One of the candidates for the Junior World title is Spanish Ai Tsunoda Toustant. You would almost forget she is still a junior seeing her in the IJF World Tour for quite some time. IJF’s Jo Crowley spoke to the Tsunoda’s.
At twenty years old, already Ai Tsunoda Roustant has spent a whole life in judo. She is the daughter of Go Tsunoda, former coach to Telma Monteiro and also technical coach of a successful British team in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Go is neither British nor Portuguese; Japanese through and through but living a life defined by the borders of judo, not of geographical lines. His wife, Ai’s mum, is French, Celine Tsunoda, also an accomplished judoka, one who trains as hard and as well now as she ever did.
Celine now travels from the family home in Lleida near Barcelona, with her daughter, to coach Ai through her competitive years. Celine and Ai are a team, with absolute faith in one another. From the outside their relationship seems intense and solitary, fenced off from any of the rest. Their dynamic is not usual but it is fascinating and also, one might argue, successful.
The CV is building. Ai was European cadet champion in Warsaw in June of 2019 and then won a silver at the Junior Europeans that September just 2 weeks before winning the world cadet title in Kazakhstan.
Four months later and on an impressive trajectory, Ai Tsunoda Roustant won a bronze medal at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix and appeared on the medal tally of the World Judo Tour for the first time.
She won a silver in Tbilisi, a first grand slam medal, then gold at the continental open in Madrid and gold at the Mediterranean Games. In Zagreb it was 5th place and next it’s back to the juniors for her final world championships in the age category. Then it will be seniors for good.
At the latest IJF World Tour event in Zagreb, as with all events, I walked around the warm-up area before the first contests went on, watching the drills and routines and saying hello to people. I caught sight of Ai and Celine straight away. We had arranged an interview back in February of 2020, in Düsseldorf, but logistics prevented it from happening.
Resistance is a key component in both competition and training. Judoka find solutions for as many scenarios as possible and train for them, re-work them, extrapolate from them. It’s a never-ending puzzle; as one solution is found, another becomes necessary.
The goals aren’t really spoken about too far in advance. They don’t have their eyes on Olympic glory or a particular gold medal. It’s all about that continuous improvement, being better than yesterday. The path is the important part and if it’s walked well, there will be positive outcomes too.
So with continuous improvement, respect, family values, a committed and consistent work ethic and the evidence of an impressive and growing CV, Ai Tsunoda appears to be on the right path. It might not be one that everyone could walk but it is the right one for her, and isn’t that the point, that improving herself and becoming the best judoka she can be, is what will enable her and her family to contribute something of value to the world. The Tsunoda way seems to be glued to the philosophy Jigoro Kano spoke about and wrote about, an educational methodology targeting the building of both individuals and society. The result is also simply to be and to feel truly alive.