Interview with Olympic Judo Coach Willy Cahill: A Career in Review

Born in 1935 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Willy Cahill’s mother, Abbie, started him in judo at five years old, under his father, John Cahill’s, tutelage. Willy’s family moved to South San Francisco, California in 1947, opening a judo dojo there in 1948. After John Cahill’s death in 1962, the dojo moved to San Bruno, CA, in 1963 with Willy as head coach. Because his students consistently won local and national tournaments, USA Judo asked him coach at the Olympic level. He coached at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and 2000 and 2004 Paralympics. In January 2017, he was awarded his kudan in judo. Today, Willy takes some time to talk about his impressive judo journey.

Martial Arts of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Welcome Cahill Sensei! We are glad to have you hear!

Willy Cahill: Thank you for having me.

MAYTT: When did you first begin training judo? How much was it your own decision as much as it was your father’s, as he was already studying martial arts?

Willy Cahill. Source: Wikipedia.

WC: When I was five years old. It was my mom’s decision. There were a lot of kids taking judo and there were other instructors that taught me.

MAYTT: What about judo has it continued to keep your interest and commitment to the art? What aspects of the Gentle Art kept you motivated for all these years?

WC: Competition.

MAYTT: I see. How have you seen judo training change and evolve since you started training? Would you consider these evolutions to be beneficial or detrimental to the art? How so?

WC: It went international, and more grappling has been used in judo, and it’s beneficial. More countries are getting involved and Europeans like grappling

MAYTT: You founded your judo academy in 1963. How do you approach teaching and how have you seen your own teaching style change since you first started?

WC: My father, John Cahill, founded the judo academy in 1948, moving it to San Bruno in 1963. It hasn’t changed too much since I started. We still do a lot of grappling.

MAYTT: Over the course of your judo career, you have had the opportunity to coach and mentor the United States Olympic and National judo teams respectively, and coach Paralympic judo. How did you come to assume the role of coach in addition to your teaching duties at your school?

WC: After our school started winning local, national, and international tournaments, I was approached by the USA Judo Selection Committee to become an international coach. Our team continued to win, so I was chosen as Olympic Coach. I also had other coaches teaching judo to keep it running.

MAYTT: That seems to be an exciting experience! In January 2017, you received your kudan rank, after five decades of training in judo. What were your initial feelings about receiving the rank and what do you feel that promotion did for the Gentle Art?

WC: It was unbelievable about the promotion, and one of the biggest thrills in my seven decades of training in judo.

Cahill teaching one of his classes. Source: United States Ju-jutsu Federation

MAYTT: In addition to judo, you trained in and teach Kodenkan Jujutsu at your judo academy. How did you find yourself training in judo’s ancestor art? How have you found jujutsu helped your understanding or proficiency of judo?

WC: Kodenkan Jujitsu gives a better understanding and a different perspective of Kodokan Judo in showing where certain moves come from. Because of that, it was an easy transition to judo.

MAYTT: Furthermore, jujutsu pioneer Wally Jay presented your judan in September 1994. How did you react to such a promotion from an influential martial artist?

WC: I started training with Professor Wally Jay and was very honored that he promoted me.

MAYTT: In almost six decades in the American judo community, who would you consider to be crucial or influential in disseminating and solidifying judo in America?

WC: Yosh[ihiro] Uchida.

MAYTT: Likewise, how will you see American judo change and evolve in the next ten years? Do you think these potential changes will create better judoka?

WC: Judo, as in most sports, will evolve based on better training and technology, making Kodokan Judo even better.

MAYTT: Final question. Given your wealth of knowledge and experience in judo, what advice would you give to younger and up-and-coming judoka to become better practitioners and instructors?

WC: Quality training and studying good technique will always win over strength and sloppy training.

MAYTT: Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us about judo!

WC: Thank you again.


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