablemos ya, bien mío. Y arrástrame hacia el hondo
corazón de tus brazos latiendo bajo el cielo.

Twilight in Poley

If evening has not touched the divine grace
of your dark eyes gazing at the fading
yielding light. If my soul has not sullied
your delightful solid sunken secret.
If no one has seen us. If we can quench
those sterile memories that might abate
this saving love from far beyond the stars,
now not a word, my love. Let your arms and
pulsing heart pull me deep beneath the sky.

Reading recommendation: “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory

I just read the novelette “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” by Daryl Gregory, and I loved it. If you liked my novel Semiosis, you might like this story, too.

You can read it for free at the site, or buy it for your e-reader for only 99¢. Purchase links are at the end of the story.

It tells what happens to a boy when seeds from outer space land on Earth. Are the seeds a disaster? How do they change people’s lives? How do they change the Earth? Why were they sent? None of the answers come easy for the boy in the story, and some of the answers might surprise you, especially in the last few paragraphs when he finally understands.