Aussie Nathan Katz is the number 48 of the World Ranking. The former Oceania Champion took a fifth place at the Grand Prix in Montreal, but he is the first choice for his continent. With his brother Josh he can train at home in the time of COVID-19. Also Nathan has to wait for another year and be patient. For sure his parents can share some experiences of their own judo careers. Oon Yeoh of JudoCrazy spoke to Nathan.
JIC: You come from a judo family. Can you tell us a bit about your parents and their involvement in judo?
NK: My mother went to the Olympic Games in Seoul 1988 when judo was first introduced as a demonstration sport for women, and my father was the coach of the women’s team. They've both been national coaches for many years. They’ve also been running the Budokan Judo Club for over 20 years now.
JIC: As a kid, were you pressured to take on judo because both your parents were so into judo?
NK: Not at all. I think it was just natural for me to try judo as I was always surrounded by it from such a young age. My brother and I would watch our parents teach at the club and we’d play by the side. As soon as we were old enough to try judo for ourselves, eagerly did so and we loved it. But we played other sports too. It was only later, when I was around 14 years old that I decided to focus on judo.
JIC: What motivated you to do so?
NK: As a kid, I used to watch video tapes of the World Championships and the Olympic Games and dream about competing and winning major medals. When I was 14, I decided this was the time to start working on that dream in a serious way.
JIC: What’s your club like?
NK: Our club is one of the strongest in Australia, with many national champions from Under 12s through to seniors, but we also have a large number of recreational players who do judo for fun and exercise.
JIC: Do you have any judo heroes?
NK: Growing up, I looked up to Daniel Kelly who was a four-time Olympian for Australia and is now my national coach. My favourite judoka of all time is Masashi Ebinuma of Japan. He is a great person and a real champion. His judo is incredible and I love his spirit on the mat.
JIC: Are national players spread out all over the country?
NK: Sydney is the most popular city for judo in Australia but it is still a minority sport. Most of the national team players are based in Sydney or Melbourne. Two of our athletes live full-time outside Australia and my brother, Josh, and I spend six to eight months out of the country.
JIC: Is there a national training center where centralized training happens?
NK: No. This is difficult to do given the size of Australia and the lack of funding to support athletes. Each state gathers their national team athletes once a week to train together, and the national teams comes together about once or twice a year.
JIC: Are you able to get enough randori when you are in Australia?
NK: When we’re home, Josh and I will try and message around to get as many good training partners to come for randori but luckily, we have each other to train with when others are not available. Josh and I spend a significant portion of the year based overseas for training and competitions. We’ve spent a huge amount of time when we were younger in England, and in the past few years, in Israel, Germany and most recently in Spain. It’s very difficult to live in Australia all year round and still be competitive at the highest level.
JIC: Have you been to Japan?
NK: I’ve been to Japan about a dozen times since I was 16.
JIC: Having been exposed to both Japanese and European judo, how would you describe judo style?
NK: I would say my judo is more traditional — more Japanese — because we were exposed to a lot of Japanese judo during our formative years.
JIC: Is your brother Josh’s judo style like yours or different?
NK: I would say quite similar. I think because we spend so much time together on the mat, we pick up a lot from each other. Josh has been my main training partner since I was about 14 and we train with each other every day. We completely understand each other’s judo so he is a perfect training partner for me.
JIC: Are national team members in Australia full-time athletes?
NK: Judo is a niche sport here so government funding is very limited. Most athletes work at least part-time. Josh and I are very lucky because we have some great sponsors as well as family support so we can train full-time. We also do quite a bit of work for the Australian Olympic Committee, speaking at a number of schools, but we don’t have to work full-time to support our judo.
JIC: Are you studying or working for your judo club?
NK: I’m studying a Strength and Conditioning course, and I’ll go back to university in July. I help coach the kids at our club but this isn’t my job.
JIC: Are you and Josh able to train during this time of lock-down?
NK: The situation in Australia is not in quite as serious as in Italy or Spain but all judo clubs and gyms are closed and we are only allowed to leave the house to get essential things like medicine and groceries. So, we are in a lock-down, but we are very lucky because we a gym in our house and we have a crash pad as well. We also have each so we can train. But it’s not quite like in a dojo.
JIC: What do you think will happen to Australian judo clubs if the lock-down persists?
NK: Our judo club is run by our parents more as a labour of love than anything else. It’s not a business for them. My dad is already retired and my mom works as a school teacher for disabled children. They coach judo because they love it and want to give back to judo. They don’t do it for the money, so our club won’t be affected so much. However, there are many judo clubs in Australia which are run as businesses. Those will struggle to stay afloat if the lock-down lasts for a long time. Hopefully they will make it though.
JIC: Any message to other judokas stuck in a lock-down?
NK: I hope everyone around the world can remain positive, stay home and be safe during this difficult period. As always, the judo community will rally together, get through this tough situation and emerge stronger.
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