Kosei Inoue: The Allure of Group Competition and Spreading Judo Goodwill


Greetings fellow readers of JAPAN Forward.

It is now late July and schools in Japan are about to begin summer vacation.

As for what has been happening on the world judo scene, last month marked the start of the period of qualifying events to choose the athletes who will compete in the Paris Summer Olympics in 2024. As a result, judoka have been competing fiercely in various around the world.

That is certainly true in Japan where several large tournaments have all attracted plenty of participants. These events are designed to give the judo players a chance to acquire tournament experience while honing their competitive skills.

NPO JUDOs, an organization for which I serve as president, has been quite active since before the start of summer, especially regarding a special project of ours for taking judo uniforms (judogi) from Japan to various countries abroad.

Since international distribution channels have become backed up due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has become difficult to carry out our core operation of sending recycled judo uniforms and judo tatami mats to judo enthusiasts living abroad. In order to deal with this situation, we decided to ask people traveling overseas to take some judo uniforms with them.

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Making New Opportunities Abroad

The first such instance deserving commemoration involved a delivery to a judo club in Poland. The beneficiaries were Ukrainian refugees in that country. Ever since we heard that some refugees were frequenting the judo club, we were eager to provide the judo uniforms, especially for the children.

We therefore asked Mr Takeo Akutsu, who was going to Poland to assist Ukrainian refugees, to take 43 judo uniforms with him on his trip. These judogi filled two large cardboard boxes, weighing in total around 50 kilograms. His one-man operation proved a remarkable achievement.

That success motivated us to implement the project in earnest. And later deliveries of judo uniforms were made to judo groups in Denmark and France. Just as in the case of Poland, the recipients were Ukrainian refugees.

Since we are here in Japan, far away from where most of the refugees are living, we are limited in what we can do. But if we can do our little bit to help these unfortunate people who have fled the fires of war find even a little bit of enjoyment while practicing judo, we would like to continue to do what we can.

The Appeal of Team Competition

On a different subject, I would like to report to you about the All-Japan University Judo Championship Tournament, which was held on June 25-26 at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.

This is the tournament where university students battle to see which is best in Japan. There are seven members per team for men and five or three per team for women.

In the men’s competition, which has no weight divisions, the seven members of each team fight to accumulate points, and the respective teams are free to choose their lineups for the matches.

That means that no one knows until just before the start of each match which judoka will compete. Nor does anyone know ahead of time in what order they will step forward onto the mat.

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On top of that, the various teams strategize to try to take advantage of weight differences. What’s more, in team competition, major reversals of fortune are not uncommon. The appeal of team competition is thus totally different from that of individual competition.

All-Japan Team Competition in 2022

This year the fight for the team title came down to Tokai University and Kokushikan University. The finals competition was dead even and had to be decided by a playoff match. Facing off in the playoff were Sanshiro Murao from Tokai University and Tatsuru Saito from Kokushikan University, the chosen representatives of their respective teams.

Their match turned into an epic struggle lasting 16 minutes and 18 seconds, at the end of which Tokai University walked away with the crown.

Before the match began, Murao seemed at a distinct physical disadvantage since he stands 180 centimeters tall and weighs 95 kilograms. In contrast, his opponent, Saito, is 191 centimeters tall and weighs 170 kilograms. However, Murao managed to brilliantly turn the tables on the bigger man.

Murao prevented Saito from getting a firm grip on his judogi like he wanted to, and with cool judgment and application of technique he held on. Eventually, the stamina he had acquired through much hard training and his burning desire to deliver for his team allowed him to pull out the win.

Skillful Techniques, Fighting Spirit, Surprising Results

Murao’s triumph embodied the martial arts ideal of “the small overcoming the large.” From my perspective, the match between Murao and Saito encapsulated the attraction of team competition without weight divisions.

Although Saito lost, he too deserves praise, since he displayed a splendid fighting spirit in the match despite having suffered an injury. Both Murao and Saito promise to be stalwarts of Japan’s judo world in the days to come, and it will be a great pleasure to watch their future growth.

Team competition like this appeals in many ways that are different from individual matches. I myself had the experience of appearing in many team competitions when I was in high school and university. I personally learned many things from them, and would like to work to get many more people to realize just how interesting group competition can be.

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Kosei Inoue, now serving in leadership roles at the All Japan Judo Federation, is the former national coach of Japan’s men’s judo team and former Olympic and World judo champion and president of NPO Judos. Find his previous articles on JAPAN Forward here. Additional information about the NPO JUDOs can be found at this link.

(Read the message in Japanese at this link.)

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