New translator Z. Kaufmann brings us some rough-and-tumble with this short story by Tsuneo Tomita
A Rolling Match
By Tsuneo Tomita
Translated by Z. Kaufmann
A giant wants to battle!
“Judo from Japan? That ain’t nothing but dwarves kicking each other around. People say they can throw men about like footballs, but I don’t believe it. No matter how good their tricks are, they ain’t got a hope in the world of even picking up a big American like us with those twiggy arms of theirs!”
“But Monks, word on the street is that Judo teacher Tomita has a bunch of American students in his dojo.”
“Heh, if they got time to burn, good for them. I should straighten ’em out with a few choice punches sometime. Those Japanese Judo gurus have got some nerve trying to set up shop here in San Francisco!”
“In that case, Monks, you should go hit ’em up with a challenge.”
“They’d turn tail and run the moment they saw me.”
“Okay, then I’ll make them fight me instead!”
Boxer Toby Monks and his corner man Johnson, two of the town’s most infamous ne’er-do-wells, sat gossiping in a run-down diner in the outskirts of San Francisco.
Toby Monks shared more in common with an ugly giant than a human being. Both his ears had been squashed into strange shapes from years of fighting. Even the nose jutting out of his misshapen face was crooked. He was more than scary enough to frighten passers-by to the other side of the street in his gang jacket and hunting cap that he wore slanted to one side.
The next night, the two met again at the same diner.
“Johnson, how’d it go? Will they fight you?”
Johnson shook his head. “It was no use. That damn Japanese man just laughed and said ‘don’t even bother’! When I asked him to explain himself, he said that Judo is for self-defense and works different to boxing. ‘Fighting a boxer for show would stray from Judo’s teachings’, he reckons.”
“What in the blazes?! Fighting for show? Damn him, I’ll show him what fighting for show really looks like!” Monks yelled, red with rage. His table shook with a slam of his fists.
The one teaching Americans Judo at a humble dojo in the San Francisco suburbs was none other than Nejirō Tomita, a 6th-dan. Tomita was the very first student of Jigorō Kanō, the founding head of the Kodokan Judo Institute. Tomita moved to America in 1905 to spread the study of Judo. Because America doesn’t have tatami mats, he found straw bedding mats and covered an entire room with them, and that became the Judo classroom that he taught in every day.
Although the nation of Japan thought it had proved its strength to the world by triumphing over Russia in the Russo-Japanese war, their people still lacked respect overseas. Many Americans looked down upon the Japanese, and few had any interest in the likes of Judo.
“You still refuse to fight me?”
No matter how many times Monks asked for a fight, Tomita turned him down every time.
“Judo is not a public spectacle. I want nothing to do with any kind of showdown with a boxer.”
“Hmph. Don’t even have the confidence to go a round with a boxer? Judo really is nothing but cheap tricks.”
“What did you say?!”
Tomita was insulted by this fourth attempt by Monks to goad him into fighting him. He clenched his jaw and stared Monks down.
“Alright. One match.”
“You’re on. Let’s go at it until one of us gets his lights punched out!”
Tomita 6th-dan stayed cooped up in his room all day thinking about the match.
The rules and aims of Judo and boxing are like night and day. Judo is a style that uses throws, pin-downs, chokes and joint-locks, whereas boxing is an all-out brawl. How can the two attempt to compete? That said, it was of utmost importance that Tomita won this fight. A loss here would bring shame to his countrymen, and Judo would become nothing more than a laughing stock! However, Tomita knew he wouldn’t be able to walk off a front-on blow from a powerful boxer. If he got smacked with an uppercut, a straight or a hook, he was going to be knocked out for the count after a single blow. Boxer’s punches were so fast that your eyes could barely keep up; they punch and dodge on your left then attack again from your right in an instant. Even worse, Tomita’s opponent would be shirtless, leaving him with nothing to grab on to. This was going to be a messy, difficult fight. But he would rather die than lose! The next day, Tomita sent Monks the rules of their match.
The boxer must follow all the rules of boxing.
The Judo player must also follow the rules of Judo.
The match is to be carried out in a room with wooden floors.
Neither side may have any qualms about dying.
Monks saw these rules and gladly agreed.
And the venue was decided; Central Club’s largest hall.
The day of the match was quite a scene! Although the match was supposed to be kept quiet, somehow word got around and the hall was packed with curious onlookers hoping to see a fight to the death.
