The latest Judo News offered by

Judo in the time of Covid-19: Aleksandar Kukolj

16 May 2020 11:40

 JudoCrazy by Oon Yeoh / judo news, results and photos

Serbian judoka Aleksandar Kukolj became European Champion in the same year as his rival Nemanja Majdov won the World title, both unexpected, both indescribable and unique surprises for their country. It set Serbia on the Judo map. Former World number one Kukolj is a gifted technician and can concentrate until he imagines the film of the fight that is yet to come. With JudoCrazy’s Oon Yeoh Aleksandar Kukolj talks about his motivation, his academics, his rival ad his future.

JIC: How are you coping with the Covid-19 situation in your country?

AK: As weird as this may sound, the lock-down has actually been good for m. I’ve been spending more time with my family, and I’ve gotten to do many things I normally don’t have time for, like playing video games, reading books and watching TV.

JIC: Have you been able to do some kind of training?

AK: Not normal judo training but it’s okay. Again, this situation has allowed me to work on things I don’t normally do. I’m letting old injuries heal and working on strengthening parts of my body to prevent new ones from happening.

JIC: Which club are you with?

AK: I am from a judo club called Rakovica. It is one of the oldest clubs in Serbia. Two years ago, we celebrated our 50th anniversary. What a rich history the club has: 13 times National Club Champions, European, World and Olympic medalists!

JIC: How did you get started in judo?

AK: I was a bundle of kinetic energy and my parents were on the lookout for some suitable activity for me. When I was seven years old, it so happens a judo club opened up in my neighborhood, and my parents signed me up on the first day!

JIC: What was your first impression of judo?

AK: I liked it from the start but to be honest, I probably would have liked any sport at that point in my life. For me, judo was just a game for me to play. It was only later that it became my passion in life.

JIC: What was your motivation for competing?

AK: Oh, this question requires a multi-layered answer. I started competing at a young age, just as a matter of course. As I progressed in judo, it was just a natural thing for me to compete. Later, it became a refuge for me — something I was good at and which I could achieve good results in. But there’s also another aspect to it which was very practical. When I was in my late teens, it became a way for me to help support my family.

JIC: How so?

AK: When I was 18, both my parents were unemployed and I became the breadwinner in my household. Judo became a way for me to support my parents and my younger sister.

JIC: You mean you were able to earn an income through judo?

AK: Yes, at first it wasn’t very much at all but after I started winning international medals, I got more financial support from my club, the government and the Olympic Committee. It was enough for me to take care of my family.

JIC: Do you hold other jobs or do you just train in judo?

AK: My main preoccupation is judo. It has to be if I want to be a serious contender. So, my income is mainly from sponsors and the government. But I also have my own dojo and a gym in Belgrade. They are additional sources of income but more importantly, they serve as a platform for me to start preparing for life after competition. Of course, in order to be able to train properly for competition, I can’t afford to be distracted by business matters. So, what I’ve done is, I’ve carefully chosen the right partners to help run my businesses. So far, so good. 

JIC: I’ve been told you were good at your studies. What did you major in?

AK: I was a top student in my elementary and high schools. I have a Master’s degree in Economics and I was actually an assistant professor for three years at the university. When I got my degree in 2014, I was already deep into judo but I didn’t want to waste my education. Taking up the assistant professor position allowed me to work closely with one of the professors whom I admired a lot. So, I could keep learning despite my heavy judo involvement. And I must admit, it was nice being call “professor” by students who weren’t that much younger than I was. Ha… ha…

JIC: Many top judo athletes pursue only judo. Why did you take academics so seriously?

AK: I think everybody has to do what’s best for them. For me, I grew up in a situation where my family faced financial hardship. I did well in school and that made my parents happy. Maybe because they saw it as a way out of poverty for us. And it could have been, so I worked hard at maintaining my grades. But then, my judo career started to take off. I decided to pursue it seriously so I could support my family. Today, my parents are more comfortable and my sister is able to pursue her medical studies. I can’t really say I chose my career path. I played the cards I was dealt with. 

JIC: You’re also married and have two kids. How do you balance everything?

AK: I’ve been asked this question a lot. Good organizational skills and efficient use of time are the secret to achieving this balance. I make full use of my time. Of course, when it’s time to rest, it’s time to rest. But I hate the idea of lazing around doing nothing when there are things to be done.

JIC: You have a strong domestic rival in Nemanja Majdov. What is your relationship with him like?

AK: Yes, we are rivals but I can’t hold anything against a guy who is pursuing his dreams, even though it happens to clash with mine… ha… ha… But, I will say this: I have deep respect for him and his father. When I was preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics, his father pulled me aside and told me if I needed four or five guys to work out with, even if just for nagekomi, he will make sure I have those guys. I won’t forget this. 

