Coming to Judo a complete beginner this last September, the University of Bristol Judo Club has proven a fun and sociable, casual or competitive way of keeping fit. As well as the weekly socials, I have had access to high-level instruction in a welcoming and unintimidating environment and I would urge anyone to have a go; my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner!

Since joining, I have been constantly regaled with the legacy that is “USIST”: a weekend competition in which universities from around the UK, and several from abroad, come together to fight it out both on the mats and in the pub in the legendary annual Boat Race. Running since 1998, this famed weekend has seemingly an anecdote for every possible occasion; and so an overview of this year from a USIST first-timer and member of the Judo “fresh” seems somewhat fitting.

So, packed and ready, and not entirely sure what I was getting myself into, I joined the team outside the Richmond Building at 5.30 on Friday afternoon; soon to realise that in terms of boot-space in the hire cars, many a gallon of rather ominous-looking Frosty Jacks would be taking precedence over any actual changes of clothing for the weekend!

Four hours and a box of Krispy Kreme donuts later, we arrived in Sheffield; quickly staking our claim over the crash mats in the sports hall in which we would all be sleeping. The fact that the Edinburgh team had also bothered to drive down the night before seemed to cause some confusion for certain (London-based) team mates; I was shocked to have to explain that, despite being in such wild and perilous northern territory, Sheffield was still quite a distance from the Scottish border.

Finally, after an unhealthy amount of fish and chips, some impromptu pyjama-clad Judo practice and a nightcap or two of very modestly-priced beer, we settled down; waking early on Saturday after a solid night’s sleep (or not) ready to face our adversaries!

Rising bright and early at 8 a.m. after a night’s slumber on crash mats (for the lucky ones), we arose, and having enjoyed a rushed breakfast of plastic cheese and ham toasties, we proceeded to don our judogis and warm up. Given that USIST is a student-run team judo event, the atmosphere and the level of team support is substantial, and it was not in the least bit difficult to get ourselves fired up and ready to put our training to the test. Tiredness, nerves, illnesses and injuries rapidly gave way to pure excitement and adrenaline as our older and more seasoned club members motivated us and provided coaching before, during and after fights, while all the while the rest of the club screamed themselves hoarse.

The actual judo performances on the mat were as exciting and dynamic as they were stressful to watch – there was no shortage of massive room-shaking throws and nail-bitingly intense battles on the ground, with close calls and narrow misses also featuring heavily. On this occasion, UBJC were unlucky enough not to make it through the first round of heats – despite every single player on the team going out and giving it their all and making themselves and their coaches proud, the extremely high standard of competition meant that unfortunately we were denied the opportunity to demonstrate our skills further.

Despite only actually getting to do about an hour of judo in total, everyone on the team successfully maintained the trademark UBJC unwavering positive attitude – our last fight was barely over before yet another beer run was made, and UBJC settled down on our makeshift campsite in the corner of the gym, cracked open some cans, and proceeded to enjoy watching the sport which so successfully brought all of us together.

All physical exertion now behind us, it was time to head to the pub for the much-anticipated main event: the annual USIST Boat Race, in which, as I was assured would be the case, Bristol truly excelled. In spite of the try-outs and ‘training’ at almost every social this year, I still underestimated quite how seriously this aspect of the competition is taken, however the rigorous selection process evidently paid off as our triumphant team drank us to victory and what is now an undefeated seven-year supremacy in this noble combat.

Saturday’s activities were eventually concluded in the glorious Sheffield Students’ Union and equally amazing “Pop Tarts”. More detail would be provided, however thus far no-one has managed to supply anything more descriptive than: “a great night”. The car journey back to Bristol on Sunday was consequently rather subdued.

Without a doubt one of the most memorable weekends of my time at Bristol (“memorable” used here with certain poetic licence), I would again reiterate the fun and relaxed nature of the Judo club. Equally, to any fellow girls out there looking for a way to keep fit and avoid that dreaded Freshman 15, why not also learn a little self-defence and grapple some good-looking guys while doing so?

Alex van Doorn and Marcus Jones



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