Judokas Defy Age, Imagination at Grand Masters Championship
Collin Van Ooyen / November 13, 2012 - 11:49pm
While many of their contemporaries flock to south Florida to spots like the Doral Golf Resort & Spa for rest and relaxation in their golden years, hundreds of veteran judo practitioners arrived there this past weekend for another reason: To fight. The everlasting fire of competition isn’t extinguished so easily, and that desire to compete was on full display at the World Judo Grand Masters Championships in Miami, as judokas of any age over 30 competed for pride, glory, and gold. Many competitors found themselves matched against opponents decades younger than them, but that wasn’t about to keep these warriors from putting on a show.
Take, for example, Switzerland’s Ernest Hamsag, 82, who competed in the 81 kg division. For many men his age, simply maintaining daily mobility can become an issue, but here he was, hopping on a plane halfway across the world to be tossed around on a mat by a much younger man. Hamsag was defeated in the first round of his match, before complaining that there was nobody else in his division there for him to fight, but it didn’t stop him from going out there and giving it his best shot.
Some may remember Bo Svenson as “Sheriff Burford Pusser” from the 1970’s classic film “Walking Tall,” but attendees at the Grand Masters will remember him as a true judo warrior. Svenson, 71, limped onto the mats with an injured knee, but still went out there and laid it all on the line. He was also defeated in the first round of his opening match, but gained the respect of many onlookers and fans. It’s that indomitable spirit that truly embodies the tenets of judo.
Interestingly enough, some aspects of international judo carry over no matter what the age group. The Russian contingent of the competition were the big winners at the medal table, taking 22 gold medals, 14, silvers and 19 bronzes across various age and weight divisions. They were also dominant in team competition, taking home the bulk of the golds there as well. This falls directly in line with Russia’s recent surge to the top of the world judo picture where they have become a dominant force over the last few years.
All too often it has becomes commonplace to disregard our elder citizens, relegate them to retirement homes, or undercut their ability to live a rich life. What these judokas represent is the never-ending desire to test one’s self, to push the limits of one’s own physical and mental capabilities, and to follow one’s heart. While most fighters, even in their prime, wonder if they will leave the field of battle with their health in tact, consider what a senior citizen must contemplate before partaking in that same activity. These fighters are the real deal, and are made of a different type of gumption than most of the meticulously manufactured martial artists that have become the norm in the 21st century. No matter where the evolution of the fight game takes us, there will always be a place for the old school. Besides, they don't call them Grand Masters for nothing.