Seisenbacher’s Ambition, Hakoah’s Good Fortune

Der Standard (09/27-28/08)

Seisenbacher’s Ambition, Hakoah’s Good Fortune
Fritz Neumann

Judo is a magnificent example of the comeback of Hakoah, located in Vienna’s Prater district. Two-time Olympic winner Peter Seisenbacher, for whom the competitive sport was “only an episode,” is ready and willing to go.
Vienna – “What was that all about, Aaron?” Aaron doesn’t quite know himself. “You’re not supposed to be touch slightly your opponent with your foot.” Aaron throws a quizzical look. “You’re supposed to pull back his legs – like this!” Suddenly little Aaron feels himself grabbed by the neck; he feels how one positions his leg from behind, how big, strong hands are placed at his back. Now Aaron has an idea what is meant.

The person commenting and demonstrating how it should be done is a second-time Olympic winner. With Peter Seisenbacher committed to the Hakoah Sports Club, one really has succeeded in making the right decision. Ever since the new Hakoah Center in Vienna’s Prater district opened its doors half a year ago, Seisenbacher couldn’t wait to start. Many school children from his old domain in the Blattgasse in Vienna’s 3rd district followed him, and new school children are still coming. Training is from Monday through Thursday; some come one time per week; others four times per week. The beginners start in the afternoon; practice for the advanced group often goes until the early part of the evening. The gymnasium, which also serves for basketball practice, can be separated into three individual spaces.

The Little Fighters

Judo is not a popular sport of the masses. Seisenbacher’s gold medals in 1984 in Los Angeles and in 1988 in Seoul have changed nothing. “But among children,” he says, “the sport is very popular.” Many clubs are cooperating with schools. Many parents hope that their children get all the energy out of their systems and don’t have to be convinced about having to go to bed at night. Hakoah offers Judo to children beginning at pre-school age. Seisenbacher calls it the “Judo playground.” For one-half hour the children romp about, then work on coordination, learning to roll and fall properly. “Real combat begins at the elementary school level.”

“It has to sound like a bang!” “Give it all you have!” “Don’t fall asleep!” Coach Seisenbacher gives it all he has. After having resigned from his athletic career, he was secretary general of Sporthilfe assistance before working with Hakoah. His Vienna “Budoclub” was founded in 1984. This club, located in the Budo center, still serves as an alternative to fall back on. Where does the forty-eight year-old get his will and ambition twenty years later for training children, when he knows that ninety-nine percent of the sport falls by the wayside? He says that the competitive sport is “only an episode in the life of the Judoka,” and that it’s about “wanting to give something back.”

If one looks at the last twenty-five years, then Judo is the most successful of all local summer sports. Apart from the two gold medals earned by Seisenbacher, there were two silver medals during the Olympics in 2004 (Claudia Heill), and in 2008 (Ludwig Paischer) and one bronze medal in 1984 (Josef Reiter). What’s lacking in making it a national sport? Seisenbacher says “Judo is not tennis.” Adults find it much more difficult than children to be thrown over and fall down on one’s back. Moreover, Judo cannot possibly fascinate the broad masses of people. “Two experts face off with each other. One wants to surprise the other. And when he succeeds, then often only the second combatant understands the reasons for it. And not a single person watching ever saw what happened or understood why.

Big Plans

Nevertheless, S.C. Hakoah has a lot of plans for the future, also for Judo. In the planning for November is a mutual tournament between the two countries of Austria and Israel. Seisenbacher can imagine putting together a group that will apply to join the national league and then will climb up to the Federal league. Until today, Hakoahner have made a name for themselves as individual combatants in various divisions. A club, however, which is fighting in club tournaments needs to have fighters in all weight classes.