Many fighters have a burning passion for their martial art. But very few are completely obsessed and fully dedicate their entire life to it. Judd Reid is one of those few people. To leave everything behind as a 19-year-old and sign up for 1000 days in one of the toughest training programs in the world, Kyokushin founder Sosai Oyama’s Uchi Deshi program in Japan, is extraordinary. To then, at the age of 40 also go through the ultimate challenge in Kyokushin Karate, the 100 man fight, is incredible. It’s a great honor to present this interview with a true Kyokushin legend, Shihan Judd Reid!
Finding one’s calling in the local newspaper
It was during the golden era of martial arts movies that Judd Reid grew up, which turned out to have a significant effect on the direction of his life. There was nothing that got his attention like spinning and jumping kicks by Bruce Lee, van Damme and the Karate Kid. “In my opinion, there have not been any good martial arts movies since then! I was completely spellbound when I saw a Bruce Lee movie for the first time at the drive-in movies as a 12-year-old. I wanted to be exactly like him, and right away I looked in the local paper for a martial arts gym. There happened to be a Kyokushin Karate dojo just 15 minutes from our home, so that was the obvious choice.”
”ALL MY FRIENDS HAD POSTERS OF ROCK BANDS AND MOVIE STARS, WHILE I HAD ONE OF BRUCE LEE AND ONE OF SOSAI OYAMA”
”From the moment I stepped into the dojo for the first time, I knew I was in the right place. It was something about the spirit in there, the kiai [shout used when executing a strike] and the discipline was so different from anything I had experienced before. I became obsessed and wanted to train all the time! I hurried to the dojo from school, I trained in my room, I did push-ups while studying. All my friends had posters of rock bands and movie stars, while I had one of Bruce Lee and one of Sosai Oyama. Not a minute passed without me thinking of Kyokushin Karate.”
When Judd was 15 years old, the dojo he was training in shut down. The new one was two hours train ride away. But the change of dojo had a good consequence as well; he met a person who would change his life. “One of Sosai Oyama’s personal students was training there, Sensei Wada. He quickly became my big idol. He told me everything about being an Uchi Deshi [live-in student] for Sosai, and to live and train in his dojo for 1000 days. It sounded like a dream to me, and I made it my big goal. I wrote a diary on every train ride home from practice, and I always finished with ‘One day I’ll be an Uchi Deshi for Sosai Oyama’. I looked out through the train window and visualized my dream. There was no doubt in my mind that I would do it!”
Eat, sleep and train for 1000 days
At the age of 19, Judd had saved enough money to go to Japan and he had been accepted by Sosai to be an Uchi Deshi. But it would turn out to be the toughest challenge imaginable for a skinny teenager. “We woke up at 5:45 AM every day to go to a park nearby. We’d start by cleaning the entire park and the area around the dojo. After that we started with the morning practice, which could for example be 5 km running, hill sprints, skipping rope, 500 situps, 500 pushups, 500 squats. At 8:30 AM we had breakfast, and we had to eat it fast, in less than a minute. You put the bowl to your mouth and didn’t put it down until it was empty.”
”AFTER 1000 DAYS I HAD GAINED 20 KG OF MUSCLES AND HAD A SPIRIT STRONG AS STEEL!”
”Everybody had chores to do every day, especially we, the first year students. I was responsible to clean the basement, so every morning after breakfast I was down there, mopping floors and cleaning. You always had to be on standby to do more chores, if requested. Training wise, there were three sessions to choose from; lunch, afternoon and evening. In between those sessions there was sparring and weight lifting. At 6:30 PM we had dinner and at 7 PM it was time for rest and sleep. However, many times it was impossible to sleep. There was noise from the hundreds of people coming and going every day, shouts from practices, a torturous heat without any air condition and mosquitoes feasting on us. But even if my time there was extremely tough, I wouldn’t change any of it even if I could. Well, maybe to have had a functioning fan in the bedroom, haha!”
19 year old Judd Reid, second from the left in the front row, next to Kyokushin Karate founder Sosai Oyama.
”The life in Sosai’s dojo was so wearing and challenging that many ran away. We were absolutely not allowed to leave the dojo, so to not have to confront the shame, they took off in the middle of the night. When we woke up in the morning, the person and his belongings were gone. However, it was expected considering how hard the Uchi Deshi program was. But in spite of all the times I almost passed out due to exhaustion and pain, I never even thought of giving up. The toughest episode for me was when I got the information that my best friend back in Australia had ended his own life. To get that message as a 19-year-old, without having anyone to talk to, was very difficult. But I fought through it and kept going one day at the time, and after 1000 days I had gained 20 kg of muscles and had a spirit strong as steel!”
The whole story of Judd Reid’s hard time in Japan is nicely described in his book Young Lions. At www.juddreid.com you can order it and get a signed copy sent to your home.
A great book about Judd Reid's tough years as an Uchi Deshi in Japan.
