On July 25, the second day of the judo competition, judo player Patrick Dawson will be stepping onto the tatami (judo mat) at the SECC Precinct to make his first ever appearance at a Commonwealth Games.

Part of the ‘Fantastic 14’ judo team that will represent Scotland at this year’s Games in Glasgow, the world number 39 from Edinburgh will compete in the category under 73kg.

I met Dawson, 25, at Judo Scotland’s HQ in the West of Edinburgh where the ‘Fantastic 14’ are training. To make things a bit more realistic and to break the ice we chatted in the middle of the tatami, both of us wearing a judogi (judo uniform). He even taught me some of the basic judo techniques before we started our conversation.

Curiously, Dawson started in judo quite late, when he was 17. “A friend of mine at school suggested I’d come along and try it. One day after school I went to Edinburgh Judo Club, which little did I know, was one of the strongest clubs in Britain. In the second I saw the sport I fell in love with it and wanted to continue”, he remembers.

In judo, the rank system distinguishes the student’s degrees of knowledge, ability and leadership. The rank is identified by six grades of coloured belts (Kyu), and ten degrees of advanced grades for black belts (Dan). Dawson is already a 3rd Dan black belt, an achievement that shows his commitment and passion to the sport.

“The second I walked into the Edinburgh Judo Club I saw a lot of people that were doing really well in the sport. People like, Euan Burton and Sarah Clark. I wanted to be where they were. I realised how hard the sport of judo was and I wanted to challenge myself. I think I became a full time judoka probably after about a year”, he said.

I ask if he is a natural.

“I don’t know, I think talent is quite hard to learn. I’ve put in a lot of hours of training between when I started until now. I’ve got a lot more to learn but I did fall in love with the sport”, he humbly said.

Dawson is a soft spoken, confident and highly focused young athlete. Before judo he used to struggle “to find something that engaged me and held my attention”. He attributes to the sport some of the valuable lessons he learnt like “goal setting, to reach your final destination goal, the need for hard work. Judo teaches you respect and discipline. Judo is a way of life.”

He is left handed, which in judo could be considered as an advantage. “Being left handed is a bit of an advantage. I’m used to fighting right-handers and they are used to fighting right-handers as well. Nobody likes a left handed in judo, especially me”, he explained.

Speaking of his strengths as a judoka, Dawson believes that “you are a product of your environment”. Coaches and fellow judokas praise him for his work ethics and level of fitness.

“I know whenever I step onto a mat, whatever the downsides or whatever the feelings I have, I will never be less fit than the person I’m fighting. I think that’s a big plus for me. I know I will be able to keep going come the fifth minute of the contest”, he added.

I wanted to know about the highlights of his career.

“The first time I made it into the British team was a big thing for me. But since then I’ve had a couple of better wins. I had a win in Argentina last year where on my way to the final I beat the London 2012 Olympic champion. This year I’ve won a tournament in Bulgaria where I’ve beaten a good guy from Israel in the final. Those are probably my two best results”, he said.

Born and raised in Edinburgh, Dawson is currently studying accountancy at Heriot-Watt University. Between full-time judo training, competitions and studies he also delivers ethical work at the Edinburgh Judo Club.

While doing my research I came across a blog he wrote about the work he does with people from deprived backgrounds.

“I do a little bit of work with the Dame Kelly Holmes legacy and Winning Scotland, which are a couple of organisations that help deliver sessions for people from disadvantaged background or that are struggling”, he said.

With the Games just around the corner the final preparations and excitement are intense. And since the Games are at ‘home’ I wondered if he feels under any pressure to perform well.

“I think that everybody gets nervous before tournaments no matter what your sport is. From what I saw in London 2012 people’s nerves were dispelled just by the pure enthusiasm from the crowd. I think if I know Scottish people, it’s going to be a good crowd and a great atmosphere. I’ll be nervous but I think no one could put any more pressure on me than my own expectations”, he said.

Even though there are 152 judo clubs in Scotland (affiliated to Judo Scotland) amassing a total of 7,000 members, judo is still considered a low profile sport with very little exposure in the media.

Consequently commissioned sponsorships opportunities are rare. Dawson is able to be a full-time professional judo player with the funding by Sport Scotland, the National Lottery, Judo Scotland and Heriot-Watt University.

Speaking of the subject, Dawson believes that “it is very hard to change the culture when the media push other sports” but the Commonwealth Games are “an ideal opportunity to try and raise awareness of judo. People will see judo kits and the faces of the athletes. That will be a good thing.”

He is also excited to see other sports during the Games, especially weightlifting, boxing and wrestling.

At this point I asked Dawson about the chances of the ‘Fantastic 14’ to get medals, which he diplomatically replied: “I’m confident that the judo Team Scotland will be able to get medals, probably quite high amount of medals, but as for individual predictions in judo anything can happen so I won’t make any predictions.”

To compete at the Commonwealth Games, representing Scotland at home will already be a big achievement for Dawson, proving that his determination, focus and hard work is being rewarded. However, he is aiming further. Two years from now, in Rio 2016.

“I would love to compete in Rio 2016. I think it’s not an unrealistic goal. I wouldn’t be in full-time training and devote my life to judo if I didn’t think it’s possible. You have to be top 22 in the world to qualify and at the moment I’m 39 so I have a lot of work to do but I think with hard work I can get there.”

By Luciano Graca

Originally published in the Herald Scotland: http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/13168872.Judo__an_interview_with_Patrick_Dawson/

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