US Team Gets Bounce with a Place on the Podium

The US World Judo Team finally reached the podium at the 2014 World Judo Championships being held this week in Chelyabinsk, Russia. After four days of frustration and defeats, the team was in need of a celebration, and got what they needed after a day’s worth of fighting.

Kayla Harrison, 24, the reigning Gold Medalist in the women’s 78 kg division at the 2012 Olympics, and 2010 world champion, took a big step in her road back from the reconstruction and year-long rehabilitation of her knee by winning a bronze medal. Harrison fought her way through the preliminary rounds, defeating Catherine Roberge of Canada, and Szu-Chu Wand of Taiwan. In the quarterfinals, she was edged out by the eventual winner, Brazil’s Mayra Aguiar, and then she defeated Yahima Ramirez of Portugal for the bronze.

Tcheumeo (France), Aguiar (Brazil), Harrison (USA), Velensek (Slovenia)

Originally scheduled for two full years of rest and rehabilitation, Harrison began to train after only one year, with a specially designed program by James Pedro, Sr.

Jim Pedro, Jr., Kayla Harrison, Jim Pedro, Sr.

The training was designed to protect her recovering knee while resuming strength and technical training focused on other parts of her body. As Coach Pedro explained, if she had waited for the full two years as originally recommended, she likely would not have been able to gain enough international competition points to be seeded well in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, or possibly not even qualify for the Games to defend her Olympic title.

Also fighting today was Samantha Bleier, 28, of the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Samantha is a graduate of Iowa State College with a degree in animal science. She was a relative late-comer, starting judo as a sophomore in college at age 20. She has been at the OTC for nearly six years, and this was Bleier’s third World Team and she had been preparing during the summer with continued training at the OTC, with the addition of special training camps in Boston.

Samantha drew her first-round match against Audrey Tcheumeo of France, the eventual silver medalist. Although Samantha opened with an aggressive, actively fighting style and continued it for the entire match, Tcheumeo was able to defend successfully. Tcheumeo’s large and powerful body was too much for most of her opponents except for the gold medal winner, who she met in the final. The first-round loss eliminated Bleier from the competition.

The Chelyabinsk World Championships of 2014 continues on for the next two days, with the heavyweight divisions on Saturday the 30th and the team competition on the 31st. The team competition has developed into a highly competitive event which brings out the loudest of the various countries’ fans for the competition.

The U.S. Team did not have any members of the team who were in the 90 kg or heavier divisions for this World Championships, and so they returned to the hotel this evening, preparing to leave Russia, and were packing for an early morning plane ride back to the states.

This has been a World Championships with mixed results, in the opinion of this observer. Although Kayla placed third, the overall record of the team in the four days prior to today will lead to some conversations about the direction and support of the U.S. team, and ways of improving not only international success but a more robust base of judo athletes nationwide, according to the well-known (and oft-quoted) “well-placed sources”.

Milloy, Harrison, Martin, Carmichael

The further development and support of the international elite team and the development of judo membership and participation in general are timely topics, and are brought to the fore once again on the occasion of the World Championships. The RR hopes that the planned conversations are cooperative, fruitful, and helpful, and draw from a wide range of supporters, participants, administrators, and fans.

Further Frustration for the U.S. Team

It was morning again at the Traktor arena in Chelyabinsk, Russia, for the World Championships today, where the men’s 81 kg and the women’s 63 kg divisions were being contested. Today the United States fielded three of their members, Travis Stevens, Hannah Martin, and Leilani Akiyama. The RR was able to grab a couple of brief comments from two of them during warm-ups:

Martin: “This is my second World Championships, and I feel great. I did all the work that I had to do to get up here. I want to win today, and that’s what I plan to do. And I have to take it one match at a time. I have to focus on one, win that one, and then the next one, until the day’s over. You can’t be happy with just one win – you’ve got to keep going for the whole day.”

Akiyama: “I feel really good, and I’m excited to be here. This is my first Worlds, so I’m just going to give it everything I have. World Team training is hard – I’ve been busting my butt every day.”

