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Covid and Judo: Fighting For Positives

Covid and Judo – are there any positives? Anything at all?

It’s a dark time for judo. The future is uncertain, some dojos have been forced to close their doors for good, and for those who have returned to the tatami, judo is a shadow of what it was. Our elite struggle to find motivation for an Olympics that might not take place and all of us, from the small club to larger businesses have taken a heavy financial hit.

But is there also light?

Are there any positives that have arisen from this Pandemic?

Has anything good come of Covid for Judo? Anything at all?

I put that question to 20 of Great Britain’s leading judo coaches, fully expecting the reply to be a quick, sharp, short – “NO! Nothing!”

The answers surprised me. They shouldn’t have. After all, by nature, judoka are fighters. And by nature, coaches are leaders.

The answers came back quickly. One after another saying: yes, they had found positives…many positives.

You can read the coaches answers in full at the end of the post, but first a quick summary of the main points.

It boosted my spirits and I hope it will boost your spirits too.

Fighting for Positives

More Time & Space to Think

At a one level, there has been more time and this has allowed coaches to do practical things like:

  • Paint their dojo
  • Film their club syllabus
  • Build new facilities

But perhaps more importantly this time has also given space. Without the constant pressures of running a club and going from tournament to tournament coaches have been able to:

  • Evaluate, reflect and rethink
  • Regain life balance and renew personal goals
  • Spend time with their families

Improved Technical & Fitness

The limitations have forced many coaches to become more creative, to think outside the box, and this has led to the development of new drills and study of coaching techniques.

  • Innovative training ideas
  • More sophisticated uchikomi and dummy drills
  • A dedicated focus on fitness and conditioning
  • Improved personal coaching technical skills
  • A deeper understanding of tandoku renshu
  • Development of outdoor sessions
  • The use of Zoom, Facetime and other online tools for engagement

Team Spirit

A huge positive to have emerged is that these times have (mostly) brought clubs closer together, with:

  • Improved team spirit
  • Better Parental support and appreciation
  • Dedication from the judoka
  • Improved fitness and strength levels
  • Enhanced team dynamics between players and coaches
  • Introduction of Facebook coach support groups

A New Appreciation of Judo

Coaches are noticing this shift towards different ideals with a move away from competition goals and towards community goals.

Are we seeing a return to what Jigoro Kano first envisaged judo to be? A method to “perfect the self, and to make a contribution to society?”

Coaches pointed out:

  • a deeper appreciation of judo
  • a more connected community
  • a greater compassion to fellow judoka
  • a desire to use judo to improve lives
  • a shift from competition to community

The Coaches and Their Answers

Here (scroll down) are the answers in full from the coaches.

Hopefully, they will provide direction and motivation for anyone who is struggling with the current situation, and finding it overwhelming and frustrating.

You are not alone. And here is some light, to fill the dark.

Thanks to:

  • Kate Howey
  • Euan Burton
  • Darren Warner
  • Chloe Cowen
  • Peter Gardiner
  • John Buchanan
  • Mark Fricker
  • Jo Crowley
  • Kerry Tansey
  • Jim Longmuir
  • Gordon McCathie
  • Paul Ajala
  • Vince Skillcorn
  • Mark Maidment
  • Joseph Castillo
  • Kieron Lambert
  • Brett Tidman
  • Wayne Lakin
  • Louise Renicks
  • John Barton

Covid and Judo

Kate Howey

World Champion, Olympic Silver and Bronze Medallist, 5 x World Medallist, British Judo Head Coach

A positive is that we all learnt a new way to do judo over the internet. We had to be innovative in what sessions were being run and what equipment could be used, especially for weights (chairs etc). Judo with bands and just a judogi to throw around.

It also gave the fighters time to concentrate on their personal development for example learning a new language or running sessions for the wider community.

As coaches we had more time to plan our return and look specifically at loading as they had had so much time off of the mat. I think also we could have all got a degree in Teams, zoom and other social networks.

Fighting for Positives Covid and Judo

Euan Burton

2 x World Medallist and 3 x European Medallist
JudoScotland High Performance Coach

One of my life philosophies is that nothing is entirely positive or entirely negative and every situation will have advantages and disadvantages, positives and negatives.

