Why I Am in Judo

by Dr. James Lally

Why am I in Judo?  I am by definition, a very busy person.  I typically start my day at 0300 so that I can be at the first hospital by 0400.  I usually get home by 2200 and do this 7 days a week when I am in town.  There are the times that I am on call that sometimes the days and nights blend together and a weekend can seem endless.  So why Judo?

I spent a great portion of my younger life in Japan and graduated from high school in Okinawa.  I “dabbled” in various marital arts growing up.  I say, “dabbled” because I wasn’t committed or disciplined enough to stick with one.  Most of the combatives that I learned could be defined as “Street fighting 101 and 102”.  I did excel in wrestling during high school and while categorized as a “smaller” football player, my work ethic combined with youthful recklessness earned me credibility and respect as an athlete.

I took the long route to medical school, enlisting in the Army and “being all that I could be”.  That 15-year career was cut short by a parachute accident that put me into a hospital for six weeks and resulted in several surgeries.  As the door closed on an outstanding military career, I had the opportunity to enter medical school and have not looked back ever since.

The past five years have been difficult for me.  I married late in life and “earned” a son in the transaction.  He is incredibly important to me and I felt that while I was providing for him financially, I was not being a father to him.  His dad and I have an excellent rapport but I was jealous that Don and Joshua had baseball as a vehicle in which they could bond.  I took him to a friend’s school in LA when he decided he wanted to do karate, but distance and time worked against us.  We shopped locally and nothing of quality surfaced so I steered his mother toward aikido.  As a coincidence, Diane found Sensei Goltz and Josh joined up.  He was so excited his first night and all he could talk about was the class. 

I visited and remembered that I had covered a judo tournament for Sensei Goltz in 1993 and he had impressed me then.  There was a controversy during the tournament and Sensei Goltz demonstrated that he was a “class” act and that honor and integrity were more important that winning.  One of the firemen from Orange County suffered an open fracture of his elbow and he and his coach were carrying on like a couple of horses' behinds.  Sensei Gary calmly and firmly affirmed my position as the physician on the scene and ended the match, over their protest (he was winning).  Anyway, it made an impact on me.

Joshua never asked me to join but when his mother and I discussed it, we felt that it might be the “vehicle” that I was looking for.  The first practice was rough and I was physically challenged and fatigued at the end.   Let me tell you, the ride home with my son was the greatest ride of my life.  Joshua opened up and spoke to me about some issues that had been under the surface for quite some time and I felt like a million dollars when we finally got home. I was hooked. 

The next day I sat down with my partner and reorganized our practice, including getting up earlier on judo days so that I could check out earlier.  I do everything I can so that I can be at class and although Joshua has lost some interest recently, he has promised to stay involved for at least one year.  At that time we will re evaluated the situation and decide his future.

The school represents all the right things.  It is not economically driven; the Black Belts who attend regularly are there for the right reasons.  They come to teach, to sacrifice, to cooperate, so that others can excel and that is incredible considering today’s “what is in it for me” society.    The blending of the philosophy, history, and traditional methods along with the components of competition and sport offers a little something for everyone.  There may be differences in techniques of teaching and time management but no session has been anything less than excellent. 

The way in which a physician interacts with a patient or a family determines whether is "a good doctor" or not. Not his competency or skills.  The same way with your Black Belts.  I can tell you the ones who are sincere and who want to help versus those that come for their own edification.  It goes into all walks of life.  I see it in the Olympic athletes. There are those there for all the right reasons and some who are living a secondary agenda.  You are a person of integrity and dignity and that goes a long way with me. 

I will not ever be able to fully repay you for the things that you have done for Joshua, and me but I will try.  I bought our house, from the ground up, with just a shake of the hand.  It was truly wonderful and the best thing is, I never had a single moment of doubt about the contractor.  I have trained hundreds of medical students over the years and the one thing they all remember is that while I may have been an "a-hole", the rules were clear.  Be on time, do your job, keep your hands out of your pockets, don't lie, and show some dignity.  I believe the expression is "hard but fair". 

So why am I in Judo?  Because people like you and the other instructors are in judo and because it let my son and I start a connection that hopefully can be nurtured and continued into his teenage and adult years.

Thank you for teaching, thank you for learning and thank you for the patience and consideration that you offer each of us.

Dr. Lally is the USJA Contributor of the Decade and a member of the board of directors. He is also serves on the board of directors of USA Shooting where he was past president. He spent 15 years in the military as an Airborne Ranger special forces medic earning 20 badges, commendations, and awards, including the Legion of Merit and the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism. He was the 2007 American Heart Association Honoree.

Dr. Lally's Linkedin Profile