Judo World

Life through a lens with judo photographer Jack Willingham

Story highlights

Jack Willingham is a photographer for the International Judo Federation

The son of two judokas, he was a national under-21 champion in the sport

Now he travels the world photographing the sport

CNN  — 

Jack Willingham was born into a life of judo.

His parents – both judokas – met on the judo mat, his uncle coached international medalists in the sport and specialized in filming judo events for the international federation, while his grandfather also coached the sport.

And Willingham himself was a British champion but he never envisaged judo enveloping his life. Today, he travels the world as one of the photographers for the International Judo Federation.

“My Dad came to Bristol [in England] where my grandfather was coaching, and my parents literally met on the judo mat,” says Willingham of his journey into the sport.

“It was every aspect of my family’s lives as my uncle set up Fighting Films, which specializes in judo films, and from the early 1990s he worked for the International Judo Federation.

neil adams judo commentator world champion judoka intv_00011211.jpg
Neil Adams: The voice of the judo world
02:42 - Source: CNN

“But my parents never forced judo on us, their kids. It was a case of we could if we wanted to but it was part of us – we’d spend a lot of time going to judo tournaments they were going to anyway.”

READ: Kosei Inoue on his judo life

Despite a national title at under-21 level, Willingham plays down his own judo prowess, although there was a time when he threw himself headlong into seeing how far he could get into the sport.

“I went for it for a season but then got injured and went traveling,” he recalls. “Then I came back and got a job as I was an adult.”

France's Teddy Riner poses with his gold medal on the podium after he won the men's  +100kgs final contest match of the judo event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 28, 2012 in London.      AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA        (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/GettyImages)
Legends of judo: Teddy Riner, the best ever?
01:15 - Source: CNN

But the jobs entailed were office ones not linked to judo. Then in 2010, he was offered voluntary redundancy and, having enjoyed photography as a hobby, he decided to embrace it full-time, initially in fashion before making the move wholesale into judo.

His father Bob is also a photographer, and, having sent his son off to various competitions part-time as he was growing up, he already had a portfolio which grew and grew.

READ: How judo saved Kayla Harrison’s life

The annual judo calendar is such that there are months away from home, although Willingham returns to the mat whenever he can.

“I’m terrible now, well, pretty rusty,” he admits. “I’m not used to using those muscles so I get very tired very easily but luckily the club where I’m at has a relaxed atmosphere so I don’t take too much of a battering.”