In Krakow, Poland, over 900 veteran judoka have gathered for their world championships, a world championships that feels different from others.

With the cadets there is the hunger to win with their direct styles and developing technique. The world’s juniors are pushing to make it to the next step, refining their strategies and learning to manage all the aspects of elite sport. With the seniors it is different again, expectations of peak performance, the weight of national pride and the lure of being the ultimate world champion all combine to produce the highest level of competitive sport.

In Poland we are receiving an altogether alternate message, one of enjoyment, the freedom to train and travel and compete outside of qualification and selections. Among the hundreds of athletes here, from all continents, we find Olympians such as Nicholas Kokotaylo (GBR), who competed at the 1984 Olympic Games. We find those whom have taken up the sport in later life, discovering a new community and the motivation to excel within their new sport.

Aside from the enormous range of judo experiences we also find people who have spent their lives raising families, working through their non-judo careers and for most of our senior elite this is not the case. It is like the Noah’s Ark of tatami, judoka marching two by two, from doctors to farmers, machinists and teachers, there is a place for everyone, no matter the background.

What this enormous diversity and freedom produces is an atmosphere of understanding, tolerance and friendship. There are no consequences to the wins and losses other than those personal feelings of honour and achievement. Every judoka in Krakow is here by choice and with their own individual desire to do their best. It’s a great feeling!

Judo is unique in that it provides a world championship for older athletes, run by the international federation just like it is for the seniors. Athletics, cycling, powerlifting and a few other sports do include veterans in their competitive schedules but judo is the only combat sport working at this level.

So here they are, giving the best of themselves, sharing it with whomever they win and lose against, enjoying their moment. Krakow and it’s stunning architecture and the vibrancy of its evenings is providing all who made the trip with everything they could want from a host city. Great food, live music everywhere, incredible buildings and scenic views make it a destination rich in experiences even off the tatami.

So day 1 is over already and with the oldest categories completed there are among them some very proud grandfathers sending pictures to their grandchildren. These grandchildren can only be inspired by their ascendants courage, also seeing the new and old friendships clearly exhibited on podia, on the mats and in the social occasions recorded on phones and cameras.

Friendship is key to the judo way of life and here in Poland there is no better example of that!