For all fans of the World Judo Tour, Raul Camacho is no stranger. An international referee on the circuit, he is often at the centre of the tatami, even if his role is to disappear as much as possible so that the athletes can express themselves as freely as possible. His suit is usually black. This time in Abu Dhabi, he wears a lighter grey suit. Why? Because for the Kata World Championships Abu Dhabi 2023, he is the Sport Director of the IJF Kata Commission.
Raul Camacho and Daniel De Angelis, Kata Commission Director

There is a very simple explanation for this, he loves kata and has himself been a world medallist several times (2 silver, 1 bronze) in the discipline, particularly in nage-no-kata, "My favourite kata, even if I love them all.” So he knows what he's talking about.

To the question of why kata, Raul has a ready-made answer, "And why not? Each kata is different. They all have interest. But you know my life is judo. At first I liked the challenge. When kata competitions began to develop around 2008, I threw myself into the adventure. I have a very competitive spirit and I found it very exciting.

At the same time at the beginning, because it was another form of challenge, I passed my refereeing B-licence and became a continental referee, in 2003. It was another dimension of judo that attracted me. In 2007, my judo federation asked me to train the cadet national team. I liked the idea of taking care of young people, giving them the basics but I had to put my career as a referee on hold. The two were not compatible. Another consequence, I had time to improve my kata. In 2014, I move away from the cadets again and returned to refereeing, as I neared the end of my competitive kata career. In 2016 I passed my A-licence, world level, and from 2017 I started working on the World Judo Tour.

What I can say is that in the end we only have one judo. This is what Florin Daniel Lascau, the Head Refereeing Director, constantly tells us, ‘we only have one judo and whatever sector we work in, we must go in the same direction.’ This is why I think there is not that much difference between competition and kata. Perhaps in competition we face an opponent, whereas in kata we face ourselves first and foremost. We have to stay as calm as possible, while things are boiling inside but frankly, we all have the same soul.

This is my first year as Sport Director for kata. I still have a lot to learn. It's very exciting. I am in charge of the judges, I take care of the scoring, I am in contact with the IT team. In summary, I am here to help everyone as much as possible. The day before, I came to check the hall and its set-up. I also ensure the link with the local organising committee. We have IJF standards to respect."

© EJU - Gabi Juan

Paradoxically, while Raul is in the centre of the tatami most of the time, he doesn't like the spotlight. Being in the light is not his thing. Answering Neil Adams' questions for was probably more stressful than refereeing a world championship final, even if "The first time I found myself refereeing a world championship final, it was in Baku in 2018. I didn't expect it. At first I was euphoric but then very stressed because I knew that my way of refereeing could have an impact on the contest. When you referee such a match you are tense, that's normal, you are also concentrated, but you are not nervous. In kata, we are also tense and concentrated but sometimes we can be a little more nervous but we can't show anything. In kata we are responsible for ourselves, as referees we are responsible for others, the athletes. This is the main difference.

I just want to say that we are one big family. Sometimes people ask me why on the morning of a competition, the referees hug each other. It's simply because we are a very united family."

It is certain that evolving in the world of kata, while remaining at the top of world level of refereeing, allows Raul Camacho to have an even bigger family and who will complain about that? Not him. Comfortable in both environments, he can give judo the best he has.

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