Covid and Judo – a number of positive side effects

Of course overall the COVID pandemic has been negative however I think there have been a number of positive side effects. It has allowed people to slow down and think about what is really important to them and in a specific performance judo context it has allowed us to “get off” the hamster wheel of constant competitions/camps and really evaluate how to best support the judoka’s development.

Additionally in our programme I think it has enhanced the team dynamic as I think the judoka really appreciate the work the coaches have done to support them during this time and the coaches are so proud of how diligent and positive the athletes have been throughout.

We got our performance judoka in Scotland back on the mat last week for the first contact judo in 6 months. We did that by finding a creative solution to get an outdoor dojo (outdoor contact sport is allowed in Scotland but not indoor contact at the moment) which is in an outdoor, covered, Padel tennis court. So there’s no new equipment really but certainly a new facility for us.

Covid and Judo - the community spirit

Darren Warner

CEO Welsh Judo
Personal Coach to Olympic Silver Medallist, Gemma Gibbons

It has given me time to reflect on how important judo is to so many people’s lives. I think coaching over FaceTime developed new skills as I had to adapt the sessions and learnt to use Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) to get principles across as I wasn’t there and not able to demonstrate.

I’ve been really impressed with how many coaches have used zoom with great effect. Our Performance Pathway squad met through zoom twice a week and it was a really positive experience. I think it really brought home to the players, parents and coaches that judo is so much more than an activity.

The community spirit seemed to be the most beneficial element. This led to outdoor, socially distanced sessions during the summer.

As I only coach one elite players, she went through lockdown with her training partner. We then completed her judo sessions via facetime. We now returned to training with an elite group of ten athletes in Wales. We had to put a lot of procedures in place and buy PPE.

Covid and Judo a real appreciation for our sport and contact

Chloe Cowen Vickers

5 x European Medallist
Gateshead Judo Club Coach

I think it has brought our club closer, understanding the real need and appreciation we all have for our sport and contact. My kids and parents, love seeing each other at our outdoor sessions now.

We plan to return to the tatami at our club in Gateshead when we can get to do judo. If we can get training bubbles, or partners to work together that’s when we will be back.

Covid and the Use of Judo Dummies

I like the idea of using dummies, it’s tough throwing a dummy, great for repetitive hard work. During lockdown we held zoom classes for the club. We used a belt and a judo jacket for gripping work. A step or a box, uchikomi bands and small weights too.

Peter Gardiner

Sportif Lead Coach

Many positives. We had a simple strategy. “What you can’t do doesn’t matter, All that matters is what you can do” we still work with that logic. Team spirit has improved, parent understanding and buy into the club has improved. Staying positive is the key.

No zoom because I felt we could not offer a good enough session. People doing sessions at home in cramped spaces wasn’t for us. However we had a solid FB strategy. Age and family specific with involvement from members. We posted most days and had club STAVA groups where the whole club tried together same days same times. It engaged lots of parents too. We also used the Koka Kids uchikomi challenge 250 to 1000 uchikomi.

John Buchanan

Olympian, World and Commonwealth Medallist
Sportif Head Coach

We are currently running outdoor training sessions at the moment (for the last 6 weeks) looking to get back inside at the end of October when the clocks go back and we lose another hour of daylight.

We have bought a load of resistance bands to enable socially distant training when we return and invested in weights plates, cones, hand sanitizer and a thermometer point and press gun that we are currently using for our outdoor training.

I think the outdoor sessions and to a certain extent the zoom sessions have been a fantastic eye opener and we will definitely use them again in the future when life returns to normal.

We also set up a WhatsApp group which was good for keeping our squad working on challenges for 7-8 weeks. We’ll use that again, maybe in the summer holidays to keep players ticking over.

Mark Fricker

Pinewood Judo Club Sensei

We returned initially back in the June although at that point we were only allowed to train in groups of 5 (plus a coach) and the training was in the clubs back garden.

When the BJA and Government guidelines allowed us to move back into the dojo and increase our group sizes to 15 a lot of work was necessary to form new training groups across the various classes. It also required a new timetable as the group sizes had increased it was my intention to offer 2 one hour sessions to each member of our intermediate and advanced classes.

We managed to achieve this but in order to make it work I was forced to start a Saturday morning class for one intermediate group.

Fundamental Technical Development

It has definitely offered us the opportunity to attend to the fundamental technical development. I was forced to improve my own technique as I adopted a coaching style that leaned more heavily on my own demonstrations.

