Para Judo

Para Judo has adapted judo rules for visually impaired people. Bouts can be decided in an instant, making it an exciting spectator sport. We take a look at one of Japan's most promising competitors.

Transcript

00:16

Judo - a martial art that hails from Japan.

00:23

It's also contested as a sport for athletes with visual impairments at the Paralympics and is gaining in popularity.

00:34

As soon as a bout begins, it's a tense battle requiring the utmost attention...

00:40

because it can all be over in an instant.

00:50

One rising Para Judo star is Seto Yujiro.

00:58

He favors the "seoi-nage" or shoulder throw, and he's hoping this skill will propel him to the top.

01:09

"I want to win all my matches using the shoulder throw."

01:16

We look at the appeal of Para Judo and follow Seto on his journey to qualify for the Paris Paralympics.

01:27

Para Judo.

01:28

The visual impairment of the competitors results in unique rules that add to the excitement of the sport.

01:35

We take a look at the depth and complexity of Para Judo.

01:48

Para Judo, a Paralympic sport contested by athletes with visual impairments.

01:57

Up until the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, partially sighted and blind athletes fought in the same competition,

02:05

but from Paris onwards, they'll be split into separate categories.

02:12

In Para Judo competitors start with a firm grip on their opponents' uniforms.

02:21

But in regular Judo, matches begin with a battle to gain an initial hold on each other's collars.

02:36

"He goes for the 'osoto-gari!'"

02:39

In Para Judo as the competitors are in contact from the very start, the battle develops more quickly.

02:48

"'Uchimata!' It's a 'waza-ari!'"

02:51

Other than this, the rules of Para Judo, including a match's four-minute duration,

02:57

the size of the mat, and permitted techniques, such as joint and choking techniques, are all unchanged.

03:07

As a Para Judo match can be over before it starts, the viewing experience is very different to regular Judo.

03:22

Here to tell us more about these differences is Judo legend Nomura Tadahiro.

03:31

Nomura won three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the 60-kilo class, the only Olympic "judoka" ever to do so.

03:47

Nomura's favorite technique, is the flamboyant "seoi-nage" or shoulder throw, which Nomura had down to a fine art.

04:00

So, the main difference between Para Judo and standard Judo

04:03

is that it starts with both competitors grasping hold of each other's "judo-gi" or uniforms.

04:09

But how different is this from standard judo?

04:14

In regular Judo, you get some time to rest.

04:17

It's a really tiring sport, but you can keep your distance from your opponent, or try and change the flow of the match.

04:26

In Para Judo, that's not possible.

04:31

Para Judo competitors can neither keep their distance nor take a rest.

04:35

For the entire four minutes of the match, both "judoka" have to go all out.

04:41

Until one competitor gains a swift advantage.

04:47

"'Uchimata,' that adds up to an 'ippon' and the gold medal!"

04:53

One defeat means that you're out of the tournament.

04:56

So, the pressure is on, because either "judoka" can launch a winning technique out of the blue

05:02

when they take a hold and really, that's pretty scary.

05:07

In Para Judo, bouts can be decided suddenly and quickly, making it a fantastic spectator sport.

05:15

Next up is one of Japan's most promising para judo hopefuls.

05:27

Seto Yujiro is one of Japanese Para Judo's rising stars.

05:37

Like Nomura, his favorite move is the "seoi-nage," the shoulder throw.

05:51

Seto is one of the few Japanese "judoka" tipped for a possible Paralympic gold medal.

05:57

Recently, Japanese competitors have been struggling to make their mark internationally.

06:06

So, at the 2016 Rio Games and the 2020 Tokyo Games, Japanese para "judoka" missed out on gold medals.

06:13

Why do you think Japanese competitors were unable to win?

06:17

In Para Judo, you start off in close proximity to one another, and this is to the advantage of the more imposing athletes.

06:27

But Japanese competitors, no matter how much physical training they do,

06:32

struggle to match the overwhelming power of some of their international rivals.

06:39

Starting the match in contact with your opponent can put less powerful "judoka" at a disadvantage.

06:49

As non-Japanese competitors become more technically skilled, it's becoming harder for Japanese "judoka" to make an impression.

06:58

But Seto is one of the few Japanese "judoka" with the strength and power to stay in the game.

07:09

He took part in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics at the age of 21.

07:18

"'Ouchi-gari!' That's an 'ippon!'"

07:23

Seto proved that he was one of the most powerful competitors on the mat.

07:29

"Goes for the 'seoi-nage,' switches to 'ouchi-gari!'"

07:35

Nomura analyses footage of Seto's performance for us.

07:44

Watching him fight, you can see how strong he is.

07:47

Even when he tries to throw from a less than ideal position, his opponent cannot stop him, due to his strength.

