It was a drizzly Sunday morning as ten bleary-eyed and undernourished judokas set off at the inhumane time of 4.45am. With some inappropriate dubstep, and me as G&T’s shotgun in the front passenger seat, it was questionable as to whether we’d all get there at all, but after the reassurance from our trusty driver that he would “fall asleep if it gets too warm”…we were on the road.

A quick 6am pit-stop saw Capitano Rob cruelly devour a Gregg’s sausage roll in front of his starving partisans and G&T scrape the undercarriage of the hire car. Also Ed, Alex and I being the do-gooder freshers that we are, made the impulsive decision to buy flips-flops to appease the judo gods, so pre-weigh-in tension and drowsiness galore, off again we went.

After a whistle stop tour of London, and Big Ben sounding 8am, we were approaching our much anticipated destination. However, a wrong turn courtesy of yours truly, but swift (if not treacherous) driving from G&T and Rob, got us there with time to spare. 8:20am and we arrive at the University of East London’s strangely teletubby-esque campus.

As first time competitors and the proud owners of shiny red belts, Alex, Ed and I had no idea what to expect from the day apart from bruises, so team in tow, we strutted nervously into UEL’s impressive and intimidating sports hub. Weigh-in done, first on the mats were Alex, Gillian and I, so we warmed up in amongst the sea of scary black belts and ‘GBR’ gi’s, but after a motivating warm-up and words with Rob, we were good to go.

Alex’s first fight was a tense one, both appearing well matched, until a swift osoto-gari saw her opponent flat out on the mat, handing her an impressive first win. A loss in her second match was sandwiched with yet another win, leaving her adversary ippon-dering what had happened! First competition done and a shiny gold for this not-so-fresh-now fresher.

On the neighbouring mat, getting bollocked by one of the judges for not answering to my name- I was up… then very quickly down again! My first fight lasted 6 seconds tops, as I was ippon’d quicker than you can say mune-gatoffme, flawed by an admittedly brilliant throw and left scolding myself for not reacting quickly enough. But with encouragement from G&T, and the rabid dog as my spirit animal, I went on to win my last 4 fights with a combination of osoto-otoshi’s and refusal to release my uke. (cuz’ who actually listens to the ref, mate-shmate, am I right?!) A silver medal (and possibly a hearing test) for this fresher.

Meanwhile, Gillian’s colourful category was pushing her hard, but giving as good as she got and wriggling out of some difficult holds, held her own, winning her final fight with a solid ippon and bringing home a bronze medal for the fellowship!

Allyx, continued the medal rampage, fending off some ferocious international players in what added up to be a hell of a lot of mat time. Tired, bandaged but unstoppably quick, she won bronze, and points for her black belt.

Scattered throughout the day were the guys, and head-to-head in their category’s knock-out were teammates David and George, as they shook hands and the carnage began. Both displaying some nifty and blink-and-you’d-miss-it moves, leaving the rest of us on tenterhooks, as they fought for almost the full 4 minutes. Hold after broken hold after cheeky leg grab, these two were on top form, putting on a truly memorable show, however G&T snatched it in the last 30 seconds with a staggering ippon.

Georgie G fended off some massive ippons, holding up a good defence but unfortunately falling victim to an impressive airborne throw from a worthy competitor, in what was a tough but close contest. Similarly fated was Zhihong, whose first fight seemed riddled with should-be-shido’s as his opponent lunged wildly at him, but Zhihong held the mat well, but unfortunately didn’t manage to overpower his opponents this time.

Fellow first-timer Ed up also faced a tough task, almost nailing the osoto-goshi and uki-goshi but an inescapable hold prevailed, nevertheless for a first competition displayed some lethal moves.

Showing us judo freshers how it’s done was El Capitano Rob, as he seio nage’d the crap out of his second opponent in a dynamic show of judo gravity, after his first opponent just stole it with a juji-gatame. Nevertheless, a fine victory and another shiny gold.

After an unexpectedly awesome medal haul from us girls with Rob also gracing the podium in true ‘coolstyle’, we took the last hour of the day to sit back and watch what the other universities offered up in judo talent. The unbeatable Latvian beast (G&T’s beloved), when he wasn’t patrolling the mats like a panther, was incredible to watch, pulling some acrobatic and dynamic twists to counter throws. Other mats offered up some apparently age-old competitions that were thrilling to watch, and so helpful for our next bouts. After prying G&T away from the Latvian’s mat, it was time to shime wazza on home after an exhausting and exhilarating day- everything I wanted and expected it to be. And 2 months and 25 bruises in, judo is still keeping me on my feet (most of the time at least!) So bring on the next comp!

Amy Cotter (Crazy Fresh)


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