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  • Reverend James Squire

Kindergarten and Judo

I heard a sermon this morning where Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Need to Know I learned in kindergarten was referenced. I had read it and know that it contains such wisdom as the following: Share everything; Play fair; Don’t hurt People; Don’t take things that aren’t yours; Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody; Put things back where you found them; Clean up your own mess; Wash your hands before you eat.

The problem is I never went to kindergarten, and certainly President Putin did not as well.

There are too few people who know that Putin is still a passionate participant in Judo where he has competed recently with the very best and won only to lose to the women’s Olympic champion. He and four others have written the definitive book on Judo whose title is Judo: History, Theory, and Practice.

I have seen first-hand how a person’s passion about playing a sport has influenced what they did with the rest of their lives. I know that this is true of me. Financial institutions hire athletes who may know little about economics but possess a robust competitive spirit that is needed in that world. I will have a memorial service for someone in a few weeks whose outstanding career as a soccer player at EA and Penn informed his relationships with people and the nature of his practice in law. He was all about what was good for others. Why would we think that things would be different for Vladimir Putin who possesses a black belt in Judo and was the Honorary President of the International Judo Federation. He was suspended from that role when he invaded Ukraine.

What we have learned is to never give an evil man the strategies found in Judo as a strategy for his life when his opponent is a country that won’t give him what he wants. Here are some teachings from All I Need to Know I learned in Judo. Here is what Putin learned from Judo that he wrote about that we can see being played out in his attack on Ukraine. Turn your opponent’s strength against himself; Judo teaches you how to conduct yourself in a street fight; the absolute critical lesson is to keep your opponent off balance. OFF BALANCE IS THE KEY.

My ideas about life were contained in my memoir, The Times of My Life. It could be named Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Working Class Culture. I wrote recently about Mike Tyson’s philosophy that once you punch a person in the mouth, they forget about their plan or strategy. It’s another way of keeping a person OFF BALANCE. I went to school with bona fide tough guys. I was not one of them. They were in a league of their own, but I learned from them. Whenever they were called out by someone that had a history of unfair fighting, they knew that they might be in store for a ”sucker punch” which is catching your opponent off guard and hitting them when they aren’t ready. They quickly were ready to brush it aside for they knew that their opponent might use it to keep them OFF BALANCE. They would always take the higher moral ground and never use it, but they never FORGOT about it as a potential part of their opponent’s arsenal and strategy. For one thing, they wanted to win fair and square, and win they did. They would resonate with the play fair goal in the “kindergarten” book.

The Just War Clause which gives every parameter for going to war clearly indicates that Putin has broken every guideline for conducting a just war. Therefore, all bets are off. The rules of engagement in combat have been broken.

The learned lessons in kindergarten are a good way to live in peace but not against evil. My tough guy friends with whom I grew up were only interested in a fair fight. Right now, we need some tough guy stuff from working class culture that has our eyes clearly aware of the people who use the “sucker punch.” They would be aware of the words in Judo culture to do what you need to do to keep your opponent (us) OFF BALANCE. That is how the judo black belts win. We need to be ready for Putin to keep us OFF BALANCE or better yet beat him to the “sucker punch” or least be able to deflect it and win.

There is a model for this approach. His name is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a devout Christian clergyman, who was part of the resistance movement to defeat Hitler. There is still debate about how involved he was in the plot to kill Hitler, but no debate that he played an active part in the resistance. On April 9, 1945, this Lutheran pastor and theologian, was hanged at Flossenburg, only days before the American liberation of his POW camp.

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