07:55

When he pushes forward, it unbalances his opponent.

07:59

That allows him to attack with an "ouchi-gari" to win.

08:04

It's his brute force.

08:08

Seto's forceful, aggressive style, was on show during the match for the bronze medal.

08:22

He attacks with his feet to disrupt his opponent's balance, before throwing him at just the right moment.

08:31

This aggressive strategy saw him win the bronze medal.

08:39

Seto was the only Japanese men's "judoka" to make an appearance on the podium at the Tokyo Paralympics,

08:45

saving Japan from the embarrassment of failing to win a medal on home turf.

08:55

Seto relies on power and aggression, but how did he become such an effective "judoka?"

09:05

Seto usually practices with regular "judoka," often sparring against those of a heavier weight.

09:24

It's through these practice sessions that he has built his strength.

09:32

Seto's aggressive approach is down to his origins as a combatant in regular Judo.

09:44

This footage shows Seto fighting as a high school student.

09:47

And although he was only partially sighted, he fought in regular Judo competitions.

10:02

This experience helped him develop his own unique style.

10:10

With Para Judo, because you take a lower stance, you often end up pulling backwards,

10:16

which can result in you lowering your head, making it difficult to produce throws.

10:23

But if you practice regular Judo, where there's more of an upright stance,

10:28

that benefits you when you switch to Para Judo, where you start off in contact.

10:36

Seto's experience in both forms of Judo has helped establish his formidable talent.

10:50

Seto Yujiro was regarded as a likely gold medal contender, but he ran up against some unexpected difficulties.

11:06

Following the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, the rules of Para Judo underwent significant changes.

11:15

While all competitors used to fight in the same category,

11:18

the sport is now divided into a J1 class for blind athletes and a J2 class for the partially sighted.

11:27

This category split also led to a revision of the weight class divisions.

11:32

Seto's 66-kilo class was abolished, forcing him to fight in the 73-kilo class.

11:42

Seto should really be fighting in the 66-kilo class, but due to the reorganization of the categories, that class was scrapped.

11:52

Now he has to fight in the 73-kilo class, that's 7 kilos heavier.

11:58

A pretty daunting task.

12:02

Previously, the next class up from 73-kilos was the 81-kilo class, but that's also been scrapped.

12:10

Some former members of that class may need to lose weight to compete,

12:15

so Seto now has to fight much more powerful opponents.

12:23

We asked Seto how he felt about these changes.

12:31

I think it's crazy that they did this.

12:36

It's difficult when the weight classes change so drastically.

12:43

It does make things rather hard.

12:47

Actually, I'd like to have a word with whoever's responsible for this.

12:55

At first, Seto struggled to fight in a heavier weight class.

13:03

He was unable to prevent his stronger opponent from completing a throw.

13:10

And his own throws proved ineffective.

13:18

You can see here that he can no longer make the same forceful throws he made in the 66-kilo class.

13:27

As he runs out of gas, Seto finally loses by an "ippon."

13:41

A year away from the Paris Paralympics and Seto was yet to regain his form.

13:49

He was unable to get the results he needed, falling outside the top eight ranking positions required to claim a spot at the Paris Paralympics.

14:03

You really have to bulk up a lot.

14:06

And even though athletes who formally competed in the 66-kilo class were gaining weight, I just couldn't keep up.

14:17

Physicality is important, but it takes a lot of work to change your physique.

14:24

It's not just about putting on weight.

14:27

You have to make sure that the muscles you need are working in coordination,

14:33

so that you're muscular, but still strong, agile, and able to control your strength.

14:42

It takes time to adjust, you know.

14:45

And I think that's why Seto found it difficult in the beginning.

14:53

To build up strength, Seto turned to weight training.

15:07

It's rather routine.

15:14

Building muscle all over the body reduces an athlete's speed, so weight training must be focused.

15:21

Seto is concentrating on his back muscles and lower body to help him throw opponents with his former vigor.

15:32

Weight training's really important, but...

15:37

it's so brutal.

15:52

Seto faces another international competition with Paralympic points up for grabs.

16:03

In the second round, he comes up against Feruz Sayidov from Uzbekistan,

16:07

the gold medalist in the 73-kilo category at the Tokyo Paralympics.

16:18

Seto employs his signature approach.

16:30

And... he manages to beat the reigning gold medalist with a "seoi-nage."

16:39

Throughout this match, he had good lower body mobility and kept pressing his opponent;

16:45

this is the best he's performed since moving up a class.

16:53

In the semifinal, Seto faced Giorgi Kaldani from Georgia, an opponent he'd never beaten before.

17:08

In their previous meeting, Kaldani scored a "waza-ari" with a foot move,

17:13

and then ended the match with an "ippon" using his favorite "kata-guruma" throw,

17:17

meaning Seto finished up outside a Paralympic qualifying position.

