A tough fight for Fiji judokas

Simione Kuruvoli with some of his medals at his home in Nabua, Suva. Picture: PAULINI CURUQARA

IT was the Fijian fighting spirits that helped the late Viliame Takayawa and Simione Turaga Kuruvoli build the foundation for the sport of judo in Fiji.

Kuruvoli and Takayawa were the founding members of judo in the country.

Kuruvoli is the only surviving member of the team that formed the judo federation in Fiji in the late sixties.

The 67-year-old, Nabouwalu, Ono, Kadavu gentlemen still teaches judo and hapkido for Republic of the Fiji Military Forces soldiers.

Married with six children and 24 grandchildren Kuruvoli says all his children are black belt recipients “Despite my age I am still going strong teaching the skills to my students and I won’t stop,” he said.

“When we started it was just the two of us and to be honest it was tough.

“In 1971 we managed to have a constitution in place with Takayawa as president while I was the vice-president and we made our way slowly trying to achieve our goal.

“Vili was much more experienced back then, I was only a yellow belt holder but we managed to fight our way through those tough times in the sport.

“In 1973 we took part in the Oceania Games in Christchurch in New Zealand and in 1975 I managed to get my black belt in Auckland.

“Until now I still have my judo manual that I go through every day.

“We both had achieved our diplomas in NZ and in the same year 1975 I went with Jo Ravatudei to the South Pacific Games in Guam.

“In 1979 Takaywa won a gold medal during the SPG held here in Fiji so we were climbing up slowly. In 1980 it was our first international competition that was held in the USA called the USA Invitational Judo Championship.

“In 1983 we took part in the Oceania Championship that was held in New Caledonia where we had a team of 10 athletes taking part. We were starting to get a lot of interest with more people joining the sport.

“In 1984 I won bronze medal and Joe Wainiqolo won silver at the SPG Games in New Caledonia. That year I was struggling with my finances and had to apply for a loan from MH and in return the boss told me to win something and he will cross off my loan.

“The day I arrived from New Caledonia I went straight to him and showed him my medal and he immediately told his finance officer to cross off my loan,” Kuruvoli said.

Takayawa, Wainiqolo and Kuruvoli took part in the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, Korea where Wainiqolo won a silver medal.

“In 1992 I took part in the Oceania Games that was held in Wellington, NZ where I won bronze. At the 1995 SPG Games held in Tahiti I went with my two daughters Ema, who won a bronze medal and Alumita, who won silver while I won two bronze medals,” he said.

“In 1992 in Sydney Australia I won silver and was also the manager for the team and 1999 was my last international tour during the NZ Masters held in Hamilton where I won silver. I had taken a break and after 11 years I am back doing what I love to do.

“Some of the challenges that we faced were judo mats. We had to improvise and make do with what we have. In 1980 we used straw mats as our training mat and in the 1990 we were given rubber mats.

“We used to train at the Suva Youth Centre which is now called the YMCA.

“Another challenge was our uniforms; we didn’t have proper uniforms so we had to ask our Japanese friends if they can send us some uniforms which they did. “But the most common one is finance; we had to pay from our own pockets whenever we go out for any competition.

“Judo is a family affair where my family and the Takayawas looked after the federation as we had the passion and we taught our children respect for the sport and humility”

Kuruvoli, who has maternal links to Vunisei Toga in Rewa, says now the sport has a lot of support and they need to work with high qualified people for the betterment of the sport.

He is the father of Fiji Warrior players’ Filipe Kuruvoli who now resides in NZ and Simi Kuruvoli Jr who lives in Australia.

More Stories