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Judo in the time of Covid-19: Zebeda Rekhviashvili
28 Apr 2020 15:00
Always there’s a shiver in our body if athletes get hurt on the mat. It hurts, even to see it, you know it will cost time. The pain is something you got to live with. Zebeda Rekhviashvili knows what we mean. This period is also a time to heal for many athletes. Zebeda though is always in pain, but it’s the price. Oon Yeoh spoke to the Georgian middleweight.
JIC: Can you tell us about how you got started in judo?
ZR: I started judo training in 2001 when I was 10 years old. My mother wanted me to do karate and my father wanted me to do football. But a few of my friends from the street where I lived brought me to try out judo. I knew straight away this is what I wanted to do.
JIC: What was it about judo that appealed to you?
ZR: When I first entered into the dojo, I noticed something very different. It wasn’t just like a normal sport. The mentality of the people was very good. Their behavior was good. Everybody was respectful. I had a very good impression and I told my parents this is what I wanted to do.
JIC: Can you tell us about your first judo club?
ZR: At that time, in Georgia, there was no such thing as judo clubs. It was a dojo run by the government. Many people in the village go there to train, to do judo and to do sambo wrestling.
JIC: Are there any clubs today?
ZR: In Georgia, the situation is not like in other countries where you have a lot of private clubs. What we have in Georgia right now are two professional clubs. One is called Fighter Tblisi and the other is called Golden Gori. Most of the top players in Georgia belong to one of these two clubs. I belong to Fighter Tblisi.
JIC: Who else is in Fighter Tblisi and Golden Gori?
ZR: In Fighter Tblisi, you have players like Papinashvili, Tchrikishvili, Liparteliani, Tushishvili and Tatalashvili. In Golden Gori, you have Margvelashvili, Shavdatuashvili, Gviniashvili and Maisuradze and so on.
JIC: Do these two clubs ever train together?
ZR: All the time. We come together at the Judo Academy to train together. You see, the club system in Georgia is not like what you imagine a club is in other places. We are more like a professional team rather than a club that has its own dojo. At Fighter Tblisi, we don’t have our own dojo. We go to Judo Academy to train. This is a dojo run by the Georgian Judo Federation.
JIC: Do you do judo full-time or do you hold another job as well?
ZR: In Georgia top judo athletes only do judo. We don’t have other jobs.
JIC: Is your salary paid for by the government?
ZR: No, the government only gives money if you get results in major tournaments like the European Championships, the World Championships and the Olympic Games. Our salary comes from the judo clubs that we belong to. Some also get income from judogi sponsors. In my case it’s Adidas.
JIC: Georgian judo players have a distinct style of play but your style seems to be a bit different. You like to do techniques like the reverse seoi-nage and tai-otoshi. Why is that?
ZR: Maybe because I don't do traditional Georgian wrestling, so the influence is not there. I watch great judo athletes do their judo and I experiment with their techniques. For reverse seoi-nage, I watched Olympic Champion Choi Min-Ho do this and I decided I wanted to do this technique. As for the tai-otoshi, I saw Olympic Champion Lee Won-Hee do this and I also decided it would become my technique.
JIC: You used to do the flying juji-gatame when it was still legal. Where did that come from?
ZR: I think the first person I saw doing this was World Champion Loic Pietri of France. Later, I would see Brazilians like Olympic Champion Rafaela Silva doing it too. I thought it was pretty cool.
JIC: For these new, rather non-Georgian techniques, how did you go about learning these?
ZR: I just taught myself. I watched how these other players did it and just experimented. But with the flying juji, I didn’t really train it like I did with reverse seoi-nage or tai-otoshi. I just tried it in randori and it worked. It’s one of those things that came naturally, without much effort.
JIC: Is it true that Georgians generally do not like newaza?
ZR: Yes, typically many of them don’t like it but that is slowly starting to change. Liparteliani likes newaza. He has this one very strong “arm roll” technique that he uses over and over again. I also used to not like newaza but now I love it. I realized a few years ago that judo is not complete without newaza so I have been practicing newaza.
JIC: What is the reason for the general dislike of newaza?
ZR: I think it has to do with the fact that many Georgian players also do chidaoba, which is our traditional form of wrestling. It’s similar to judo but it has no groundwork.
JIC: You never competed in chidaoba?
ZR: For me no. I just liked judo. But most of my teammates do chidaoba. Many of the techniques you associate with Georgian players come from chidaoba.
JIC: Like the Khabarelli technique?
ZR: Exactly. Shota Khabarelli made that technique famous but it actually comes from chidaoaba.
JIC: Many Georgians also like to do techniques on both sides, right and left. Is that a common strategy among Georgian player?
ZR: Yes, many players train to do techniques on both sides. For example, for tai-otoshi I mainly do it to the right but I can do it to the left too.
JIC: Is it true that traditionally, girls did not do judo in Georgia? Of course, you have Eteri Liparteliani at -57kg, who is doing really well right now, but there are not many top female players from Georgia.
ZR: Yes, Georgia is quite a conservative country and traditionally judo is not something girls did but that is starting to change.
JIC: In your career you’ve been plagued by injuries. What are the major ones that you’ve suffered?
ZR: Both my legs. My ACL (anterior cruciate ligaments) are torn on both legs. My right shoulder too. Those are the major ones but I’ve had injuries to my elbows, ankles, fingers. Most recently I injured my left leg again last November. So, I’ve not competed at all this year. I was on the road to recovery when the Covid-19 crisis hit, so I’m still not able to compete yet.
JIC: Are you completely healed now or do you still feel some pain?
ZR: I’m always in pain. But it’s okay. You have to learn to appreciate the pain, if you know what I mean. It’s a privilege to do judo. Pain is the price I pay for it.
JIC: With judo clubs closed what type of training are you doing?
ZR: I do some exercises to strengthen my knees but for judo-related exercises, I do uchikomi with bands. I think using bands is the best way to stay in judo shape if you can’t train with partners.
JIC: You’re 29 now. How long do you plan to keep on competing?
ZR: Forever, if possible. To be honest, I don’t know when I’m going to stop. As long as I can do it, I will keep competing. Judo is not just a sport for me. It’s my life. The feeling I get when I step on to the tatami is something I cannot express in words.
JIC: You’re married and have kids already?
ZR: Yes, I’m married and I have three children, two boys and one girl.
JIC: Is it true that Georgian judo players tend to get married at a young age?
ZR: Yes, that’s right. In Georgian society it’s very common to get married at a young age. Even if you are a judo player aiming for international competition success, this won’t stop you from getting married if you find the right person.
JIC: How old were you when you got married.
ZR: I was 21.
JIC: Is there anything you would like to say to other judokas who are also locked-down right now?
ZR: Yes, even though you cannot do judo training right now you can still practice judo because judo is not just a sport, it’s a way of life. It’s a mindset. So be a good judoka and practice the good values of judo during this time of lock-down.
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