What they all know is that it’s hard. They watch the screens from the warm-up room, sharing these mats before they fight one another on similar mats on the other side of the arena wall. Here they sit, quiet, thoughtful, nervous, recalling and calming.

They all know they trained hard. Most haven’t counted the hours or calculated how many more they will need, they just train and train and train and sleep and then they travel and they test their work and they judge themselves. They sit beside their international friends, their opposition, their coaches and they assess and share some more.

When the fight is over, they analyse and prepare to fight again or analyse and prepare to go home. On these mats are those who win more often than others and those who know that statistics say they will lose again, but they still come and they train and they sleep and they share the mats.

They sit beside different skin, behind which is a collective understanding that the gi matters, the goals matter, what they share matters. The way they arrived matters and how they prepared for it matters. It is all different and the origins are different but they still all understand and accept and then fight.

This combat sport with its skills for submission and it’s ability to bring the deepest roar from inside the chest of every athlete, is the greatest tool of peace and of tolerance. Some here do not like each other but all here respect each other. To like or not is not important, not relevant. To like is not part of the objective. To respect and share is everything and it is accepted. It is what joins them and shows loudly that differences are not even close to divisiveness. The bindings that join them are the point, they are the reason and they are what contributes to each of these athletes being a small part of a will to improve their communities. What they share is important and the tolerance and community cohesion lived by judoka is what the world should aspire to.

See also