Meditation: the gentle yet demanding discipline of sitting still.

The alarm on my phone goes off. It’s six a.m. I slide slowly out of bed. My wife’s tousled black hair reaching in a tangled mess towards the bedhead. Our two-year-old snoring blissfully with a plastic hippo in his hand.

I’m stiff, god I’m stiff! My hips hurt my neck is sore and stiff. I feel tired, and my warm bed beckons. I go downstairs, switch on the kettle, and start putting the coffee grinds into the French press. The steam rises as I pour the water in. The smell is much better than the taste. I decide to add some coconut oil and honey. I like it, and my cousin, a very active climber, paraglider and outdoor sports nut recommends it. He’s 50 and in much better shape than me.

I start to finish my coffee and look out the window. Shit, I’m too busy to train anything like I used to, I’m a purple belt in BJJ and a 3rd dan in judo, but I pretty much stopped training for the last five or six years. When my body hurts like this, my mind is filled with all sorts of doubts about age and if it isn’t too late for me to get back into training and if I’ll make much progress. I feel stuck not just in BJJ but in life. Weirdly the voice of Goenka’s voice says: “Start again, start again..” It is a reminder to cut through negativity and just move on to the next task.

Goenka’s disembodied voice comes to me every now and again as the result of listening to tape recordings of doing a ten-day meditation retreat I went on a few months ago.

I sit on my cushion and start my practice.

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The James Bond approach to judo.


Mataruna and Olympic Gold medalist Rafaella Silva

One of the things I enjoy most about James Bond movies is the gadgets: the watch with poison darts in it, the car that turns into a submarine even the simple spy pen. The use of technology enhances Bond’s ability to be a spy. Of course the technology sometimes goes wrong and that adds something extra to the plot. we can see the hero improvise and overcome the problems on the spot, as they happen.

Judo is very much a sport that is supposed to train us to develop this capacity. Using a favourite technique that you have come to rely on only to find that your opponent has an answer to it. This is when ‘new techniques’ or adaptations on the gripping or creation of hybrid techniques; a harai-goshi leg used to catch someone who jumps around your semi-nage or throwing off one lapel because your opponent isn’t letting you grip the sleeve.



Leonardo Mataruna

There are endless arguments about whether these new improvised techniques should be taught as techniques in their own right or not and many of them seem to be rooted in a larger argument about the identity of judo and what it means to be a judoka. It is not my intention to get into those discussions right now but rather to introduce you to the idea of judo’s answer to ‘Q’ in the bond movies.

‘Q’ is the backroom boy who uses science and technology to support the efforts of others. Last weekend I met the judo equivalent of ‘Q’: Leonardo Mataruna. He was part of the coaching staff for the Brazilian judo team in Rio. He was giving a presentation at a coaching event run by  Mike Callan of ‘JudoSpace’. Leonardo has short cropped hair and has a soft smiley demeanour he is some how reminded me of a care bear. Don’t get me wrong he must have been tough in his day as he was a marine and an national level judo player but now he is a researcher and he obviously loves his job and is very comfortable in his own skills and his own skin. He is world class in his field, which is analytics.

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One Heart, one love let’s get together and have a fight.


I watched a promotional video produced by Welsh Rugby on Facebook that really captures what sport is all about. It featured lots of footage of grass roots Rugby. Kids, parents, coaches standing in the rain and it was great. It was Posted on British judo Facebook page and it was part of one of those threads asking why can’t British judo market itself more like this? It got me thinking about why judo is not as popular in Britain as in France or Other parts of Europe.

It is actually very complicated but at its heart seems to me to be the question of how to build a strong dojo culture that suits the British character.

Questions about British judo come on the back of a much more successful Olympics for other sports than for judo and the knowledge that judo will feature very prominently in the next Games in Tokyo.

I think that there is a lot of love for our sport but not enough acceptance in that love. Not enough acceptance of who we are, who the others in British judo are and not enough acceptance of ourselves as we really are. Self image is taken far more seriously than self awareness and this isn’t something new or simply the fault of the marketing mentality. I hear a lot of people harking back to the halcyon days of British judo and the Golden age of the Budokwai and Im not sure they are being honest with themselves.

