STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The Tokyo Grand Slam

The IJF Tokyo Grand Slam is one of judo's most prestigious tournaments with judokas from across seven categories competing for honor and pride.

Posted: Dec 4, 2017 10:31 AM
Updated: Dec 4, 2017 10:31 AM

In an unassuming Tokyo tower block sits the headquarters of a sport at a spiritual crossroads.

A stone's throw from the Japanese capital's space age domed baseball stadium, and in the shadow of a nearby theme park's roller coaster, is the Kodokan International Judo Center.

From the lobby, it appears like any of Tokyo's countless high-rise buildings. A sign for a café in the basement and a small merchandise stand offer little hint of what's above.

But an elevator ride to the second floor reveals the home of a sport with competitive and philosophical roots stretching back over 130 years.

It's this floor that is home to the Kodokan's library and museum, where writings and images from judo's history are displayed in glass cabinets to be studied and revered.

The curator of this collection is Noaki Murata, someone who has built his life around judo and who cherishes the values first preached by its founder Jigoro Kano in 1882.

"The ultimate goal is to put inside our mind two principles," explains Murata, who -- despite his 68 years -- boasts broad shoulders and a strong posture that speak to his past athletic prowess.

"The principle of maximum efficiency and the principle of mutual welfare and benefit, that's the spirit of judo."

The Kodokan is an eight-storey training mecca for aspiring and elite-level judokas willing to eat, sleep and breathe the sport. While not exactly modern, every inch of the building is pristine.

Spread between the fourth and sixth floors are male and female dojos, while the hostel on the third provides accommodation.

The eighth is home to a fully-equipped gymnasium, where large windows allow sunlight to pour over the wooden spectator seats and the blue and red judo mats. The Kodokan boasts over 1,100 such mats.

It's easy to see how an athlete can improve their strength and technique in such a place, but judo is about more than physical prowess.

What sets it apart from other sports, Murata believes, is its broader goal of self-improvement.

"We could take only the physical aspect of judo, it could be a competitive sport with some rules," he explains in deep, considered tones. "This is why judo can be a competitive sport in the Olympics.

"But we don't say this is fully judo, this is a part of judo. What is judo? I think something more spiritual."

And Murata is certainly someone who has founder deeper meaning and purpose through the sport.

A promising tennis player during his junior high school years in Tokyo, and a strong sumo wrestler, Murata was drawn to judo when he saw his friends practicing in the sports hall.

He joined a local club and, after a couple of months of training, was able to defeat his friends in a judo tournament organized by local schools.

Spurred on by this early success, Murata eventually put down his tennis racket and wholeheartedly pursued "the Gentle Way."

As a young man, he enjoyed how judo enhanced his natural strength. He aspired to be like Isao Inokuma -- a heavyweight gold medalist during the sport's first Olympic appearance at the Tokyo Games of 1964.

His dedication to the sport saw him advance to the elite level of eighth dan and led to his appointment at the Kodokan. The institute has sent him on coaching missions all over the world, including numerous stints as an instructor in Europe.

As well as increasing his strength and broadening his horizons, Murata credits judo with making him a more thoughtful person.

"Think and do, think and do." That's his mantra and something he repeats over and over again. To him, it perfectly illustrates how to succeed in judo and in life.

Make a plan. Execute. Make a new plan.

"I became a person who took time to think deeper than before judo," he explains. "Thinking how I should be better.

"When I don't succeed, I should consider again. Your personality changes ... and I'm very happy because of that. And still I keep the same idea. More active. More active. More active."

And it is the positive actions of dedicated individuals like Morata that have made judo a truly global sport.

A record 389 competitors from 136 countries qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, while figures from 2014 claim there are 28 millions judo practitioners around the world with eight million in Japan alone.

This global expansion has created judokas all over the world, with judo's inclusion in the Olympic program allowing youngsters to dream of winning sport's ultimate prize.

But while judokas of Murata's generation saw judo as both a sport and a way of life, the prospect of a gold medal and wider competitive success is now the overriding motivation for up and coming athletes.

"This is not bad," Murata insists. "But I think Jigoro Kano would be feeling very sad if all Japanese think of judo as a sport only."

The current custodians of Japanese judo are only too aware of the importance of success on the mat when the world championships and the Olympic Games arrive on Japanese soil in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

Kosei Inoue was an Olympic champion in 2000 as well as a three-time world champion between 1999 and 2003.

Now he is head coach of the Japanese men's team and responsible for maintaining his country's formidable record in global competition. Japan took home 12 judo medals from Rio, seven more than any other country.

READ: "Judo is similar to life itself"

"I believe that the more you win, the more you have to lose," Inoue told CNN at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, where Japan dominated the medal table with eight golds.

"Japan has many good practitioners, but their journeys are just beginning.

"It is one thing to win just once, and quite another to continue winning. Fortunately, there is a very good environment for judo in Japan; there are many judokas coming up from high school and universities, so there is a surplus of very skilled and talented athletes.

"As for the 'golden generation' of Japanese judo, we will do everything in our power to make sure they are ready to perform at Tokyo 2020, but the process doesn't end there.

"Coaches, athletes and the All Japan Judo Federation will work together to win all competitions."

As part of the organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Games, Yasuhiro Yamashita is a Japanese Olympic legend banking on the current generation emulating his success.

