Q&A with Kyokushin karate's Shihan Judd Reid

Written by Karl Nemsow

One of the last people to complete the famed Kyokushin karate uchi deshi (live-in disciple) program under
the art’s late founder Sosai Mas Oyama, Melbourne-born Shihan Judd Reid is known for never giving up.

Judd Reid 100-man kumite
Melbourne-born Shihan Judd Reid is known for never giving up.

If completing the gruelling 1000-day program under Oyama in his early twenties wasn’t enough, he went on to become one of only around 20 people worldwide to complete the legendary 100-man fight…doing so at 40 years old.

As we move further away from the date of Sosai Mas Oyama’s death (in 1994), the legends of his accomplishments remain strong, but these can overshadow the more personal memories of him held by those who knew him well. We all know about his great physical feats, his incredible endurance and fighting skill, but what do you remember most about him as a man that perhaps isn’t well known to outsiders?

What I remember most about Sosai Mas Oyama is his incredible kindness and warmth towards people. At the beginning, I looked at him as a karate master with remarkable strength, who could perform incredible physical feats, but after getting to know him so well, I realised he was also a deeply spiritual person with great thinking and deep philosophies about life in general.

Mas Oyama said the best reason for learning karate is to develop character — to make a good man first and a strong man second. His philosophy was all based on this. He said that if everybody trained karate there would be no wars; they would just biff it out in the dojo. Mas Oyama believed that karate was the vehicle for us to create better families, better children, better societies and ultimately a more peaceful world.

Can you describe two most memorable turning points during your time as an uchi deshi?

I remember lying in the hospital with a drip in my arm and spots all over me — I had been eaten by some insects. I had lost about seven kg in the first month of my training because of the harsh training and living conditions, I was black and blue with bruises and I could barely walk. I had given up everything in Australia to be training in Japan and I knew this was all part of the process of making me stronger. I had to take a good look at myself and ask if I really wanted this.

Hell yes, I wanted this, I said.

So now whenever I get myself into situations where I have to dig deep, I always draw on my time as an uchi deshi in Japan.

Another time that comes to mind is when a senior instructor at the dojo demanded that I pack my bags and leave immediately. I stood up to him and refused to leave. It was a standoff. I showed no weakness. If I didn’t stand up for myself, it could have turned the other way. You should always stand up for what you believe in — this is an important outlook we should all have.

The induction and treatment of the young uchi deshi by seniors at the Kyokushin hombu dojo when you were there would probably be described by the media as ‘bastardisation’ or ‘hazing’ if perpetrated by a university fraternity or in our military. How did you maintain your self-esteem in the face of such treatment and what advice would you give to anyone going into such a situation (for example, joining the military)?

I maintained my self esteem just fine. Yes, there was bastardisation going on, you could say, but it’s more complex than that. It was a different world living as an uchi deshi. Mas Oyama always cheered on the underdog; he knew what was going on, but some things were out of his control.

Sosai Oyama said never to take any crap unnecessarily, to stand up for yourself. He would tell the senior uchi deshi to encourage the juniors and support them, to build them up.

Sometimes I would chuckle inside when Sosai Oyama would say to the first year uchi deshi that their goal is to be able to beat their seniors. He was all about building character and filling you with the belief that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

So my answer is, if you find yourself bullied in, say, the army and it’s gone beyond talking and it’s now a physical threat, it’s time to fight and stand your ground. Mas Oyama would say, knock them out!

Kyokushin is a tough martial art for anyone, but you have taken it to the next level with the uchi deshi training and later preparing for the 100- man kumite. After all that punishment, how is your body faring today, and is there anything you wish you’d known earlier or done differently in terms of your physical training?

My body right now is great. I’m feeling reasonably strong and fit.

However, after the 100-man kumite, I sustained some serious injuries. Besides my hands, shins and ribs being all bruised up and battered, I needed a total hip replacement. It was a successful operation and I’m able to do everything the same as before.

Yes, there are definitely things I wouldn’t do again — probably a lot (laughs) — but it is what it is. You can’t change the past and maybe some of those crazy things I did that weren’t necessary built up my mental strength and fighting spirit, which is the most important. So, in some crazy way, I wouldn’t change anything.

For those out there trying to get fighting fit, is there any one method or type of conditioning that you’d recommend to really take it to the next level?

I think the good old basics work for increasing your general fitness: running, bike riding, up-hill sprints, swimming and the rowing machine. But if you want to take it to the next level, you have to get out of your comfort zone. My favourite quote is “become an enemy of the comfort zone”.

For fighting, I believe the most important thing is conditioning. You must turn your body into a machine. Get guys to punch and kick into you. Weight training only won’t make your body conditioned; you must get hit. Make your hands, shins and feet sharp and strong — these are your hitting tools. There’s no use hitting hard if your feet aren’t conditioned; you’ll only end up breaking your foot. Condition them up on a sand bag or a hard leather bag. Get your tools strong, ready for battle.

Smash yourself on the pads and big bag. If your competitors are doing five rounds on the pads, you do seven rounds on the pads. If they run five km in the morning you run six km. Not only are you working harder but that mental strength is building each session.

Dig deep each session and there will be no cloudiness on the day [of the fight]: you have given it your best in preparation, so you’re right to go!

Why did you decide to write this book about your time as an uchi deshi?

I decided to write about my time in Japan because my best mate, Anton Cavka, who produced the 100 Man Fight doco, suggested we do it, because the 100 Man Fight DVD had won awards overseas and many people were blown away by it. It was very humbling to hear people saying how it had inspired and motivated them to keep training hard, but also to never give up in any situation. It really touched deep into the human spirit that anything is possible if you believe and never give up.

So, with this in mind, we said, right, let’s write about my 1000 days in Japan. There is really no other story in the world like it. Anton said, “If they loved the 100 Man Fight, they will surely love this story.” So I poured my heart into this and I couldn't be happier with the way it has turned out.

It was very important for me to finish this book for Anton and also for his family. think he would be very proud of how it turned out and he would be looking down, smiling, saying “Good work, Juddo.”

What’s the next challenge for Sensei Judd Reid? We hear that a movie of The Young Lions could be on the cards?

My challenge right now is to promote The Young Lions book and get it out there. It has already sold to over 33 different countries and the reviews have been amazing. I’m headed to LA, Boston and NY in November for book launches and karate seminars. I have been contacted by an agent, possibly wanting to turn this book into a Hollywood flick. I want to keep my cards close to my chest at the moment, as this is in my nature, but this book is going to be huge.

So, with the book, seminars and karate camps in Thailand, I’m very busy. The challenge is to keep on fighting, believe in what you are doing and never give up.