With more than 13 million participants in more than 111 countries, judo is now the most popular martial art in the world.
The West Midlands is a hot-bed for the sport. Scores of clubs across the region compete every weekend looking to emulate the success of the likes of Elvis Gordon, Densign White, Dennis Stewart and Kerrith Brown – all trained in Wolverhampton.
The University of Wolverhampton’s Walsall Sports Centre is one of the few Judo Centres of Excellence in the UK, as recognised by the British Judo Association and aims to nurture and develop talent.
So when it came to choosing a base for its Pre-Olympic Games training camp the Australian Judo Team had no hesitation. Six competitors, known as a judoka, and four coaches based themselves at the University in the two weeks leading up to London 2012.
They trained with members of the University of Wolverhampton Judo Club along with other clubs and were set up at the campus’ student village.
Dave Elmore, judo development officer at the University of Wolverhampton, said: “There was a lot of planning involved so it was great when they finally arrived and started using the facilities.
“I didn’t get much sleep in the run up to them arriving and then I was involved in picking various team members up from Heathrow and Birmingham.
“It was fantastic for the University, for people from our judo club and other local clubs to see up close competitors who were to be involved in the Olympics so they could learn from them.
“I hope it can further help raise the profile of judo in the Black Country with a view to encouraging more people to take part and we can see some more of our own competitors at future games.
“There is a massive profile for judo in the Midlands. Judo is excellent for self-esteem, confidence, discipline and physical exercise.
“It helps a lot of young people become a lot more aware of their physical situation. We have people at our club aged from five up to 70 so it’s a sport for all ages.”
Stewart Brain is the Head Coach for the Australian Judo Team and represented the Aussies as a competitor in the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
He said: “We had the choice between about five different venues around the UK but Walsall was just perfect for what we needed.
“We had everything we needed and I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of the facilities and the welcome we received.
“As coach you want to be able to come somewhere and not have to worry about any of the logistics and we didn’t. “I did my research. I saw that the Midlands had a reputation for judo and they had people involved from Team GB judo from Seoul in 1988 when I competed. I knew Dave and Mike Chamberlain here at the University were judo people and that makes a difference.
“I’ve been really impressed by what we’ve experienced and would have no hesitation coming back here ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in two years.”
For Stewart the biggest thing he had to battle was keeping everyone happy.
“It’s a long build up. People ask what I was looking forward to the most – my answer was: when it’s all over. By the end of it I will have been away from home for two months – it’s hard work.
“My main job as a coach ahead of a competition is to maintain them on a personal level. Physically they are there but it’s maintaining them emotionally and managing those emotions, keeping them happy.”
The judoka of six was led by 34-year-old Daniel Kelly who was about to compete in his fourth consecutive Olympics and 22-year-old Mark Anthony following on from his appearance in Beijing.
The remaining four were all to make their Olympic debuts including 22-year-old bar worker Jake Andrewartha, who was to compete in the plus 100kg category.
He said: “I arrived at the camp early as I was in Europe and the facilities are fantastic. You’d be hard pushed to find anything as good in Australia.
“It’s my first Olympics and it’s been a tough few months building up to this – going to Japan and Barcelona, some of us have been competing in Paris and Hungary.
“Typically we have been training twice a day having sessions in the morning and at night and then eat and sleep in between. You’re just too tired to be bored.
“You always talk about these things as a kid growing up and when you actually reach the Olympics you think ‘wow what do I do now?’ It’s a great achievement just to be here.
“I’m really happy to be in the UK competing and I see it as a thank you to everyone who has helped me over the years.
“It’s my first time in the country and I’m looking forward to get the chance to see some of the sites like Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.
“My Mum and Dad are also coming over. It’s the first time they’ve been away in 10 years and their first time abroad and they plan to visit Ireland and Scotland as well.”
Judoka - the correct name for a judo fighter.
Hajime - the referee’s instruction at the start of a bout.
Soremade - the referee’s instruction at the end of a bout.
Tatami - the 14m x 14m mat judo is fought on, with a smaller contest area of 10m x 10m marked inside it.
At the start of each contest, the athletes stand 4m apart, facing each other on the tatami.
The referee gets the contest underway by shouting “Hajime!” and stops it by shouting “Matte!” Ippon - the best score.
Can be achieved for a throw, a hold, a strangle or an armlock, and results in immediate victory. Other scores are waza-ari and yuko.
These depend on the type of throw or how long a judoka can immobilise his/her opponent.