Featured image from JudoAfrica.org

At first glance, judo seems like two people on a mat grabbing at each other.  After a couple swipe kicks and attempted pins, the opponents separate and start again. Every once in a while the two bodies get tangled before another quick separation. Then the ref announces a winner. In reality, the sport has more complexities than this.

ju·do

/ˈjo͞odō/

noun

1. a sport of unarmed combat derived from jujitsu and intended to train the body and mind. It involves using holds and leverage to unbalance the opponent.

The sport has poetic principles that apply to life as much as they apply to the match. Its students, known as  judokas, learn to maximize efficiency and minimize effort. They focus on throwing their opponent off balance and pinning them to the mat, known as a tatami, with as little struggle as possible. Liberian judoka Alex Dehaini describes it best.

“The first thing a beginner learns in judo class is how to safely take falls to protect one-self,” Dehaini explains. “Before you learn how to throw someone, you have to know how to get thrown without getting hurt.”

Dehaini has practiced judo, since 2008. While studying karate, Dehaini witnessed a judo  demonstration and became intrigued with the grappling martial art. He was living in Ghana, at the time. Now, residing in the United States, the Liberian judoka wants to share his passion and experience with other Liberians.

“My aim is to setup a Judo program for all Liberians but mostly the young ones through the Japanese consulate or through another country that is popular with the sport like the French and Russian,” he says.

 

(Dehaini competes at a judo match in white.)
(Dehaini, pictured in blue, takes gold at 2018 NAGA in Marietta.)

While Dehaini aspires to create independent judo programs, the eight-year-old Liberia Judo Federation struggles to develop the sport.  According to a fundraising campaign on akkabo.ug, the Liberia Judo Federation was incorporated on January 28, 2011, but not many Liberians know about the organization. Even Dehaini had no clue it existed.

The Judo Saga

Before the organization could make a name for itself, its reputation took a hard hit. Somehow, an unqualified man named Levi Saryee obtained credentials to represent Liberia in the 2012 Summer Olympic judo match. The federation had no clue where Saryee came from or how he got there. Saryee never competed. Instead, he forfeited the match.

Liberia Judo Federation officials say they did not receive credentials to attended the 2012 Summer Olympics and blame the Liberia National Olympic Committee (LNOC) for the embarrassing judo saga.  The LNOC rejects the blame. Both groups never resolved the matter. Today, Liberia does not have any licensed judo fighters and the team’s international judo page appears inactive. The federation has a Facebook and Twitter profile, but these pages hardly focus on the sport’s development inside the country. Despite all the negativity, the judo federation wants to move forward.

Executive judo federation committee member, David (atom) Cayman shared emails with Go Team Liberia. In the emails Liberia Judo Federation president Patrick Konowu says, “I am a christian, I have put that [the judu saga] behind me and trying to move the organization forward.”

Indeed, judo in Liberia has made slow gains. In 2017, AllAfrica.com reported that former vice president, Joseph Boikai invited Swiss judo expert François Wahl  to Liberia. During the visit, Wahl distributed medical disinfectant materials from his company Numelec. Wahl also led a five day judo training camp for Liberian judukas. These encouraging acts lend hope to the sport’s development.

The Future

Judo’s future in Liberia depends on how well the federation and independent judo lovers move forward. The organization took a hard fall, but learning to fall without getting hurt is the first lesson. The time to move forward has arrived.  Young Liberian athletes have lots to gain from the sport: respect, confidence, courage, hard work, humility, mental toughness, persistence, athleticism and more.

“Like everything else, we have to start from somewhere and have a plan,” Dehaini concludes. “Our plan should be to encourage young boys and girls to get involved with judo. Once we have the interest, we can build talent.”