They were young. Today they are adults, mature women who look back with the pride of a job well done and with the satisfaction of having contributed to building a better and fairer world, where women look men in the eye: the world of judo.
Some answers are short but strong. Others abound in more detail. It is a question of styles, but all, without exception, lead to the same analysis. It was an historic moment. This compilation has no mystery, it is a hymn to the joy of a collective unleashed from the gag that kept women invisible and mute, away from a life where sport rhymed with testosterone. A world of men in which women did not knock on the door, but broke it down in November 1980.
How important was this event for women?
“At that time for woman to be able to do a sport considered one for men was immense and most unusual, completely different from now. Women were not really competing in sport events that much and they were not fighting. For me it was the most important event of my life, that's where my life began, and that's where I became the person I am now!"
"That's been the most important event in women’s judo, the beginning."
“That event was a march and we started training with men and then the competition; the beginning of everything."
"We paved the way for women's judo to be Olympic-ready and to equate women in what were previously men's conditions."
“Women needed to be regonised in the sport of judo. I think we always felt we had to work twice as hard as the men to be noticed. So this platform was a gift for all women in the sport,to show how talented they were.”
Now, with the legitimacy granted by maturity and the passage of time, what do they think of the evolution of judo for women over the past 40 years?
“Women's judo has really taken off. The proof we have today is the same number of categories and the same fighting time as the men.”
“I am thrilled with the number of international events now available for women, although I would never have been able to afford to go to most of them. In my day, women’s judo had little or no funding, except what Rusty raised for us.”
“The evolution is really remarkable and very significant; also it’s very nice to watch. Before men judoka would laugh a bit at woman who were on the mat. They don't do this anymore!”
“Women’s judo has developed technically and physically as there are many more competitions than before, but unfortunately it has become an individual sport whereas before we were friends with girls from many different countries. Today things are different with more media, sponsorship and prize money but that is the development of the judo world today.”
“We were more romantic.”
“Judo in Brazil has evolved a lot since our opening gambit, so much here that today I have come to believe that women’s judo is even stronger than men’s.”
“I believe that it has improved in the number of competitors, quality and fighting techniques, as well as the team of female referees and female coaches.”
Does judo / sport play any role in your life now?
“Judo has played and will always play a very big role in my life. Its moral code has shaped my behavior and thanks to that I can be proud of the fulfilled woman that I have become. In addition, judo has cultivated in me an endurance in the face of the difficulties of life.”
“Yes, I always enjoy teaching judo. It is part of me.”
“No, but it is part of the best memories of my life.”
“Yes as l am still training judoka as part of their preparation for international judo events in Europe, world championships and Olympic Games all over the world.”
“Judo was and is my life!”
“I chose the profession of social worker because I believed that I could help people and thereby improve something in the world. Certainly, working with judo in the social projects, I can see that my life mission continues, because judo teaches us discipline, respect and safety in life, through smooth and tougher roads. The children and youth of ‘Judo Fighters of the Future’ are already benefiting from this sport. In the project we also have jiu jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing and in all of them we have the participation of women.”
In a few words, what is the most important thing that judo has given you?
“Self confidence in every area of life. That self-confidence translates into the knowledge that I can do anything I set my mind to. Also, the ability to look at things from different angles and find a way to accomplish what I set out to do. Physical fitness and the ability to stay fit as I move through life.”
“Judo offered me the necessary training to be the person I am today. I grant myself the security required to obtain the goals that I set out to achieve. Judo reinforces the values that are transmitted to you in the family, where you are educated to be honest, decent, respectful and never harm anyone. I am judo.”
“It has given me the belief that if you really want to do something in sport or in your personal life and you work hard enough to achieve it, everything is possible.”
“My two wonderful children! Very close friends. Lots of encounters. A way of moving through life; a way of flexibility.”
"A gentle way to live."
“Sports education, knowledge of combat techniques, persistence, perseverance, teamwork, respect, courage, gallantry and perseverance.”
“Self-confidence and self-esteem.”
“Judo gives me values such as respect, discipline and self-confidence.”
“Confidence, friendships, pride.”
“A big family inside judo; friends and a love of helping others.”
“A philosophy of life.”
You see it. They are free and strong women who took the hardest path and decided to renovate the established order. Women who have followed different paths. Very few participated in the Olympics for various reasons and this is what they miss the most, but they were all pioneers and they all remind us now of what that November meant. Now that the world has descended into darkness and is reeling with the coronavirus and a monumental economic crisis, remembering the feat of these women is an exercise of hope.