Euan updates us on his progress as he arrives on the first part of his Far East training camp.
Last Updated: 09/03/12 9:41pm
I'm just over mid-way through my first week in Asia and thought I'd keep you up to date with how it's all progressing out here.
As usual the first hurdle with any long training camp is getting your bags packed. In fact packing the bags in itself isn't so much of a problem but ensuring they meet the ever stringent airline allowances certainly can be. When you consider the weight of a single judogi (judo kit) is around 3kg and for a camp of this length you really need a minimum of 3 to rotate for the judo sessions that's already nearly 10kg of your 23kg allowance taken up just with kits. Then you have to add your belt, base layers, gb team wear and track suits, gym training gear, training shoes, supplements and inhalers for my asthma.
On top of all that I like to pack a bag of oats for breakfast, a block of ground coffee, a mini cafetiere and travel kettle, tea bags and protein powder. Finally the hand luggage bag is jammed full of iPad, camera, headphones and chargers and if there's even a smidgen of space left perhaps a pair of jeans and some normal t-shirts for those fleeting moments when I'm not training. All in all it's a precise military style operation that never seems to get any simpler no matter how often you do it!
After checking the bags in at Edinburgh airport myself and the other seven members of the team travelling from Edinburgh (Coach Billy Cusack and athletes Sarah Clark, Gemma Gibbons, Sally Conway, Sarah Adlington, Matt Purssey and James Austin) make the short trip to heathrow to meet the rest of the GB contingent. We all fly together wearing GB kit which is nice as it immediately makes us feel part of a team and also leads to some interesting questions from the other passengers in the airport and on the flight.
Telling people you do judo for a living is always met with some kind of shocked reaction and followed up with a multitude of questions. I suppose it's not your average day job which is just one of the things I love about it.
As we are finishing our month in Asia with a week in Korea we unfortunately have to make another stop off in Seoul before we finally arrive into Tokyo's Narita Airport and are transferred to our separate hotels. The men's and women's teams are following slightly different schedules while in Japan with each taking advantage of the best locations as well as separate male and female Japanese National team camps. So we say good bye and good luck to our girls at Narita and set off towards Isehara on the outskirts of Tokyo. By the time we arrive at our hotel it is after midnight on Saturday night and I had left my flat in Edinburgh at 3pm on Friday. It has been a long old journey!
The men's hotel in Isehara is just two stops on the train from Tokai University where we will spend our first week battling with their students as well as the 'professional' judoka who train there every day. Tokai is a famous judo breeding ground which counts multiple world and Olympic champions as former students and so is as good a place as any for us to begin our tour. The proud history of the university judo system is on display as you walk into the picturesque traditional dojo which resembles something from a Japanese postcard. But we are here neither for a history lesson nor a holiday! We are here to train.
The magnificent sloping roof and traditional arched entrance to the dojo gives way to a huge mat area on one side and an equally sized kendo practice hall on the other. The judo mat area has an imposing 'wall of champions' at its entrance displaying huge pictures of the numerous champions that have graced its mats. The sprung mat has to be huge for the sheer volume of judoka that it must hold each and every day. In Britain a busy session for a national centre might have 50 practising judoka but here in Tokai, a single university, there are regularly over 100 top quality athletes duking it out in epic 2-3 hour sessions.
A typical session for us here consists of a 10 minute warm up, 10 minutes uchikomi (that's reps of practicing turning in and out for different throws) and then into randori (fighting basically) for the rest of the session. Sometimes you have 1 fight then rest for 1 fight but often you are put out in the middle to do back to back practices. Most days I have completed around 10x 6 minute fights in tachiwaza (standing fighting) with some newaza (ground fighting where you are looking to pin, choke or armlock the other guy) to round it all off with.
There are so many intricacies that make practicing judo in Japan unique and special but to go into each and every one of them would take me forever and a day. Of course the basic premise of the sport doesn't change and while you are engaged in battle with one of the other judoka it's very much like anywhere else in the world (only with a heightened skill level I suppose) in that you are just looking to put your opponent flat on their back, and trying to avoid being put on your own, as often as you possibly can in the 6 minute practice.
However, in Japan it's all that surrounds the actual practice that is that little bit different.
For one thing everything in Japanese judo culture has its very set and precisely adhered to processes; Judo coaches are respected by their athletes all over the world but in Japan they are revered, the coach will rarely walk past a student without the student bowing their head, everyone bows as they enter and leave the dojo, students line up in precision groupings dependant on year group, visitors have to line up separately, student judoka have a hierarchal system of 'senpai' and 'kohai' where the older student (senpai) is seen as a senior mentor for the junior (kohai) student. Mentoring the younger students I imagine means they often help them but also sees the kohai left with the menial jobs like washing a senpai's kit.
Another rule which is more specific to Tokai is that blue judogi can only be worn by left handed fighters on Monday's and Friday's and by right handers on Tuesday's and Saturday's. On Wednesday and Thursday sessions everyone must wear white. This is one that I am embarrassed to admit that I managed to break when I forgot what day it was today, turning up at the dojo with my blue kit only to realise pretty quickly that it was indeed a Thursday and every other judoka on the mat was in white. As a gaijin (translation: a non Japanese or alien!) you attract a fair bit of attention anyway. A gaijin in a blue kit when the other 100 or so guys on the mat are in white and you stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. But at least it was easy for my coach Billy to see where I was on the mat!
After judo sessions we eat together as a team in the university refectory and then either head to the gym for strength and conditioning work or back to the hotel if we have no supplementary training to do that day. Again food in Japan is something I could wax lyrical about for hours and hours but I'll just say if you ever get the chance to come to Japan try as much variety of their cuisine as you can. It's all delicious and sometimes even weird and wonderful.
The down time is spent recovering, reading, listening to music or surfing the web with James Austin taking the educational high road and working on his dissertation for much of this first week. Yesterday we started some extremely low stakes poker matches so I'm sure that will keep everyone's competitive edge alive during non-training hours.
At the end of this week we will transfer into Tokyo itself to be close to the NTC (National Training Centre) for a week training with the Japanese squad. Our women have been at the NTC this week as the Japanese women's camp precedes next week's men's camp and the noises coming back from our girls is that it has been as tough as you'd expect so the men are gearing up for even more good old fashioned hard work.
After a week at the NTC we will go to Tsukuba University, another of Japan's university powerhouses and then it will be on to Korea and the final stint of the Asian tour.
I'll let you know how it all pans out in due course. Hope all of you back home in GB are happy and healthy and I look forward to speaking to you all again soon.