Tuesday, August 27th

A Battle of Skills, A Battle of Wills

By James O'Brien, reporting from Tokyo

This is day three of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, and it’s time for a little lesson. Judo is a remarkably simple sport while also being remarkably complex. In a nutshell, the object is to plant your opponent on his or her back. For that simple act, you get one point (aka, ippon). That’s it: stick ‘em for ippon.

Actually, that’s not quite it. It’s how you stick ‘em that counts. In judo, you need to get your opponent on his or her back by clearly defined and accepted means; then you need to hold him or her there for a full 20 seconds. That’s a full 20 seconds of confining a struggling, writhing, squirming, powerful, highly trained human in a position in which they are distinctly unhappy. A single point seems hardly enough; but if you can do it - big if - that’s what you get and that’s all you need. if you can only manage it for between 10 and 19 seconds, you get half a point (aka, waza ari). If you manage that twice, you get two of them and…you get the concept. Game over. Oh yes - you’ve got four minutes to get the whole job done.

There are all manner of other scores, penalties and terms - yuko, koka, shido - all of which you’re going to have to investigate for yourself. I’ve given you the bare bones; after that, you’re on your own. It is salient, though, that in addition to training your heart out year after year, enduring all manner of hardship and tribulation, you also have to learn a little Japanese. As I said yesterday, there’s a certain beauty in that.

I also mentioned yesterday that Alex Turner, the NYAC’s judoka on deck today in the 73kg division, had received a bye in the first round, his opponent TBD. As I write this, the TBD’ing has been completed with the consequence that Alex will be facing Romania’s Alexandru Raicu in his first bout of the day. Raicu, 22, made short work of Botswana’s Thato Lebang in his opener, setting the stage for a challenging march for the NYAC man. This being his third world championships, Turner is not easily intimidated which, judo being a battle of wills as much as a battle of skills, is just as well.

It was a disappointing outcome for Turner. The speed and agility of the Romanian were clearly a deciding factor and, with some alacrity, Raicu dispatched Turner with ippon after just one minute and 58 seconds. An early loss here means that you’re going no further, so Turner’s Tokyo aspirations were done. That’s a hard blow to take, but that’s the nature of judo.

Tomorrow’s NYAC action in the Budokan will be plentiful with Hannah Martin (63kg), Alisha Galles (63kg) and Jack Hatton (81kg) all on deck. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed. (That works. Sometimes).

There’s little consolation to be drawn from an early dismissal at a world championships; however, it did give me a chance to take a second shot at the Tokyo subway system. Today, I was a little more successful, and this time without aspersions being cast on my lack of fitness by members of the transit staff. So, progress.

A mere five minutes of staring at the ticket machine (even though the buttons were in English) enabled me to mostly figure it out and I managed to secure myself a one-way ticket from Kudanshita to Aoyama-itchome via the Hanzomon line. My intended destination was the Tokyo Olympics Main Stadium. Remarkably, the station I chose was, more or less, the correct one and I was able to amble across to the venue, taking careful note of access and proximity.

At any Olympics, the Main Stadium becomes the focal point, if for no other reason than that it is the venue for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies (except in Rio, where they did it some other way which still remains unclear). A first impression of the Tokyo structure is that, while it’s no Bird’s Nest (what could ever be?), it is a magnificent structure, sited in an accessible part of the city, the latter being majorly significant, as any Olympics veteran will agree.

Significantly; this Main Stadium does not appear to be located in an expansive Olympic Park, as was the case in Beijing and London; indeed, the swimming and water polo venues and the Main Press Center are some distance away. Meaning more subway in my future. My intention is to scout out all of those locations, and more, before leaving Tokyo on Saturday.

Of course, if our NYAC judokas fulfill their dreams, I will be fully confined to the Bodkan for the next few days. Truth be told, that’s totally fine with me.
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