A group of Judo players representing Judo Ireland departed Dublin on Tuesday April 6th on their way to the heart of Poland namely Lowicz to participate in a regional competition. It was a return trip to the town from which a team of players visited Galway last year and participated in the Galway Open Competition.
Much preparation and planning had gone into this trip prior to departure. Fundraising events were organised by the various clubs being represented and much training was being done under the direction of Alanzo Henderson 4th Dan and Technical Director of Judo Ireland and John Creaven 2nd Dan and founder of Galway Judo Club.
On arrival in Lowicz, the team checked into their well-located, comfortable hotel and took a well-earned rest. A walkabout in the evening allowed for a trip around the town and a visit to the Dojo, which was situated within a 10 minute walk from the hotel. All were eager and excited to get onto the mat the next morning.
Wednesday morning soon arrived and we were up bright and early for breakfast at 8 o’ clock. Training was at 10 and lasted for 2 hours. In the afternoon we would have another training session with the Lowicz Club. It was good to see some familiar faces from the Galway Open. Some of the kids remembered each other from that time and that helped to break the ice.
The training session was led by Iwona Grezegory-Gajada 2nd Dan and the focus was on Uchimata, its introduction right up to actual throw. The students in Poland train 4 times a week and it was no wonder that they were well conditioned and very comfortable with being thrown. Everyone was tired that evening and settled down very quickly.
The following day (Thursday), it was decided that a lighter morning training session was in order and plenty of movement in the form of Uchikomi with emphasis on Okuri Ashi Barai and Ippon Seoinage, the latter being attempted when your opponent is moving in different directions.
After training, a short excursion was planned. Our bus brought us to visit the famous park and period residence in Nieborow followed by a visit to a private folk museum which had many carved wooden dolls placed in settings which depicted aspects of Polish life in the past. On returning to the hotel we had our main meal and soon after headed off to the evening training session from 5.30 to 7.00. Iwana introduced Sasae Tsurikomi Ashi followed by Alanzo with Harai-Tsurikomi Ashi. Later Alanzo demonstrated some turnovers and finally for the benefit of the Polish players who are allowed to do strangles, he taught them turnovers, which can be followed through into strangles. Suffice to say that all players were truly exhausted by the end of it. However it was a valuable experience for our young players.
Friday was to be a rest day before the competition and we were scheduled to visit two schools. We were greeted at the entrance by students in traditional costume who offered us pieces of bread with salt, as is the custom. We were given a tour of the school and its facilities and were allowed to observe some of the classes. The students then put on a traditional music performance played mainly on accordions. It was then the turn of our contingent. They performed a medley of music on tin whistle and did some Irish dancing finished off with “Peigín Leitir Móir”. We were fortunate that we had a group of multi talented youngsters who put their best foot forward. Well done to all of them!
We were then required to assemble outside at the school’s astro-turf pitch to play a game of soccer. Again our group prevailed and won 1-0. There was one more visit to make and that was to the agricultural school where we were in for a treat. This school has a folk ensemble called Blichowiacy, which is famous throughout Poland for their folk dancing and music. They have won numerous national prizes and have been invited to perform at numerous international ceremonies and festivals. They treated us to a wonderful performance. We finished the civic duties with a visit to the Town Hall where we met the Mayor and presented him with a gift on behalf of the people of Galway.
In the afternoon the children were booked in to a local therapy spa to avail of some hydrotherapy to help them recover and relax prior to the competition. All was set now for the final part of the trip i.e. the competition.
Saturday morning we walked down to the Sports Hall and got set up for the day when rumours started to filter in about the terrible tragedy that had occurred earlier, namely that the Polish President, his wife and numerous other military officials and members of government were killed in a plane crash. After some tine it was officially announced that the competition was to be cancelled. It was clear from the reactions of people that they were very upset and on the way back to the hotel, shops and other businesses were closing down.
Overall the trip was a great experience for both the players, officials and parents.
The feedback from the players was good. They enjoyed themselves and had a great cultural experience and that is the main thing. Some of the older players were disappointed that they didn’t get to compete but understood the significance of the tragedy that occurred. They also realised that they need to practice Judo more frequently and home their Judo techniques to suit the competitive environment.
Finally, we would like to thank all who helped to make this trip possible. Their efforts provided these youngsters with such a wonderful experience that will stand to them in the future. We hope that this will be the first of many such trips and that many others will get the same opportunity in the future.
From: Oisín Ó Conláin, Assistant Team Coach