For the first round, Akiyama had drawn Isabel Puce of Spain, an experienced elite player. As the match progressed, Akiyama had her left hand tied up by Puce, and couldn’t regain control. This allowed Puce to maneuver Akiyama into position where she scored an ippon (full point) by throwing her for O Soto Gare.

Things did not go well for Hannah Martin in her first round, either, losing to Tina Trstenjak of Slovenia, the eventual bronze medal winner, on a shido (penalty). She appeared to have difficulty getting her grip and controlling Trstenjak’s movement, and was unable to score.

In the day’s biggest surprise, Travis Stevens lost in the first round to the Hungarian Lazio Csoknya, being on the wrong end of a 3 to 2 penalty total in a match that appeared to be conducted in slow motion, without consistent dynamic action.

Thus ended the US team’s hopes for podium honors after the first round of matches, a surprising and certainly disappointing result.

Later that day, your RR was able to catch up with Akiyama and Martin, both of whom were happy to talk a little about themselves and about the day’s competition.

Leilani Akiyama, 27, the newest member of the U.S. team, trains at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she moved last year from Seattle, Washington. “I’ve known Ed (Ed Liddie, Director of Athletic Performance at the OTC) my whole life, and so I thought it would be a good next step to move to the OTC. And this is my best year so far. It’s my first World Team. Every year I would clear my schedule to be able to watch the Worlds, and I would always say to myself, ‘Next year I’m going to go’, and then, ‘Next year I’ll be there’; and then finally I made it to Worlds. I didn’t have a very good day, but I’m still pretty excited to have made it, because every year I would say that I would go. So this is the best year so far – more medals. When I moved to the OTC, my world ranking was 88, and I’ve gotten down to 30 in less than a year. This year in [the U.S. Senior] Nationals I took gold. I had been taking bronze in the years before that – I would just lose in the semifinals.”

Leilani graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 with a degree in political science, and is now a personal trainer. She has been doing judo since age seven – for 20 years. “I’ve always been pretty serious about judo, but lately it’s been more of a reality. Ever since I was a kid it has always been my dream to go to the Olympics.

“I actually tried to go for (the Olympics in) 2012, but it didn’t work out for me. I’ve always felt that because of injuries it’s really held me back. I couldn’t finish the run for London because of surgery, so I planned on coming back for 2016.”

As for her performance in today’s 63 kg category, she was dissatisfied but seems to have benefited from it. “I wish I done better. I felt like I made a mistake and will learn from that mistake. Everyone says that but I know exactly what I did wrong.”

Hannah Martin is always a happy, pleasant person whenever I have spoken with her, and despite the competitive loss, this was no exception. “I’m extremely disappointed in myself. When you go to Worlds you want to leave it all out there on the mat, and I lost by one shido. One shido determined my fate at the Worlds this year. So it’s disappointing this year because I know I am just as good as or better than the girls who are medaling at these tournaments. I go with them to camps, and I know I have the skills, but I am not performing up to my ability.

“I wanted this to be my breakout moment, but I guess it wasn’t my time yet. It was really disappointing because I was expecting a lot more this year. Last year I had a really good performance, and I lost to the bronze medalist. And this year I lost to another bronze medalist. So I’m losing to people who are medaling, so I have to reach that next level so I can medal at these high-level events.”

Taking a longer view, she said, “Making the (2016) Rio Olympics is a long marathon. It’s not a sprint. I’m not taking a break – I’m going to Croatia in two weeks to compete in the Grand Prix, and I’m probably going to compete in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (in October) and Abu Dhabi (in October) and probably in Japan (in December). So I’m not done yet – I’m not going anywhere. My main goal is to win these events, not just medal. Hopefully I can win in Croatia.”

“At this point in the game, it’s all about confidence. Who really believes she is going to win. When you’re out there, we’re all at the same level. Most of the girls, the top twenty in the world, are all at the same level. But what girl believes that she’s going to win when she’s fighting. So I have to believe more than the other girl. At the end of the day, I personally believe that that’s what it comes down to. You have to believe in yourself, believe in your abilities.”