And while both he and Inoue are keen to stress the importance of Jigoro Kano's teachings, the soul of judo may have to take a backseat while the pursuit of golden glory is placed center stage in the coming years.

READ: Legends of judo -- Yasuhiro Yamashita

"As a child, I watched Judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Games on TV and I was deeply moved by their performances," says Yamashita, who claimed a gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games and is a bona fide sporting icon in his homeland.

"I dreamed of stepping on top of the podium and singing the Japanese anthem. It was my lifelong goal -- realizing my dream at the Olympic games in Los Angeles was a very emotional moment."

"I fully trust Mr. Inoue as men's head coach and Mr. Masuchi as women's head coach to lead the team to a great success," he adds.

"Also, I sincerely wish that their performances will give the Japanese citizens hopes and dreams. As the President of the All Japan Judo Federation I will do everything in my power to have Japan host spectacular events in 2019 and 2020."

And while Inoue and Yamashita drive Japan's competitive ambitions, people like Murata make sure its soul is protected.

According to him, as judokas age and are forced to step away from top-level competition, they are able to embrace the sport's spiritual side.

And it is through the words and actions of coaches and former competitors that the deeper meaning of the sport is kept alive in young enthusiasts.

Reflecting on the relatively brief career of a sportsperson, Morata says: "The time not being an athlete is a lot longer than the time being an athlete."

And it is this second career that he embraces; an opportunity to keep alive the teachings of Jigoro Kano.

"That is the time for me to give them the true meaning of judo," he adds.

"I show them myself, I show myself to be a good man, showing the spirit of judo."

Terre Haute
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 50°
Robinson
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 43°
Indianapolis
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 42°
Rockville
Overcast
42° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 35°
Casey
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 38°
Brazil
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 50°
Marshall
Overcast
50° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 50°
Rainy Thursday
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 393797

Reported Deaths: 9889
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1811085450
DuPage23780615
Lake21373514
Will19141430
Kane17421348
Winnebago10703182
St. Clair8096221
Madison7373157
McHenry6671121
Champaign639028
Unassigned4786270
Peoria474877
McLean430138
Sangamon424863
Rock Island417393
Kankakee350581
Macon330854
Tazewell280956
Kendall279730
LaSalle255465
DeKalb246942
Coles203040
Adams200422
Boone195325
Williamson193861
Clinton182829
Vermilion181011
Jackson158426
Whiteside158430
Knox136221
Randolph131415
Ogle12717
Effingham12264
Marion110220
Stephenson10759
Franklin103310
Grundy10197
Morgan98324
Monroe97130
Bureau94817
Jefferson92052
Henry8637
Christian84629
Macoupin82911
Union79925
McDonough78920
Lee7692
Douglas7339
Shelby71512
Fayette69924
Livingston69210
Woodford67615
Crawford6636
Montgomery64416
Logan6144
Saline5969
Fulton5571
Jo Daviess5369
Warren5299
Bond5189
Iroquois51519
Wayne50914
Jersey48121
Cass46811
Perry46516
Moultrie4436
Carroll43712
Pike3887
Johnson3760
Lawrence3518
Richland34218
Washington3272
Clay32413
Hancock3214
Mason3175
Clark31417
Cumberland3086
Greene29915
Mercer2876
De Witt2756
White2744
Jasper27210
Piatt2651
Pulaski2451
Wabash2415
Ford20814
Menard1881
Marshall1663
Edgar15910
Massac1582
Alexander1361
Hamilton1352
Henderson1310
Brown1170
Edwards1140
Gallatin1102
Scott1090
Putnam980
Schuyler931
Stark923
Calhoun640
Hardin560
Pope421
Out of IL10

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 169112

Reported Deaths: 4227
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion26448794
Lake14804364
St. Joseph9866173
Elkhart9549145
Allen8886235
Hamilton6541119
Vanderburgh626970
Tippecanoe409816
Porter361451
Hendricks3472138
Monroe342638
Johnson3352131
Delaware318577
Clark312965
Vigo288341
Madison260797
LaPorte244165
Cass232725
Kosciusko214729
Warrick208965
Floyd190569
Howard172566
Dubois153526
Marshall152829
Bartholomew150758
Wayne149833
Grant138140
Henry137730
Boone132550
Noble127335
Hancock127144
Jackson123319
Dearborn105828
Lawrence102238
Morgan100940
Gibson96712
Clinton95216
Shelby94536
Daviess94136
Knox86110
LaGrange83115
Harrison82424
Fayette81022
DeKalb80011
Putnam78817
Posey7837
Jasper7235
Miami6985
Steuben6849
Montgomery65322
White64016
Adams6177
Greene59438
Scott56916
Decatur54739
Whitley5086
Ripley5018
Wells49011
Wabash4899
Clay4757
Sullivan47414
Starke47310
Huntington4725
Spencer4336
Orange43225
Randolph42711
Fulton4118
Jefferson4095
Perry40414
Washington3983
Jennings39613
Franklin38825
Pike36718
Fountain3563
Carroll35213
Jay3516
Vermillion2871
Tipton28623
Rush2654
Parke2644
Blackford2525
Newton24111
Owen2211
Martin2050
Pulaski1814
Crawford1661
Brown1523
Ohio1377
Union1240
Benton1130
Switzerland1030
Warren1021
Unassigned0236