Judo has long been overshadowed as a sport. Normally it is thrown into the basket case of sports you watch only at the Olympics. Yet that is a serious misjudgement, especially in St Andrews. Once a club of barely 20 people, on Saturday 27 January, the Judo club hosted the Scottish Student Sport (SSS) Judo Individual Championship. It served as a major statement that showed just how far the club has come in recent years, with success being achieved domestically and internationally without the label of “performance sport.”
Competing against universities across Scotland, the competition was divided in several ways. Firstly, for the individual events, all the competitors were weighted and categorised by kilo. Within that weight division, the belt of the athlete is considered before groups are formed, followed then by knockout rounds.
From a spectator’s point of view, particularly someone who knows little about judo, it was a fascinating spectacle. Entertainment varied in excitement. There would be occasional fights where little would happen for five minutes bar grappling, yet there would be other contests that would be over in a matter of seconds. This was normally the result of someone being flung onto their back, called an Ippon, which leads to immediate victory for the thrower. There was also an interesting dynamic between respect and violence. Before any fight there is an almost ceremonial procedure of bowing to the referee, scorers, and opponent. However, once the fight begins, serious injuries were a possibility. In the space of two hours there was a dislocated shoulder, a suspected collar bone break, multiple bruised legs, a possible concussion, and plenty of mangled fingers.
Battling through the pain, the women claimed several medals in the individual event with gold medals for Luca Dervenkar and Kate Saunders. The latter has previously competed for team GB, finishing fifth at the European University Championships, and won gold at BUCS nationals. Emilie Bone also took silver, while in the team event, the girls came second. The men also got a medal: Alec Williamson claimed silver before unfortunately dislocating his shoulder in the team event.
It was a remarkable result for the team, considering the standard of judo. The Edinburgh women had two fighters who were in the GB squad including the 10th best in Britain. There were also people who had competed internationally for South Korea, Estonia, and Singapore. It will serve as a springboard for the BUCS nationals, taking place in Sheffield two weeks after this competition. Not only was it useful to see which fighters were ready for nationwide competition, but also for those who didn’t quite make their preferred weight categorisation to see what they must do in preparation. With 14 athletes in attendance, it will be one of the largest squads the club has ever sent down. The added confidence boost of SSS success will surely lead to more medals and potentially BUCS points.
On the matter of BUCS points, club captain Faye Brennan had plenty to say about the subject of performance sport. At the time of writing, Judo is not a performance sport despite its success. Traditionally it has always been a rather small club, but with the growing numbers and competitors there is a desire within the team to be recognised as an elite sport, especially given the benefits that sports such as rugby and football get.
Having strength and conditioning sessions would be a major boost for the Judo club competitively as a combat sport. More funding is also required. While the Athletic Union currently cover entry fees for SSS and BUCS, help with transportation costs would be welcome, especially with increasing numbers of competitors now travelling for the BUCS competitions down south. More pressingly, the club also needs help keeping hold of their coaches, who are former Commonwealth Games bronze medallists. Later this month they will be hosting a pub quiz to help keep some of the key figures behind the club’s rise. More coverage is also always welcomed.
These concerns however did not seem to have any impact on the team’s performance or the club’s spirit. Faye was eager to mention how Judo sees itself as a tight-knit group. She put this down to everyone training together and the nature of the sport. Unlike other performance sports, there is no real club divide between competitors and non-competitors. Since you are divided by your weight and belt when fighting, there is nothing stopping someone who started judo in September for the first time competing at SSS or even BUCS. This unique characteristic sets judo apart from many sports.
Overall, the Judo club look well set for further success in their upcoming BUCS competition. Surely if they produce medals, then the case for them not being a performance sport will be indefensible.