Considering the continued poor results of the U.S. team during the first four days of competition at these World Championships, I sought out head coach Jimmy Pedro, who was happy to talk about the situation and point out some factors that might not have occurred to the casual observer or to those who did not actually watch the competition.

“We had higher expectations of our team and obviously we’re disappointed with the performance of the United States team, but everybody needs to realize that there are some serious programs in this world that have dedicated significant amounts of money to judo and most of them have failed also. If you look at Brazil, they’re taking a beating at this tournament. I think they only have one medal so far. And for a program like Brazil, that’s horrific, especially since they came in with some number one-ranked athletes in the world. Russia and Japan are shining at this event, but countries that used to be powerhouses like Korea are almost non-existent; they’re not winning very many medals at all.

“Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Mongolia – a lot of the Eastern European and Asian countries have stepped up their game and invested a ton of money in the sport and it’s obviously paying dividends for them.

“But if you look at our athletes, we’re competitive. It’s not as if we lost by a lot. Marti (Malloy) destroyed the Olympic champion in the first round, and in the second round she fought a girl she upset at the Olympics, the number one in the world at the time. And Marti lost by the slimmest of margins. It was a questionable yuko, and the girl ran away from her the rest of the fight, wasn’t penalized enough, and the match is only four minutes for women now and had it been a five minute match, Marti probably would have won.

“Travis (Stevens) is obviously a big disappointment today, but he got a couple of shidos, one for holding a sleeve down which they call “pushing” the sleeve down, he made a bad attack so he got a penalty for a false attack, and then he got a shido with 30 seconds left. And he lost three shidos to two.

“Hannah Martin goes out there today and loses to the eventual bronze medalist by one shido. Our team’s not getting destroyed, but they are losing by one penalty here, one penalty there. Or they’re losing on tactics. It would also be a different story if we walked out there and got smashed by ippon in the first minute – then it would be a huge disappointment.

“The kids are competitive, and the Worlds is a very tough event. In many ways, it’s a lot tougher than the Olympic Games because the field is a lot deeper. Instead of having 18 girls at your weight and maybe having 26 guys, you have 60 and 70 competitors in the division. So it’s a deeper field and the whole world is here, they all take it very seriously, and they’ve all invested a lot of money in their programs.”

Tomorrow, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and 2010 World Champion Kayla Harrison and teammate Samantha Bleier take to the mats for the women’s 78 kg division. I’ll also report on Jimmy Pedro’s description of the additional maneuvers he believes are necessary to make the U.S. team truly competitive on the world judo stage. But you’ll have to tune in again tomorrow for these stories. Until then …

US Team’s Fortunes Get a Shocking Boost, Only To Fall Again

Today, Wednesday August 27th, began with high hopes and expectations from the U.S. Judo team at the World Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

It was about 9:30 AM local time in the Traktor Arena, and the three large mat competition areas were filled with judokas from all over the world who were going over final warm-ups and reviewing strategic plans, when the roving reporter (RR) found the US team and their coach. They were gracious enough to spend a brief moment to comment on their thoughts as the start of the competition approached.

Nick DelPopolo: “I feel ready. I prepared quite well for this tournament. I trained in Russia, at Jason Morris’ Judo Center (In New York), for two weeks at Jimmy Pedro’s Academy (in Massachusetts), and a week in Montreal. I’ve trained extensively, with a lot of different styles, I’ve tried to get as much randori in as possible, to see as much as I could for this event, so I feel like I’m ready.”

When asked how his successes in the past, as high as fifth place in international tournaments, affects his approach to this year’s Worlds, he said, “I look at fifth place not quite as a curse – I’ve done fifth so often now- I know I’m consistent. I know I can beat anybody on any given day – I can throw anybody, I know this. It’s just putting more wins together. The fact that I can get fifth is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s actually a confidence booster. I get it so often that I’m always in the tournament – I’m always fighting for a medal. That’s a good thing – a lot of people would kill to have that position. But I do see it now as quite a bit of an annoyance, so I want to approach it as a motivator. Now I’m going to light it up.”