Cordoned off by a rope, a square ring of thirty feet either direction sat in the middle of the wooden-floored hall.
Monks donned a pair of green boxing shorts, while Tomita 6th-dan wore a fresh white judo-gi fastened with his black belt. The referee handed Monks’ boxing gloves to Tomita for him to inspect them to ensure they held nothing sinister. Monks did a pat down of every nook and cranny of Tomita’s outfit as if he were expecting to find a sword hidden in there somewhere.
Would the Japanese martial art of Judo emerge victorious? Or would American boxing be crowned champion? The atmosphere in the hall was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
Tomita and Monks shared a firm handshake and the two jumped back to leave a twenty feet gap between them. The rousing sound of a boxing bell signalled the start of the match!
Monks made a fierce charge towards Tomita.
The odds were against him! Could the 5’1″ Japanese man send the 6’0″ American flying in one hit?
Down in a flash! What a surprise!
As soon as the bell went, Tomita threw himself down. He lay smiling on the wooden floor, almost as if he were taking a nap. He relaxedly crossed his legs in Monk’s direction. With his arms under his head like a pillow, he looked the picture of a happy holiday-goer humming by the seaside.
Monks had no idea what to make of this. Just when he was about to go for an attack to the chest, his opponent had fallen asleep. Monks lost all momentum and looked absent for a moment.
Tomita smiled. Monks took offense.
“The rules of Judo say nothing about sleeping,” Tomita calmly rebutted in English.
Now Monks couldn’t even try a punch. He couldn’t land a strike at all. Enraged, he tried to hit Tomita in the head, but Tomita rolled out of the way. Tomita rolled and rolled again, never letting Monks near his head. He moved as fast as a needle. Tomita’s rolling didn’t seem to tire him out, but his beleaguered opponent was slowly running out of breath trying to run circles around the Judo master.
“Use your legs! Kick him, kick him!”
The buzzing crowd yelled their demands at Monks. Just as Monks was ready to make his move, he suddenly fell onto Tomita’s outstretched leg and felt his arm caught in a vice-like grip! Monks reached out his right arm and tried to land a weighty uppercut on his opponent’s jaw, but Tomita had control. The Judo master bent over, hoisted his leg against Monks’ stomach and with a sudden shout…
Tomita landed a flawless tomoe-nage (circle throw) which would have won any round of Judo. Monks flew in a spin through the air and landed face-up on the ground with a bang. The wooden floor was not forgiving. Monks had no idea how to land safely after being thrown, so his head collided directly with the hard wooden surface. His back took a strong blow, too. Such pain he must have been in!
Monks couldn’t stand up properly. He grimaced and sat up instead, nursing his poor head. His concussed mind had trouble staying focused.
Tomita, true to form, was back to relaxing on the ground with a smile.
Monks pushed through the pain and stood up woozily, but was now too frightened to get close to Tomita. All he could manage was to scowl at Tomita as he limped around the room .
The Judo master responded by jumping up into a squat. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes, as if he were taking a nap by the side of a road. Monks was off-put. If his opponent were standing he could rush in, but against a squatting opponent his only choice was to bend over to land a hit.
Westerners are not known for their strong legs. For Monks to land a hit on the squatting Tomita, he would need to plant his feet close to his opponent to be able to get any power into his swings. An opponent coming at you with an overly bent-over back and weak feet is hardly a threat at all. Tomita had found his strategy.
The American audience wasn’t impressed by Monks’ cowardly pose, and he was whistled, heckled and sworn at by the increasingly uproarious crowd.
It finally seemed like Monks had worked up the courage to make a move. He shuffled back and forth waiting for a chance to strike, but his opponent showed no signs of moving. He shot forward and put all his power into a hook!
That was the moment it happened. In a flash, Tomita’s right hand scooped up the ankle of the leg Monks had planted forward.
And like a giant log being chopped down from its roots, Monks face-planted with his legs left dangling in the air.
His face contorted in pain, Monks finally passed out. The audience was so quiet that one might have thought they had passed out too.
For years to come, many Americans of San Francisco would suspect any Japanese person they met of secretly being a Judo master, and apparently completely believed the story that the Japanese won the war with Russia through the use of Judo.
Originally published in the January 1935 edition of Kodansha's Shonen Kurabu.
English translation © 2018 Z. Kaufmann. All rights reserved.