A film based on the book Judo with Vladimir Putin coauthored by Vladimir Putin and his first judo coach Anatoly Rakhlin has been recently shot in St. Petersburg. The question is: What kind of a judoist is Putin? Komsomolskaya Pravda put this question to Putin’s first and only coach.
A short boy enrolled in a usual martial arts club in the outskirts of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1965. The boy was called Vladimir Putin. He was 13 at the time. There was nothing special about the boy. “He was like, a regular judo student back then. It’s pure coincidence that he got enrolled in my group. He just turned up in our modest-looking gym. He wasn’t seeking out anything special at the time,” said Anatoly Rakhlin, Putin’s first judo teacher.
Putin began sambo (a Soviet martial art developed for the Red Army and the NKVD) before switching to judo. That is when Putin’s talent for martial arts began to show. “He was known for his extraordinary endurance. And he was pretty unpredictable when fighting. He’d win a fight by using some sudden throw against his opponent,” Rakhlin said. “He was good at throwing his opponents both left and right though judoists usually hurl their opponents to one side only. All in all, he was a rather emotional type of wrestler, compared to the guys who mostly rely on their physical force,” Rakhlin added.
At the beginning, Putin’s parents were a bit suspicious of their son’s avid interest in judo. One of the passages in Putin’s autobiography, First Person, mentions the situation: “My parents first thought that I was gaining some negative experience, which would be used in a backstreet fight or something of the kind. They apparently thought that my judo classes would get me into trouble in the end. That is why they had a few misgivings about my judo club. Once they met my coach, who started visiting our house quite regularly, their attitude changed.”
Rakhlin met the parents of the future Russian president and explained to them that judo classes meant no harm. Rakhlin managed to convince them that a young man could only benefit from the martial art; he would become a healthier man by practicing judo. As a result, Vladimir Putin got the green light to carry on with his favorite sport. However, Putin’s mother never attended any of the tournaments in which Vladimir took part. His father dropped by the club on a couple of occasions. No matter the end result of a fight, Vladimir has always fought to the end, his coach said.
Putin opposed a Master of Sports in Judo (Soviet and Russian sport title) during one of the fights at the club. At the start, Putin was getting the upper hand. At on point his opponent suddenly performed a counter technique and scored a clean win. Putin was very much disappointed at the defeat. Two weeks later, the lot fell on Putin to oppose the same man again. It was clear Putin was fully determined to fight tooth and nail that time. Putin quickly won the fight by throwing his opponent twice within seconds.
In 1976, Putin won the senior championship of Leningrad. Two years later, he won the title of Master of Sports in Judo and Sambo. He had been awarded a coveted black belt by the time he reached 18. Incidentally, Rakhlin is confident that Putin could have been a successful professional athlete. “He was a hardworking judo student who had great potential,” Rakhlin said.
Anatoly Rakhlin was in charge of Russia’s national judo team a few years ago. His team won the European championship. These days he is a vice president of the Russian Judo Federation. He is responsible for the development of this kind of martial arts. He also oversees the training of young athletes and coaches. Rakhlin often has to tackle a variety of problems arising from red tape. He explains to self-important officials why sports should be given special attention.
“We need to take advantage of the fact that the Russian president studied judo and I was his coach. There’s nothing wrong about it. I always mention the circumstance when meeting with local authorities in some Russian region. An official just doesn’t care which of the sports should be developed. We need to do our best to involve as many kids as possible in doing sports. That’s the way to distract them from criminal activity and illicit drugs. Those officials start to behave differently once they get the idea that they’re talking to a coach of President Putin,” Rakhlin said.
Rakhlin can call Putin any time and discuss a thing or two. However, he says that he never overindulges in talking on issues related to judo when it comes to his “direct line” to the Russian president. “We have his good will, his express attitude toward sports. That’s enough. For instance, President Putin helped us launch repairs at the judo club located on Kondratievsky Avenue in St. Petersburg. That’s the very club where he studied judo years ago. Needless to say, I’d never bother him with some trifling matter,” Rakhlin said.
Translated by Guerman Grachev