Edition No. 38. Spring, 2004. Today is

Interview with Yashuhiro Yamashita
31 January, 2004
"How's the soup?" Perhaps not the first question you might think to ask the legendary Japanese judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita, but then it was posed shortly after Mr Yamashita had officiated at the Kagami Baraki ceremony, which opened the Team Bath dojo at Bath University. And the presentation on the mats was followed by the traditional meal of soup with rice cake and a satsuma, all lovingly prepared by the fair (non Japanese) hand of the wife of coach, Mike Callan; so I was curious to know if the guest of honour thought it tasted authentic. With a broad smile and many vigorous nods of the head Mr Yamashita assured me that the meal had been spot on!

That smile is typical of the modesty and charm that we have come to expect from Yashiro Yamashita. Couple this with his deep love and appreciation for what he feels the sport of judo can help to achieve in today's world and you see what made him the ideal candidate for his role as IJF Education Director (an appointment confirmed at last year's World Congress).

Mr Yamashita stresses that his approach comes from the conviction that judo is far more than a sport - "Things you learn in judo teach you how to live life. When I began judo I was a rough boy but I learned through judo and I am still learning now." He is clearly enthusiastic about tackling the challenges ahead and certainly his focus is very much on the future - "You cannot change the past," he says "but you can create the future. The direction that coaching takes within the IJF is up to me. I want to build a teaching system for all - from children right through to old people. Many children who learn judo stop when they become adults, which is a great pity. Judo is better for you than running; it is not just a sport that keeps you fit and strong, it is an education and a philosophy - I want to build awareness of this. Judo is not just for the competitor, it is something for life. There are also strong links for judo with self defence and by encouraging this we develop another way of increasing public awareness of judo."

The intense commitment of this great athlete to the cause of judo is underlined by the care with which he searches for the right English words to express himself. "My job as Education Director covers the important area of coaching. I hope to have perhaps five coaching seminars a year where coaches can exchange ideas. We have many excellent coaches and we should all pull together for the good of the players. Our coaches' job is to support the players. As organisers we need to ensure that we continue to think from the players side too." He goes on to emphasise the importance of the Olympics in giving judo a higher profile. "It is essential to keep judo in the Olympics and for this to happen judo needs to become even more dynamic but also it must be easy for all to understand. The IJF cannot increase the money available for coaching and education but this is not important. Part of my job is to seek sponsorship. I assist the IOC committee that has responsibility for solidarity funding which is distributed to the full range of sports and I have a good relationship with the Japanese foreign minister. Japan supports judo in developing countries. For example Iraq was recently sent 300 judo mats and 100 judogi and we hope to send Japanese coaches over there too."

The huge task that Mr Yamashita has taken on is underlined when he briefly lists other areas of responsibility. "I also have to look at Judogi Control, Coach behaviour and develop a good relationship with the media." His clear conviction about the breadth of influence that judo has, was perhaps expressed at its most fundamental level by the calligraphy he chose to create at Bath's Kagami Baraki. The Jigaro Kano maxim he reproduced with amazing delicacy and care reads, simply "Mutual Welfare and Benefit." That is surely what he seeks.

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