The man mountain switching military maneuvers for the judo mat

Andrew Melbourne is a military policeman hoping to go Tokyo 2020 as a heavyweight judoka.

Story highlights

  • Andrew Melbourne is a heavyweight judoka with a military background
  • As a military policeman, Melbourne has twice served in Afghanistan
  • He joined the military aged 24 and has twice served in war zones in Afghanistan

(CNN)At over two meters tall, Andrew Melbourne is an imposing figure on and off the judo mat.

A military policeman who has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, Melbourne was a latecomer to the international judo circuit.
The Briton was recently crowned national champion in the 100+kg category and now has his sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
    He was also a relative latecomer to the military, joining the Royal Air Force aged 24 and finding himself in a war zone just six weeks later.
    "So soon after phase two training, Afghanistan was a very daunting experience and introduction to the big, bad world," he recalls. "Looking back, I know there were bad points but I enjoyed both tours."
    His role was as the security detail at Camp Bastion, a British base in Helmand Province.
    "You're just trying to get through each day with everything still attached," he remembers.
    "There were one or two close shaves where things could have escalated and shots might have been fired but thankfully they were dealt with and we came back with everyone we left with; one or two close shaves where things could have escalated."
    His military police work has exposed him to all manner of situations at home and abroad, in countries such as the United States, Kenya, Uganda and Egypt.
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    Olympic ambitions

    But for now, the only conflict he faces are the judokas on the other side of the mat. Since 2015, he's had the permission of the RAF to focus full-time on his sporting ambitions.
    He was given a year to prove himself and was relocated to Camberley to train under Luke Preston, who has coached British Olympic, world and European championship medalists.
    "I've had goals set each year and achieved them, and am very grateful for the opportunity," he says. "I just want to see how far I can go. Luke trains some serious athletes and he's not told me the Olympics is impossible.
    "I'd love to go to Tokyo but I need to overcome a lot of hurdles to get there."
    The first goal is to force his way into the world's top 25 to ensure passage to the Grand Slam events, the motivating factor as he is put through his passes six days a week in training.
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    Corporal Melbourne was seven years old when he first got into the sport -- his father and brother already involved in it. But he flitted around the fringes of it, doubling up with his other sport passion of rugby in which he played in the second row or at No.8.
    His brother likes to boast he never lost to his gargantuan sibling -- "he likes to say whoever I beat, I'll never beat him," says Melbourne -- before switching his sporting allegiance to volleyball.
    That he finds himself in his current position, he says is all down to a late decision to sign up for military duty.
    Having done all manner of different jobs from waiter and bar manager to working in financial management for a local council.
    "I didn't know what I wanted to do," he says. "So, I covered the walls of the bedroom and wrote down all the possible jobs from an astronaut to a professional footballer. I needed to find something to do for the next 20 to 30 years.
    "I like structure in my life so the first thing I looked at was joining the Marines. My Dad made the point that I'd be straight off to the front line in Afghanistan and Iraq and, with my size, I'd be a pretty big target to hit!"

    'The fun police'

    So, instead he opted for the RAF whose aptitude tests showed he could do anything bar be a pilot because of his size. The role of police appealed even if he knows he and his cohorts can be branded "the fun police" by the fellow soldiers they are tasked with keeping in check.
    "I like a base that's nice and quiet, as it makes life easier," he explains. "And I'm always told there's a drop in crime when I arrive!"
    Such is the intensity of training and competition, that he doesn't get the opportunity to miss the regular day job, although there are moments.
    "I miss the camaraderie," he admits, "but also the situation when on any given day you don't know what you're going to find."
    Once he has taken his judo career as far as he can, he plans to return to general policing and, in the long term, to become a police instructor.
    First, there are opponents to overcome, some who are even bigger than him.
    "There are some Romanians that are pretty near to seven foot and they can be quite hard to move," he says. "There's a lot of weight variation as you can get some guys at 101kg, who are so quick. It's a tough category but I really enjoy it."