EVOLUTION OF A JUDOKA
How a Judoka’s Motivation May Change with Time
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
Back in August 2013 I scribed an article concerning student expectations from judo and, more precisely, the importance for sensei(s) to appreciate the various reasons people take up judo (scroll down three posts). In this article we will look into how judo students’ interests and motivations often change over time.
At 10 years of age I knew next to nothing about Judo but became drawn to it by a British television show called “The Avengers” – which featured the stunning Miss Emma Peel, played by actress Diana Rigg. I had been told that she used Judo to effortlessly throw her adversaries to the ground and, coincidentally, the sign at the local youth center proclaimed that they offered Judo classes. So after a year of pestering my parents my Dad finally relented and enrolled me in the class – once a week on a Wednesday evening and the judogi cost $10, a lot of money back then. Up until then my sport had been swimming.
Being the only white belt and the youngest novice in the class, I quickly found that my size and strength were of little use. There were two teenage girls, both green belts, who could throw me effortlessly so, as a result, I became that student who did randori defensively, bent-over and stiff-armed. Little did I know the life-long journey it would take to become an evolved and upright judoka with relaxed arms….
So at that stage my only focus was on learning the required techniques for yellow belt and surviving the randori sessions. It wasn’t until I began reading Black Belt magazine and the stories of the samurai that I began to appreciate the history of martial arts and the significance of the discipline encompassed in the Japanese culture. About this same time a black and white television show hit the airwaves called “Shintaro.” This was the story of a lone samurai traveling the land battling evil in the form of ninja. But even as a 12 or 13 year old I began to appreciate the enduring spirit of the samurai and their dedication to self improvement, not just in swordsmanship but also calligraphy and art.
As with most junior judoka, by twelve I was doing local competitions, taking my first bronze as a yellow belt, and by thirteen I was winning consistently at the regional and national levels. We also had a new sensei at our dojo, Ivan Willis from England, who expanded training to two nights a week plus Saturday mornings. He also supplemented the Saturday judo training with road work and hill runs and introduced us to weekend training camps. Ivan went on to have a very positive effect on judo in New Zealand, becoming an IJF-A referee and member of the International Referees Commission.
It was also during this period that I became an assistant instructor at our club, which encouraged me to learn all the techniques required up to Shodan. However, I really did not understand the biomechanics or finer points of these techniques for some years, since as a club we were wholly focused on winning competitions.
By high school I was a junior brown belt (Ikkyu) and not only dominating junior competition but also ranked third in senior light-heavyweight division. About this same time period, two local judoka, who I had previously not known, returned from 4-year training sabbaticals in Japan, both with exceptional technical ability. Kelvin Bradford had a tai-otoshi that was unstoppable and Rick Littlewood was the master of newaza and kosen judo. The quality of their technical abilities was so dramatic, when view against the other judoka with whom I had been training, that I began dreaming about training in Japan. But as a penniless 15-year-old school boy, those were just dreams since I had no idea how I would ever make it to Japan.
On the heels of Kelvin and Rick came Nobuhiro Fuji, the Doshisha University judo team captain and All Japan university middle-weight champion. He came to New Zealand to learn English and my parents kindly agreed to put him up at our house. In return he taught at my club two nights a week and attended training with our national training squad on the weekends. He also had a technical ability far surpassing the local players, literally cleaning the mat with his drop morote-seoinage and lightning fast shime-waza.
From this I developed an interest in not only winning competitions, but also becoming a more technically proficient judoka and teacher. Unfortunately, back then the predominant method of teaching judo was repetition, repetition, repetition. Instructors did not go into great detail when teaching a technique. They simply demonstrated it a few times and then the class repeated it over and over until it came naturally in randori. While this worked, it was a long, slow, and tedious process. It was not until I trained in France that I would have a true master to study under.
As a newly minted Shodan (age 16) I began representing New Zealand internationally; and as a Nidan was invited to the Oceania Championships in Australia, and later a three-way championship against the French team in New Caledonia. This was when doors began to open. Since I was the only member of the NZ team, other than the manager, who spoke some French (learned in high school), I was invited to dinner one evening with the French team. It was at this dinner that the French coach, Serge Feist, invited me to come and train in Paris. Serge was also the head coach for the prestigious Racing Club de France (RCF) judo team, and they were in need of a junior light-heavyweight (under 93 kg).
The opportunity to train in France came as a surprise but shifted my focus away from training in Japan. At 6 feet 2 inches (188cm) I was told by my peers that training in Europe would benefit me more than training in Japan since, on the heels of Anton Geesink, Willem Ruska, and David Starbrook, the Europeans were perfecting “big man judo.” There was more emphasis on power judo techniques such as harai-goshi, uchi-mata, and maki-komi, as opposed to the variations of seoi-nage being used by the smaller Japanese and in the lighter weight divisions.
In France I was exposed to the rigors of national level squad training at the National Sport Institute (INS), and everything that went with that – hard randori, weight training, running, swimming, and frequent training sessions with visiting European and Japanese teams. But more importantly, I was given the opportunity to work under the internationally respected Maitre Shozo Awazu as a junior assistant instructor at the Racing Club. It was under Maitre Awazu that I came to really appreciate the finer points of judo, kumi-kata, kuzushi, tsukuri, kake, and follow-through into newaza. Maitre Awazu’s love of judo and patience with his students was a joy to behold, having a profound effect on my judo for decades, and to this day.
At the end of my Senior competitive judo career I became interested in coaching and performance development. This took me well beyond the realms of traditional judo and into the sciences of physiology, bio-mechanics, kinesiology, nutrition, sports psychology and the importance of mental preparation (especially in the shooting sports). These were not considered a priority in judo competition development in the 1970s and 1980s, but are now considered essential components of sports development in the 21st century.
However, it took four decades to develop an appreciation for the traditions of judo and kata. In my formative competition years, kata was just one of those hurdles one negotiated for promotion – nage-no-kata for Shodan and Nidan, and katame-no-kata for Sandan, etc. It wasn’t until I attended a Kata Camp at the Kodokan that I came to appreciate the significance of the seven kata covered in the annual, summer week-long program.
So, forty-seven years after first stepping onto the judo tatami, I am just now beginning to feel like a well rounded judoka. Over that span of time my interests have moved from self defense, samurai philosophy, and junior shiai, to national and international championship judo, to sports development and coaching, to teaching and pedagogy, to Masters and Veterans competition, and now to preserving the traditions of Kodokan Judo, technical development, and kata. I still have a love of championship judo, but the next decades will be devoted to sharing what I have learned with future generations of judoka, competitors, sensei, and coaches.
Finally, as instructors we can only influence the students in our dojo and the participants in our clinics – at most a few hundred each year. But as writers we can reach thousands. This is the reason I have gravitated to the use of social media such as Judo Training Development’s facebook page to better preserve what I have learned and to more efficiently share these thoughts with others. So as long as you keep reading, I will keep writing, but I still look forward to meeting you all on the mat in the near future.