David Strachan: How judo improved my physical and mental health

We spoke to David Strachan recently about how he got back into judo and how it has improved not only his physical well-being but also his mental health. You can follow David’s journey at his twitter account: @BanburyBull

How did you first get into judo?

I started Judo as an adult, I took judo up as a supplement to rugby. This was around 2013, I was going through one of my first attempts to get fit, started driving myself and played for Banbury RUFC 2s. One night I was talking to a close friend Steve De-Meis, who ran the Banbury Judo Club with Tony Partridge at the time. He suggested a good way to increase core stability, get cardio fitness was judo. I walked into the Dojo for the first time around 190kg.

How old were you when you started judo?

I started in 2013, so I was 27, so not a young buck.

What was your first club?

Banbury Judo Club

Why did you stay in the sport initially?

My first time with Judo lasted around eight months, in this time I was graded for my 6th and 5th Kyu, and entered a club competition at Winslow and the Nottingham Open. Sadly, though depression and other health issues came back into my life and I stopped judo around summer 2014.

Did you do any other sports growing up?

I grew up with a close friend whose brother went on to be a semi-professional rugby player, so as a kid we would look up to him and everything we did was learning from him. So I mainly focused on rugby when I was younger, though between 19 and 25 I rarely did any sport.

Why did you stop doing judo?

This first time I was doing judo I was battling to keep my weight down, I had bad eating habits and though was semi-active I was sabotaging myself by over eating. This resulted in a lot of depression and anxiety. I stopped judo and all other activities and went up to 205kg, so could not fit in a GI and struggled with short walks, let alone exercise.

Why did you decide to get back into the sport?

I went to the doctor to try and turn my life around. My son was my motivation to lose weight the first time, so he again was my motivation to find a long-term solution. The doctor discussed my options and in January 2017 I had a gastric bypass. This helped me lose weight and from the day of the surgery I started my plan to return, after the eight weeks break due to recovery. I went back right away and through the whole surgery I had the support and motivation from local clubs, both members and coaches.

How challenging was it to start doing judo again?

The only difficulty was getting past the mental barriers. Once I had beaten my own demons I walked into the dojo to welcoming faces all who wanted me to succeed and help me regain and develop my skills. I was lucky enough to have two clubs Cropredy and Banbury very close. Scott Bedding at Cropredy and Tony Partridge at Banbury helped me loads with my technique and were a great support in my progression. Roland Newson took a role as a mentor and he always had time to talk to me about his experience and ways the judo community can help.

You mention that you had depression and anxiety, did you feel your mental health improved once you started doing judo and being more active again?

Training for judo has increased my focus, drive and general fitness. While practising judo you never notice how much you are thinking, a grip leads to a body position which then results in an action. Getting the mind to work in this way has helped a lot with me managing my day to day life.

Before I would over complicate things or worrying about what ifs. Since doing judo I have found that I now look at things in a bite size manner and knowing that I cannot worry about an outcome (Ippon) without focusing on what is happening right now (getting the grip).

How have your family and friends reacted to you getting back into judo?

My son has started three weeks ago (now he is five, he has been waiting a few months), my wife is very supportive of the 3-4 sessions a week and is very proud of my achievements.

If anyone asked you why you should do judo, what would you say?

The community is one of the friendliest communities I have ever been a part of. They do not intrude and let you take things at your own pace. It is also a very good way to help with focus and building respect.

My son has been doing judo for the past three weeks and his attitude to playing with others has come on leaps and bounds from being an only child and struggling with the concept of playing with others.

Other than the social and mental benefits, it is great for fitness. You do not realise (other than the warm up) how much you are doing until you see the puddle after doing a break fall!

David in action in 2014
Photo Credit: Craig Barlow