Hana Carmichael: “This is my fifth Worlds, and I feel great. I’ve already trained a lot, and definitely peaked for this, so I’m ready. I haven’t placed in any of the Worlds I’ve been to, so it gives me a carefree attitude, I can go out there and put it all on the mat and not have to worry about placing here, so it’s actually a motivator, I think. There’s a little less stress because I haven’t placed. I have nothing to prove, so I’ll go out there, give it all I’ve got, throw my hips across, and see whatever happens.”

Coach Jimmy Pedro: “Today’s a big day. You’ve got silver medalist Marti Malloy taking on reigning Olympic champion Matsumoto in the very first round. But I’m very confident in Marti’s ability to beat her today – it’s Marti’s time. I think Matsumoto’s had her turn, and I think you’re going to see a strong Marti come out and stay focused, be on that sleeve, out grip her, and beat her today. But after that, Marti has a very hard road. She is going to have (Teima) Monteiro from Portugal, who was one of the best in the world going into the London games and Marti upset her at the Olympics, so that’s a hard fight. All day today, Marti will have one tough match after another – she couldn’t have had a harder draw.

Pedro continued: “Nick Delpopolo’s going up against Drebot from the Ukraine – quite honestly the guy’s very strong, he’s a lefty – but I think it’s a very winnable match for Nick. I actually like Nick’s draw. If he gets by Drebot, I think he’ll win the next one and he’s going to have France after that and he should go through to the quarters (quarter finals) so I’m looking forward to that.

“And then we have Hana Carmichael. She actually has a decent draw for 57 kg, which is a deep division. She’s going up against Gazimova from Azerbaijan. She’s a strong girl, big thrower, a big O Goshi, a big Sode. I think if Hana sticks to the game plan here, hustles and out-attacks her, she’s going to win that fight. So I’m looking forward to a good day from our three athletes. It’s not going to be easy, but this is the World Championships.”

But despite the enthusiasm and confidence, the day didn’t go as planned. Very quickly, the US team’s fortunes changed.

Hana Carmichael lost her first round match against Gasimova by two waza-aris. “It was a careless mistake. I came high when I shouldn’t have on someone I know uses the counter and uses her hips a lot. It was a really bad mistake on my part, a lapse of judgment, really bad on my part. I’m really unhappy, but life goes on.” As for the next challenge, “Next up for me is Croatia (in early September), and then I go to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (in October) and then finish the year in Korea (in November). So I have a lot of tournaments to make up the points.

Then Nick DelPopolo lost his first round match against Drebot, behind by penalties, and near the end getting caught by a yuko. “I’m really disappointed. I was feeling really good this morning with my wind, my body, and my mind. Today my peaking worked, but tactically, I didn’t do what my coach and I had planned. My response was not instinctive; it was just a matter of tactics. He is left-sided, and moves to his right. He dictated the movement and flow. The match was decided by that one shido against me for a false attack.”

The team’s fortunes seemed to have made a turn for the better, when Marti Malloy stunned the crowd and 2012 Olympic Gold medalist Kaori Matsumoto with an incredible victory in 24 seconds. Matsumoto came out after Malloy very hard and fast, Malloy fighting for control, then controlling her opponent’s right wrist with a great left hand grip. She then threw Matsumoto with an ashiwaza, with Matsumoto spinning out and landing on her stomach. Marti then dropped into juji gatame for the win.

Unfortunately Matsumoto had waited too long to tap, and she could not get up from the mat, trying rise from her back, but with her right arm seemingly attached to the mat, unmoving. Malloy, waiting to bow out of the match, remained expressionless (unlike coach Jimmy Pedro, who, it might be said, was more than a little excited).

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But the emotional peak was then followed by a rapid fall, with Malloy losing in the second round to Monteiro by a yuko, though Monteiro had two shido penalties against her late in the match for what your RR will call “creative non-combativity”.

Later that evening, Marti spoke with the RR: “For the good part of the day, I had probably not the best draw, considering I was the number three seed. My first fight that I had imagined would hopefully be the final at the end of the day. But it doesn’t really matter because you have to get up for every single fight and fight every fight like it’s the final. I just try to get really motivated, and I was really happy with the win. It happened really fast, and I didn’t remember everything that happened until I saw the video later. I was operating basically on instinct. She’s a really tough player and I didn’t want to give her any opportunity to put me in a bad position and so I was happy that I was able to win it that fast.”