17:31

I struggle against "judoka" like Kaldani, who have a different leading hand, are smaller in stature, and have good footwork.

17:43

I was very wary, particularly of his "kata-guruma" throw.

17:49

Seto couldn't afford to lose this time if he wanted to qualify for the Paris Paralympic team.

18:09

Early on in the bout, Seto manages to throw himself on his stomach to avoid Kaldani's attacks.

18:18

But following this... Kaldani attacks again.

18:31

Seto avoids defeat from an "ippon," but a "waza-ari" is scored.

18:44

And now, Kaldani launches the same "kata-guruma" that lost Seto their previous match to an "ippon."

18:58

This time, Seto has avoided immediate defeat and remains focused.

19:06

I was very aware that I needed to watch out for his "kata-guruma," and I felt very calm and composed.

19:16

Seto then decides to go on the attack himself.

19:30

He goes for a "seoi-nage," but Kaldani sees it coming.

19:34

Seto, however, remains steadfast.

19:42

Through training, I've gotten better at sticking it out in this kind of situation.

19:48

I was determined to throw him.

20:02

Seto fights back from a losing position to snatch victory with an "ippon."

20:07

His "seoi-nage" was the result of remarkable perseverance.

20:13

He goes for the throw, but he doesn't have his opponent cleanly on his back.

20:21

He showed incredible strength to recover position and complete the technique.

20:32

Obviously, it's best to execute a quick and clean throw, but sometimes you can't, and it's key to see it through to the end.

20:44

Seto goes on to win the final, lifting his ranking up to sixth, good enough to qualify for Paris.

20:57

Another international competition for ranking points was held in February...

21:08

Seto won all of his matches with the same "seoi-nage" technique, raising his world ranking to third place.

21:19

As his technique continues to improve, he's ready to take on the world at the Paris Paralympics and beyond.

21:31

I hope that Seto will be able to win many bouts with his "seoi-nage,"

21:36

eventually climbing to the top of the podium to take home the gold medal.

21:45

We passed on Nomura's message to Seto...

21:52

I'm delighted to hear him say that.

21:55

He's a legend, as are his "seoi-nage."

21:59

It gives me real confidence to have his backing.

22:03

Of course, I'm determined to win and I'll continue to maintain my style using my "seoi-nage."

22:17

Seto Yujiro's journey to become the world's number one continues.

22:22

We hope that, come September, in Paris, he will be able to demonstrate his true potential on the global stage.

22:39

The Yokozuna stands at the pinnacle of Sumo.

22:46

As well as competing, a Yokozuna is responsible for performing a very important ceremony during a Grand Sumo Tournament.

22:56

The Yokozuna dohyo-iri, the ring-entering ceremony.

23:06

The rope worn around the waist of a Yokozuna is the same as those used at Shinto shrines.

23:24

The Yokozuna ring-entering ceremony is a sacred ritual performed to pray for peace and a bountiful harvest.

23:44

After stepping into the ring, the Yokozuna squats deeply and claps his hands twice.

23:52

He stretches out his arms to show that he's not concealing any weapons.

23:59

Then, he moves to the center of the ring and claps his hands twice again.

24:12

Next, he stamps his feet to ward off any evil spirits lurking in the ground.

24:19

Then, he gradually raises his body.

24:22

This marks the climax of the ceremony.

24:28

After that, he stamps his feet twice again to further solidify the ground.

24:47

Finally, he returns to the edge of the ring, and repeats his entry movements.

24:53

This is the Yokozuna ring-entering ceremony.

25:00

There are two styles of Yokozuna dohyo-iri: the Unryu style, and the Shiranui style.

25:09

This is the Unryu style.

25:15

Notice the arm positions when the Yokozuna raises his body.

25:19

The stretched right arm signifies his intention to attack, while the folded left arm represents defense.

25:29

And this is the Shiranui style.

25:41

Unlike the Unryu style, the Yokozuna stretches both arms when raising his body, signifying a sole focus on attack.

25:52

The Yokozuna, the greatest of all sumo wrestlers, is revered as a living god.

25:59

This is why Yokozuna often perform ring-entering ceremonies at Shinto shrines.

26:05

The ceremonies draw big crowds hoping to gain blessings.

26:19

Japan is prone to many major natural disasters and following such occurrences

26:25

Yokozuna travel to affected areas to conduct ring-entering ceremonies.

26:33

The Yokozuna pray for the recovery of the affected areas.

26:58

Survivors have found encouragement through these ceremonies.

27:06

"We appreciate the hope that the ceremonies give us."

27:10

Yokozuna are not just the strongest rikishi but are also symbolic of Grand Sumo as a divine ritual.