Judo for me has always been about being on the edge. I love the feeling of committing myself to attacking judo, testing my opponent in every possible way, trying new things and seeing how they respond.
I must express myself when doing judo, showing my character. I was never one for sitting back, being defensive or being safe. When I pushed my opponent to the limit it would force them to attack. I loved spinning an opponent’s attack to my advantage in mid-air. It was all part of the buzz of judo.
I needed to keep judo interesting. I had to be trying new things every week, bringing in different technique and ideas; using randori for what it really should be used for. If there wasn’t that I would lose the interest and I wouldn’t be able to keep up such regular judo training.
Before a session the lads and I would sit down and watch a Fighting Films DVD. We would watch Koga or 101 Ippons, and then pick a technique each. That would then be the technique we would then have to pull off in randori. It kept judo fun and fresh.
My judo really went to another level when I started taking Kumi kata seriously. This is what my coach, Fitzroy Davies, instilled within me. Gripping was a way to test my opponent, to open them up. I had lots of little tricks that would put in the front foot in a contest. I started developing some strong gripping patterns.
From the age of 19 I started using my head a lot within my judo. I used it both within Kumi kata and Tachi waza, in a defensive and offensive way. I had a lot of power in my neck and head and by introducing this to grip fighting it was like I had a third arm. I used it to help stretch opponents out. I would use it as a fifth limb to defend against my opponent’s attacks and to help throw them. And that’s probably why I ended up wearing a bandage across my head so often!
Tomoe nage was a technique I really liked. It really complimented my style. But the turning point was after studying Japan’s Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki. I started developing different variations, and could attack in any direction from multiple grips. It became clear that there was no easy way for my opponent’s to defend against it.
And then ofcourse is the roll, which people still ask me about all the time. Once I introduced this to my judo, my all-round game went to the next level. I felt very strong in Kumi kata and Tachi waza. But the roll suddenly made me one of the world’s most feared fighters in Ne waza. Turning Japan’s Egusa with the roll inside one minute of the 2005 World Championships quarter final gave me the confidence to go on and win the Worlds.
The beauty of judo is that you can innovate, try something new, develop new techniques and ways to do things. There truly is no other sport out there like ours.
I hope my judo can excite and inspire you, in the same way that I have been excited and inspired by so many other judokas.
World and European Champion