Today, I headed down to the storied New York Athletic Club for this years New York Open Judo Championship. This year, there were men's teams from Canada, France, Germany, Georgia, and two teams from the United States, with women's teams from France, Israel, and the United States.
Having to work Sunday afternoon, I knew I could only attend the sold-out open for about two hours. Over the last four years, my friend Francesco Rulli has transformed the venue from a basic, bare-bones affair to a hip event featuring a DJ, a beer service, and models manning the information desk. The lighting is moodier, the atmosphere more 'nightclub', rather than the old 'gymnasium' vibe.
Besides the competitors, the tournament draws spectators from dojos all over the country. Besides seeing players I know from New York and Connecticut, there were guys from Cohen Brothers' Judo in Chicago, and from the National Training Center in Colorado. There was a bittersweet element at work, seeing one of the old-timers, who is fighting cancer, in wheelchair, and hearing other guys talking about various ailments and injuries... though seeing guys in their seventies who still fight is heartening.
The best match I saw was the 48 kilogram match between the women's team members from France and Israel... the Israeli judoka won the match with a perfect 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' ippon. Sadly, I had to leave before the finals in order to catch the train back to the Bronx, but I had a good time seeing a bunch of people, I had a couple of beers, and I watched some wonderful judo.
Here are some highlights from last year's open championship:
My favorite moment in the video is a 4:45, when all around great human being Kayla Harrison, after delivering a room-shaking uchimata, helps her opponent off the mat. It's a tender moment, after the fight, it's time to aid and comfort one's erstwhile 'foe'. That's the true beauty of judo, the focus on mutual growth and the care with which players engage each other. It's impossible to play the sport alone, so the safety of one's opponent is of the utmost importance. Each year, the tournament is a huge lovefest... funny for an event centered on interpersonal combat.