Original Shindo Kan Sensei Joe’s thoughts on judo

If you haven’t read the news, you probably wouldn’t “hear” it in the US, a great judo champion Toshihiko Koga passed away recently at a very young age.  After reading some of his biography two things came to mind Sensei Joe (my Dad) of the original Shindo Kan used to try to pound into us.

“Since then, the closest a -80kg player came was in 1990, when Toshihiko Koga made it to the finals in an unbelievable run that might have gone his way had he been competing in the current time limit. He went nearly 8 minutes (the final was 10 minutes back then) with Olympic Silver medalist, Naoya Ogawa who outweighed the 76kg Koga by 54kg!”

“the amazing final of the All Japan Open Weight Championships 1990 – weighing only 71Kgs he fights World Open Weight champion Naoya Ogawa!”

“In the open-weight category at the 1990 All-Japan Judo Championships, Koga obliterated larger judoka in succession. In the finals, Koga lost to Naoya Ogawa, who dominated the heavyweight division at the time, in a vigorously fought match that attracted widespread attention.”

It always amazed me how competitors would worry to death and work, overwork, tirelessly to lose ounces of weight to make “their” weight class. Joe always said a god judoka can beat a larger man. Here was a judoka “obliterating” the other contestants way out of his weight class. Now one could say that was because Koga was a superlative judoka. While that is undeniably true, you have to remember so were the judoka he was competing against. Especially in a self- defense situation you never know what size person may attack you.

“At that time, Yamashita had already won multiple World Championships and several All Japan Championships. The only title that had eluded him was the Olympic Gold, which he eventually wins in 1984. As fate will have it, we got onto a subject of kata. To my amazement, he practiced kata on a regular basis. Here’s a man who owns every judo title known to the judo world except the Olympic Gold and he practices kata? WOW! So I asked why? He said that it is one of the ways of ensuring his judo performance is the best possible. Also, when his techniques are not working precisely, he always goes back to practice kata religiously. WOW! By the way, he still practices kata today and can be seen judging at many kata events in Japan.”

We always practiced kata. We couldn’t go for promotion to black belt without knowing Nage No Kata. The local judo governing body required that kata for promotion. But I have heard of promotions without kata, kata being gemnerally useless and certainly useless for competition. Yet here was the greatest judoka of his generation, one of the greatest of all time, practicing kata to make all his judo better.

Gee, could it be Sensei Joe was right all those 50-60 years ago?