Jonathan meets Georges Mehdi
Who is Georges Mehdi, and what made you decide to look for him?
I was reading up on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), looking at where its path crosses with Judo, because I cross-train in both arts. Georges Mehdi came up during my research. Georges is a 9th dan Judo black belt, and was Brazilian champion for seven years in a row. He was born in France, and moved to Brazil. While he was there, he wanted to join a Judo club, but couldn’t find one. So he took himself off to Japan and trained with some of the great Judo players, like Mifune, Kimura, and Okano. He returned to Brazil, and started up his own Judo club. Since Okano is a hero of mine, I decided I had to meet Georges.
How did the meeting go?
I travelled to Rio de Janeiro to watch the Olympics, and Mehdi’s dojo is in Ipanema, Rio. When I first went to the dojo I couldn’t find the door, since it was on the first floor. I went to the security gate, but the guard didn’t speak English. So, I went away and checked the class times and found out that there was a class at 7am the next day. I turned up and just asked the guy at the gate “Judo?” and he pointed me up in the right direction, so up I went.
When I got to the dojo, there was a little shoe rack, and an old man sitting there. I asked “Sensei Mehdi?” and he simple said “shoes!” So I took my shoes off and went in. The dojo was only about 3 metres wide, and 15 metres long and had a bed and a TV at one end. There were photos and swords on the wall, and it had a very Japanese theme to it. Georges introduced himself and I explained that I had come all this way to meet him, he said that it was a long way to come. When I told him I was watching the Olympics, he said, “the Olympics isn’t Judo, you shouldn’t get tired doing Judo, you should be relaxed!” We talked about Okano, and I asked him if Okano was his friend, to which he replied, “Okano isn’t my friend, he is my brother.”
What was his judo session like?
There were only 6 guys training that morning, 4 of them were black belts, one white, and one purple. (They have a purple belt in Brazil.) There technique was so smooth, I was glad I didn’t have my gi with me, I would have embarrassed myself. Georges sat at the side and observed the training, and every so often would throw in the odd comment in Portuguese. The players would stop what they were doing, shout “Hai Sensei,” and then get on with it. Every now and again he would get up, and give them a playful tap on the head, and the would laugh. They obviously adored him. I watched for about an hour, and he turned to me and gave me a gold medal with “Mehdi Judo” printed on it. I thought “hey, cool souvenir.” He asked me if I drank coffee, and took me to a cafe. But he didn’t like their coffee, so he ordered coffee from another cafe, and drank it in this one, because he liked the location better. Then the guys trickled down from the class, they each kissed him on the top of the head and sat down and we took some photos.
What was different about how they trained?
Georges coached to the nth degree. He would make small, imperceptible changes, like moving the hand a fraction of an inch. It was all about technique, not strength and muscles. Things like keeping the feet parallel for Seoi Nagi, and keeping your back straight. It is something the kids do a lot, bending over without keeping their backs straight. And he was very fussy about the space between tori and uke, something that we can neglect sometimes. There was lots and lots of uchi komi, and some interesting drills, which I have been incorporating into my sessions.
What was he like as a person?
He had such an aura about him, when you are sitting with him, and it’s really freaky. It wasn’t like sitting with any other heroes of mine.
Sum up the experience in three words.
Awesome, educational, and humbling.