Thanks to judo, reigning Commonwealth champion Simone Callender has enjoyed some incredible sporting experiences all over the world.
With over 27 years’ experience in differing roles – from athlete to coach and mentor – Simone has seen every side of judo and has bright hopes for the sport’s future.
“I used judo as a way to fight with my brother so my mum wouldn’t tell me off. Then very quickly I learned that it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”
From her beginnings in a small dojo in London to walking out to the Commonwealth Games winner’s podium, Simone values her early career in judo and finds the lessons learnt at an early age contributed to her success.
“I kept a training journal of every move against me and how I could react to that move and learn from the experience. That is a big part of the development of your skills as a judoka, the ability to take away things from your experiences and use them later in competition”
The aim of judo is to control and dictate the movements of your opponent whilst still remaining in control and minimising penalties, or ‘shidos’. If an athlete makes more than three shidos in a single contest they will be disqualified, resulting in a hansoku-make or instant disqualification. Simone believes that a judoka has to believe in their own abilities:
“You can’t go into a round knowing every move of your opponent, you just have to react. Judo is reactionary; you have to be able to counter every move as fast as you can to gain the advantage.”
Respect is key
Simone believes that the proper etiquette is required to make the most of judo training. Having the right discipline, care for equipment and respect for competitors, coaches and Technical Officials are the key elements for a successful judo career.
“Respect is the basis for judo. It’s the building block for all the things we learn and our coaches try to reinforce this from an early age. Hygiene is also a big part of being a judoka. You wouldn’t want someone’s dirty feet ending up near your face, so we make sure we prepare properly.”
Big in Japan
Simone travelled to Japan – the spiritual home of judo – to further her career as a judoka. In one of her most vivid memories, Simone remembers entering her first dojo in Japan.
“The training area was massive in comparison to what we have in the UK. Instead of 10 or 20 people, there were close to a hundred people training at the one time.”
Simone was given a coloured belt, unaware that this would be one of the hardest tests she would endure.
“I remember being given a red belt. I never thought anything of it, I just heard these numbers in Japanese. I could pick them out, the first one was ten, and the second was five.”
In a feat of superhuman endurance, Simone would face ten opponents consecutively in a gauntlet of five minute fights. Each wave diminishing her energy levels and sapping her strength, allowing Simone little time to recover for the next wave of attack.
“By the fourth round I was in agony, I could barely move. By the seventh round I struggled to stand, but I managed to keep my composure. At the end I was in bits, with pain shooting up my arms and legs.
“That night I was just too sore to move, I couldn’t even extend my arms. The pain and exhaustion left me in tears. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever endured in all my years in judo – but the experience taught me so much.”
All over the world
Through her journey as a judoka, Simone was given the chance to tour many of the world’s biggest competitions. Her trick for battling homesickness was nothing more than a battered old bowl and spoon.
“That one bowl and spoon has been everywhere with me, all over the world. It’s my anchor, it lets me know I can tap into normality when I have my cereal in the morning and reminds me of home.
“Judo has given me the opportunity to visit amazing places and meet fantastic people from so many cultures. It really has been the biggest thing in my life. I don’t mind saying that I’m a judo geek!”
Like some ethereal plane, the judo match seems to take place away from the crowd and the TV cameras, according to Simone:
“I could hear my coach’s voice form somewhere far off in the distance, like I was very far away or underwater. The only thing you can hear is your breathing, the movements of your opponent and the buzzer.”
“When you’re in control of a judo match the clock seems to move as slow as treacle, but when you’re on the losing end – most times pinned to the floor in in a hold – the clock runs down like it’s out of control.
Looking ahead to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Simone believes that Judo spectators are in for a treat when the competition kicks off on the 24 July 2014.
“There’s going to be a few surprise packages this year. I think some careers will be solidified in Glasgow, so fans should stay tuned!”
There are still opportunities to get your hands on tickets for the Games this summer. Find out more.