Rudi Verhagen started judo at the age of 7. Little did he know, it will be the sport he pours his heart into. Rudi practiced judo with his brother, Herman, who, in the early 90’s was diagnosed with brain cancer and landed in a wheelchair. At the time, Rudi was hoping for a recovery and envisioned playing judo with his brother in his wheelchair. Unfortunately, 8 months later, Herman passed away. Rudi continued practicing judo and followed Kano’s words, who once said: “judo is for everybody, judo is an education for the body and mind”. At that moment, the Dutch man thought;
Why not to apply the philosophy for special needs people? We can grow it for their body and mind, regardless. After all, judo is for everybody.
It was a beginning of a new era, at least in his life.
In my judo club at the time, there was one student who had a sister in the wheelchair who also wanted to do judo. So, one day, I started practicing with her.
At the time it felt like it was a sign that I must do it for Herman. So initially, I did it for my brother but then I continued for myself. I loved it so much and still do. It is not my job; my whole heart goes into it which cannot be measured by pennies or cents.
On the back of this encounter, Rudi started his first adapted judo tournament, Nihon Dutch Open Shenshu, in 1998 with 2 countries and 80 participants.
I saw a lot of students growing and their judo grew, they got faster and such, but most importantly, they were accepted. At this time, there were only a few sports accepting individuals in wheelchairs.
By 2022, the tournament received 220 entries from 13 different countries. Up to last year, Rudi hosted this event every two years, however, with the EJU joining in, it is going to be continued on a yearly basis.
In the spirit of judo, I think it is absolutely inclusion. Now we train together, work together, and grow together.
This year’s edition 300 participants from 25 nations. To top that, five additional countries travelled to Venray to observe in order to implement adaptive judo at their respective areas. Rudi further expressed his thoughts;
Whenever I organise a tournament, it is stressful of course but you saw yesterday the faces the happiness, tears, and joy it all worth it. The biggest issue we had this year was the transportation so that is something we need to work on for the future.
What was also unique is that some people who practiced judo at the time when I started, they were here to volunteer. They grew on the mat and as individuals, became confident, all because of judo. They are comfortable to be here because they know they are accepted.
This weekend wasn’t his [Rudi] first rodeo but the first one with EJU.
For this weekend to happen and to create unified rules, several meetings took place throughout the year where we needed to come up with the name of the event too. There is IBSA who takes care of visual impaired and blind judoka. So, we thought to do something for people with intellectual disabilities. We did not exclude VI thought; they also had a spot to compete yesterday. So since we wouldn’t call it VI nor Intellectual disabilities event only, we came up with the name EJU Get Together. I am very thankful for EJU showing interest and supporting this event.
In 2017, the first World Championships for adaptive judo was held in Cologne. Rudi was invited to support the event and was also hoping one day he will be able to host such at his home town. His dream came alive last month, when his request to host the World Adaptive Judo Championships 2024 was approved by the International Judo Federation. With the support of city of Venray, the municipal of Limburg, the International Judo Federation, the European Judo Union and Judo Bond Netherland, the 2nd edition of the World Adaptive Judo Championships will be held in Venray in 2024. To say Rudi is delighted would be an understatement;
They all helped me to not only uprise this event, but to offer adaptive judo to the world. I can’t put my appreciation in words, I am extremely happy and looking forward to it.
Thank you, Rudi!
Author: Szandra Szogedi