After many hours of crashing into sofas perfecting these drills one unexpected benefit is a deeper understanding that I have gained myself.

I think that this situation has strengthened the club’s unity and I believe that it has also changed probably forever the way I coach.

Building technique in a logical step by step way with more attention to detail has been forced on me by circumstance but has opened my eyes to the benefits of this approach.

There was always a tension for me between ‘training them’ and teaching them’, I would get frustrated by their poor posture / kuzushi etc but realise it was often a consequence of the ‘near enough is good enough’ approach which can be a consequence of getting the balance wrong between training and teaching.

Jo Crowley

Ealing Judo Club Head Coach

Time to stop and reflect without the push of logistics and other pressing club matters reducing the thinking time available.

Decided that I can’t be responsible for the motivation of the majority of club members any more. If they wish to achieve things then they must be the centre of their own drive. I won’t be coming back to coaching as it was before.

I will be focusing on those who work for it and make an effort, not necessarily the best performers but those with the best mindset.

Healthier Lifestyles

I will also be making time, for the first time in my adult life, to maintain my own healthier lifestyle. Always putting others first left me fat, depressed, unhealthy and seriously fatigued. This period has allowed a total revamp of my priorities in that regard.

I’ve taken up serious exercise again, now training every day. Today is day 170, no days missed. I do a minimum of 5km run or cycle every day, but usually a lot more, up to 80km sometimes, with added kettlebells and other resistance work. I have also started training BJJ again too, 2-5 times per week. That means that I do 1-3 sessions a day. Have dropped a lot of weight and am generally much fitter, stronger and healthier, despite permanent DOMS!!

The knock on effect with my children and with a lot of people online has been quite staggering, with a number of people (lots of mums) messaging to say thanks for the inspiration and push to get healthier themselves. I won’t allow other people’s normal lives and laziness to get in the way again.

Kerry Tansey

Croxteth Judo Club & Rainhill Rockets Sensei

It’s highlighted how much you do judo for you. People offer support but it’s only really as a gesture. The support can be a lazy way for many who think that judo owes them. If you want it, you’ll do it. We are returning this week (September), limited engagement as parents are still worried. No real equipment, at the moment, we’ll just use belts and jackets where needed.

Jim Longmuir

Cluarankwai Judo Club Sensei

Yes lots of positives and lots of hard work.

At Cluarankwai Judo Club we choose to shut down a week earlier than the official instruction as we could see the seriousness of the situation. But we did manage to bring forward a grading we had planned for the following weekend and get 40 Grades completed before we shut down.

My brother Robert Longmuir and Steven Ross set up a club zoom session Steven on the Wednesday and Robert on the Saturday

About 25 signed up for the free sessions, some with 2 or three family members at some of the venues. We also handed out jigsaw mats to members who wanted to use them.

Both Robert and Steven used sessions from JudoScotland and the internet to get basic techniques and drills over and made them think hard how to deliver the sessions.

Preparing the Dojo for Judo in times of Covid

We restarted classes 4 weeks ago and have bought disinfecting equipment and a fogging machine that has an antibacterial spray.

We disinfect between classes and fog at the end of the night. So the Dojo is cleaner than it has ever been!! This is on top of our usual cleaner coming in twice a week.

As classes are restricted to 30 for the under 12s we have put a booking system in and Steven who is our Covid officer and Adam Muirhead run this after liaising with my son who runs our web page through his company Launch Digital.

Players have to have a temperature test and gel their hands before they come in and ensure they have completed a questionnaire re their health.

The over 12s and seniors come in half an hour later after the mat has been disinfected. We have created 15 mat areas (3×3) for the senior sessions and the exercise class.

Grants & Funding

We applied and received a grant from East Ayrshire Council which has helped with the running costs and kept us financially secure.

Many members kept their standing order payments which also helped with running costs and the classes are full.

It has been a lot of work to keep everything going but we are lucky to have 10 qualified coaches who are all volunteers and although some have had to self distance a hard core of 6 committee members have worked hard to get the club up and running. We have used YouTube as a resource for the senior sessions as well as KokaKids for junior sessions.

It has been great to be back on the mat and having to do the exercise sessions has helped get the some of the weight off !!

