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Jakarta Post

Japanese 'judo missionary' spreads the gospel in Bali

  • Sigit Purwono and Shingo Ito

    Agence France-Presse

Bali, Indonesia/Tokyo, Japan   /   Fri, July 17, 2020   /   02:30 pm
Japanese 'judo missionary' spreads the gospel in Bali This photo taken on Feb. 4, 2020 shows Japanese judo master Tsuneo Sengoku (right) watching as his students train at the Sengoku International Judo Hall in Gianyar on Indonesia's Bali island. - The 75-year-old (AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka )

After four decades travelling in some 20 countries to spread the gospel of judo, Tsuneo Sengoku is not about to let a minor inconvenience like a global pandemic slow him down.

The 75-year-old "judo missionary" has coached some 100,000 people in the martial art since embarking on a tour through Asia, Africa, Europe and North America in the late 1970s.

"I'm just an ordinary old man without judo," said a smiling Sengoku, who was decorated by Japan in 2016 for his commitment to promoting the sport overseas, which he says is his reason for living.

The former policeman moved to Bali in 2007 to train local people, mainly school students, free of charge on "the final leg" of his global mission to teach judo.

Sporting the white-and-red belt that marks him out as a high-ranking expert, Sengoku was coaching four days a week at his dojo, where Japanese body-armor adorned with the national flags of Japan and Indonesia is on display.

Like the rest of the sporting world, Sengoku has been sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic and was forced to close his dojo where more than 50 locals used to train.

All events and competitions in both Indonesia and Japan involving Sengoku and his trainees have been cancelled due to the outbreak.

But the thought of giving up his mission has never crossed his mind -- indeed it has hardened his resolve.

"I won't quit teaching. On the contrary, because of the coronavirus, my motivation to train children has grown," he said.

"I will never let the coronavirus break my dream that I spent my life on. I want to share the wonderful world of judo with more and more people."

 

'Kindness, discipline' 

The coronavirus-wracked world could learn a lot from judo, Sengoku believes, especially its emphasis on patience and compassion for others.

"Now I want to tell my students about the importance of patience, which is actually part of the philosophy of judo," he added.

Sengoku also said judo requires compassion for other people, known as "Jita-Kyoei", or mutual prosperity for oneself and others, which is one of the main teachings of judo founder Jigoro Kano.

"It's time to exercise grand master Kano's spirit of Jita-Kyoei," he said. "I want to call on people to hang on and work together."

Wayan Tulus Wiarta, a senior high-school student who has been trained by Sengoku for more than 10 years, says he dreams to be a top judoka in his country and compete in Japan where judo was established.

Wiarta, however, said competition does not mean everything to him as he has learned much more than just judo from Sengoku.

"Mr. Sengoku taught me about a lot of things -- kindness, discipline, being on time," he said.

"Judo is about more than just competition," he said.

Sengoku says he still vividly remembers the excitement of the 1964 Games in Tokyo, to which he contributed as a police guard.

Although his own Olympic ambitions fell short, he said he was looking forward to watching young judoka compete for glory in Tokyo again -- whenever the postponed Games eventually takes place.

Sengoku, who runs his dojo with donations while he lives off his pension, has been working out by himself every day since the shutdown so he can be ready to reopen at any time.

"I'm very much looking forward to seeing their smiles again when my dojo reopens," said Sengoku, who lives alone as his family members are all in Japan.

"This dojo is my destination. I will spend the rest of my life here," he added.