Last of 14 parts
The Sankei Shimbun and JAPAN Forward wanted to know more about what it is that attracts men and women from widely divergent cultural and economic backgrounds to the Japanese modern martial art. We took the opportunity of the one-year delay in the 2020 Tokyo Games to catch up with Japan’s national judo team men’s coach, Kosei Inoue, to ask about the role of the sport in his life, and what it takes to live by the principles embodied in the “gentle way.”
Excerpts of the interview have been featured daily in a 14-part series (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) that began on August 20, 2020. In this last part, Coach Inoue talks about how he and the team got through the pandemic, Olympic rules and difficult choices in preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021.
Excerpts of the interview follow.
The Tokyo Olympics were planned for the summer of 2020. The steps you took as head coach to strengthen the team increased the number of players competing in all divisions and intensified the domestic competition to get on the Olympic team. Can you describe the process?
Looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics, the first thing I thought was that it would be a mistake to do the same thing we did in the four years leading up to Rio de Janeiro.
So, we put emphasis on ways of improving the respective levels of players. We gave a chance to many more players in all divisions as we worked to increase the pool of athletes. We gave young players and accomplished veterans an equal chance.
We didn’t force any older players to pass the baton to the younger generation. The budget for sending players to international tournaments was limited, but we opened the door to players who wanted the chance to go and could pay their own way.
We also abolished age limits for the Kodokan Cup, which is used to select prospective team members every year. We selected players by prioritizing ability.
Members of the Japan men’s team were decided for six out of seven divisions at a meeting of the committee to strengthen the All-Japan Judo Federation held on February 27, 2020. At the press conference to announce team members, you were in tears with emotion when naming the players that were not selected. What made you so emotional?
I’ve gotten more sentimental as I age. I regret the tears at that press conference—I know better than that. Regardless of my feelings, I should have behaved in a resolute manner. Yet, the first thing that came to mind at that press conference was the players that had lost. The players who made the team would go on to fight for their dreams, but those left out wouldn’t get a chance to compete. They had also worked incredibly hard.
For the Olympic judo team, only one player is selected for each division. There are some divisions where the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players in the world are competing for just one spot. It is a truly cruel world.
As a head coach, I honestly think they should let players participate regardless of nationality, especially if they truly want the competition to be the highest level in the world. Those feelings came to the fore at the time.
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed for one year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Right now, no one knows when international tournaments will resume. The athletes chosen for Team Japan have had to voluntarily refrain from practicing until recently. It’s been a rough time for them, hasn’t it?
All we could do is take it a day at a time. There is no sense in trying to fight it. We can still do our best in our daily lives.
I’ve been able to spend a lot more time at home with my family. I play with my kids and do the cooking. If I do say so myself, my chicken dishes and pork miso soup are really delicious.
What does being head coach mean to you?
It may sound like a cliché, but there is no other work in the world I’d rather be doing.
But it’s not that simple. At times it’s fun, but there are also hardships. I think it’s the same for any line of work, not just coaching.
I love judo, and I’m happy to be doing something I love. My term as head coach has been extended a year until the Olympics. I’m determined. I took on the job, and I’m going to give it my all.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are currently scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021. The first medals in judo will be awarded on July 24, and there will be judo competitions daily until July 31.
Read Other Segments of the Kosei Inoue Judo Story:
- Part 1 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] What it’s Like Being National Coach in the midst of COVID-19
- Part 2 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Attraction of Competing Against Someone Bigger and Stronger
- Part 3 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Learning the Lessons of Winning, Losing and Moving On Without a Grudge
- Part 4 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Continuing On Through Slumps and the Pain of Personal Loss
- Part 5 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Lessons Learned from Competing Against My Brother
- Part 6 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Getting to Sydney: It’s the Way You Perform Judo that Matters
- Part 7 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Thrill of Becoming a National Champion
- Part 8 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Responsibility that Comes with Winning
- Part 9 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] How His Past Shaped His Current Outlook as a Coach
- Part 10 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Overcoming the Physical and Mental Demons of a Major Injury
- Part 11 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Knowing How to Make a Comeback and When to Retire
- Part 12 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] The Turning Point for Judo’s Revival in Japan
- Part 13 [Kosei Inoue’s Judo Story] Reaching Beyond Home to Strengthen the Team and Bring Results
Interview by: Mitsuru Tanaka