Over a period of 4 days, from May 12 – 15, the Canadian National Judo Championships were held in the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta. Hundreds of athletes from across the country and most provinces traveled to Alberta and converged to compete in the highest level judo tournament of the year to decide who would be the 2016 Canadian National Champion for their respective divisions. My 14-year old daughter Christine, who only began taking judo just two years ago, came in first place in her division and won a gold medal. This is how she did it.
From Krav Maga to Judo
Before Christine started judo, she wasn’t new to martial arts. She was in the kid’s Krav Maga class for a couple of years so she was already fit and used to having the commitment that martial artists need in order to be successful. The strong message from her Krav Maga instructor to stay off the ground resonated with her, and one day she asked if she could try judo so she could learn some techniques to use if she should find herself in a ground fight one day. She discovered that she liked the elegance of judo and immediately wanted to test her skills in a competition when the tournaments started up again in the Fall. Because Christine is rather light for her age, she has always been in divisions where there aren’t many other girls so her first real tournament had just two other competitors. She came in first place, was bitten by the competition bug, and has been competing in the local tournaments ever since.
The strong message from her Krav Maga instructor to stay off the ground resonated with her, and one day she asked if she could try judo…
Over the next year and a half, Christine competed in several tournaments–mostly local and travelling only as far away as Seattle. Her first tournament in Seattle pitted her against green and blue belts when she herself was only a yellow belt, and although Christine didn’t win a single match, she looked at the situation objectively and didn’t let the loss get her down. Christine knew she would likely lose but she decided that she would make those other girls earn their wins and she wasn’t going to give them anything. Her spirit and self-esteem were strong, and she walked away from that tournament determined to one day come back and beat those girls in a future competition. She continued to compete in tournaments, both winning and losing, but always learning from her matches and taking that experience to the next one. Her goal was to participate in the 2016 BC Winter Games and represent the zone for her division, and by this time she had earned her green belt.
Road to the Judo Nationals
The BC Winter Games and the Judo Nationals were only 3 months apart, and Christine wanted to go to Nationals just so she could experience the environment of a high level tournament. In order to qualify, one must attend training camps, specific selection tournaments, and a minimum number of BC Team practices. The camps and team practices are grueling and tough, and it takes a certain level of will and commitment to be able to not let them get you down. After the first team practice where Christine was tossed around like a rag doll, I sensed that she was at a low point and I asked her, “I bet you want to quit judo now, don’t you?” She just nodded, “Yeah.” It was a quiet ride home. However, the additional training was not only helping her qualify for Nationals, but was also good preparation for the upcoming BC Winter Games. She toughed it out and continued to fulfill the qualifications so she could attend Nationals after the BC Winter Games were out of the way.
She was at a low point and I asked her, “I bet you want to quit judo now, don’t you?” She just nodded, “Yeah.”
The BC Winter Games is a good multi-disciplinary sports event, but is not considered a very prestigious tournament in the judo world, primarily because the competitors are limited to BC residents only so the pool is not very large. Even though there are eight zones in BC, there were only two other competitors in Christine’s division and unfortunately, just 3 weeks earlier Christine fractured her thumb in a Kamloops tournament and was advised by her doctor to not compete in the Games. In spite of her injury, Christine’s coach taped up her thumb and she competed regardless, eventually losing to a blue belt in overtime and winning silver. Now her goal was to get healthy so she could be competitive at Nationals only 3 months later.
Christine’s goal going into Nationals was three-fold: (1) to experience the environment of competing in the highest level judo tournament of the year, (2) to win one match, if possible, and (3) if she didn’t win a match, then she’d give the other girls the fight of their lives. Her first match was with the blue belt to whom she lost against in the BC Winter Games, and to whom she’d lost twice before in overtime. As the scoreless match was winding down, it looked like history was going to repeat itself for a fourth time when, with 8 seconds left, Christine forced a penalty on her opponent and she won the match. She was ecstatic, and with tears in her eyes she walked off the mat into the arms of her colleagues who surrounded her and congratulated Christine on her win.
With that psychological monkey off her back, Christine couldn’t be stopped and ended up beating a green belt from Saskatchewan, another blue belt from Ontario, and a brown belt from Quebec to secure her first place win. During the match with the green belt the other girl accidentally punched Christine as she was going in for a throw, and in the video you can clearly see Christine’s head thrown back. The girl started to say “Oh, I’m sorry…” when Christine shook it off and threw her to win the match.
So what does it take to be a champion?
With every victory, there are usually several aspects that contribute to the win. In Christine’s case, there were many factors: she had great coaching, strong camaraderie from her teammates, access to excellent training, she had the will to win and perseverance even when the going got tough. She even reached out to a fitness instructor from UTKM to have him put together a personalized strength and conditioning program for her. Christine doubts that she would have gotten as far without the proper support system in place, and is grateful to everyone who helped her progress. In the next season Christine will be in a new division with older and heavier opponents, but she will be bigger and stronger as well, so who knows what will happen at next year’s Nationals. If she keeps focused and continues to receive the support that’s in place, she should continue to do well.
She had the will to win and perseverance even when the going got tough.