Friday evening saw the Warwick Invitational team, UBJC’s finest (minus captain, minus vice-captain), pile a minibus perilously high with bags and supplies and power on up to Warwick for the second open competition of the year, and my first in eight years! Following brief stops for pizza and refreshments en route, we reached the Excel Leisure Centre, our home for the next two days, and claimed a room for ourselves in typically flamboyant Bristol style with a high-octane sleeping-bag race through the adjacent corridors, prompting not a few bemused looks- although myself and Amy made a valiant attempt at gold, Leroy and Greg proved superior at shrimping across the floor tangled in their bags…

What little sleep was available that night proved valuable when, at 7:30 the next morning, we had to decamp unceremoniously for the main event arena. Working around issues with our team composition (Group B lacked a competitor for the over-90s category, while some others in our team were forced to fight into the weight category above them), we passed weigh-in, and set about making Bristol’s presence known on the mat.

In the individual categories, Leo and Suban performed with great valour, Leo coming up against tough (and heavyweight) competition in the O90 category but walking away with his reputation as an immovable object unscathed while Suban faced some strong opposition (and some very stiff arms) in the U66 category. This round finishing with, unfortunately, no luck for either of them despite their solid performances, we moved on to the Men’s Teams category, and closer to my fight. Group B saw some incredibly tough opposition in their pool, with a number of spectacular seoi nagis and some unbreakable hold-downs eventually proving too much. Despite some brilliant performances, Group B was eliminated, and it was our turn to step up.

Our pool saw us against stiff competition from three other teams, with the O90s in particular proving very tough opponents. While Leroy performed as spectacularly as ever, winning two of his three fights with a flawless ouchi and a stylish kosoto-gake, his first bout sadly saw Greg take a serious knock to the head followed by a strangle, and despite his brave attempt to fight in the second round, the third round proved too much and his injury kept him off the mat. We were nevertheless able to hold our own against much of the excellent judo which was being thrown at us, and twice it fell to me to bring us a win: despite my best efforts, I failed both times, although not without a fight. My first round saw me against a competitor whose height and weight advantage meant that my attempted tai-otoshi was turned into a kesa-gatami which proved unbreakable, and he took the point. My second fight was far more even, with an early harai-goshi bringing me a wazari, but my opponent evened us with a wazari of his own, and eventually took the fight with a strangle out of my failed osoto-gari. My last fight saw me against the O90 competitor who would eventually take gold, and although I took a wazari up against him with a fast ko-ouchi, his blindingly quick armbar out of the throw led to me tapping for ippon. Group A, too, were finally eliminated, but it was not without effort- of all the judo which I saw, none of it was below the standard which I would expect, and Bristol truly held their own despite injuries, weight disadvantages and a very high standard from our opponents.

The day was rounded off with a truly magnificent feast of Dominoes in a bar in Coventry, with what remained of the team (two of the girls having headed home) devouring their body weight in the pizza which Warwick kindly laid on for us. Mirth later ensued in the inter-club boat race as it was revealed that Jess was drinking water for our team, leading to a two-second penalty being imposed on us, but the pressure was all practice for my hopeful debut at USIST… Clubbing followed afterwards, with what was left of the exhausted teams descending on Kasbah for a night of locally-flavoured house music and revelry, and despite my exhaustion I feel I still managed still to fly UBJC colours by having the club name face-painted onto my forehead. The night was rounded off in true fashion by the revelation, when we arrived back at the Excel Leisure Centre, that the gates were locked and the guards had failed to provide the number for us to be let in, leading to our sending of Josh on a scouting mission over the gate which, thankfully, proved successful, and finally we were able to crash out.

Although the competition was fierce and our defeat in our pool was disappointing, the Warwick Invitational nevertheless proved priceless in how far it has improved my understanding of competition Judo. I feel now that I can enter future tournaments with the hope of greater success, and progress my ability in Judo to a true competition standard. While this re-entry into competition was something of a baptism of fire, my experience of the competition of a whole- the completion, the social, meeting new clubs and experiencing so many different approaches to the sport- has rekindled my love of Judo, and inspired me to further Bristol’s deserved reputation as a force to be reckoned with even further.

Sam Underwood

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