When asked about the armlock technique that apparently injured Matsumoto’s arm, Malloy explained. “I felt some snapping feelings in her arm. But I would never want to hurt somebody in a tournament, just as I wouldn’t want them to do that to me, but she just wasn’t tapping. I was pretty sure her arm was extended completely, and she was kicking around a lot with her feet, and she kicked me in the forehead while she was flailing around, and so I realized it wasn’t really extended so I switched angles with my hips a little, and then really drove it home, and then she tapped. I thought she would have tapped sooner. It’s unfortunate because I would never want to put her out of training or judo, but that’s why we have the tapping system so that doesn’t happen. I really hope it’s not too serious – I would hate to see it be a long-term problem for her. I know she had an injury on her other arm last year.”

As for the second round, loss, “Monteiro and I have a long-standing rivalry. Obviously we’ve fought a lot, I think five or six times. I’ve only beaten her once, and that was at the (2012) Olympic Games in the first round. We go back three or four years, so I knew it was going to be a tough fight. She’s very strategic, what I would call a tricky fighter. She has a very distinct style, but I was ready for it.

“She caught me early with a yuko score, and I was kind of surprised by the score because, being honest, I didn’t feel my body hit the mat more than my shoulder, but I didn’t want to waste time worrying or being angry about it. I knew that if the referee called it, I was going to have to fight through it and try to get the score back. I think it was a drop Sode, and I came around on the other side. But then I felt like I chased her most of the match.

“I couldn’t really get my hands on her – I felt like I was running in circles, and it was kind of frustrating. I couldn’t get more than one hand on her at a time before she would drop in for an attack; she was always just out of reach – she backs up a lot so I couldn’t get two hands on her. But it’s her style, and it works. I’ve been watching her for years, studying her for years, so I know what to expect from her. We can say that we don’t like her style, that it’s difficult, but in the end she wins.

“I am definitely one who wants to go out and get two hands on the gi and fight, and let’s see which one of us is the better fighter, not play the game where they run away the whole time and you have to chase them down. This was the exact opposite of my first fight, with Matsumoto wanting to come forward and wanting to brawl. And that’s my comfort zone. But everyone has what works for them, their little niche, their strategy that works within the judo rules.

Malloy will be active through the rest of the year: “I’m going to fight in Abu Dhabi in October, then in a Brazilian team competition. They asked me to fight in a club championship in Brazil, and then I’ll do Tokyo at the end of the year.”

It was truly a tough day for the US team. But hopes will be high again tomorrow when Travis Stevens (81 kg division) takes to the mat, healthy and eager for the podium. For the women, Hannah Martin and Leilani Akiyama will also be seeking podium honors in the 63 kg division.

Bolen Starts Well, but is Stopped in Second Round

Bradford Bolen, four-time USA World Team member at age 26, was about to start a fight, and he was feeling good about it. “I felt good – I slept decently, and in my first match, as soon as I put my hands on the guy (CHIEN, Chia Hung (TPE)) and just felt him, I was pretty confident I was going to win. I just knew that I couldn’t do anything stupid or try any kind of risky throws. Basically, after I felt what he had, and I knew his arsenal because I had watched a few videos on him, I knew what he was going to do, and I was pretty confident that he wouldn’t be able to throw me with it.

“Other than that, I was just staying in position, making sure not to get penalties myself, and taking as many shots on the ground as physically possible. I think I burned close to three minutes (of the five-minute match) of the clock just from doing newaza (matwork) and I was tiring the guy out by trying to choke him or armbar him. Yeah, in the first match, I was feeling pretty confident.”

Although Bolen spoke rather casually about “taking… shots on the ground”, your roving reporter would like to mention that Brad was trashing his opponent with his newaza. When one watches Brad, his matwork is several cuts above what most judo players and fans would consider “good”. His intensity is remarkably different than most players’ newaza, in that he attacks constantly and very aggressively with a wide range of skills and ties up most of his opponents, ending with a choke or armlock. (Note to challengers: stay off the mat with this guy. Seriously.)

