All posts by Sara Connerton

18th July, 2015: High Wycombe – Ne waza competition

Having waited much longer than expected for my first fight, I was pleased when it was actually my turn to get on to the tatami. Still a relatively new face to competitive judo, I didn’t know anything about any of my components but sometimes that can be an advantage. I first came up against one Sarah Digweed, who is a dan grade, and initially I was pleased with my performance – although I was somewhat sceptical about why I was winning, and I kept myself on edge waiting for the moment to come when the tables would turn. It wasn’t the tables that turned though; it was me! When Sarah was on all fours, I put my hand on her waist – I’m not sure why; perhaps because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Her arm clasped my hand where it was, and she tried to turn me. I blocked the turn with my leg outstretched and then cleverly she turned me the other way. When I landed, she had both my arms trapped (although at the time I didn’t know how) and I had no chance of escape. I lost that one but at least managed to last about a minute.

My next fight was against another black belt – I later found out a second dan. She was not that difficult to dominate and watching the video of the fight afterwards, I saw we both made a handful of mistakes. Suffering from discomfort in my elbow, I was wearing a bandage which came undone mid-fight and I was pleased when the ref stopped the match and allowed me rectification. With the bandage rewound and taped up this time, I resumed my fight with determination. I was dominant for a lot of it and, towards the end, I wondered if a yamara arashi move would work. In hindsight, I thought I had tried it, but watching the video, it seems that I just turned my body to move uke and secure her in a tight kesa hold she told me afterwards she would “never get out of”.

Newaza gold High Wycombe
Still nervous, even after having been awarded the gold.

Knowing the competition was tough, I stayed clear of complacency and approached my next fight with justified caution. My rival was Olivia Spellman (who I was later told ranked nationally in the top 3). Her strong posture and confident movements as she shuffled towards me immediately made me realise she was very different to my first two competitors, and although I tried my best, it wasn’t long before she had me in an arm lock that was applied so competently, I was actually quite scared. I matte’d the fight abruptly and, after the reis, I walked off the mat shaking. I calmed myself gradually and was pleased to have been given the gold medal for being top of my own league (even though the women I’d fought were in a different league altogether albeit for different reasons).

19th September, 2015: Croydon – Ne waza Competition

Since my first two competitions required me to wait some hours before fighting, I expected the same this time. How unpredictable judo can be though when I actually got to fight a lot sooner than expected. Luckily there was a green-belt adult within a kilo of my own weight, and it was her I was expected to fight for the ‘best out of three’ matches. I was surprised with how fast and aggressive she was: she threw me almost immediately but the ploy lacked the precise control needed and I landed on my side, gained control and tried to apply an arm lock, a strangle, mune katame and then I tried juji, taking advantage of her unclosed elbow. I couldn’t get my ankles to the floor or crossed behind hers in time though, and she countered by rolling towards me. Despite having my foot trapped, I managed to get on top of her again and found myself in a good position to try juji again. She rolled me again and pulled me down, but didn’t maintain proximity so I was able to edge away and reposition myself to take hold. I kept hold of her sleeve as she turned me and her failed strangle somehow enabled me to turn, pull my head from under her arm (giving myself a bruise beneath the eye as I did so) and escape. On the next resume, I took a different grip, almost wrapping each of my arms around each of hers. This allowed me to get closer and throw her tidily, almost straight into kesa, which turned into mune as she wriggled against me. I was really pleased to hear the sound of the ‘sore made’ bell and the ref’s “Matte!” signalling time was up.

In my second match against her, within seconds I was in a hold (stupidly I’d had a flat left foot that had made me vulnerable) which, within a few seconds, I managed to escape from by turning. When my rival put her hand on my waist, I thought of the Sarah Digweed moment and how the following training session in Basingstoke had addressed that error and how to take advantage of it … but I completely forgot what I had been taught. I rolled backwards instead of sideways and would have got myself into a strangle had I not anticipated it in the nick of time. My opponent next turned me by a clever move I hadn’t learnt, where her far leg extended sideways to allow her near leg to begin moving around me in a circle. I lost that fight and felt exhausted afterwards, thirsty and hungry.

By the third match, I had refuelled myself with a banana and more water than a camel could drink, and I won. Just before the match, I was advised to push her away and then pull her with her own reaction, and it was that guidance that gave me the advantage very quickly into the fight. I’m not sure what happened after that or how I won (my phone ran out of memory and didn’t record my victory!). It was a much tidier fight though.

Croydon 1st place
Me (upright) on the left – first place, gold, yes! Praise me well !

Having won two out of three fights, glory was mine, but there was still one match to go – against an eighteen year old blue belt I’d chatted with during my warm-up. She went in fast and furious to put me in a hold I was quick to get out of. I sensed a few loopholes where the grip wasn’t tight enough though and persevered until I was out. When the match resumed, valiant efforts enabled me to keep my opponent suppressed on all fours and she was given a shido for not retaliating. I was pleased I didn’t get the shido for not doing anything else, but it seemed – at least at that point – that I was responding adequately. I won the match by being dominant and not having any penalties against me. Ironically though, when the medals were awarded for the Open we didn’t know we’d been participating in, I was given silver. My opponent and I looked at each other confused but the lady in charge explained that the blue-belt’s “ippon hold” had given her ten points whereas I’d only scored five for the win. Not fully understanding the information, I chose to accept it anyway out of respect for the lady’s expertise and my own lack of experience in the game. Before, the teenager had been quite cross to have lost and immediately she shook my hand and was happy. I was pleased for her to have kept face, and pleased with myself for beating her. This way we were both top winners.

As I left the dojo, I felt the weight of my handbag on my shoulder, anchored almost by my third gold medal in a row, and the silver one. I was shattered and that was only the start of my day….