The Irish Priest, the One-Armed Judo Champion, and Mini-Lesson Applications

Two Sundays ago we had a visiting Irish priest say Mass at our parish. It sounds better if I say old Irish priest, like that would make him more wise or something, but it is a good sign for vocations that this was a young one. During his homily he told a story that went a little bit like this.

The Story

A young boy of 10 loses his left arm in a horrific car accident. Afterward he struggled with depression and rarely left the house. His parents wanted to see him happy again and get him involved in something, so they signed him up for Judo lessons.

His sensei said he would teach this boy, but he would learn only one move and learn it perfectly. Many practice sessions went by working on this one move until it was mastered. Then his teacher signed him up for a tournament.

The Sensei might look like this…(I don’t know anything about Judo. This is its founder.) Source: Wikipedia

The boy thought this was strange because he only knew one move and he was had some trepidation in the matter. When it came time for his first round he met his opponent and won! The same went for his second, third and fourth rounds. He advanced out of the preliminary rounds against increasingly larger and more skilled opponents.

Eventually he had advanced to the final round. A small boy of ten was set to fight a grown man who had taken the championship several years running. The absurdity of it all overcame him and he wasn’t sure if he should do it, after all this was a champion and he only had one arm and only knew one move. Seeing he was clearly over-matched, several referees and tournament officials begged the sensei to withdraw his student, but he responded only, “No, he will fight.”

The final round began, stepping up against this beast of a man, it began to look like he would not only lose, he would be demolished. He endured, taking a beating and waiting for a chance to do the only thing he had been taught. When the window of opportunity came he took his chance and laid his opponent out flat on his back. He won the state Judo championship.

He was overjoyed but still confused. He asked his teacher, “How is that possible? These guys know hundreds of techniques. I only know one?”

His sensei explained, “There are 2 reasons you won this tournament. The first is that the move I taught you is one of the most difficult moves in all of Judo. It shows tremendous skill that you are able to perform it. And the second is that the only way to defend against that move is to hold you by the left arm.”

The Homily

We all got a good chuckle out of the story, which is probably one of those really widespread stories, but I had never heard it before. The priest used the story to explain that God can use you to do great good in the world no-matter your limitations. I couldn’t help but think that the story would also fit pretty well as the hook to a mini-lesson or in a strategy group lesson in Math or Reading.

How you could use it in the Classroom

1. Pull out this story right before teaching them a Math or Reading strategy that your past classes have historically had little buy-in on. You know the one. The one that you rant and rave and say it works and show them it works if they will just do it. Somehow, come test day there are still the kids that don’t do it. If they feel they have been given that one unbeatable move to defeat their opponent maybe it will go differently. (You would also have to hope they don’t take it too much to heart and abandon all other strategies you taught all year)

2. Tell a small strategy group of struggling readers or mathematicians this story and make it like you are teaching them a special move the rest of the class is not in on.

3. Tell this story if you get a handful of students that start to get really down on themselves. You get a few that resignedly say they are just not good at this, or they just can’t do this. Whatever their perceived limitation, it is not an acceptable excuse (most of the time, and we cannot indulge it too much even if it is.)


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