I’ve always said that the people who try to change judo to make it more appealing to TV or a non-judo audience had the attitude of someone who would suggest that Guinness should taste more like Budweiser. They simply don’t appreciate Guinness.

I believe you don’t need to change judo to suit marketing men. If you believe in judo’s value and beauty; you invite them to take the time to know and fall I love with it.

The history of British judo is full of people who tried to pick and chose bits of judo and reshape it according to their own ideas. Leggett, Gleeson, etc… and their influence was both Positive in some respects and negative in others.

Leggett, who built a very strong dojo culture through his connection to Japan is viewed with mystical reverence by some in British judo and he did so much that was positive. However he also did some very negative things, which created a strong reaction from one of his star students; Geoff Glesson.

What was it about the dojo culture Leggett created that Gleeson reacted so strongly too? Leggett wanted a gnostic sect of Knights that reflected middle class values and conflated the idea of the English Gentleman with the Samurai Knight. His mission, ridiculous as it might sound today, was to Give strength and courage to middle class men with culture and civilize uncouth working class judoka and turn them into The Budokwai’s own Jedi Knights. He of course set himself up as the a kind of Yoda figure but there where certainly elements of the dark side in his attempts to control people’s lives and his unacknowledged, repressed homosexuality.

He was heavily into yoga and tried to sublimate his love of young men through Bramachariya or celibacy and a kind of chaste love of boys. Not quite as insane as it may appear today as he grew up in a world where homosexuality was illegal and still considered a mental health issue. Certainly, his choices were effected by the attitudes of the society of his day towards homosexuality but I can imagine the realization that his interest in you was a little too platonic, in so far as gay relationships between students and teachers were idealized in Ancient Greece , would have been unsettling.

My point is not to belittle a great man but to undo some of the damage done by forgetting that he was a flawed man and respect for self awareness over self image in our quest for a healthy judo culture requires us to ask questions about his faults as well as learn the good lessons he had to teach.

Glesson drank Leggett’s cool aid and it took him to high level judo, training in Japan and terrible knee injuries. He drank the cool aid until it made him feel sick.

Eventually he quite rightly reacted to Leggett trying control people’s lives through a fantasy idea of Japan and Bushido and threw the baby out with the bath water. Trying to strip it of cultural associations and move it into the sports hall. He helped free many from Legget’s Japanophile, claustrophobic, controlling definition of judo by redefining it as ‘just a sport’

Gleeson was a man of the 70’s and tried to be informal and egalitarian about judo. He wrote a lot about sport as a metaphor and the responsibility of teachers to respect the autonomy of the student. He was writing his reply to Leggett’s attempt to control his life.

Unfortunately, he took judo out of the dojo, because he wanted to reduce the power of the instructor to lay a whole ‘Zen master’ trip on the students and make it more flexible. He was into sport for all.

The problem was that in the long run judo was just another sport and its popular Friday night session could easily be replaced with table tennis. The dojo as a community hub was and still is the key to developing judo. Dojo culture is an essential part of judo and its growth and a protection against being kicked off the timetable in a sports hall in days of low turnout.

There was a lot of bitterness between the two men and it created a lot of conflict within the BJA that actually continues to this very day.

My point is to think about the past and how it effects our present and to start a journey forward from where we are. One step at a time. Most importantly to examine why we don’t have stronger grass roots dojo culture, considering we were pioneers in judo in Europe.

To understand dojo culture and undercut the objection about property prices and business models presented by some people involved in running judo it’s worth looking at BJJ.

BJJ has grown so rapidly on the back of ‘the jiu-jitsu lifestyle’ which really translates into building a community around a dojo and making training and the friendships you form at the dojo a central part of your life. It has its own problems and the cult aspects of dojo culture and teachers controlling people’s lives are evident there. Judo as the big brother of BJJ has been through this phase before and there is a lot that judo can learn about its past by contrasting the growth of BJJ in the UK with Dickie Bowen’s account of the early development of British judo. We can see the same struggles around defining the culture. Concerns about the effect of rules on technique, political power plays, old friends stabbing each other in the back. The whole drama is there in both sports and indeed all sports.

