2001 World Judo Championships
Part One

I'm sure several of my regular readers (I think there's more than two of you, anyway) are asking the question: "Why is Hackett reviewing a judo competition?" I'd imagine that the old "judo isn't even a martial art, it's a sport" refrain is even echoing through some your minds as you may recall the image of Rorian Gracie defeating a nameless judo player on "Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in Action 2".

Well, forget all that, guys. Here's the truth about the sport of judo. Yes, it's a sport. So is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which simply has a different emphasis. Both offer some combat applications but need to be modified for the street, just like kickboxing or even MMA fighting. International judo competition emphasizes the standup rather than the ground game, but really, what's wrong with that? They're all pieces of the puzzle. Realistically, a large percentage of fights go to the ground but they all start standing, where you have to lever that opponent down to make use of your ground skills. Nowhere in the world will you see two combatants using those principles of leverage at a higher level. I'll add that despite the fact that judo refs stop the action on the ground extremely quickly, some sharp groundwork is still on display here.

Matches are scored much differently than jiu-jitsu. First, they can be won by attaining an "ippon" or full point. This is done by executing a perfect throw which forcefully drops the opponent flat on his/her back, a submission via a choke hold or armlock, or via holding your opponent's back to the mat for twenty five seconds. You get fractions of points for throws that aren't awarded the "ippon" designation. For example, one which deposits the opponent on his/her back, but lacking force, would be judged as worth a half point, or "waza-iri". The competiors would then continue to fight it out on the mat.

These judo rules ensure the stakes are high on every grab of the lapel. At any moment that perfect throw can happen, and a match can be over.

(BIG TIME NOTE: There's whole world of judo outside the realm of what we see at international competition-the self-defense moves that are outlawed, the beautiful groundwork of the Kosen, kata, and on and on. But that's another story, I've a got a show to watch.)

This event was taped at the Olympiahalle in Munich, Germany by the good folks at CBC, who also gave judo a little airtime at the Olympics last year. People like to talk about the worldly nature of MMA, but it's nothing like this. 600 athletes from 82 countries are competing for world judo titles in twelve weight classes. Now that's world class, people! Analysts are the very capable James Kendrick (a former Canadian national champion) and Brenda Irving.

Womens under 48 kg. finals:
Ryoko Tamura (JPN)
Kyong Ok Ri (PRK)

We start off with a cool story. With this win, Japan's fresh-faced cover girl Ryoko Tamura would become the first ever five-time world judo champion. Climbing the Olympic mountain has proved another story, but she's answered every loss with mastery. She bounced back from a loss in the gold medal match at Barcelona to win 84 matches in a row. Then she lost at the gold medal match in Atlanta. So naturally, she proceeds to win 48 matches straight and capture Olympic gold last year in Sidney, thus heroically avoiding being labeled "Judo's Answer to the '90s Buffalo Bills". She's got the calm appearance of a veteran, and moves deliberately. Her opponent, Korea's 20 year old young gun Kyong Ok Ri, is in her first world championship tournament, and wants to start with a bang and a big upset. She's full of fire, ripping forth with grabs to the lapels and a big "kiyi" yell at every turn.

Yep, great story here. Unfortunately, the match is kind of stinky.

Both competitors are passive early on and get assessed three (!) penalties for "non-combative activity," putting both on the verge of disqualification. Tamura is nursing a bum right knee and is reduced to stumbling a bit and avoiding an early Ri hip throw. She gets active towards the end, and almost scores with a nice attempt at seoi-nage, her trademark shoulder throw. Later, a graceful hip throw by Tamura fails to score, but she sends Ri to her knees. Tamura spins around her downed opponent, locks a hand around her lapel and looks for a clock choke. However, Ri avoids playing the role of Royce Gracie to Tamura's Wallid Ismael by maintaining just a bit of space around her neck. Time runs out shortly after the two are stood up, and with no points scored, Tamura wins the judge's decision 2-1. A tearful Tamura makes history and the Japanese in the crowd goes nuts. Ri had a spirited showing, especially on her feet where the two were fairly even, but Tamura controlled her every time they went to the mat.

I've just started here… trust me! A half dozen more matches await you in thirty days-featuring a high-flying Tunisian, a roly-poly Cuban, and more grappling geniuses. See you soon.

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©2001 by the author