Fighting 100 men
After his years in Japan, Judd has traveled the world to spread his knowledge in Kyokushin and to offer hard training. When he approached his 40s, people around him started suggesting that he should take on the greatest challenge there is in Kyokushin, and become one of the few to ever complete the legendary 100 man kumite, meaning going through 100 consecutive fights without rest. He was reluctant at first since he had seen it with his own eyes, and he describes it as inhuman. Even though he had won the World Championship of Kyokushin, this was still not an attractive challenge. But with time, the thought grew and eventually he decided to go all in. Four months of hard preparations turned him from a tournament fighter in to a marathon fighter.
”THE REMAINING PART WAS SO PAINFUL THAT IT’S STILL HARD TO TALK ABOUT; BY NO DOUBT THE WORST FEELING I HAVE EVER FELT IN MY ENTIRE LIFE”
”I would normally do five three minute rounds on the bag, with is optimal for a tournament. But for this challenge I changed to an hour at 70% on the bag. In the beginning I could only do 20 minutes, but with time my endurance improved more and more. I would lose up to 5 kg during a session like that, from the puddle of sweat that would be on the floor. I pushed myself far beyond my normal limits, as much as was humanly possible. It was thanks to my previous experiences from Japan, and the support I had from my team, that I managed to become as well prepared as I was. My game plan was to fight smart, work my angels and counter a lot. I didn’t want to clash with them. As I didn’t have any protection, I had conditioned my hands and chins thoroughly.“
An ashi barai (sweep) by Judd Reid during the 100 man kumite.
”I felt relaxed and focused, and after the first 50 fights it felt like I had won every single one of them. Everything went according to plan, but I didn’t know what was to come. The remaining part was so painful that it’s still hard to talk about; by no doubt the worst feeling I have ever felt in my entire life. It felt like if someone was standing on my shoulders, pressing me down towards the floor. All my energy, my power, was just gone. My legs started cramping, but I had no chance to recover. I was completely dehydrated and my legs were getting numb. But in some way I managed to find my inner spirit, maintain focus and reach the goal line!”
Axe kick by Judd Reid during the 100 men kumite.
”The days after, I was a complete mess. I tried to keep a good face in front of others, but during the nights I suffered more than ever. It literally felt like death. My legs were black and I had to lay in bed with my legs straight up against the wall, for the blood not to go down. I couldn’t sleep for four nights due to the pain. If someone would have seen me, they would have thought that I’d been hit by a truck! One of the more serious complications was that I later on had to get a hip replacement, but it was all worth it, haha!” This amazing achievement, including Judd’s preparation training was filmed by a camera crew and the DVD can be ordered at www.juddreid.com or streamed here. You can watch the trailer for the movie here.
The documentary about Judd Reid's 100 man kumite, well worth watching.
Traditional training in a modern society
Some of the main pillars in Kyokushin Karate are respect, discipline and other traditional budo values from the samurais’ Japan. For example, you shouldn’t talk unless you’re asked something, always stand in straight lines, you’re not allowed to drink water during practice and you should always be respectful and thankful towards the instructor and your peers. This philosophy differs a lot from many modern combat sports and the sport of MMA in particular, where disrespect and trash talk many times is the way to success. However, Judd is happy about the huge MMA boom. “Everybody knows about the UFC and it has given all martial arts a boost. It’s up to us to communicate that we can offer more than just fighting. We have a great opportunity right now to attract people to our dojos and show them true budo.”
”FOR THEM, IT’S MORE IMPORTANT WHO HAS THE COOLEST OUTFIT AND WHO’S ON THE PALEO DIET. WHO CARES?”
”Nowadays it’s all about quick fixes, people want to go from A to Z in shortest time possible. But we focus more on the journey than the result. We’re not robots who just put on their headphones and run monotonously on a treadmill. We put on our gi, respectfully and tidy. We start the training by closing our eyes and forget the outside world and dedicate ourselves to training. We have Osu, we have kiai and we have the will to never give up! People have become too robotic in their everyday life, which makes Kyokushin Karate more important than ever. Our training is sweat, hard work, body, mind and spirit. It’s the opposite of crossfit, bootcamps and all these 45 minutes sessions. For them, it’s more important who has the coolest outfit and who’s on the paleo diet. Who cares?”
To share his experiences from the years in Japan, Judd organizes his own Uchi Deshi camps every year. People travel from all over the world to participate, to train for a legend and to take part of Sosai’s heritage. Besides these camps, there’s a special project going on right now that takes up all of his time, his new dojo. “I can’t describe how happy and excited I am! It will be a martial arts academy with Kyoushin as the main focus, but also boxing, kickboxing and more. It will be a Japanese style, like a real dojo and not a crossfit gym. It’s located in Yarraville, just outside Melbourne, and everybody are of course welcome! The academy is my new purpose in life and I put all my energy into it. It feels amazing!”
We would like to thank Shihan Judd Reid for the exciting life stories he shared with us, and we recommend everyone to read his book Young Lions!
Text: Pelle Axelsson