TOKYO — One of Japan’s most distinguished judo leaders has criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, calling out his “cowardly” acts and joining a chorus of condemnation from civil society worldwide.
“President Putin is a Judoka and these actions are against the spirit and purpose of Judo,” said Yasuhiro Yamashita, the president of All Japan Judo Federation—the country’s largest judo association.
The retired Olympian’s denunciation on Monday followed those of international athletic groups, in a rare display of unity across all facets of society in democracies. By Monday, Putin’s aggression in Ukraine had led to the deaths of at least 1,842 civilians, in a war that has no end in sight.
The International Judo Federation last month suspended Putin as its honorary president and ambassador. And in February, World Taekwondo stripped Putin of his honorary 9th dan black belt—which had made him a Grand Master.
Yamashita, a retired judo Olympian, had had a friendly relationship with the 69-year-old president, even filming an instructional video in 2008 with Putin titled “Let’s Learn Judo with Vladimir Putin.”
“As a Judoka, my deepest sadness and thoughts are with the people of Ukraine as well as all Judo lovers around the world,” he added in his personal website.
Putin, who has long sought to portray himself as an athletic and strong leader, has long touted his love for the Japanese sport.
In 2000, the Kremlin leader visited Tokyo’s prestigious Kodokan Judo Institute—the international headquarters for the sport—where he was awarded the sixth dan of “Kodokan judo.” At the time, Putin said, “When I come to Kodokan, I have a sense of peace like I am at home,” Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun has reported.
He’s also described the principles of judo, respecting one’s partner or opponent and self-defense, as advice for developing Russian and Japanese relations at a time when both countries looked to cooperate with one another as diplomatic partners.
Putin has indicated he has good relations with Yamashita, even describing the 1984 Olympian as a “very good man.” With Russia’s offensives in Ukraine, Yamashita could not say the same about his former judoka.