19:16 30 aoû

Training hard, playing judo, crazy characters

Columnist Jane Bridge - From Russia with love… and judo - Chapter 6

My name is Jane Bridge, former World Champion (New York, 1980, u48kg) and I'm a 7th dan judo. I've been writing a column in L"Esprit du Judo" a French judo magazine, for a few years in French and now I think it's time to address an audience in English.

August 30th, Chelyabinsk, Russia.

A challenge

In the hotel foyer I met Mr Takahiro Nishida (Photo), head coach at Yamanashi university and father of Yuka Nishida, World Champion in Tokyo in 2010.  I've known him for a long time. Seeing him reminded me of another time I had met with him. It was in Birmingham at a training camp organized by the British Judo Association in 1995. He had brought a Japanese team over to train. In his competition days Mr Nishida was a rival of Neil Adams and when he saw Neil on the mat he immediately challenged him to a one point contest! So when I met him again here in Chelyabinsk I asked him why he did that challenge. He said it was in his nature to do this to see who was the strongest even many years later.

Letting off steam

The individual competition has ended here in Chelyabinsk. The players have finished their competition. They've arrived at the end of their cycle, for better or for worse. Their main event is over and most of them can relax, at least for a few days, before getting back into training for their next competition. In the warm up area now there are lots of players sitting around, playing, laughing, chatting. I even saw staff of the Japanese team practicing itsutu no kata while there was some space on the mat. Those not fighting in the team event look like they have put on a few kilos compared to a couple of days ago when they were at their fighting weight. Others are walking around the shopping area of the stadium buying souvenirs of their World championships in Chelyabinsk or sitting in the stands with their family. Taking photos under the flags. You could feel the gradual change of atmosphere as the individual competition was coming to an end.

With Greek star, Three times world champion Ilias Iliadis

Back to normal

 It's amazing how quickly, the players get over their deception. An hour after Matsumoto, the reigning Olympic champion, lost, and injured her arm, she was sitting in the warm up room chatting with her partners and eating ham sandwiches as though it was a normal day in her schedule.
I came back to the hotel in the same bus as Kayla Harrison, another reigning Olympic champion, who didn't quite make the mark. She did come away with a bronze medal but we could see by her reaction when she lost in the semi final that anything apart from gold wasn't in the plan. She is a very determined lady and the bronze medal wasn't satisfactory for her. However in the bus she was already chatting  about meeting with Audrey (Tcheumeo) in New York, and taking her to visit the city. For those of you who have taken part in any farewell parties after important judo competitions you will know how well the athletes can get back their energy and find enthusiasm to dance the night away in spite of any deceptions incurred at the competition!

Bubbling stress

When you are training for an important event all your focus is on that one goal. You go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. It's your whole life. When you have a bad training session you get really depressed and when it goes well you feel unstoppable.
When everything's been built up to this one day the pressure is bubbling like water in the kettle. Ready to explode. The perspective of loosing is like a nightmare. And then you do. And nothing happens. You take a look around to see if you're still here. You didn't die, your friends haven't  abandoned you. Your family still loves you. Life goes on. It's not that bad. So you play cards, eat sandwiches, go for a walk. Buy souvenirs. And say to yourself, why did I put so much pressure on myself. And the next competition, you do it again.

Happiness is the truth

Today was the first day that I had time to go outside into the entrance where the judo village is. The sun was shining, the music blasting out. It felt good. The people felt happy. There was a great atmosphere.
There was local craft souvenirs such as hand woven baskets, little dolls made from material, samovars, to buy, no matryoshka, but you could get a mug with the Russian flag and Vladimir Putine in shades on his motor bike. I did.

In another part of the village were masses of comfortable large beany bags in which teenagers were lounging there, enjoying the moment, texting to their friends. Next to this area was a judo mat.

Now at the Paris Grand Slam, there is also this kind of set up in the village. The French have a tatami where the kids can do a judo lesson with a couple of teachers showing some ukemi and a basic throw. The kids try to repeat what they have been shown and the teachers go round correcting any mistakes that the kids are making. Very "Cartesian" in approach.
Here in Chelyabinsk in the judo village on the tatami it's not quite the same. There were lots of kids, mainly teenagers playing judo. Some in judo suits others not. I saw a young blue belt showing  two girls in jeans and tee-shirts how to do o goshi: break balance with the sleeve hand, lift and turn the wrist and elbow with the back hand. Really precise, and it worked. One of the two girls was bounced onto the mat. Her face showed she was shocked but it didn't stop her jumping up and taking another fall before it was her turn to try. There were kids trying out their Uchi mata, sumi gaeshi, others were practicing some kumi kata drills. I saw red haired twins, having what looked like a great randori. One was left handed the other right. They were moving and attacking and escaping. It was really great to watch. The father was watching them smiling. They too were in jeans and tee-shirts. I could have stayed there forever watching them all really loving playing judo. And not a judo teacher in sight. 

Train hard, fight harder

I'm lucky enough to be able to go into the mixed zone where all the interviews take place after the medal fights. One of the recurrent questions asked by the journalists is "what were you thinking about during your fight in the final/bronze medal fight?
What do you think is the reply the majority of the time? I was thinking if my family, my mother, ...no. Most of the players say "I was thinking about all the hard training I have done and I say to myself I didn't do that for nothing" Illiadis Illiadis said it yesterday after winning his third world gold medal. Claris Agbegnenou said it after winning her first world gold medal. Teddy said it today in his press interview. This hard training creates very special characters like Mr Nishida.

I thought you might like this photo, it's me with Renat Saidov from Russia. He won a bronze medal today in the heavy weight category. I'd met him in 2010 when the Russian judo team came to train at the then British Judo Performance Institute in Dartford. At that time he was already this size but much thinner and nowhere near the level he showed today. After four years of hard training in the Russian system he's become one of the main contenders to beat Teddy Riner in the future.

Passing the limits

Courage in training, surpassing oneself, going the extra mile, is one of the elements that will separate the good players from the best players. By going through hard training day after day, suffering from fatigue, aches, pains but carrying on in spite of the difficulties when it would be easier to stop, go easy, is what makes the difference.
When the top players are confronted with extremely tense moments, in a fight, when it matters, they are able to dig deep, bring out the extra something that maybe they didn't know they had. They can do this because in training that's what they do, every day.
In the heavy weight women's category on the last day we witnessed Emilie Andeol fighting for a bronze medal where she seemed absolutely exhausted, she even received a shido for tying her belt too slowly. The score was a shido each when the match went into golden score. It looked as though the French girl couldn't put one foot in front of the other when ten seconds into the golden score she got her grip, made an impact with her body and threw her opponent for ippon.
Training isn't just about testing out your technique or getting fitter it's also about seeing how hard you can push yourself. Those that do this in training won't be surprised in competition when they have to give more than they have. It's only when they come off the mat, when they fall into the arms of the coach that they realize just how much they were able to give.

This is the essence of judo. Pushing oneself. To the limits. And beyond. The real battle of course is to transfer this energy from the judo mat to the real world.

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 5) here 
My judo trilogy of the day

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 4) here 
Champion for a day

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 3) here 
Referees, go with the flow, feel the fight

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 2) here 
Ami Kondo, last but not least

- Read the previous chapter (Chapter 1) here 
"I can tell you the "Chelyabinskys" hearts are warm !"

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