Nefeli Papadakis

As the medal results roll in from Tokyo, and the numbers are tallied, it is important to remember that just to participate in the Olympic Games is a goal few athletes ever achieve. As a fan of Judo, high-level human achievement, and elite athletes, I thought it would be helpful to gain some wisdom from a real live Olympian.

Enter Nefeli Papadakis, who at 22, is the youngest member of the USA Judo team. Papadakis is from Gurnee Illinois and started studying Judo at the age of 4. She is coached by her father, Steve Papadakis, and the two have been on the long road to the Olympics together.

Imagine standing at the edge of the stands, seeing her stroll confidently toward the mat, and getting just enough time to ask five questions.


Do you have any pre-match rituals?

Before my matches, I try to stay calm and just tell myself my strategy over and over in my head. Also, I tell myself to be first every exchange.

What is your favorite throw?

My favorite throw is Drop Seoi-Nage. I like it because I tend to fight taller opponents, and it's effective to drop underneath them and use momentum to throw for ippon.

What is your favorite Newaza technique?

My favorite newaza technique is a rolling choke because I find it easiest to transition to! It's the most efficient for me.

To be in the Olympics is a stunning achievement all on its own. What practice or philosophy did you follow that brought you to this point?

I told myself that it was anyone's day, any day, every single competition. Being on the younger side for this sport, the only thing I can't match against the women I fight is their years of experience competing on the Olympic circuit. But that is something that's not in my control, and I used this to fuel a "nothing to lose" attitude. as well, so I would go out there and fight with everything I had.

What advice do you have for future Olympic hopefuls?

My advice is to just keep going. Don't give up because things get hard or you're faced with a lot of obstacles, keep pushing on. Make all of the work you do, to get where you want to be, count for something.


That a director of my city's opera company would call me seemed a little odd. There are probably some monkeys who know more about opera than I do. But the director was inviting me to lunch, so of course I went.

It turned out the company was producing a performance of Madame Butterfly, the Puccini opera that tells the story of a doomed love between a French military officer and a geisha in early 19th-century Japan. The opera has come under fire for its stereotyped, utterly fanciful depictions of Japanese culture. The local company was trying to anticipate such criticism, and the director asked me, since I serve on the board of some organizations related to Japanese culture, what I thought.
Keep Reading Show less
Apologies in advance for the title if it gives impressions that this is going to be all that poetic. It's not this presentation that is all that literary, but something else. Haikus and pentameter aside, MMA has moments that are nothing less than poetic on a pretty astral level. Not long ago, irony at the nauseating level (unless you are a psychopath) happened when former UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman broke his leg on Uriah Hall's leg in an eerily similar way as the other former champ Anderson Silva did on Chris's in their title rematch. If you know anything at all about MMA and did not know this story, you have to have been living under a rock. Save your energy and do not go look at pictures of either event as it is nightmare material.
Keep Reading Show less

Dr. Craig's Martial Arts Movie Lounge

Have you ever watched a film that was just so amazing that when the sequel came out, your mind started developing great expectations and that it would be a pip, which has nothing to do with a Charles Dicken's novel, yet a movie that could be a real humdinger?

In 2017, one of the most engaging and exciting elements of the Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao starring God of War is that it was a remake of Jimmy Wang Yu's classic kung fu flick Beach of the War Gods (BWG; 1973). This gave me the perfect opportunity to see how a film on the same subject was handled by two Chinese filmmaking eras 44 years apart and how the fight choreography was used to tell the hero's story.

Keep Reading Show less