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Tokyo International Judo Championships: 19-Year Old Yujiro Seto and Co. Claim Victory (Part I)

The 2019 Tokyo International Judo Championships for the Blind and Visually Impaired was held on March 10 at the Kodokan, known as the mecca of judo. The individual matches, held for seven men’s classes and six women’s classes, saw 63 judoka from 15 different countries including Japan, and served as the battleground for a slew of intense matches. With so many high-ranking judoka, the tournament was a golden opportunity for the top judoka in Japan to see how their abilities would play out against the rest of the world, in advance of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. In this article, we will cover the results of the tournament, focusing mainly on the classes with the more visible Japanese judoka.

Men’s 66kg Class: Seto Claims Another Victory Over Fujimoto, Following the All Japan Championships

The Men’s 66kg class, held in an elimination-style tournament with seven judoka, ended in a finals match between Yujiro Seto and Satoshi Fujimoto, both of whom had won their first and semi-finals matches by scoring an ippon—the same match-up as in the All Japan Judo Championships in December the previous year. Fujimoto is a VI judo legend, having claimed three consecutive victories in the Paralympics and winning a total of five medals in the sport. Seto, on the other hand, had racked up most of his experience in able-bodied judo, having only gone into VI judo in 2017. Despite being a relatively new face, however, he has shown himself to be a powerhouse of the sport, beating Fujimoto in last year’s All Japan Judo Championships to claim his first victory in the tournament.

Seto (second from left) held his own against long-time star Fujimoto (left), showing off his growth

Going in aggressive from the start of the match was Fujimoto, who had lost to Seto the last time they’d gone against one another. He went in for a tomoenage (circle throw)—a strength of his—lifting Seto up into the air, but Seto was quick, maneuvering his body to land firmly on his feet. Later, Seto would tell us, “I train with someone who’s good at the tomoenage, and I learned this little technique while training with him.” And indeed, this maneuver allowed him to evade Fujimoto’s many attempts at a tomoenage throughout the match. On the flip side, however, when Seto went in with a seoinage (one-armed shoulder throw) from low to the ground, Fujimoto was quick to evade it, hopping to the side to escape the maneuver. The match went on like this, with both sides unrelenting, until finally it went into overtime—a Golden Score contest. There, Fujimoto, “ready to go all in,” attempted a sasae-tsurikomi-ashi (lifting pulling ankle prop). Seto, however, was ready, countering the maneuver with a sumi-otoshi (corner drop), and earning a waza-ari to win the match. “My body just responded automatically,” said Seto.

Seto countered Fujimoto’s sasae-tsurikomi-ashi with a sumi-otoshi to claim the championship title

“That finals match against Fujimoto was a lot of fun,” said Seto, smiling, as he looked back on the tournament. “I think this past year and a half I’ve had the most progress in terms of muscle strength. The first time I was in a VI judo tournament, my arms were completely sore when time was up for the main match . But this time we went into overtime and I still had more to give, and that’s why I was able to keep hanging on and win the match.” When asked what his goals were for 2020, he said, “First I need to able to qualify for Tokyo. The rest I’ll think about later.” He is modest, despite the hype around him as the fresh, new 19-year old star of VI judo, not only in the Tokyo Paralympics, but in the many tournaments to follow. Even Fujimoto’s words after the match seemed to reveal how much is expected of Seto in the future. “When I go against [Seto] it makes me feel like there’s so much room for me to grow,” he said.

The two, who said the match was “a lot of fun,” smiled and congratulated each other for a well-fought battle

Men’s 73kg Class: Nagai Wins Championship Title with an Ippon Victory

The Men’s 73kg class, also held in an elimination-style tournament with six judoka, saw Takamasa Nagai, champion of the All Japan Championships, go head-to-head against Lois Leger from France. Both had finished off their semi-finals matches with an ippon victory, and seemed to be on a roll for this tournament. First to attempt a maneuver, however, was Nagai. Going in with a tomoenage (circle throw)—the technique that had won him an ippon in the semi-finals—he managed to get Leger in the air, only for Leger to evade the maneuver, and for the two to go down into a ground fight. In the midst of this match, Leger managed to earn a waza-ari with a throwing technique, but had it taken back. A little more than a minute into the match, Nagai—in ground stance—grabbed Leger from below, then switched up their positions to hold him down in a kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame (modified top four-corner hold). 1 minute 34 seconds into the match, he claimed the championship title with an ippon victory.

Nagai held Leger down with a kuzure-kami-shiho-gatame and won the match with an ippon victory

“I couldn’t put my training into practice—destabilizing the opponent with foot techniques then going into my own maneuver,” said Nagai, reflecting on the match. “It was good I was able to get that ippon with the ground technique, but honestly, this match really made obvious a lot of my issues,” he said modestly. “It’s only a year and a half until the Tokyo Paralympics. I have so much I can do, so much I have to do, so I just want to take it one at a time, and make it so I can win.”

text by Shigeki Masutani
photo by Ryo Ichikawa

Next >>> Go on to Part II

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