Getting to grips with Paralympic Judo

Judo is an all-inclusive sport which at the Paralympic Games will see visually impaired athletes compete. Kate Scotter discovered what it was like to do the sport without sight.

While being thrown to the ground by someone you cannot see and in an unfamiliar setting may seem like an unsettling experience, it is a day-to-day occurrence for those competing at the Paralympics in judo.

The only martial art on the Paralympic programme is contested by visually impaired athletes and the sport's one-on-one battles can be tough, tense and explosive, as competitors grapple for command against determined opponents.

I've never tried judo before – or any other kind of martial art – and yet I had asked to try it blind to get a sense of what it is like to be a visually impaired competitor.

Even with your eyes open, it is a little disconcerting hearing the noise as someone crashes to the mat.

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At first, my instructor David Horton-Jones took me through some of the moves with my eyes open so I knew what I was doing.

We went through some of the basic footwork and he showed me a couple of the moves to bring someone down.

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We did this statically before moving around the floor.

It was then time to try it with my eyes shut. The main difference between Paralympic and Olympic judo is that competitors start by holding each others' judo suits.

So, once we had our starting hold, David and I moved around the floor while I tried to bring him to the floor. It was really tricky as it was difficult to tell where my opponent was.

Once I had brought him to the ground, David then demonstrated some throws. Being thrown over someone's shoulder when you cannot see is a really strange sensation. You don't know where your opponent is coming from and the distance between you and the ground.

It really makes you realise just how incredible the VI judokas are.

Requiring athletes to employ an intricate mix of attack and defence, there is very little variation between Paralympic judo and its Olympic counterpart. The main difference is that in order to orientate themselves, players must have physical contact with their opponent before each contest begins.

And while the Olympic Games has helped judo clubs across Norfolk see a surge in interest, it is expected that the Paralympic Games will have a similar effect.

Great Britain has a successful track record in visually impaired (VI) judo with British fighters so far winning eight Paralympic medals.

In London 2012, they have very strong chances of adding to that tally with Ben Quilter a firm favourite for Paralympic glory and brothers Dan and Marc Powell also hoping for Games success.

David Horton-Jones, a technical officer for British Judo and who runs Norwich Premier Judo Club, near Mousehold Heath in Norwich, said: 'The Paralympic judo will be the same as the Olympic judo although there may be more throws because they start off in hold.

'In the Olympics, they spend a bit more time fighting for a grip but in VI they are already in that grip so the fights could be over very quickly and it could be a bit more dynamic.'

Three classes of athletes compete in judo in the Paralympic Games: B1, B2 and B3. B1 athletes are classed as blind, while B2 and B3 have different degrees of visual impairment. All athletes compete together.

B1 athletes have a red circle sewn on to the sleeves of their judogi. This is in order for the officials to apply the rules according to their special circumstances. Similarly, when an athlete is also deaf as well as visually impaired, a small blue circle will be attached on the back of the judogi.

'The sport is all-inclusive. All disabilities and limitations are catered for,' said Mr Horton-Jones.

'VI is the only branch of it in the Paralympic Games but we've had people with cerebral palsy, people who are hearing impaired, missing a limb, they are all catered for. Anyone who comes along, we will adapt the training accordingly and they are normally allocated an individual coach.

'There's no difference between a VI black belt and those who have their vision. They can fight each other. I could go into a grading competition and I could fight against a VI person. It really is inclusive.'

Mr Horton-Jones said that in training the Paralympic judokas will train with the Olympians. Norfolk's own Olympic judoka Colin Oates has been training with Quilter and the Powell brothers at judo's UK base in Dartford to help them with their final preparations ahead of their London 2012 dream.

In terms of the rules, a player wins a fight if they score the highest number of points. They gain points for throws, holds, armlocks and strangles in a bid to beat their opponent. A contest lasts for five minutes and will stop immediately if one judoka achieves ippon – the maximum score, two waza-ari (a lower score), or if the opponent either submits or is disqualified.

The scores of waza-ari and yuko depend on how the opponent lands upon being thrown, and how long a judoka can immobilise their opponent on their back. In the event of a tie on points after five minutes, the contest enters a golden score period, when the first score wins. If neither scores during the period, a panel of two judges and referee decides the winner.