And we did get the club painted inside and out during the shut down so was nice and shiny for the reopening.

Gordon McCathie

Ultimate Judo Head Coach

I think a lot of coaches approached the situation with positivity on the whole and I’m really proud of the Judo family.

We got put up for an award locally and they put a nice video together for the ceremony.

I think a lot of positives have come out of this. I think as coaches, especially the full time coaches, we realise the importance of getting a better work/life balance. It’s so easy to just get absorbed into the club and often forget to make time for us and our families.

The Coaches’ Cafe

In Scotland, we have created a Facebook group for coaches across Scotland, called the coaches’ cafe. We meet every week via zoom to communicate as coaches and talk Judo. This has brought coaches/clubs together and sees coaches sharing resources and ideas but most importantly, helping each other and looking out for others mental health.

We have all had to adapt to a new way of learning and coaching, a new way to build clubs and I think it has allowed the parents to feel more involved and appreciative of what we as coaches do (not that they weren’t before) but over lockdown I am so proud of how Judo clubs have really led the way with online content etc. compared with many sports.

I told our club that we went in to lockdown as a tight team but are coming out as a family. Everyone is supporting each other, getting involved. We had online sessions for adult fit. Parents get to try Judo based movement for fitness. We have trained and learned from amazing Judoka across the world via zoom including America, Australia, Indonesia, Japan. We have continually challenged ourselves and seen a positive in a very tough time.

Although this whole time has been frustrating and mentally hard, old injuries are recovering, members are re-motivated to do well in Judo and get stuck in and we have to jump on this time to promote our sport, promote our clubs and get the kids to make goals and smash them.

A return to what Kano wanted

I personally feel Judo is now able to do what Kano wanted, it is able to help communities become stronger, more compassionate to each other and closer as a world wide family. It can help with mental health , challenge everyone who steps onto the mats and is always lead by passion, commitment and life long love of Judo.

Talking with coaches the emphasis (short term at least) is not on competitions but using Judo to rebuild lives and communities. coaches re talking about how Judo will help kids confidence etc rather than just when the next competition is. Its really refreshing.

Paul Ajala

Harrow Head Coach & Budokwai Cadet Coach

One of the positives is that it’s made me rethink my coaching… develop better drills and more sophisticated use of dummies and elasticated bands. We bought 8 throwing dummies (from Dino and RDX) and 12 bungie cords and they are great.

Vince Skillcorn

Fighting Fitness Judo Sensei.

Believe it or not, we never stopped teaching! We have taught from our garden streaming online for the last 6 months. We invested in some hardware, such as microphones, cables and stands, we also use software such as Zoom for running our classes and streaming for Facebook and YouTube.

We are now preparing to move indoors, into our brand new dojo. We have just signed the lease to a new full-time dojo which is a massive step up for our club.

We have managed to keep a lot of our club active and it has definitely brought us closer together, we managed to film our whole syllabus, and children even managed to complete their gradings!

It has been an opportunity for the parents to see our dedication and determination and we have enjoyed offering support, continuity and hope to our members.

Mark Maidment

Shunen Judo Company Director

Not sure who said this, maybe Freud, or the exact wording but this is how I teach it, “it is not the situation (opponent) we face that matters the most it is the attitude that we take towards the situation (opponent) that matters most”.

Most coaches were players first and as players in practice and contest we faced opponents that we knew were going to be extremely tough and difficult to fight, sometimes we may have already lost to those opponents before. However, judo taught us all to take on all opponents with unending positivity and fight to the last second, then even when we have just lost (maybe lost horribly) we were all taught to face the next opponent with maximum positivity, confidence and determination. Covid-19 and Phase 1-5 are simply coaches latest opponent.||

For me every aspect and second of judo or coaching must be positive, there can be absolutely no room for negativity of any kind.

Covid and Judo – finding strategies to overcome the challenges

So the Covid-19 situation is very tough, so what, coaches are very tough, so coaching under phase 1 rules is extremely challenging, so what, every judo player/coach knows in their heart that we must remain positive, seek and find methods, techniques and strategies to succeed and overcome our challenges. Also the more a coach thinks about and focuses on what we can do and what is possible instead of what isn’t the more they will find that actually we can still coach.

