2018 Sanix — from Weston Uyekawa

My trip to Japan was filled with valuable learning experiences, great judo and an abundance of fun. The opportunity to compete against countries around the globe, make new friends and learn from one of the world’s top competitors is one I will always remember. Not only did I learn and experience excellent judo, I learned many lessons and had many great experiences that will surely help me become a better judoka and person.

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Training and competing in the Global Arena was a truly eye-opening experience, revealing to me judo’s tremendous presence and popularity around the world. I was shocked to see hundreds of judoka, many from foreign countries, all practicing with each other; a workout of this magnitude was astonishing. Before this moment, I had never fully grasped judo’s true prevalence throughout the world. While in situations like this, however, I must make sure to be cautious for those who forget or are oblivious to the guidelines, as words lost through translation are common. I learned from experience when being armbarred by a judoka who did not follow the rules. Luckily, I was able to make a quick and successful recovery, but the injury could have been much worse. Nevertheless, watching the world come together for a common interest was an awe-inspiring and memorable experience.

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It was a true privilege to learn from Ryu Shichinohe. Being able to receive instruction from a world-class judoka was a very rare opportunity I was lucky to have. Additionally, he was teaching Ouchi-gari, one of my favorite throws. I learned a lot from Shichinohe’s step-by-step breakdown of the throw and, with this knowledge, my technique has surely improved. I am grateful to learn from such a successful competitor.

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Practicing and competing against people of many shapes and sizes has also impacted the way I fight. Speed, technique, and timing are the most important aspects of judo, while power is merely a subsidiary. Unlike America, the weight classes are very broad and spread out, often leaving large weight differences between opponents. Nevertheless, it was shown time and time again that, not the strongest, but the most skilled and witty competitor was victorious. Every single person on the mat, big and small, fought their hardest and never gave up, inspiring me to do the same. The saying, ”It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog,” was applied a countless amount of times in the tournament. My experience competing in Japan has helped me discover what judo is about.

I have also learned the importance of following rules, having manners and always showing respect. In America, many judoka erupt in protest about calls from referees, are rude to their opponents and do questionable moves to win. Outside of judo, an excessive number of people are self-centered and could care less about littering, accidentally bumping into someone or giving thanks for an act of kindness. In Japan, I witnessed quite the opposite. Judoka respect their opponents, fight fairly and acknowledge the referee’s calls, despite whether they agree with them or not. In day to day life, little to no trash is seen inhabiting the sidewalks or roads and ‘please’, ‘thank you’ ‘sorry’ are constantly being spoken. ‘Thank you’ is customarily said before and after every meal, and the younger of the group always clean up after their elders. Observing this contrast of attitudes between individuals of different countries has made me realize that always showing respect, being mindful and giving thanks is key to becoming a better person and something I must continue to improve on.

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One factor I greatly anticipated before coming onto the trip was the interaction between foreign countries. I was apprehensive in meeting and communicating with the other competitors, not knowing what to expect. Fortunately, our team was treated with kindness and generosity from a multitude of different countries. We exchanged gifts, took pictures and had brief conversations. In the end, I had a positive experience meeting and interacting with other countries.

One unexpected highlight from this trip was growing closer and connecting with my teammates. I would have never expected to make such great friends on a trip to Japan for judo. Taizen and Kai were only acquaintances, while Carson and Bryson were complete strangers to me. Though there was much awkwardness at the beginning of our journey, our team had become comparable to a family by the end of the trip. We each had fun, were supportive and looked out for one another. Each member’s company greatly enriched my experience and I am proud to be part of such an exceptional team.

My trip to Japan was one I could never capture in words. The outstanding judo, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and learning experiences I had with my outstanding team made my journey one I can never forget. A ‘thank you’ is not nearly enough to express my gratitude to USJF, Saito sensei, Oishi sensei, my parents, and everyone else who allowed me to take part in such an amazing event.

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