Herts Judo goes to Albania

[Aimone Sharif | Sports Manager]

Herts Judo Club flew all the way to Tirana to be able to promote, train and meet the initiator of judo in Albania in early September, 2015. In order to find out more about their experience, we interviewed Athletic Union’s Coach of the Year, Doug Seabrook, and two members of the Club.
TM: Could you give a brief summary of what summer is like from a Judo performer’s perspective?

Matthew Hammond, Chairman at UHJudo, BSc Hons Sports Studies, Year 3:

Summer for me is always a busy time. I like training Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo both at my academies and in the gym. Grappling for me is a continuous program; it forms a large proportion of my life and who I am. This summer, I competed at the Ne-waza Championships in High Wycombe and won the gold medal. Ne-waza is a Japanese phrase defining groundwork, which is my favourite aspect of my fighting game. After that championship, I gained confidence in my game, which has helped me improve. You need confidence and a positive attitude to win a fight.
Scott Barnes, Member of UH Judo and FdSc Paramedic Science, Year 2:

I’ve been going to Marshalswick Judo club in St Albans twice a week to practice martial arts. I have also been trying to get back to my old weight category (U66Kgs) so I’ve been integrating running and strength training into my workouts, as well as working and doing placement for my university course.

TM: When did judo become a passion?

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Matt: I started judo at the age of 14 and I am now 22. I have always been a sporty person and aspired to be a great athlete. I quickly began to love everything grappling. It’s hard to remember or pinpoint when it became a passion, it’s just something that builds up until it becomes an everyday thought in my mind.

Scott: I can’t pinpoint an exact moment. I’ve been doing judo from a very young age. I began to realise I was taking it more seriously than some when, at around the age of 13, people started dropping out of sessions. I tried my best to always keep judo at the centre of my life, and by the time I left school at 16 there was no other option but to keep on going!

TM: Why is judo special to you?

Matt: It was the first sport I medalled in. I am naturally a competitive person so winning has always been a huge deal for me. When I was younger and competing in other sports, I would never win and generally end up upset and sometimes cry, that’s how much winning meant to me! For me, judo gives me a purpose, a mission in life and goals to strive for.

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Scott: For me, martial arts as a whole is unique in that you can instantly trust someone, before even asking their name. You trust them not to hurt you when you are training, or to let go of whatever arm lock or choke you’re practicing. There’s also the fact that you are made to declare how skilful you are by the belt around your waist, yet there is never any snobbery about it. “Dan grades” (black belts) regularly train with lower grades, becoming their training partners and teacher at the same time. That quality for me is unique to martial arts and I really appreciate it. In judo the fact that there is not a big presence of judoka (judo practitioners) means that we sometimes end up training alongside top level athletes. I’ve found myself doing “Randori” (“free exercise”) with double Olympic judoka Craig Fallon, at open “Randori” training at the University of Wolverhampton.

TM: How was the training experience in Albania?

Matt: Training in Albania was awesome! The young Albanians who we shared the mats with looked at me as if inspired and motivated by my presence. Each one of them earned my respect. There is a lot of bad press about Albania, when I mentioned I was going there people had a concerned and baffled look on their face, “Why would you go there?” they said. The reality is that it is a wonderful country with wonderful people. You cannot judge a book by its cover my friends!

Scott: It was great fun! The training itself wasn’t that much different. There was a warm up and some technical work, before finishing off with “Randori”. What was different was the conditions over there. The dojo we were training in was incredibly warm, with very little air flow, meaning that we all were rather sweaty by the end of the warm up. Another difference was the style of Judo practiced over there. The Albanians were more strength orientated than most UK judoka, but they didn’t have the speed or flexibility. The judokas attitude were spot on as they trained a lot but also took care of themselves.

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TM: What was the highlight of the Trip?

Matt: The highlight of the trip for me was when I first stepped on the matted area. I loved their academy grounds. I felt important; I felt inspired throughout the whole training session. Looking out of the window to see the hot sunshine and the different landscape and architecture whilst training, I knew that I was exploring a wider perspective of sports around the world. I felt positive, excited and confident.

Scott: The highlight of the trip would definitely be socialising with both the Albanian people we met, and the other members of Marshalswick judo club; some of whom I didn’t know so well at first. However, we didn’t train as much with Albanian judokas as I would’ve hoped.

Doug Seabrook: For me, the highlight was to be able to meet Anton Shkoza, a 7th Dan and former Olympian, and introducer of judo to Albania. For me that was one of the most inspirational moments of my career. The enthusiasm he still has for the sport and the dedication he exercises towards his lessons, despite of his paralysis is truly humbling!

TM: How does it feel to train internationally?

Matt: Knowing I’m training in a different part of the world was exciting. The weather was different which wasn’t too much of a shock. I generally train with the heating on to adapt to different circumstances anyway, so I was ok, but I was watching my teammates sweat it out! The facilities although simple, were great! I am used to using and respecting what I get given.

Scott: Judo is judo. No matter where in the world you go, there will be different styles, but it is fundamentally the same. The language barrier was hard to cope with, but when you train all the vocabulary is in Japanese and so you know what is going on.

TM: What does the future hold for judo at Herts?

Matt: As this year’s chairman of University of Hertfordshire Judo, I have entered the role with many ideas and aspirations. I hope to be able to leave the club in a better state than when I joined. I wish to create an environment where everybody has the right to improve and be recognised for their achievements and effort. Throughout the summer, I have planned out many ideas and strategies to move the club forward. The most important aspect of the club in itself, is for it to be a home to people that are looking to improve.

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Are you interested in joining the Judo Club? Check Facebook page at:facebook.com/UHAUJudo and their Twitter: @UHJudo.

Training is every Monday, 4.00pm until 6.00pm at the Hertfordshire Sports Village.

See you there!

Images: Martin Square

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Herts Judo goes to Albania