Aaron Fara (AUT) is an athlete everyone in the world of judo looks forward to watching. He fights with everything he has and always either loses big or wins big; there is no in-between. He throws with freedom and power and is a dream for photographers.

Fara is not finding a high level career easy but he knows it’s where he needs to be. The 2016 junior European champion is open about his struggles, happy to share his thoughts and a little of what he’s learned about himself.

“I started judo when I was very little because I had too much energy. I always had to expend energy before playing with other children. I wanted to do boxing but my father chose judo for me but at first I was just fighting and almost ignoring techniques.

I started to take some medals in Austria. I did some cadet cups. Then my coach showed me this front uchi-mata and although I was a bit hesitant I kept trying. Then when I was a junior it went well for me. There was some hype in Austria about my potential and then I became European -21 champion and then the hype grew more.

Throwing Kotsoiev (AZE) at the 2017 World Championships Juniors.

I was a bit lazy with training but I loved to fight. I remember beating Peter Paltchik in Ekaterinburg in 2017 but then I started losing and I was young so I told myself I didn’t care. Then I found myself losing even more and for a long time; it was too much and I lost the fire.

I asked my coach to take me back to European opens away from the World Judo Tour, so that I could remember how to throw. He said though that I can throw and didn’t need that so I went forward towards the Tokyo Games and again I was losing all the time. I was losing weight, losing contests, lying in bed with my motivation gone, I was really broken. I told our federation president that I needed a judo break and I chose to go to the gym for a while to freshen up. Then Covid hit and so I didn’t train again and I fell into the old rhythm of not training.

After that period Austria took a new national coach, Yvonne Boenisch. She saw things in me that I really couldn’t see any more. At first I didn’t believe her.”

Fara had much to manage at that time with both the national team and his military positions being reassessed. He continued to work under the guidance of Yvonne Boenisch though and began to regain some belief.

Fara and Bönisch in Antalya, 2023.

“Then I went back to the World Judo Tour at the end of 2022. I lost against Gasimov in UAE but for the first time in years I felt I had the fire again. Having been moved out of team A in Austria, I was training well and so I thought I would be ready to win again but I was still losing and I was so upset, asking why I can’t win. I was feeling broken.

Losing to Gasimov (AZE) in Abu Dhabi, 2022.

My solution at the time was to go even harder and actually I was in the shape of my life in Portugal at the beginning of this year. In round 3 I was beating Veg (HUN) but then he turned me and held me and I lost. That was a new lowest point and I was crying, I really felt like I couldn’t take it. Yvonne said it was my chance and that I may have to go back to the opens. I said no, that I couldn’t do that to myself and so I was due to go to Paris but I became unwell having caught Covid. She offered me Tashkent instead of Paris or the opens and I said yes but I struggled because Covid had really taken it out of me. Even training in the gym was hard. It felt like I couldn’t move forward anymore.

In Tashkent I was sure I would lose and it would be my last event. I’d had a 6 year losing streak and it was so hard. I decided that even if it’s my last competition, I will go down like a fighter and it was then that I started throwing for ippon.

Kumric had beaten me four times before but this time I threw him with that front uchi-mata I’d been learning and training for all those years. I threw again in the next round too. I was throwing and I couldn’t believe that I won a medal and so I cried again! What was happening?Yvonne was laughing at me, in the nicest way. She was the only person left telling me I could still win fights.

Beating Kimric on his way to silver in Tashkent.

When I went back to Austria after Tashkent, everyone said that it was just a lucky day. She said I should go to Antalya and so I went, knowing that I could throw. I saw the names and my draw was hard, such a high level. Against some people with real grappling expertise maybe some didn’t expect me to fight at the body where they are so comfortable, but I did and I threw pretty fast in some fights.”

With Daniel Eich in the Antalya final.

Aaron Fara won gold in Antalya in one of the busiest events of the whole Olympic cycle.

Gold in Antalya, 2023.

“I doubt myself all the time but last year I started going back to my real roots. I cleaned my lifestyle a lot and stopped doing stupid things, deleting some of those behaviours of younger days. I started to read more and find calm ways to place my fears. I feel like I adjusted my thinking to turn my mental energy into a positive instead of being just crazy.

Many judoka are better at tactics than me, maybe also at judo, but I find if I put myself on the line and I fight with everything, it’s better for me. I try to throw because that’s what I love. I had been stuck with tactics and trying to be a different kind of judoka but it wasn’t me. In Doha at the worlds, I started to over-analyse and I didn’t stay true to my judo, so I lost again. I must remember that!

I like this community and I like all people in judo. For me, I think I was sad when I lost but perhaps the losing streak was the best thing overall. If I was good like Polleres always was, I’m sure my character would have struggled to manage that. Now I have been to the deepest, lowest places and I understand how not to be there. I know how I need to feel.”

Fara’s life is not totally about judo but for now it’s the main focus.

“My mother is sick, for almost 2 years now and she always says she loves judo. She’s always asking why I don’t train like the others. I start to think more and more about her and making her proud. She was so emotional when I won a medal in Tashkent this year. Really we already nearly lost her; it’s a long and uncertain way. I think her illness made me realise I need to do the right things and so my behaviour changed. I grew up because I needed to. My father works hard and now I need to also be a strong man for the family, someone they can be proud of and not someone going out doing stupid things.

If I had perhaps become world champion in Doha, maybe it would not have led me in tne right direction. I’m 26 so maybe it’s not my time yet. I want to keep work hard no matter how difficult it all is.”

Zagreb 2023

Aaron Fara placed 5th in Zagreb and 7th in Baku and now sits at 18 on the World Ranking List. He’s in direct qualification for Paris and has the belief that he can get there.

Fara doing what he loves to do.
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