There are countless other splits like the one between the BJA and the BJC. The BJC wanted to keep things Japanese and traditional, where as the BJA was more concerned with contest judo, or at least that is the narrative everyone knows. The reality is far more complex and the real split was about who gets to control gradings and struggles between different factions for control of the sport.

Everyone buys the narrative of their little clique: Sport judo, Budo, just for fun judo, etc,etc…

Meanwhile, France built a dojo culture that retained the Japanese feel but respected democratic traditions of European culture. Kata and contest, hobby and serous training, study and judo didn’t end up in opposition to each other. Sure there was all the political power games but far less disagreement about what judo actually was or should be: most French clubs offer sport, martial art, kata, hobby, kids and adult judo. They have well trained coaches with a high level of technique and the federation supports the teaching of Kodokan judo, all be it with influence from the Kawashi method and Feldenkrais and many others. The lineage in France is strong because people pass down the basic package, break falls, newaza, tachiwaza, contest and Kata and then teach their own personal take on top of that, not instead of it.

In Britain there are very highly ranked people in judo who don’t value the people who make packed lunches, do the laundry and get up early to drive kids across the country to compete. They look down on it as ‘tin pot hunting’ and preach the dangers of a poor drop seoinage. There is class snobbery and a culture of pointing out people’s faults inherited from Leggett in this attitude.

There has been a spilt in judo, every bit as angry and oppositional as Britain over the Brexit or the Labour Party over Corbyn and if needs to be healed not through French style centralization but through strong autonomous dojos that build on our very British traditions of respect for different points of view balanced with sensible compromise.

There is both a lot of defensiveness and a lot of criticism. There are people who deal with all the kitchen sink stuff but have terrible technique but refuse to take an interest in developing better technique: winning medals with junior player puts them above criticism. This defensiveness is probably because the criticism, even if accurate, isn’t very constructive and is more about making sure people realize that aren’t as good as they think they are than actually acknowledging their achievements and helping them grow.

There are those who think Kata is a waste of time and those who think caring about winning is shallow and a sign of immaturity both sides of this debate don’t want to accept that both are part of the judo tradition and they don’t have the right to get rid of either on behalf of everyone else.

We need to love all of it the sandwiches, the mini busses, the judo mum’s screaming ‘come in son! kill him!’ The temper tantrums, the Zenned up ‘Sensei’ with a Mr. Miyagi fantasy.

Most importantly we need to pick up the tradition of dojo building and building of connections with Japan from Leggett and simultaneously tap into the need to allow people to be critical and respect their autonomy that Gleeson pointed to. We also need to build connections with France and Brazil and judo clubs all over the world.

Most importantly we need to build dojos with positive respectful cultures run by people who love judo and don’t want to lay heavy trips on people. We need to love judo and fellow judoka and that requires far more acceptance, honesty and self reflection than many of us are ready for.

In fact we already have people doing this and they are the guardians and torch bearers of British Judo. They are building great clubs everywhere that are full of great people and enriching people’s lives. People like Billy Cusack, Jo Crowley, Garry Edwards, Paul Ajala, Larry Stevenson, Joe Doherty, Bazil Dawkins,Eric Bonti, Mike Callan, Jo Crowley, Luke Preston, Chris Doherty, Elliot Stewart, Matt Divall, and many, many others.

British judo is fine, we just need to take our judo a little more seriously ourselves less seriously and worry less about self image and the internal PR man. Sure promote ourselves but we should be more confident and more open to looking at ourselves warts and all.

Koizumi once wrote a piece of calligraphy that said: “In skill opposed, in spirit United.” It would be nice to embody that idea going forwards to the next Olympics.

Maybe British judo can move towards Tokyo singing: One love, one heart, let’s get together and have a fight.


Ben Andersen  remembers going to Japan and experiences the joys of being on an exchange program to do judo and learn Japanese.





The main Dojo at Tokai.

“Hai, hai, hai,hai,hai……..” a voice carries over the mats and up into the wooden rafters.  The surface of the light green ‘tatami’ mats rippled as 200 men and about 25 women in white cotton jackets and trousers moved around the mats.

