Last Tuesday evening, I watched a load of people sweatily writhe around with one another, jostling for position in a small, crowded room whilst all the while attempting to remain on their feet and not be thrown off balance. No, I wasn’t at Smack Tuesday (thank Christ), but instead I was spending my evening with the Warwick Judo Club! I’d been asked along by Charles MacDonald, the club’s publicity officer, to watch a particularly special training session.
When I first saw Adams, I thought he looked rather unassuming, but then I saw him flip a guy who was a head taller and about half his age clean on his back, and quickly changed my mind.
The session was held in the Activity Room at the Warwick Sport Centre, which is honestly about half the size of Copper Rooms 2, and seemed smaller still when you factor in the 50 odd crowd of Judogi-wearing sportspeople trying relentlessly to flip each other onto their backs. The strong interest in the evening’s session was down to a very distinguished guest coach, a man named Neil Adams. When I first caught a glimpse of Adams, I thought he looked rather unassuming, but then I saw him flip a guy who was a head taller and about half his age clean on his back, and quickly changed my mind.
I was told by club regulars that Neil Adams was a two-time Olympic silver medalist, as well as a one time world, and five time European, champion. So, definitely the hardest man on campus, despite what the rugby team may like to think. Adams is also a good friend, and former mentor of, the club’s full-time coach, Dave Nicholls. In attendance at the session were a selection of Adams’s old students, all providing a fantastic example from which members of the Judo club could learn more about their martial art.
From the sidelines, Frankie also commented on how everybody was training together, and this social aspect of the club was something that I had immediately noticed. As training partners were swapped at Adams’s command, many people were cheerfully introducing themselves to their new partner (or to one of the guest coaches) for the first time. This social aspect serves as a major strength of the club, although I guess it is pretty difficult for the club to be anything other than social when, 5 seconds after meeting someone for the first time, they’re flat on top of you after a quick move, panting heavily and with their Judoka belt slightly loosened.
Charles, the Publicity Officer, also commented on this social aspect. “The original ideal of Judo was that size and strength didn’t matter, everyone has the potential to take down anyone”, he said, which went some way to explain the fact that the Activity Room was taken up with people of all age and sizes. This also explained why there were so many people in the room who were still relatively new to Judo, having progressed through the club’s beginner course. Sudeep Gurung, the Social Secretary, told me that the beginners had been progressing fantastically well, achieving belts at a quicker rate than expected, as well as winning medals at the recent nationwide tournament held by the club.
Sudeep spent the session roaming around with a camera, recording the proceedings, which really relayed the sense of pride the club felt at hosting Adams. He also spent a little bit of time explaining to me the gravity of Adams’ visit. “It’s like having one of the old members of the English squad coaching the Warwick football team. Someone like Alan Shearer or Gary Lineker.” This was a point Charles agreed with, comparing Adams’s visit to “Martin Johnson coaching the Warwick rugby team.” Given Neil’s ability to send people flying down onto the crash mat in a matter of seconds, I thought Charles’ comparison was probably the more accurate.
After a few more training exercises, the floor ominously cleared about half way through the session, with everyone pressing themselves up against a wall at the far end of the room. “Time for a spot of Randori!”, Neil Adams declared which, to me, sounded like a type of filled pasta. Luckily, Frankie was on hand to tell me that it, instead, meant “Fight Club!”. Frankie was, unsurprisingly, closer to the mark; Randori is actually a Japanese term for free-style practice, which actually translates directly as something like ‘grasping freedom’. I’m not so sure about freedom, essentially I saw a lot of frowning people grasping each other by the scruff of the neck and trying to fall on top of them.
Watching the Randori was pretty thrilling, and the frequent noise of people being dropped onto the crash mats sounded more like a Stomp concert than a Judo training session. It was in watching the Randori, though, that the true depth of talent at the club was made clear to me. Again, beginners were grappling next to seasoned black belts, two of whom, Sudeep pointed out, were from Coventry University. “They train here because the lessons are so much better”, he said, and the pair offered yet another positive example from which Warwick students could learn and improve.
The sparring was intense, and at one point Neil, watching over the proceedings with a keen eye, called out, “it’s Randori, not World War III!” From where I was standing, though, there wasn’t much difference, especially when I caught a glimpse of regular coach Dave Nicholls hard at work, leaving a trail of blood droplets on the crash mats thanks to a cut on his foot. Okay, so the cut was tiny and the blood was minimal, but from the observations of someone who has only ever played cricket and football to a semi-decent level, Frankie’s earlier assertion that Randori meant ‘Fight Club’ suddenly made a lot more sense. I’m never going to complain about a late tackle in football again.
I think I’m probably just a bit soft though, because every single member of the club got stuck in during the free practice, and I even spotted Neil engaged in a one on one with a yellow belt who had first started the sport at the beginning of the academic year. Maybe he was just banking on the easy victory, but I’m pretty sure he was instead passing on some of his expertise, and the encounter again reiterated what a fantastic opportunity his visit was for every member of the club, regardless of ability.
The Randori finished slightly early, and the watching club members were then treated to, essentially, a masterclass, with both Neil and Dave running through some moves with other ex-members of the British team, all Neil’s old pupils. The pace was relentless and the attacks were brutal, with one of the black-belt ranked Judoka laughing “I’m not as young as I used to be!” after he was sent crashing towards the floor.
Neil’s visit was a fantastic opportunity for every member of the club, regardless of ability.
Charles gave me a final word before I left. “It’s so cool seeing people from the very top at our club, and it’s also great that we can learn from our peers; we have some fantastic competitors at the club.” “BUCS is also coming up”, Sudeep added, “and these training sessions obviously help us prepare for that.” The session was fantastic to observe, and I can only imagine how much better it must have been to take part in, especially at the helm of an ex-world champion. The Judo team don’t compete in the Varsity Series, but 21 Warwick judokas will be in action at the BUCS Judo Championship in Sheffield on the 22nd and 23rd of February. You’ll be able to read about their progress online at Boar Sport.