“My best game is newaza, that’s no secret at all. In most of my matches I win by ippon, and it’s usually with a choke, not nearly as much with a throw. And I’m only improving in that way. I’m picking up more submissions and other things that open up my choke, because it’s becoming pretty obvious that everyone I fight knows I have this in my arsenal, so I have to open it up with other things, which is what I’ve been doing. Yeah, newaza is definitely the strongest part of my game, which isn’t enough for me to make it big in the international scene, though.”

In the second round, Bolen was matched against Frenchman Loic Korval. “When I walked out, right as I bowed, the entire stadium went crazy because of the throw (on the mat) right behind me. And just for a moment I was thinking, ‘Wow. This is exactly where I want to be. This is amazing – this is the best feeling in the world and I haven’t even done anything yet.’ But then I needed to stop thinking how awesome this was, and reengage and beat this guy up, but it had the opposite effect.

“As soon as I put two hands on (Lim in the first round), I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve got this’, but when I put two hands on Korval he stiffened up all of a sudden and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this guy’s really strong, and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to figure out how to get an opening to attack, and in the midst of thinking that, I was already being thrown with a drop seoinage (for a waza-ari [half-point]) that was tight, twisting, and that I just wasn’t ready for. And he basically hit me with that twice in a row and that was the match.

“It was the same move two times. Both times he just kept me out, really stiff, and that caused me to stiffen up myself instead of adapting like I knew I should have, changing my grips and being more fluid with my arms. But I stayed stiff because he stayed stiff, and that allowed him to drop under me twice and throw me for waza-ari two times.

“He’s got really long arms, and he’s tall for the weight so he’s really awkward to deal with. He’s able to use his length to his advantage really well. Keeping you out makes you want to try to pull in, and when you push to pull in, that’s right when he drops. It’s very frustrating to deal with him, and it’s hard to avoid. And he’s strong on top of that.

“He twists in so tightly and does that ‘gator roll”, just twisting and staying tight, and it’s so hard to avoid once your arm’s trapped under his body. He keeps the momentum going with the roll.”

After the match was over, Brad realized that “From watching all the players, for the intensity of my training, I need to increase my capabilities of maintaining an intense engagement, because I find myself thinking that I can’t go ‘all in” on every exchange. But I need to get to the point in my training where every time I put my hands on the guy I’m advancing my hands and I’m able to keep doing that for a full five minutes and even more if I’m ever going to make it bigger than what I’m doing now.”

When asked about the pattern of getting a grip more aggressively, he said, “If you can’t get your hands where you want them, you’re not going to be able to make anything happen. The more highly ranked players are just so good at keeping their arms moving the entire time and each one is so strong that if they get their hands right where they want them, they’re going to be able to go as soon as they get the shot. When (Masashi) Ebinuma (winner of the division) gets his hands where he wants them, he’s already coming in, and at times even before he gets that hand he’s already sinking in for his attack. That’s what you have to get to be on that level.”

Brad went on to talk about the utility of international training, and he’s already thinking about the next tournaments. “I’m leaving at 4 AM tomorrow to go back home (to New York where he trains under Jason Morris), and then it’s either going to be Uzbekistan/Kazakhstan (in early October) or if not that, Abu Dhabi for sure (in late October).”

Finally, Brad talked about judo in general: “I’m starting to get really excited for judo, because it seems like it’s getting more popular, the venues are better, with more people interested, so I’m excited for the sport because it seems like it’s becoming more popular. It’s already pretty huge, but it’s just getting better.”

With his self-analysis and realistically defining his weaknesses and needs, Bradford Bolen is bound to improve. This might be to the dismay of his U.S. competitors, but it will be essential for his continued rise in the international ranks.

Kossor Derailed Early in 60 kg Division at World Championships

Nick Kossor, fighting in his fourth consecutive World Championships, was doing everything right. He appeared cautiously confident as he worked for his grip and positioning against Lukasz Kielbasinski of Poland.

