Sun, Aug 14, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Brutal tactics take over ‘gentle way’ judo


Kayla Harrison, top, of the US and France’s Audrey Tcheumeo compete in the women’s 78kg judo gold-medal match in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday.

Photo: AP

Judo translates as “the gentle way,” but after nearly a week of competition at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the meaning of the Japanese martial art seems almost paradoxical; many of the matches have ended brutally.

When Kayla Harrison of the US fought her way to history on Thursday — becoming the country’s first two-time Olympic champion — she did it in dominant form.

Harrison compelled all of her opponents to submit in an automatic victory for the American, either by immobilizing them on the mat for 20 seconds or trapping them in an armbar, a move where the limb is hyperextended to the point of a fracture, compelling them to tap out.

“In the moment, you’re just thinking about winning,” Harrison said. “You’re so focused and so in the zone that you don’t really consider the repercussions of it, but afterwards, of course, you never really want to hurt anyone.”

Harrison’s final match was a tense bout against Frenchwoman Audrey Tcheumeo. The fight was scoreless until its final minute, when Tcheumeo stumbled on the mat, giving Harrison an opening. With six seconds remaining, she seized Tcheumeo’s arm and applied an armbar so powerful the Frenchwoman slapped the mat repeatedly, handing Harrison her second gold medal.

Tcheumeo said that Harrison had been too strong and acknowledged that tapping out is a particularly difficult way for judoka to lose.

“It was a very hard moment, because Kayla was too strong, but that’s what judo is,” she said.

It was not always that way.

Judo was developed by Jigoro Kano in the 19th century in Japan and was intended as a martial art that used the opponent’s force against him without striking. During a trip Kano took to Europe to promote judo, he was heckled by a foreigner. To demonstrate judo’s effectiveness, Kano gripped the man’s shirt and threw him, but held a hand underneath the skeptic’s head to protect him.

That consideration might be harder to spot at the Olympics, where some of the fighters this week have left the mat in tears clutching their injuries, while others have hobbled off the mat supported by medics.

Ghana’s first female judoka, Szandra Szogedi, left the mat doubled over in tears this week after being forced to tap out to her Brazilian opponent, caught in a stranglehold she said caused her to black out.

Brazil’s defending Olympic judo champion Sarah Menezes suffered a gruesome dislocated elbow on Saturday last week in a match against a Mongolian fighter that sent Menezes to hospital.

Although classic Japanese judo has traditionally involved fighters throwing each other from an upright position, the martial art also includes a groundwork component that has become more widely employed among non-Asian fighters in particular, drawing on the wrestling traditions in many eastern European countries. In recent years, judo’s governing body has moved to encourage more of the groundwork techniques that include some of the sport’s most aggressive attacks — although some practitioners dispute its brutality.

“As violent as it looks, all of the submission holds in judo are done with control,” US head coach Jimmy Pedro said. “You always have to give your opponent an opportunity to submit. You can’t just break someone’s arm.”

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