Sport Sunday, November 29th , pictures by: Gabriela Sabau, IJF Media

Medals, rugby tackles and driving cabs with Brian Jacks: a lifetime at the top of the judo game

Sport Sunday, November 29th

Medals, rugby tackles and driving cabs with Brian Jacks: a lifetime at the top of the judo game

When flanker Sam Warburton scooped his Vincent Clerc up into the air in what would turn out to be the decisive moment of Wales’ previous World Cup campaign, one Hereford man recognised instantly what he was watching.

The 16-stone Cardiff star shifted his feet before hitting, manipulating the French wing in a move so effortless and controlled the subsequent decision to issue a red card for the challenge split opinion in the rugby community for months.

“He executed the Morote Gari too well,” said Stan Cantrill, a 70-year-old retired Herefordshire supply teacher who happens to be ranked third in the world in Masters’ judo.

The move took around a tenth of a second to complete, and it left Wales without their captain and best player for three-quarters of the semi-final.

They lost 9-8, and the tackle was largely held up as responsible for costing Wales their best shot at making a rugby World Cup final.

It was taught to him months earlier by Cantrill.

Prior to the team heading down under for the World Cup, then-national team coach Neil Ruddock had approached Wales Judo to run a session with the national squad.

Cantrill - who in September brought back a bronze medal from the Masters World Championships in Amsterdam - was tasked with teaching Wales’ 6-foot-something, bearded behemoths how to best use their frames.

And alongside double Olympic silver medallist Neil Adams, Cantrill helped demonstrate how some of judo’s physical theoretics can be adapted to give rugby players an edge in contact.

“They were amazing athletes,” he said. “But for some reason rugby players always want to hit each other head-on.

“We showed them that by attacking from the side you were hitting a much smaller target and you can control your opponent in the tackle.”

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Sitting across the table, Cantrill’s huge hands almost entirely envelop the coffee cup he holds. Under his long-sleeved tee, he wears a compression top to aid recovery between training sessions.

“Managing injury – and preventing it - is a skill,” said Cantrill who now works as a medical officer for both Wales’ judo and wrestling squads.

 

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 Stan Cantrill (right) in the bronze medal spot at this year's Masters World Championships in Amsterdam. Pic by Gabriela Sabau, IJF Media.

He has been around elite sport long enough to appreciate the advances made in training methods and nutrition, and employs them with the dedication and zeal of an athlete many years his junior.

The septuagenarian still starts every morning with his ‘Daily Dozen’ – 12 press-ups, sit-ups and burpees “to wake up” – before loading up on grains and blueberries.

His weekly training includes three mat sessions, gruelling 30-minute blasts on the Concept 2 rowing machine, weights programmes, video analysis, hours of foam rolling and metres of KT tape.

“I joke about it – but I’m one of the fittest OAPs in the world,” said Cantrill.

“People can’t get over the amount of work I do for judo, but I love the sport.

“I played squash, I played rugby. And to be honest, even now I’ve not really worked out the attraction of judo - God knows it can be very demoralising - but to stand on that podium, you can’t describe that feeling.

“I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or wet myself. I’ve done two of those but I’ve not wet myself.”

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Raised in Sutton Coldfield, he began judo as a schoolboy rising quickly through the club ranks to make the England squad in his early-twenties.

During GB judo’s Golden Era of the 1970s and 80s, he fought his way across Europe and became running buddies with Brian Jacks, of Superstars fame, taking a job driving cabs for Jacks’ father in between competitions.

Off the mat he trained the Metropolitan police in hand-to-hand combat - officers who would later form his guard of honour as he carried the Olympic torch through Hereford.

Since 1990 alone the former Minster College cover teacher has collected more than 90 medals, both national and international.

And even now, his tournament schedule reads like a travel guide, next year alone features the European Championships in Croatia, the Worlds in Florida, and Commonwealths in South Africa.

It will be a big year. Despite adopting the kind of philosophical approach you would expect from a veteran martial art practitioner, Cantrill is keen to put this year’s World Championship loss behind him and win gold.

“I thought I’d win it. I’d videoed [gold medallist Daniel Bongard]’s technique. I trained and trained and trained to defend a left-handed Oso, and he threw me right-handed.

“It takes one-tenth of a second to throw someone.

“That’s judo. If it’s your day, you win it. If it’s not, you don’t. It’s one of the charms of the sport.”

 

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While the basic principles of judo – balance, body control, explosive power – transfer with almost universal success to other contact sports, the ancient martial art has traditionally failed to grasp the imagination of the general public in its own right.

Even in the Olympic realm other combat sports like Tae Kwon Do have claimed a greater portion of the spotlight in recent times.

While Team GB success has helped Tae Kwon Do – Jade Jones and Lutalo Muhammad starred at London 2012 ­– it is perhaps the simplicity of a striking discipline that makes the sport easier to understand to the casual fan.

“Judo is physical chess,” Cantrill explained.

It is built on subtle moves and countermoves. It is often a long grinding battle where much of the most important action occurs at the closest of close quarters, lost to the untrained eye and to the TV cameras.

But the sport is changing.

“In the ‘64 Olympics it was two guys each waiting for six minutes for the other to move,” said Cantrill.

“Now you have to make an attack every ten seconds.

“It is more dynamic, it’s more television-friendly.”

With those changes comes money and exposure – lottery funding made a huge difference to full-time judokas – and also pressure.

Even for a celebrated Master like Cantrill, he must place in the top three in the world to receive the funding that allows him to train at the top level.

Across the Atlantic however, the sport has risen to prominence over the last 18 months on the muscular shoulders of a former-champion.

Former UFC bantam weight champion Ronda Rousey is arguably the most recognisable athlete in the United States at the moment.

A ex-World Champion judoka and Olympic bronze medallist, Rousey overwhelmed all before her, finishing every one of her professional fights inside of five minutes up until her last fight, where she lost her title on a brutal KO. 

Her fights finish on the floor, and while her abilities to submit opponents are outstanding, it is her peerless proficiency in throwing opponents to the ground that has become her calling card.

Those techniques, of course, were honed on judo mats from the age of 11.

“Judo’s very big in States. Almost all of these mixed martial artists have got a judo background.

“I was at the World Masters in Phoenix and they were running a Sombo wrestling tournament [a derivative style of judo practice] across the border in Alberquque.

“I went across and it was amazing to see that in American amateur wrestling, how many of them do Sombo.

“But the crossover to mixed martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is happening already. It’s easier than Judo and it seems to be ran more professionally.”

It has made the wider world sit up and notice, leading to its recent renaissance across the dojos of the States.

And Cantrill hopes that it’s prominence in UFC arena may lead to a similar uptake in youngsters worldwide starting the sport.

“It’s an inexpensive sport, you pay your mat fee  and you can practice. It’s why a lot of third World  countries and Eastern European countries are  emerging as powerhouses in the sport.”

With the Rio on the horizon, British Judo has launched a campaign – Throw Yourself Into Judo – to capitalise on the increased spotlight the sport enjoys in an Olympic year.

And locally, insisted Cantrill, judo is alive and well with clubs in Leominster and Hereford both boasting burgeoning youth sections.

However by the time that generation of young judokas are hitting their primes, the ageless Cantrill may be left facing an unusual dilemma.

He said: “I will keep going until I can’t do it anymore.

“But at the last tournament one of the organisers joked that the next few years I might win it all – because there won’t be many of my age-class left alive.”

Pic by Cchristian Hackl.

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