Kossor attempted his signature uchimata without effect, but still appeared to have the clear edge in standing techniques, and had a significant margin of dominance in newaza (matwork). He moved confidently and forcefully into newaza as he repeatedly forced Kielbasinski into a defensive huddle, following by effective turnovers and twice had Kielbasinski in juji gatame (armlock) after a battle to break his opponent’s locked-hands defense.

As the match moved into its final minutes, Kossor attempted a hip technique that by his own description might not have been as strong as it generally is, and was surprised by Kielbasinski’s sudden, smooth, and fast stepover into his own juji gatame that was effective nearly instantly, with Kossor submitting.

When asked about his performance, Kossor immediately answered, “Today was a bummer. Coming into it, preparation-wise, I felt very, very good. I thought I did my judo properly, I did my weight well, I felt strong, and my conditioning was good. My preparation was done properly, and I felt I was dominating the match, controlling the guy, and I was in a good spot to win – I felt that I was going to win. My confidence was high, but I had a momentary loss of focus. He capitalized on that and he armlocked me. That’s on me.

“I really felt I could have beaten the guy. Getting my hands on him he really didn’t feel that threatening at all, and for sure I should have had those two juji gatames, or at least one of them…it’s ironic that I lost on an armbar. Since I’ve been doing judo ‘for real’, that’s the first time I’ve ever lost in newaza.

Kossor volunteered a couple of other thoughts. “This has been a really well-run Worlds. It has been a real pleasure to be here. Everything has been super smooth, very accommodating. Compared to other Worlds I’ve been to, this one’s awesome.”

Then Nick went out of his way to add, “Win lose, or draw, in the range of things, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about how professionally you approach this thing that you are trying to do. There are people in this division who have far better resumes that I do. There were Olympic champions, Olympic medalists, World medalists who lost in the first round today just like I did. I’m not saying it’s OK to lose, but everybody’s got the same pressure to win. So I shouldn’t beat myself up more than an Olympic or World medalist. And the game keeps changing. I’m not the same person or player that I was back in 2010. As time goes by, new problems arise, old problems go away, and it’s a constantly evolving thing, so just take it easy, go with the flow, and just treat it as professionally as you can. My dad says you have to play the hand that you’ve got the best that you can, do the best with what you’ve got – that’s what matters, in my opinion.

And so it was not a good day at the office for Nick Kossor, USA World Team member. But he made this observer realize that looking at the day’s events with a good dose of realism made the bad day a little less so, and perhaps this was a good jump start to further successes for Nick Kossor.

Let The Worlds Begin!

The 30th Judo World Championships is about to begin in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1.1 million people, WAY out here east of the Ural Mountains of Russia. The site of the 2012 European judo championships, Chelyabinsk (che-LYA-binsk) is called the “Gateway to Siberia”, though at this time of year the weather is mild, with temperatures from lows of 48 to a high of 72 degrees forecast for this week. So ditch those mental images of snow drifting around the USJF’s half-frozen Roving Reporter (RR) for now.

There are over a dozen universities in Chelyabinsk, and the city is one of the major industrial centers of Russia. And you might be interested to know that one of her sister cities is Columbia, South Carolina.

In the Moscow airport, I stumbled across half of the US team trying to catch some rest near the gate where we were to board the plane to Chelyabinsk. Marti Malloy, Nick Kossor, Brad Bolen, Angelica Delgado, Hannah Martin, and Leilani Akiyama were all sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, looking pretty tired.

The plane trip from Moscow to Chelyabinsk is a two-hour ride, and was loaded with groups of (probably also very tired) judoka from around the world. Young men and women in sweats, judo logo jackets, and people that just looked very tough were reuniting with friends and opponents.

The holiday mood continued in the Chelyabinsk airport, with groups of supporters and teammates cheering as the travelers walked into the terminal. The organizers have told me that people have been arriving for days in preparation for this event.

Part of the US team arrives at the Chelyabinsk airport: Kossor, Bolen, Martin, Greeting Tiger, Malloy, team physician Swirsky, Delgado, and another greeter.

