by Bill Gaffney, yondan

Bill Gaffney
When it was announced that the 2003 World Masters Championships would be in Japan at the Kodokan the idea of competing there was at first unimaginable. This was the starting point of Judo; the deep history of the sport. Kano taught there. The legends of Judo trained there. Just putting my foot on the mat was honor enough. After the initial shock wore off the idea of traveling to Japan became my goal and things started to fall into place for the trip.

There were lots of reasons not to come. How could I compete with the Japanese or anyone else who had the guts to show up? It was expensive. Care for my young children presented a logistical problem. On the other hand this was the Kodokan, a trip to Tokyo, a chance to do something that was a fantasy. Nicholas Rostelli from New York said it best when he said “I‘ve been doing judo all my life. I couldn’t see giving up a chance to fight here.” Every judoka I spoke to felt much the same way. The Irish, English, Brazilians, Germans, everyone agreed the thought of coming to the Kodokan was too much to resist

I began to think about the people in my life who never had the chance to do something like this. These are friends who were visited by tragedy early in life, my judo buddies who would have jumped at the chance to go to Japan — my friend Don Jones, a dedicated judoka who died in his thirties of Leukemia, or my friend Jim Neithercott who became paraplegic after a tragic car accident. Both men loved judo and were always up for an adventurous road trip. My twin brother Jim who is recovering from multiple strokes and is severely compromised physically is a personal reminder of fate’s fickleness. In addition to those considerations, there were recent tragedies at the national level and in my personal sphere that led to a philosophy of eating your dessert first, you never know what life has around the next corner. These considerations tipped me toward the trip. When I brought the idea up with the head instructor of our dojo, Neil Ohlenkamp, he volunteered to go as my coach and as a representative for the website JudoInfo.com.

I was in good health, the expense would be a stretch, but with the support of my wife and children I trained a little harder and saved for the trip.

Bill Gaffney and Neil Ohlenkamp in front of the statue of Jigoro Kano at the entrance to the KodokanSurreal is the word I kept using as Neil and I took in Tokyo. After the long plane trip and late arrival to our hotel we visited the Kodokan first thing. Surreal. Finally here it was. We put on our gi’s and joined the thousands who walked the floors before us. We were standing on the shoulders of giants, to paraphrase Sir Issac Newton. Judo greats, like Kudo, Kimura, Ishikawa, Inokuma, Geesink, and Yamashita to just name a few, they all trained here.

Recently, I viewed the video made by Fighting Films, “Koga a New Wind,” and the interviews took place in the Kodokan’s 8th floor gallery with the 7th floor competition area as the backdrop. Hey, I was there too! Wow!

The first person I ran into was the Brazilian team coach Nelson Niseda, two time gold medalist at 66kg. I met Nelson at the 2001 world championships in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was my opponent in the 66kg, M5 division. His warmth and good will were apparent from the beginning. We shared few words but we were able to communicate our mutual admiration and respect.

The Brazilian judo was as impressive as they were enthusiastic. When a Brazilian was on the mat there was lots of cheering and energy from the crowd. I spoke with Katia Da Silva who won the F2 52 kg division about her matches. Katia had three ippons on her way to the gold medal. I had the opportunity to watch two of her matches and she fought like a tiger. She won with tai otoshi and ippon seionage. Her daily training was apparent. When I asked her favorite throw she said,” I have no favorite, I use the best technique for the situation”.

Getting more time to train is a problem. Balancing family, teaching responsibilities and judo is an ongoing challenge. I wasn’t able to train every day, but I was able to average 4 times a week thanks to a Brazilian ju jitsu class that meets in the early mornings led by Rickson Gracie student Craig Husband. The group consists of are dedicated grapplers who helped me improve my matwork immeasurably. Craig is a terrific coach and eclectic martial artist. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to train with him.

