We all agree that our beautiful game is spectacular, unique and that its flow can turn on a sixpence. It’s immediate, in front of our eyes, changing direction at the same speed as we blink.

It confirms and smashes through our expectations and teaches us to admire both consistency and change. We accept that the long game is mostly played behind closed doors, with the key conversations, the wearing through training shoes, the taping of fingers and the sweating. So much work is done and for so many years, to be able to earn the honour of competing on the most prestigious stages. To get there is still no guarantee.

It’s a hard, hard life but it brings with it some of the highest highs and those are worth fighting for.

Judo is unforgiving while also playing the role of comfort blanket. It’s our family and our opposition and a whole range of other paradoxes that we can feel but wouldn’t know how to write down. How can we possibly ride it’s track and keep track, tracking the achievements and the moments we absolutely must remember; the ones that teach us or that hug us?

We are specialists in the art of surviving tiny, spiritual moments, both magnificent and soul-destroying. Judo teaches us that we can do anything. We can do anything. We are reminded of it, daily, by the experts who maybe don’t even know they are world leaders in their little avenue beside the tatami.

Our bibbed diary-writers snap away, second after second. They imprison moments of pure magic in their lenses, ensuring those split-second Pandora-moments are recorded forever.

Photo: Paco Lozano

The smile after a heart-filling win.

The shared understanding between coach and player when something life-changing and deserved and sacrificed for, comes to fruition.

The inexplicable, contorted shapes of athletes in the best shape of their lives.

Our photographers give us our gems, setting them securely in the archives. With an innate feeling to know where to look they point and click, rattling off that unmistakable sound, like a helicopter in the distance or rain on a high roof.

Photo: Paco Lozano

They begin before the fighters and they finish, not at lock-up time, but simply when they are finished: upload, tag, edit, frame, delete, search, edit again.

Without them the contests would still go ahead. The results would still be written. The winners would still win and the coaches would still rejoice. But how would we all learn? With the photographs of a feeling or of clarity, of genius or of a broken heart, we all gain an understanding of the depth of the life we share. We have time to reflect and time to relive something so special that in that instant we were changed forever, maybe strengthened, maybe fulfilled, maybe finally finding the belief.

Behind the cameras are judoka. Some don’t know they are, but we all know they are. Their work proves it.

Jita kyoei

See also