Putin’s Judo Lesson for Georgia

putinjukoka081308.jpgAh, journalists! I love you guys, but you just can’t resist a good Olympic competition story between two nations at war. Certainly the cameras loved the symbolic hug between Russia’s Natalia Paderina and Georgia’s Nino Salukvadze during the medals ceremony as the mortars pounded the Georgian military into dust (the irony of the event, 10-meter air pistol!), or even the more fiercely competitive beach volleyball match as Georgia’s Andrezza Chagas and Cristine Santanna (who may have grown up in Brazil, but so what!) defeated the Russians Alexandra Shiryaeva and Natalya Uryadova. But there can be no temptation greater than to shine the politics on the Gold medal victory of Georgia’s mighty judo champion, Irakli Tsirekidze, who trounced the Russian competitor Ivan Pershin early on in the semifinals. This of course brings to mind the question of how Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a seasoned judoka himself (sixth degree black belt), would have strategically approached the match – or perhaps the battlefield – to gain the upper hand. Luckily we have some insight on Putin’s judo thinking from the preface of the book Judo: History, Theory, Practice, by Vladimir Putin and others, published in 2004 by North Atlantic Books.

This excerpt is courtesy of Harper’s:

Whatever else English-speaking people may know about the career of President Putin, they should realize that he is a judo master. His judo-based senses of discipline, honor, and service to humankind as president of Russia tower over any of the more menial roles assigned to him in the former Soviet Union. Insofar as judo is at his core, he brings a warrior’s presence to the international stage. Judo may not be the answer to the economic woes of Russia, but it does have a broad impact on the philosophy of those who practice it.History shows that the bully who relies on brute force and overwhelming firepower always falls to another empire mightier still. The maturity and poise born of judo practice is an unfailing guide in such matters. A judoka is always in the position to identify his opponent’s weakness and bring about a “gentle” victory. The principles of judo thus suggest a world in which global cooperation and exchange among nations can take the place of reliance on weaponry and threats.If President Putin makes good on his idea to do a judo demonstration at Madison Square Garden, this would be the real thing – politician as martial artist, martial artist as politician. No doubt, he would put some professional wrestlers to shame, but then he would graciously allow himself to be thrown by a precocious American high school judoka. In a judo-oriented realm of politics, the true inner creativity and capacity of the human species may be realized.

Then there is this excerpt from a BBC story about Putin’s appearance in a judo DVD:

“Sports like judo teach you mutual respect,” Mr Putin said. “Respect for your rival, with the knowledge that an adversary who appears weak can put up resistance and even beat you if you lose concentration and become complacent.”

It’s funny, but no where do I see a suggestion that a good judoka should negotiate a ceasefire truce, get your enemy to retreat to his former position, and then violate that agreement to kick him in the back of the head – but then again, what the Russian army is doing in Georgia is just martial, no element of art about it.