Athletes compete in weight categories: men's 66kg, 60kg, 73kg, 81kg 90kg, 100kg and +100kg and women's 48kg, 52kg, 57kg, 63kg, 70kg and +70kg.

In the Paralympics, there will be 132 judokas, 84 men and 48 women, competing for glory at ExCel.

The competition will be run in an elimination format with double repechage. Athletes are divided into two tables (A and B), then further subdivided into groups (A1, A2, B1 and B2). An elimination system determines the winners of tables A and B, who compete in the gold medal contest.

Athletes who are defeated by one of the four eventual group winners during the initial stages enter the repechage of their respective groups. The repechage winner of A1 fights the repechage winner of A2, and the repechage winner of group B1 fights the repechage winner of B2.

The winners of the repechage table finals go on to fight the semi-final losers from the opposite tables for the two bronze medals.

At the Olympic Games, Gemma Gibbon, who had battled back from shoulder surgery, became Great Britain's first Olympic judo medallist for 12 years when she won silver.

The 25-year-old provided one of the defining moments of the 2012 Olympics when, on securing her medal with an impressive win over the reigning world champion, she looked to the heavens and mouthed: 'I love you mum.'

Veteran British judo heavyweight Karina Bryant also finally claimed an Olympic medal, winning bronze. It is now hoped the Olympics and Paralympics will inspire more people to get involved in the sport.

Norwich Premier Judo Club is one of several in the county and has 40 members, including 10 women. It runs sessions for juniors and seniors.

Taking up judo is also relatively inexpensive with lessons priced between �2.50 and �3.50, a judo suit at up to �35 and a licence for �30 a year. Some clubs offer ladies-only classes and most classes start with a warm up, technique coaching, practical fighting and a cool down.

'We've had our busiest nights since the Olympics,' said Mr Horton-Jones, who started judo 48 years ago.

'Gemma Gibbons seemed to inspire a lot of emotion. She made the news looking up to her mum and people noticed that, even if they didn't watch her throw.

'Karina Bryant was always a medal prospect. When they won their medals, the British Judo website crashed with the amount of people accessing it.'


• Norwich Premier Judo Club

Heathgate Community Centre, Heathgate, Norwich, NR3 1PQ.

Tel: Dave Horton-Jones on 07788 136296 or Nigel Thompson on 07778 279284.



• North Walsham Judo Club

North Walsham Junior School, Manor Road, North Walsham, NR28 9HG.

Tel: Hazel Lemmon on 01263 579345

• Sen-Ryu Judo Club

Bullock Park, Shipdam, near Dereham.

Tel: Bob Hunter on 01362 695910


• Easton Judo Club

Easton College Sports and Leisure Centre, Dereham Road, Easton


• Renkeido Judo Kwai

Thorpe Marriott Village Hall, Acres Way, Thorpe Marriott, Norwich, NR8 6XE.

Tel: Ted Evans on 01603 865633



• Harleston Judo Club

Harleston Methodist Church Hall, London Road, Harleston.

Tel: Stephen or Helena McPartland on 01379 740929



• Kumo Judo Club

Diss Youth Centre, Shelfanger Road, Diss.

Tel: Denise and Howard Oates on 01379 688258.



• Wymondham Judo Club

Wymondham Martial Arts and Wellbeing Centre, Unit 4, Philip Ford Way, Wymondham.

Tel: 01953 604385



• Kumo Judo Club (Thetford)

Scout Hut, Grenville Way, Thetford.

Tel: Jo Tippett on 07746 548999



• Marham Judo Club

Marham Infant School, RAF Marham, off Cider Road.



• Goshindo Judo Club

Eamac, 163 Bridge Road, Oulton Broad, Lowestoft.


• Iceni Judo Club

Sentinel Leisure Trust Sports Centre, Water Lane, Lowestoft.

Tel: Club secretary Jacqui Mullen on 01502 500266.


• Black Dog Judo Club

Bungay Middle School, Hillside Road East, Bungay.

Tel: Mark on 07544 739281.



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