We have all been injured and not been able to train before for a while than had to adapt our judo training accordingly around our injuries/restrictions focusing on Tandoku Renshu and judo movements without a partner, we can adapt our coaching in the same way to focus on improving judo movements into and between techniques, anytime we train with Japanese coaches one of the main aspects they notice they can improve English players judo is to correct our posture and movement in both Ne and Tachi-Waza. All coaches think of and find new ways of coaching judo all the time so coaching with Covid rules should be no different.

So in summary if there is one group of people or anyone that already knows and has all the required knowledge, determination, attitude and skills that are required to coach and bring judo and judo players through these challenging times it’s judo coaches providing we remember what judo has taught/made us all. However, some coaches may need to apply their judo attitudes to other areas of business (hopefully temporarily) until normal times return.

Joseph Castillo

Shirojudokwai Head Instructor

Judo as a contact sport was badly affected by the pandemic infection control measures, especially when contact sport activity was stopped.
In our Dojo, infection control was always taken seriously mainly because both myself and the club manager work in hospitals. Still before we opened again the Dojo in July, we carried out a thorough risk assessment and modified our sessions as follows:

  1. Reduced the sessions to 45 minutes
  2. Not more than 10 class per session
  3. Focus more on technique and uchikomi
  4. Modified Randori to focus on setting up the opponent rather than the actual throw. For Juniors they are asked to attack on the coach signal. This meant that randori was more like one dynamic uchikomi without the usual pushing and pulling.
  5. Kept exercises less than 5 minutes with frequent water breaks.

At first it was difficult. I thought that it was going to be a boring session but after 4 weeks I realized that our junior ones, especially were progressing much faster than pre-covid19. They were more enthusiastic and keeping the sessions short meant that the focus more on value.

Kieron Lambert

Jersey Judo Sensei

I’ve run a S&C thing during the summer, 4 to 5 times a week. I’ve discovered 5 or 6 guys that would run through walls if I asked them to, and the bond between these guys is phenomenal, and they are so mixed – boys of 13, 21, 16 and girls of 15 and one in her 30s.

Their fitness is through the roof and their uchikomi on the bands are lightning, so they will be so much quicker than the ones who decided they couldn’t attend.

Brett Tidman

Subarashi Head Coach

It has changed the values of coaching and has made me find new ways of entertaining the troops By finding new fun drills having more fun with fitness and different angles we started with ten having ago now on the last night we had 27 taking part – great for the club.

Wayne Lakin

British and Commonwealth Champion
United strength and Conditioning

I think that it has, by default, helped to bring to the forefront fitness and the physical preparation or preparedness of kids / athletes. I have been working with the elites and England on physical work and seen massive improvement.

Louise Renicks

Kanokwai Judo Club Head Coach

During lock down my community centres have been closed since march 2020 and there are no signs of opening until January 2021.

I have had to think outside of the box for the club as a community. We have children from all backgrounds of wealth and poverty, foster care and learning abilities with reading and bullying.

Zoom classes have been working well, sending homework challenges by post and monthly phone calls.

We started off with no equipment then moved to various house hold items, judo suits and belts. Then we received funding to buy some bands and dummies.

I have found both of these have helped keep the children’s attendance high and also helped by encouraging the children to do judo drills by themselves at home.

John Barton

I must admit that I was extremely concerned about my clubs future after 6 months in lockdown. We continued to interact with our members through outdoor activities and zoom sessions. We entered the BJA Shadow Kata Championship, and won gold in two of the three age groups.

We returned to indoor sessions last week-social distance being observed – and over 80% of our judoka have returned.

The restraints on training have been difficult, but we are constantly thinking about new ways to interact.

Covid and Judo – The Ongoing Fight

Is having a world wide Pandemic a positive situation? Of course, the answer is no. But are there positives to emerge? Yes. Yes there are.

Times are not good. But even from this, from the tragedies, and the fears, the darkness and the frustrations we can find positives.

Indeed, we must find them, fight for them.

Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative.

And how do we do that?

Where we chose to focus our attention is key. Whether we use our lens to magnify the good or the bad makes all the difference.

Fighting For Positives

We choose to fight. To search out the positives and magnify them.

When we look back in months and years to come it will be this choice that steers us downwards, or upwards.

Won’t it be today’s choice that will have made all the difference?

Let’s choose to fight for the positives.

Written by Nik Fairbrother