How judo is inclusive for all

Incredible return to judo

Aaron Hawkins realizes his dream of getting the coveted 1 gradest Dan despite a life-changing injury. Aaron’s self-determination, positive attitude and general zest for life are an example to others. Club members young and old are all inspired by his enthusiasm and dedication to coaching. Many times, those who watch Aaron train and compete have no idea he is wearing a prosthetic leg – this surprises some of those who have trained with him as well!

Aaron’s journey.

Aaron started his judo journey at the age of 8 by joining Ipswich Judo Club. Training throughout his teenage years and eventually promoted 1st kyu in 2011. This is where Aaron began his quest for Dan rank, but it was also when he had the accident that resulted in the amputation of his right leg. After the accident, members of Ipswich Judo Club saw an incredibly resilient young man – we can only imagine what he went through psychologically. During dark times and unable to participate in judo for a short time, Aaron was able to attempt to return to the judo mat with a prosthetic leg after a period of physical and mental recovery. However, Aaron’s leg was less than ideal for judo and took a lot of duct tape and foam pipe insulation to make his prosthesis almost safe to use on the judo mat. It took Aaron a while to get comfortable with judo, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he needed a more bespoke judo leg – one that didn’t keep dropping or that didn’t need to be held up with tape!

It’s been 10 years since Aaron’s accident and “something that completely changed his life”! He has decided that this is an event to remember! Aaron says: “sport. my family and friends have helped me tremendously to stay positive and realize that life is worth living”. “I like to think that I push myself to the limit to prove to myself that I can succeed.” So since it’s been 10 years this year, Aaron has decided that he “do something crazy”! Now, there’s nothing crazier than jumping out of a perfectly working airplane at 10,000 feet with a handkerchief, sorry a parachute, strapped across your back!! To top it off, Aaron is also afraid of heights, so a skydive in 2022 seemed the obvious thing to do.

Aaron does this to help raise money for a great cause, a charity called “Limb Power”. The charity uses sport, exercise and activities to help with the rehabilitation of amputees. Something Aaron knows has helped his mental stability and continues to focus on enjoying life. Aaron participates in a charity skydive to raise much needed funds to give other amputees the help and support he has received.

Dan ranking.

Determined to earn his black belt competitively, this presented Aaron with his first hurdle. The rules of judo prohibit the wearing of hard metal objects in competition. Changing these rules would require setting a precedent and this would have to be done nationally and internationally – something that would take a long time. Discussions began with the BJA and the Eastern Region Examiner Director pointing out that Dan’s rankings were an assessment of a judoka and not a competition, therefore, with caveats, Aaron could participate. His prosthetic leg was to be similar in texture to a normal leg and all players would be notified that the Judoka was wearing a prosthesis.

Aaron went straight back to the prosthetic clinic and had them design a leg that was made out of carbon fiber and covered in protective foam. His new prosthetic leg was softer than the real one, so there was no chance of anyone getting hurt.

Training kicked into high gear after Aaron picked up his new judo leg. Aaron felt confident and ready to compete again with his new prosthesis, so Aaron entered the Eastern Region Dan Ranking Competition in Thetford in October 2016. Aaron won two out of five competitions, coming home with 20 points towards his 1st Dan.

Due to work commitments, Aaron left Ipswich Judo Club and moved to Gloucester from Ipswich. He continued to train at Gloucester, but Aaron’s main focus was on his career development. After successfully completing his apprenticeship, Aaron returned to Ipswich and resumed his quest for his Dan degree once again. Throughout his journey, Aaron has made some modifications to his prosthetic judo leg, making it more comfortable for him. However, Aaron’s training had to come to a halt due to Covid-19 lockdowns. Training soon resumed with the easing of Covid lockdown restrictions, and in September 2021 Aaron went to Dartford Dan’s ranking, having to justify his presence as the South Zone had not encountered the Judoka situation using a prosthetic leg to a Dan rating.

It turned out to be a frustrating day for Aaron in the Dartford Dan standings; Aaron lost his first fight by Ippon on a technically perfect throw! Getting caught by one of them, there’s not much you can do! Aaron then injured his shoulder in his second contest and had to retire – which ended his day. A bright spot of the day, for Aaron, was a letter from the Southern Region Examiners Manager, Derek Paxton; he examined Aaron’s judo leg and deemed it safe to use in the judo rankings. Aaron now had validation that his prosthesis was acceptable for use in the leaderboards, avoiding any issues with participating in different BJA areas in the future.

After a few months of rehab, in March 2022, Aaron was ready to start ranking Bedford Dan again. With a much better day with 3 Ippon wins and gaining 30 points, Aaron now had a total of 87 points towards the rank – Aaron was already planning to go to the High Wycombe ranking on the 16thand April 2022. Other players are training week after week at their local dojo to hone their skills, Aaron has done the same. Little did Aaron know, however, that the High Wycombe Judo Center had a suspended floor and that it was so different from other mats he had trained and fought on before. Therefore, Aaron took time to get used to his footwork and balance. Aaron lost his first contest by being thrown for Ippon with a very good Uchi Mata. Aaron has won two other contests by Ippon, one of which was just 11 seconds long! Aaron is therefore very satisfied with the result!

Aaron’s Ipswich Judo Club coach Kevin Charlton is honored to have someone like Aaron as a member of Ipswich Judo Club. Aaron’s dedication and determination is incredible, he is a role model for all of our members, including parents. from Aaron “never give in”, ” do not underestimate yourself» and the conviction that «anything is possible if you think about it“The attitude is inspiring. Aaron’s absolute refusal to let his injury hold him back shows his incredible mental strength. Kevin is a pleasure to be his coach, he couldn’t be happier or more proud to have Aaron as a member of the Ipswich Judo Club.

Well done, Aaron, you are an absolute role model and legend!

Kevin Charlton 6and Dan

Ipswich Judo Club

Senior club coach