Everyone remembers Shin Koyamada in The Last Samurai, an epic period action drama film directed and produced by Edward Zwick and featuring Tom Cruise back in 2003. The Hollywood celebrity is present in the Emirates on the occasion of the Abu Dhabi World Championships 2024. His presence is not anecdotal because in 2009 he created the Guardian Girls programme and he is now in discussion with the IJF to explore the possibility of further co-operation.
The Last Samurai featuring Tom Cruise and Shin Koyamada - Picture Courtesy Shin Koyamada

Shin Koyamada, a martial arts expert himself, and his wife Nia Lyte, the women's empowerment speaker, are the co-founders of the Koyamada International Foundation (KIF Global). Based on their immersive backgrounds in both martial arts and women's empowerment, they decided to create a global programme that could benefits vulnerable girls and women, in order to help them defend themselves through sports and martial arts. This first idea gave birth to the Guardian Girls initiative.

"This is the first time I have come to the region and, despite my background in martial arts, this is the first time I have witnessed a judo competition at this level. I am honoured and pleased to be so warmly welcomed by the entire judo family.

Shin Koyamada and Marius Vizer

After a few days of intense judo, I can say that I really love the sportsmanship of all the participants. I did practise judo when I was younger and I know how hard it is to reach the level of these competitors. When I look at them I understand how much sacrifice they've made. To get there at their age is impressive and I believe it goes beyond winning and losing.

I practised karate, kendo, kyudo and judo. I know they are putting everything into their practice. Watching judo here in Abu Dhabi, I want to tell the athletes that whatever the result is they should take it as an experience to become a better person. You cannot win all the time but you should learn every time.

Meeting with the IJF Gender Equality Commission

I truly believe that through judo you can learn a way of life; judo is a way of life. The focus goes beyond the sporting career, but by doing judo, you can find a focus point that will lead you to a more intense life.

-66kg awarding ceremony

On day two I saw the reaction of Hidayat Heydarov and I think that his explosion of joy speaks for itself. The time he spent on the tatami to train, the sacrifices with his family, everything suddenly came together.

To be honest with you, I had forgotten a bit what international events like these championships can bring to society in terms of peace and unity. Today, in a world that is in turmoil, only sports can do that.

Over the past few days, Marius Vizer and I spoke a lot about bushido and the respect and loyalty it brings to all of us. The human values shall come in first place, before anything else. When I was involved in the Last Samurai, I was only 21 years old, but since then I have learned a lot, especially that Japanese martial arts carry those universal values. In judo, there is the DO and that is the way we should follow.

All this philosophy brought me to creating the Koyamada International Foundation (KIF) and the Guardian Girls project, together with my wife. So far we are present in 15 countries where girls and women can benefit from our expertise in martial arts and women’s empowerment. It is not only about technique because the most important aspect is to develop self-confidence and the self-esteem. I hope we will be able to develop a strong partnership with the IJF to empower women in their respective countries and to promote the judo values."

In the upcoming days, a special session for women, Guardian Girls Judo, will be held in Abu Dhabi. While Shin Koyamada enjoys the display of values shown by our sport, this will find a concrete application that will help build a better society.

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