It’s been another strange week in America. Another week where we are reminded that not all Americans see diversity as a strength.
And it’s been a sad week in the world of music, as we have seen the death of Johnny Clegg. Most Americans don’t know that much about him, but I (Beth) have been an enormous fan of his for 30 years --- even dragged my metal head husband Ray to 2 Johnny Clegg concerts here in the US.
Johnny Clegg was an incredible musician, and anti-racist activist in Apartheid South Africa. He sang in English, Afrikaans, Zulu and even a little Gaelic. He gained international stardom and used that stardom to push the cause of equality and justice for South Africa. His song, Asimbonanga, was a tribute to Nelson Mandela and to all the heros who fought against Apartheid. This is a him performing it at the Zenith concert in Paris. I love it.
Today, I’m chewing on how the forces of tribalism can separate us, and how we can reject the hostility and conflict it creates. It seems to me that one of the best ways for us reject it is to know people from other cultures, other ways, other tribes. To really know them --- to embrace others in our personal lives as well as in our moral commitments. But so often we simply don’t meet others in our usual lives. Many Americans can go their entire lives and never know someone who is significantly different from them.
I have been deeply privileged to get to know people from all over the world, and a big part of that came from my experiences in Judo and Jiu-Jitsu.
I wrote this essay on those experiences shortly after I started on the mat. I’ve changed the original essay just a tiny bit, but still rings true today:
The United Nations of Judo
We went to an amazing wedding this weekend. It was opulent, joyous and decidedly not American. It was Persian. The customs were Persian. The ceremony was Persian (and much of it was said in Farsi). The music was Persian. It was fabulous to be invited into another culture like that.
We know these people because of Judo. My husband has been the groom’s friend and Judo coach for 12 years. The groom and his wife are both first generation Americans, the children of Iranian emigrants.
He’s been to our home for dinner (and for Seder), we’ve gone out to dinner and lunch with him many times, he was at our daughter’s Simcha Bat (her Naming ceremony). He’s a good friend, and he comes from a completely foreign culture.
And he’s not the only one. Because of Ray’s long time immersion in the world of Judo and Jiu-Jitsu we know people from all over the world.
The Philadelphia Judo Club boasts members from: the US, Benin, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Macau, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Maybe more, it’s just that this is was came out when Ray and I thought about it for 5 minutese…………..
Most of us simply don’t get the opportunity to really know people from other parts of the world. The US is too big, and too isolated for us to have the kind of international experience Europeans seems to have effortlessly.
Judo is incredibly popular outside of the US. In fact, it’s second only to soccer. So we get a lot of immigrants who did Judo in their home countries, and now want an opportunity to continue it here in the US. And Jiu Jitsu is fast becoming equally popular.
When I was in Academe I had the opportunity to meet and know people from all over the world, and that was wonderful. I knew people from Africa, South America, the Phillipines, the Middle East and Europe. I missed it when I left Academe. But it’s definately in Judo and Jiu Jitsu and I love the mix of people and ethnicities.
It’s a rare experience here in the US, and it’s definately made our lives a lot more interesting. Here’s our members map — all the blue countries are places which are or were home to our members.
The next time you’re at the club check out our map of the world, it’s in the hallway leading to the mat room. In it are map pins indicating where our members are from. It’s pretty cool.