The hand that held my collar was taped on the knuckles, I banged against the wall and slid across the floor. The speed of movement could make a young man dizzy, but I hung on like death such waltzing was not easy.

Suddenly ,Tokuno san’s supple wrist was cocked sideways and his elbow moved in a flapping motion as we changed gear into a staccato sideways shuffle, the hand that gripped my sleeve swung sideways and up as he made neat, little precise spin on his his left foot and dropped under me. I was drawn forwards and pulled down with the incredible speed and force.

My feet were pointing towards the rafters and then…thud the whole floor shock and rippled under me. I had to smile at he beauty and precision of what he’d just done to me. I had just been thrown with a world class  ‘morote seioinage’ or two handed shoulder throw.

Tokuno san was fast, agile and weighed 67 kgs. His thick black hair was cropped short but not shaved. He was slim and stood about 1metre 58cm tall. He smiled and pulled me back to my feet. I was thrown about 6 more times in our 5 minute sparring session. Sometimes in his exuberance he would overbalance and scream in my face as he landed on top of me: “yoshaaaa!!!” more out of joy than malice.

This was Tokai University, people came from all over the world to train.

I lay on the bottom bunk of  a metal bunkbed with a cream coloured enamel on it, the air-con hummed constantly, it was hot and humid, mid-july. I sipped from my 2 litre bottle of Poccari Sweat. The drink of choice for the armies of Japanese High school and University students who trained every day 5 hours a day 6 days a week in the hot Japanese summer.

I was lying there my mind completely empty, whipped out by our 3 hour training session. I had found peace in total physical exhaustion. I was swimming with the endorphins. I had no need to go off on a diving holiday to swim with dolphins, I was happy with my salty rehydration drink and my exercise induced high.

The heavy metal door to my room flew open with band. “It’s the Dave man! wanna come with us and get something to eat?” he said in his Northern Californian accent.

A black guy with cauliflower ears in dark blue running shorts, green plastic slippers and a  white T-shirt on stood in my doorway. The T-shirt had a little line drawing of a bald, slightly round little figure in a judo suit and red lettering say: “Mr Judo. Softness can overcome strength.”

We walked past the common room. Two more Americans, Wesley Walker from Arkansas and a tall blonde mormon, whose name I forget were playing table tennis.

A heavy weight Belgian sat on the sofa watching  ‘Home alone.’

Wesley, Jones a Ghanaian,Dave and I unlocked our bikes with a loud click and cycled down the hill on our ‘Mary Poppins’ bikes, complete with baskets on the front.

We waved at the Israeli team as they walked back from 7-eleven.

We sat in Bukei the little restaurant run by a couple who cooked the cheapest and best food in the area. “Mongolian special hitotsu, Kats-don futatsu, Ton-katsu teishoku” said Jones, who spoke Japanese with a definite Ghanaian accent as he ordered for us.  Well actually it was pretty close to the other African accents I had heard at Henry Africa’s  bar in Roppongi.

“Why don’t you ever eat the salad?”: I asked Wesley. “Dude, the dressing looks just like sperm. I mean no wonder the old guy looks so tired…”

I couldn’t help laughing as I walked back to the table. I had already gone into the fridge and taken out one of the tall cold large bottles of Kirin beer and 4 little tumblers. It wasn’t gonna be long until we were all light headed and laughing at Wesley’s stupid jokes.

It may seem juvenile but some of us were over here training full-time 5 or 6 hours a day for 6 months. It was something like a tour of duty or a right of passage.



Typical Izakaya food

It was Saturday evening and we were free until our 6:00 am morning run on Monday.

The door slid open with a gentle clatter and three Japanese guys stuck their heads in the door. “Konbanwa, good evening,…Oh Ben-chan we’re going to Man en Yama later ask the American’s if they want to come.”

Keisuke, the smallest of them had a bright yellow T-shirt on and his face was bight red and he stuck his head through the middle of the other two and smiled. “Ask the Wake Forest Girls if they wanna come too.”

Wake Forest had a language exchange program and they stayed at the same residence as us.

Man en Yama, was full of Japanese and international students. We eat little skewers of grilled chicken, grilled rice balls brown and slightly around the outside, warm and softer on the inside. Japanese omelettes, potatoes wedges, edamame beans, deep-fried tofu. The draft beer kept coming in big jugs that make the place feel like a combination of Octoberfest and a tapas bar serving Japanese food.