JIC: Leading up to the 2017 World Championships, you were the favorite to win but Majdov ended up winning instead. How did you take that unexpected turn of events?

AK: I had had a good run leading up the 2017 Worlds. In two and a half years, I had won three Grand Slams, two Grand Prix and I had become the first-ever European Champion from Serbia. I was also the top-ranking player in my weight class for about a year and half. So, it was a little sad for me to leave the World Championships without a medal. I must admit I was surprised that Nemanja won the gold but the fact that it was him didn’t bother me. He’s always had great potential since he was young, and good for him that he lived up to that potential. What some people don’t realize when they look at our rivalry is that when I win, it’s good for him and when he wins, it’s good for me. You know why? Together, we have raised the level of Serbian judo, which today, is a popular and well-respected sport.

JIC: Now that the Olympics has been postponed for a year, does that mean you have a chance to be selected?

AK: To be honest, I’m not sure what will happen or if anything will change as a result of the postponement. So far, we haven’t heard anything yet from the IJF or the Serbian Judo Federation. We don't even know when international competitions will start again. For all we know, the Olympics might even be cancelled if this Covid-19 situation doesn’t improve. Whatever the case, my goal is to get back into shape. I had a bad year last year but now I’m feeling good and am ready to have another good run like I did before.

JIC: Have you thought about when you might retire?

AK: I think I will stay until one more Olympic cycle, so 2024. But you never know. If I’m still healthy and in good shape, physically and mentally, I might even stay on a few years beyond that!

JIC: What does judo mean to you?

AK: I consider myself very fortunate that judo found me. I view judo as a microcosm of life itself. You have your successes and wins, but you also have your losses, injuries and even self-doubt. If you experience these things from a very young age, it will prepare you for life, way beyond your peers. My life’s journey has not been an easy one but given what I’ve gained through judo, I would relive it a hundred times over.

Become a JudoCrazy Patron and read all their stories here

Fundraising with GoGetFunding

Related judoka and events

Related Judo Photos

  • Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB) - Grand Prix The Hague (2018, NED) - ©, judo news, results and photos
  • Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB) - World Championships Baku (2018, AZE) - © Mongolian JudoHeroes
  • Aleksandar Kukolj (SRB) - 2017 IJF World Ranking (2017, IJF) - © Mongolian JudoHeroes

Related Judo Videos

Related Judo News


Get your tsukuri right then the kuzushi will happen

12 Jun 2020 11:40

How important is your kuzushi in judo. Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy explains of Kuzushi is really one of the keys in current judo. Is kuzushi necessary in order to throw an opponent? You would think the answer would be an obvious yes, but this question requires a more nuanced answer. Read more


The mindset of avoiding injuries

9 Jun 2020 12:55

Judo is a full-contact sport so, for sure, there will be injuries. The usual ones are stubbed toes and jammed fingers. Shins usually get bruised too. Slightly worse would be sprains on the ankles and wrists. Then you have the more serious injuries like dislocated shoulders, broken collar bones and torn ligaments on the knees. Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy talks about his own experiences and concludes with an experiment. Read more


Judo in the time of Covid-19: Sugoi Uriarte

29 May 2020 10:30

Sugoi Uriarte has always been a world player. The Spaniard is now a coach. As a judoka Sugoi won silver U66kg at the World Championships in 2009 in Rotterdam and he was in the bronze final at the Olympics in London in 2012. He did take gold at the European Championships in 2010 in Vienna. Sugoi is well-known for his international contacts, his invitations to many athletes around the globe to come to Valencia. Clearly his life is judo and Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy asked him lots more. Read more


Judo in the time of Covid-19: Sergio Oliveira

27 May 2020 08:35

Brazilian judoka Sergio Oliveira had his career from 1989 until 2001 and won lots of World Cup medals in his category U71kg and U73kg. The triple Panam Champion moved to Germany years ago as a coach and is very active nowadays producing online videos. JudoCRazy’s Oon Yeoh is from the same generation and asked him about his corona strategies. Read more


Judo in the time of Covid-19: Baruch Shmailov

26 May 2020 08:35

Baruch Shmailov is the best ranked Israelian athlete U66kg and he is a top 10 player for three years now. He is the chosen one for the Olympic Games, but corona changed the world. Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy spoke with Baruch Shmailov about his roots, the Israelian competition techniques and love. Read more

First description Second description

Judo birthday

Result City Date
2Düsseldorf21 Feb
Result City Date
1Düsseldorf21 Feb


First description Second description Third description Four description