The Traktor arena is on the edge of the city, and on the 25-minute ride there and back today I saw hundreds of signs advertising the Judo World Championships. They are like the old Volkswagen Bugs – you couldn’t look around without seeing at least one of them.

Even a day before the competition was scheduled to begin, the area around the arena was enveloped in activity, with event staff, police and other security, media, and scores of others going about their business to prepare the arena for the anticipated crowds of judokas and the fans.

One of the most interesting events, and which occurs on the day before the competition begins, is the official draw, held in a local hotel. Now you might think that there couldn’t be much to a computerized creation of competition pools. But the International Judo Federation (IJF) has successfully done what the National Football League (NFL) has done in the USA, in creating something really big, important, and a focus of coaches, fans, and the media, out of a near-nothing task. As the marketing equivalent of the NFL’s annual college draft, the IJF puts on a screen show with the highest professional level of visually and musically exciting videos of the top-ranked fighters just before the software does its job, with a dynamic visual display of each competitor’s name floating above a colorful pool sheet in the background as the names fall into place one by one. This display is repeated for each of the 16 categories for men and women, and is preceded and followed by greetings and reports to the assembled throng (admitted only with proper business attire) from the IJF luminaries. And just outside the meeting center there are drinks, a live band with a sultry singer this year, and newly-printed pool sheets for all. It is quite a show, and the US would do well to consider following the IJF’s lead on this to increase the excitement around the national tournaments and to draw sponsors who would likely be impressed with this level of professionalism.

So we’re about to begin the most important annual judo tournament in the known galaxy, and the IJF has done its job: Everybody here considers this event a really big deal. So stay tuned to this website for more updates from your RR. Judokas in the USA should know about the World Championships and the US team members so we can show a little sport fanaticism of our own!

66th Annual San Jose Buddhist Judo Club and 22nd “Sensei Memorial” Invitational Judo Tournament

On Sunday February 9th over 600 contestants including black belt elite judoka coming from all over California and the Midwest competed in the 66th Annual San Jose Buddhist Judo Club and 22nd “Sensei Memorial” Invitational Judo Tournament. This year the tournament was dedicated to Keiko Fukuda Shihan (or Master), 10th Dan, who passed away only one year ago on the same day of the tournament. Until her passing, Fukuda Shihan was the last surviving student of Dr. Jigoro Kano and the granddaughter of the man who was Dr. Kano’s first sensei.

The tournament was initiated by a ceremony in her honor where San Jose Buddhist Judo Club Co-head Instructor Daniel Kikuchi presented gifts to prominent guests from the judo community. Among these guests were San Jose State University Judo Team Head Coach and former USA Judo president Mr Yosh Uchida who spoke about Shihan Fukuda’s contributions to judo and the impact her contributions have made for women, as well as all members of the discipline.

2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist Ms Marti Malloy, in symbolizing Fukuda Shihan’s vision for women in judo, received a gift of a photo displaying both a portrait of Marti Malloy and Fukuda Shihan when she was about the same age.

Fukuda Shihan’s successor Mrs Wilina Monar Sensei accepted a gift from San Jose Buddhist Judo Club as new head instructor of Soko Joshi. In her eulogy to Fukuda Shihan, Monar Sensei spoke about how Fukuda Shihan’s teachings made great contributions to not only her own physical and mental development, but to her spiritual growth as well.

Powerful messages from the United States Judo Federation Executive Director and USA Judo Referee Commission Chairperson, Mr Robert Fukuda and USA Judo President Mr Gary Goltz were followed by an equally moving presentation that began with a movie trailer for Ms Yuriko Gamo Romer’s “Mrs. Judo”, a documentary about Fukuda Shihan’s road to overcoming sexism and eventually becoming the highest ranking women in judo.

As the largest local tournament in the United States the event proceeded smoothly and ended earlier than usual with Cupertino Judo taking home 1st place for the team prize. San Jose Buddhist Judo Club gives special thanks to the San Jose State Judo Team for their participation in the tournament and to the clubs and competitors who have made this one of the best local tournaments over the years.

Photography courtesy of arikdaophotography.com