Competing in the M8 division was Andor Paposi Job former Hungarian National Champion and freedom fighter now living in the US. In addition to his judo activities, he trained by building two stone walls. Multi talented, Andor’s latest hobby is oil painting. He has recently begun his third oil portrait of distinguished judoists. He fought so well I am considering building a wall around my back yard

The Irish were well represented. The Irish are noted for their warmth and hospitality and they did not disappoint. I found myself surrounded by Irish medalists as we watched the open competition. Starting with Willie Lyons, “the first Irishman to win a medal at the Kodokan,” we had a grand time sitting around trading the blarney and even talking about judo. In our company were two time gold medalists Kiren Foley M4 73kg and Jack Dennis M6 90kg division. The judo gene runs in Jack’s family as his sons John and Tom are on the Irish team and his daughter Ellie is Irish champion.
Of course, training for them is easy to get to as Jack runs his own dojo.

Bill Gaffney (right) starting his match against Roger Trembly (Canada) at the World Masters Championships, Kodokan
As inspirational as it is to see the M8’s compete, the crowd favorite was
retired teacher 65 year old Joe Walters. Joe lost part of his lower leg while
serving in Vietnam. He started judo after that and eventually made black belt.
He said, “Judo was a life saver that channeled my energy into a positive force.” He
has been training ever since. He begins each match balanced on one leg and
brought the crowd to it’s feet with rowdy applause when he threw an opponent
with a spectacular yoko wakari for ippon. Joe talked of his three trips to
the Kodokan and saw his return here as a circular journey. His view has matured
from merely winning to appreciating the people. He said, “Judo is people, not
only the techniques.” After meeting people from many countries and experiencing
the camaraderie at this tournament I couldn’t agree more.

Most everyone I talked to were here as part of a journey. Taichi Hayashi with his wife Diane from El Paso Texas had a dual purpose. He was drawn to Japan to bring his father’s ashes here and to compete at the Kodokan to honor his memory. I watched one of Taichi’s matches, his dad would have enjoyed it as he won with shime waza.

The idea of coming to the Kodokan and competing is for the average guy the pinnacle of a judo career. This opinion was shared by Bill Sargent from the English contingent.
I spent an evening getting to know a few of the guys from England. They took me into their company with good hearts and generosity of spirit, a spirit that is leading the judo masters movement in England. To Bill and Stu and Eugene and the rest of the Brits I hope we meet again. After an evening of drink and song with the men of the British Isles, it was obvious that Judo training selects those with strength of character, determination and courage.

The Japanese were fabulous. They won about half the medals awarded and represented the birthplace of judo spectacularly. I overheard two Australians commenting on Japanese judo. They said, “The Japanese are very technical. They set you up and go for the big throw.” They were that.

Bill Gaffney and Yasuhiro Yamashita at the Kodokan
My favorite quote of the week was from 70-something Ferd Tihista. He was undefeated in this tournament and said, “If you can’t beat ‘em, out live ‘em.” I’ll drink to that. Being 0 for 4 in my world masters career I may have to settle for winning by attrition.

The Kodokan, with it’s wealth of tradition, made training and competing on the 7th floor a highlight of my judo life that will be hard to surpass. Witnessing the camaraderie and friendship that occurred in a time when the world is short of both gives me hope. Mutual benefit and welfare can also be translated “you and me shining together”. I felt for the last week of June 2003 a small diverse group from around the world were “shining together”.

Master’s judo is alive and well. I think Jigoro Kano would have been proud
that the idea of Mutual Benefit and Welfare has spread around the world, and
was well represented this week at the birthplace of judo. As Joe Walters said, “judo
is people, people, people.”

Author’s Note: This account of the 2003 World Masters Championship in Tokyo
is not journalistic per se. It is more a first person account of what I did
and who I talked to at the championship. It is not meant to be comprehensive
but to reflect my own unique view of the 5th World Master’s Judo Championships
at the Kodokan in Tokyo. To all the judoka that I missed talking to, my apologies.
To those judoka that I had an opportunity to talk with and hear their story,
thank you for enriching me. To my family, coach and sensei Neil Ohlenkamp,
my training partners at the Encino Judo Club, and Craig Husband and the Gracie
JuJitsu group in Camarillo thank you for your encouragement and support. If
I didn’t get it right and you wish to add to or amend this story in any way
feel free to write me at BillG@JudoInfo.com. See the complete results and more
photos
.

Kodokan emblem

“He who can suppress a moment’s anger may prevent
many day’s sorrow.”