The Pyjama Game: A Journey Into Judo Book Review (AKA Falling Hard)

On a recent road trip through British Columbia this fall I stopped in a sleepy tourist town called Kelowna as a rest stop after the harrowing winding mountain roads of British Columbia heading back towards Banff, Alberta.



A few stores were open on the main drag, one of which was a quiet book store clearing out old books. This is where I found Mark Law's “The Pyjama Game: A Journey Into Judo” (sold as, “Falling Hard” in the US)

Mark is by trade a journalist who has written columns for The Times and runs a an online publication called The First Post. The Pyjama Game follows Law into the journey of a journalist starting judo in his 50's, the history of the sport and other interesting stories from first and even second hand.

From the publishers:

The first full dramatic account of the origins and development of judo and behind-the-scenes view of the modern international tournament circuit.


My take:

I had no expectations for the book as it was a $2 investment to keep me from frittering my time on the internet in an effort to take a two week “electronic/media break”.

The first chapter of the book opens with the fervent excitement of an international judo tournament. From the first few pages I knew I wouldn't be able to put this book down. Law has a way with words that play on all five senses us left brain dominants could only wish for.

Law goes on to describe his experiences as an starting judo as an adult, something I can relate to as someone who started relatively late (ok I was in my early 20s but still). One of my favourite quotes was something only BJJ/judo players can relate to in their sport:


“A white belt in the dojo is like a toddler at a tea party and demands the same etiquette: people must take turns to play with him”

As a member of the renowned Budokwai Judo Club, Law sheds light on the hardships and struggles that Western Olympic judo players face with funding, training, and post-judo life. There are the stories of fierce female fighters from the poorest parts of Cuba literally fighting for their lives, or at least to have a comfortable life outside of poverty. There's also the story of crushing expectations of Japanese fans on a Ryoko Tamura, the “tiny bundle of spring-loaded aggression” bantamweight fighter who won every contest in complete dominance…except the Olympic gold medal.

The Pyjama Game does read a bit like a conglomerate of well written columns with no real continuity between chapters, but it's not meant to. It's a series of stories ranging from the start of Soviet influenced judo to Jigaro Kano's background as a teacher and his part time job to the emergence of the UFC and how judo fits in.

Do I recommend it?

Not that you should care what I think, but if you are into judo and taking a media break, what better than to read an interesting book about all sorts of stories from all corners of judo. I guarantee you will learn something from this book.

I know one of the most interesting facts that I learned was it was an Englishmen named Charles Palmer who introduced many of what most people consider the worst rules in judo. These include: groundwork can stop if a player crawls out of bounds, rather than being dragged in the same position back to the centre; referees wearing suits and socks rather than gi's, referees not allowed to bend over and check and get into the thick of the action during ground work, introduction of koka's, yuko's…. Shall I go on? Oh right and he was instrumental in getting judo into the Olympics. An organization that prefers viewership to actual goals of the sport.

So go on, go borrow, buy or steal (ok don't steal) the book. Lots of stories, wish it had more about Law's personal experience but an entertaining, informative read.


Kosei says, Read the book! And I kind of look like Ivan in this picture


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