We said our goodnights cycled home into the night. Keisuke was walking towards his dorm with an American girl she’s laughing. He has an amazing gift for making people feel relaxed. Neither of them speak each others language very well but now what they learned in class has special relevance.

Ashi-Waza drills, thrills and spills.


Hai!hai!hai,Hai………. men,do, kote!……. the clatter of bamboo swords or shine as Kendo students alternate between stillness brimming over with tension and staccato bursts of action as they crash into each other shouting.

On the other side of the hall the shouts are more infrequent.. The thud of someones back someone shouting ‘yoshaaa” when they are pleased with a throw they have executed. Two huge men in their mid twenties are shuffling around the light green mats and leaning into each other ,pushing and circling, trying to locate  and achieve a dominant grip on their opponents gi. They remind me of two stags or even two bull elephants that have locked on to each other twisting and circling.

The Shudokan in Osaka is huge hall, surrounded by trees on one side and facing Osaka castle on the other. If you go there in the evening, you’ll hear the sounds of judo and kendo practice are carried in the night air as the cicadas buzz outside.

Back inside one man in his 50’s is wearing a slightly grey looking judo suit freed at the edges, his back belt is flecked with white and and is almost grey too. He is bald, about 170 cm tall and although his natural build is not heavy he has a thick layer of muscle and a slight beer belly.He probably weighs between 75 and 80 kgs. He is sweating and sits smiling on the edge.

He spots some high school hotshot kid who must weigh nearly 90 kgs who is throwing his peers around. He asks him for a practice and after an initial period where they both seem a little wary they both move very rapidly across the mat the old mans leg shoots out he pushes his hips forward and the sweeps the younger man’s legs from under him, dropping him to the ground like an over laden carrier bag that splits and spills all over the floor.

He smiles, the timing was perfect and the ash, was was unstoppable. The young man gets up and tries to reach over for a high collar grip and starts pulling the alderman’s head down. He’s determined to throw the older man now. he steps sideways to pull him off balance, thwack his feet disappear from under him again.. This happens 4 or five times in 3 minute and the young man can do nothing to stop it, everytime he starts moving he opens hims self up to being caught.

I have no idea who this man is. He is not a famous champion but his ash-waza were world class. Saw him do the same to University students, company team players, foreign international players.  The regulars at the shudokan’s eyes would light up overtime he asked some new hotshot for a practice.

This is the power of ash-waza. My own sweeps are not that good but I have posted a video of some drills that I have found useful for developing balance and timing. Uchi-komi is only the start. A man like that had grown so confident and taken so much joy in these techniques that he had raised them to the level of bird of prey catching a salmon in mid air or cheetah running down a gazelle. Even watching him attacking his prey was a kind of visceral experience.

Still we have to start somewhere and this little recording done on a smartphone at LSE judo club is a nice introduction to some of the most effective and under practiced techniques in judo.


Ben Andersen reports on competing in his first medal in  BJJ competition.

The time had come I was going to compete  my first big BJJ tournament the PanAsian Brazilian Jiu jitsu in Manilla. We all arrived on different flights yet it seems we were all greeted by the same toothless taxi driver who offered us the extra safety of his own special cab, which did not need a meter as he was kind enough to work out the cost in advance in US dollar. Despite offers of on board entertainment in the form of narcotics,girls and viagra we all resisted temptation and his silver tongue and used the regular meter cabs. I don’t know about the others but it was the smell of his alcoholic breath and the assumption that I was a sex tourist that clinched the deal for the less colourful meter cabs.

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Translations of extracts form Saito’s book: The capacity to be invincible.

The front cover of the book has 3 characters 常勝力,The first two josho mean invincible and the last strength or capacity . The sub-heading explains the idea behind the title Joshoryoku and it translates as: What leaders should do in order to continue to produce results. In this case the leaders are the coaches and manager of the Japanese judo team.

The book was published in 2008 but it isn’t available in English and I think it can provide some insight into what the former head coach of the Japanese team thought about judo.

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